Shop Boy Stories #1: Origins

The first of a series of personal blog posts

Who Am I?

So far I’ve been using this blog as a trusty bookshelf, with lots of gaps to fill up with content to remind myself, to amuse myself, and most crucially to make me seem smart when someone drops by. As a matter of fact, from college to this hard-earned miracle of working full-time for a year now, I have been keeping myself occupied filling my mental bookshelves, with Googled explanations, todos for the project I was working on, and quotes from funny podcasts and Hulu shows. All the while, there is a worn and extremely thick volume perched at the bottom, away from the eyes of professionals admiring the bookshelf. It’s a photo album, a history of every snapshot of my life compiled to this collage I call my self, my life. I haven’t looked back through it too much, only with my close family and when I need to motivate myself to keep going after coming this far. Now I’ve been persuaded that it wouldn’t hurt to share a bit with others too...

You are what you have spent the majority of your life doing. So I guess that makes me a shop boy. Sure, I wish I could say I was a kid that fell in love with science and math after an unforgettable experience at a camp or with a mentor, but if you looked through the pages of my life album you’d mostly see pictures of young Danh scanning, bagging, and hauling groceries around in a small family-operated Vietnamese market on Sandy Boulevard. My sister and I grew up in a grocery store, which is like growing up at home but with a few extra steps. We played by running around and between the aisles, and learned important lessons about responsibility and good work ethic by stocking up products on those aisles when the new shipments arrived. As mentioned, it was a true mom-and-pop shop where the only employees were my father, mother, sister, and me. When I was younger we had one or two employees but my father eventually chose to just have the family work after catching some employees stealing, lazing on the job, or simply not being able to afford extra help. I remember after the Great Recession when we had to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy and moved out of the house that the market became a solely family-operated business, and that meant my sister and I were basically part-time employees after school and on the weekends.

I used to regret growing up in a grocery store, which seems absurd now because it’s quite cushy compared to more extreme examples from others’ childhoods: growing up as an athlete with a strict father as a coach, being a farm hand calloused from constant manual labor, and having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet are a few (which sounds more like my father’s childhood). But it did make me feel drastically different compared to the other students at my private elementary school, privileged to pursue more interesting studious and artistic hobbies, and being able to form deeper bonds after school rather than doing homework when it was slow at the cash register. My perspective shifted when I learned of why the store came to be: my father had quit his job at Intel to spend more time with his family and life simply didn’t go according to plan. He had truly achieved the telltale American Dream: by entering America as a Southern Vietnamese Navy refugee after the fallen Vietnam War; and worked his way up from busboy and manual labor jobs to being a veteran Intel electrician. After I was born, he made the decision to self-run a grocery store that he spent a lot of his investments on, and his inexperience with running a business and the rise of behemoths like Walmart led to us having to work along with school to keep the business afloat. I remember that sacrifice constantly and it drives me to continue learning and growing so that Dream can be secured once again.

Also, today is my birthday. Thanks for following my journey.