By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Most of the city’s dwellings cannot be seen from the traffic-clogged boulevards, but are reached through a labyrinthine system of alleyways called hem, which sometimes stretch for miles off the main roads, far from the fumes and scorching sun. Some are as narrow as the length of a motorbike; more expensive homes are on the main streets or the widest hem, fenced in and even surrounded by gardens or swimming pools. Since land taxes are calculated based on width and not height, the city’s architecture often takes on dollhouse proportions, some houses having only one tiny room per floor.
The café owner’s house is worth more because of its location on a busy thoroughfare, where most high-stakes commerce takes place. And a substantial part of that worth has evidently been reinvested in making its inhabitants forget that they are in the country’s grimiest and most populous city. Sound-proofed windows, mossy indoor waterfalls and retractable shutters insulate us from the midday traffic and dust below. I reluctantly follow Mike out of the dream world and back down into the bustling café, where we get back to talking about his homecoming.
In Saigon for almost three years now, Mike describes his Vietnamese as “polite and childish.” Despite having heard the language spoken at home, none of his friends growing up were Vietnamese, and as a result he never developed a full vocabulary in his native tongue. English is the language in which he thinks, dreams and works. He gets by on the street but feels more like an actor who knows his lines well enough to get through a scene, nothing more. “I almost totally forgot Vietnamese and had to relearn it when I came back. Growing up our parents were always telling us to be American, whatever that meant!”
Back then, the Do family lived in poor, ethnic neighborhoods in San Jose, surrounded by other minorities who all called themselves American too. “I was confused,” he says, “because I was neither this nor that. My values were different from my parents, because I liked American stuff, but also different from my friends because my Vietnamese culture dictated that certain things were proper.”
Mike has few memories of the Saigon he left before he could talk. In 1975, his mother, who now goes by the name Yenha (Ngoc Yen in Vietnamese), was a translator for the American embassy, and was on the list of evacuees. Her husband, Huong Do, was an ARVN (South Vietnamese army) captain. With the Southern regime’s collapse at hand, they sent their three young sons, with other relatives, to the U.S. on a military plane.
Yenha, Huong, and her five brothers and sisters made it inside the embassy, up to the roof and aboard one of the last departing helicopters — those emblems of America's final, chaotic days in Vietnam. Once in the States, Huong tended bar and trained to be an electrical engineer. Yenha worked as a hotel accountant, social worker, draftsperson and electronics designer for IBM. In her free time she painted and sculpted, imparting to her children a sense of the art and culture of the country they barely knew. The eldest, Arthur, grew up to be like their father’s family: a line of rational engineers and lawyers.
“That side of the family goes after more attainable goals,” says Mike, “something that’s steady and reliable and makes you money. Chris and I dream of something more, something better.”
The squat red-brick exterior of Blind, Chris Do’s Santa Monica motion-graphics studio on an industrial stretch of Olympic Boulevard, contrasts sharply with the light and airy space I walk into on a summer afternoon. The minimalist-chic waiting area’s stocked bookshelves and foosball table bring to mind a TV sitcom office. The coffee table is stacked with the latest issues of Blender, Details and Electronic Gaming Monthly, and a variety of salty snacks are available. Before I can immerse myself in a graphic novel from the shelf, Chris’ assistant escorts me to his office, where Blind’s smiling president and chief creative officer is waiting behind an organized desk. The physical resemblance between the brothers is apparent, but Chris’ close-cropped hair, trendy sneakers and silver hoops glinting in both ears accentuate their not-so-subtle differences.
Although at 34 only a year older than Mike, Chris has already signed on for the full adult package: two kids, a business, home, responsibility. He befriended his future wife, Jessie Huang, who was born and raised in Taiwan, when they were both attending Art Center. “Initially, Jessie was doing all the design and animation work with me, when the company was just the two of us,” Chris says. “Now she’s like our CFO.”
Blind has grown to include a 15-member creative and production team, and the client roster boasts big names: Saatchi & Saatchi, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nike and Nissan. Recent work runs the gamut from the title sequence for the skateboarder flick Dogtown and the promo for Major League Baseball’s all-star game to the Black Eyed Peas’ short “Instant Def” and the kaleidoscopic animated video for Gnarls Barkley’s mega hit “Crazy,” which recently won a pair of MTV Video Music Awards for best direction and best editing.