There’s an interesting back story to Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do’s bid to erect three statues in Mile Square Park, one of which is of 13th century Vietnamese military leader Tran Hung Dao .
I already talked about the magic number three.
Now let’s ask ourselves another question: Why, of all figures from Vietnam, should Tran Hung Dao be the one?
I’ll tell you why: Because payback is a bitch.
Let’s back up a little bit.
The general in question is a Vietnamese legendary strategist who three times commanded the Dai Viet (northern Vietnam) to successfully repel invasions by Mongol hordes.
At the 1288 battle of the Bach Dang River near now tourist destination Ha Long Bay, he laid booby traps under the water, lured the Mongol warships onto the river during high tide, then hit back during low tide, trapping the Mongol vessels where the embedded steel-tipped stakes sank 400 vessels.
Because of his celebrated naval victory, the South Vietnamese Navy made him their patron saint. Legend has it that, at one time, retreating before the invading forces, Tran Hung Dao crossed the Hoa River in North Vietnam, pointed back at it and said, “If I cannot defeat the Mongols I will never return to this river.”
Based on that legend, a statue of Tran Hung Dao pointing his finger at the Saigon River was erected in the 1960’s, and segment of the river where the statue is still located was renamed the Bach Dang port for his victory.
In other words, Tran Hung Dao is a big deal.
And his statue is a big deal.
So big of a deal that two finger-pointing copies already exist in Little Saigon, one at the Bat Nha Buddhist Temple in Santa Ana, and one on Bolsa Avenue.
The statue at Bat Nha temple was a gift by someone who reportedly bought it in Vietnam and kept it in his home for a while before donating to the the Naval Association of South Vietnam. They then put it at the temple for want of space.
The second statue is the one that’s subject to sweet revenge by Andrew Do.
It too was ordered from Vietnam at a reported price of more than $6,000. A group of community leaders in 2014 began raising funds to build a pedestal and pay for a location.
The leaders include Phat Bui, now a Garden Grove Councilman; Neil Nghia Nguyen, the head of the Vietnamese-American Federation of Southern California (the group that banned LGBT Vietnamese-Americans from marching in the Tet parade); and sundry names such as Phan Ky Nhon, head of a group called the Associated Committee Opposing Communists and Their Lackeys (yes the Vietnamese name is just as long and convoluted); Phan Tan Nguu, Tran Thanh Hien, each a head of their own little organizations. It is the last three that have been having a feud with the Supervisor.
The bad blood had been boiling for a long time, but came to a head in the 2014 campaign by Janet Nguyen for the State Senate.
Sensing Nguyen’s vulnerabilities, the three took the radio waves and attacked her with their favorite accusation, of being a communist, and called on Vietnamese-American voters not to vote for her.
The allegations were trivial and familiar (how come there weren’t any South Vietnamese flag at this event, that event, etc.) but apparently serious enough to warrant Nguyen’s then campaign manager Andrew Do to hold a press conference just to bite back. (Remember, back then, most people thought the contest would be close between Janet Nguyen and José Solorio.)
He attacked the attackers swiftly, calling Nhon, Nguu, Hien, as people with “no principles, theories, or beliefs,” just “hired guns” and “thugs.” The presentation went well, and Do, a criminal defense lawyer, happily completed a well-prepared opening statement.
Then stood Lac Tan Nuygen, also a head of his own organization, who repeated again an accusation against Janet Nguyen that Do had already addressed.
That was when Do lost his cool. He interrupted Nuygen, “No no no, this is our program, if you have something to say, go outside and say it.”
Nuygen was not going anywhere. He demanded that Do answer his question, because “voters want to know.”
Do got even madder and stood up, “You’re impudent, get out, do you hear me? I’ll call the police. Shut up and get out.” As Nuygen was escorted out, Do called him a “thug.”
Then more and more people started shouting. Do reportedly got worse, and said, “This is our press conference. We spent the money. We have the right.”
It was the fight, not the presentation, that made the rumor mills the next day. In other words, Do’s attempt at a well-run, well-received, in-control campaign event failed badly.
If the feud with the Neil Nguyen, Nhon, Nguu, Hien quartet had not been irreconcilable before, it definitely was now.
Because they were the cause Do made himself look bad. (Got it?)
So, when Phat Bui and the four raised the money to build the statue pedestal on Bolsa, Do bided his time.
When they did erect the statue in September 2014, however, people were disappointed. The statue was small, just a little over 4 feet, and can’t be seen unless one looks really hard. The general looks like he’s doing some disco or cha-cha dancing or something.
Trying to rectify that, this past April, Neil Nguyen and Nhon held a press conference announcing they would (what else?) raise funds to build yet another statue, commissioned from the same sculptor who made the original one in Saigon, at a projected cost of $68,000 and a fundraising time line of 3 months.
So, bam!, a month later, on May 10, Andrew Do held his own presser, announcing he too would build a statue of Tran Hung Dao.
And he already found a donor to pay for the statue.
So nobody needed to fork over any money for any statue.
The effect was immediate.
Any remaining air was all let out of the Neil Nguyen, Nhon, Nguu, Hien fundraising plan. There’s nothing they could do but to go on Vietnamese-language radio, as Nhon did, complaining.
But no money.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you hit back at people who made you look foolish.
If you’re Do.