Nina Nguyen – organic vegetables on a Ho Chi Minh City rooftop ….
Nina is a senior lawyer with Rouse Legal Vietnam, a member of the Rouse Network. She has experience of a wide range of IP issues, particularly enforcement, in Vietnam.
In the house that Nina shares with her husband, VO Dang Thuan, and two children in urban Ho Chi Minh city, half the top floor, or roof, is dedicated to organic vegetable growing. It’s a most impressive vegetable garden– well ordered and prolific, full of all sorts of wonderfully healthy looking vegetables which vary according to season: things like cucumber, gourd, bitter gourd (bitter melon), morning glory (winter spinach), and lemongrass. It is obviously the result of careful planning and hard work - and plays an important role in the life of the family. In many ways it’s a reflection of Nina’s life in which planning, hard work and family are all important elements. She says she thinks her ability to plan and maintain a full, but balanced, life, started with the birth of her daughter – in reality, it was developing much earlier than that.
When she was growing up in a small town in Long An Province, just 30 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City, many of the families nearby were encouraging their children to work and earn money while still at school and start full-time jobs as soon as they left school. Not Nina’s parents: they were thinking further ahead, planning for the future. They wanted their children to do well at school, go to university, and get good jobs. They wanted them to study rather than take extra jobs, even if in the short term that meant more hard work and less money. They have not been disappointed: Nina and her three sisters and one brother now all have good, well-paid jobs – and the family remains close. Her brother is a mechanical engineer, working in Osaka, Japan; two of her sisters run their own small businesses in HCIC (one processing OEM plastic items and the other making garments); and the third is Chief Accountant with a Japanese company in HCMC.
Nina, the oldest of five children, grew up with a well-developed sense of responsibility. She always did well at school and in High School found herself in a class for high achievers. When the time came to leave school, she got a full scholarship from Long An Province to study English at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City, with the aim of returning to the Province to teach English. Studying English seemed a good choice: knowledge of English gave access to foreign companies and English teachers were well respected. Moving to Ho Chi Minh City, however, was the first time Nina had been away from home. It was a big challenge, but she worked hard and did well.
Her main aim when she graduated was just to get a job where she could use English and earn money to support her parents and enable her younger siblings to finish school. While she was waiting for allocation of work back in Long An Province she came into contact with Rouse and was offered a job as a secretary in the Investigation Team. For her at the time it was an amazing job – she was thrilled to be using her English and working for a foreign company. She could see that it was an environment in which she could learn, develop, and acquire new skills and before long she had abandoned the idea of going back to Long An Province and decided to stay with Rouse. After several years, she was appointed head of the IS team and now, 18 years and a law degree later, she’s a highly valued senior member of the Dispute Resolution Team.
Her time with the IS Team, however, was valuable not only professionally because that is when she met her future husband, Thuan Vo, a friend of one of the investigators. He had come to Ho Chi Minh City from a similar background in a Province in central Vietnam. He is now Head of OEM Channel for a lighting company that was previously the lighting department of Phillips. Their daughter Thao was born in 2006 and their son Phat in 2011.
In 2009 they bought some land in Tan Phu, an urban district in HCMC, and in 2015, with savings and profits from other real estate investments, built the house they now live in. They were closely involved in all aspects of the project from design to build and decoration to ensure that the house would suit their family in every way. Nina’s mother-in-law now lives with them and takes good care of the children. There is also extra help in the house to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Nina’s day starts at 6.00 am, preparing breakfast for her children and getting them ready for school, and three times a week she goes swimming or to the gym before work. Maintaining a healthy and balanced life is a priority.
Weekends are for the children and family activities include tending the vegetable garden, cooking together, going to the cinema, swimming, playing ping-pong or badminton, and taking the children to their various activities which include English, guitar and karate lessons – Thao already has a black belt in karate. It is a busy life, but in all of this Nina’s parents have certainly not been forgotten. The five children and their families take it in turns to visit at weekends and every three or four weeks there is a bigger get together. Then it’s like old times with everyone joining in the cooking and children playing football and flying kites. There is a small garden full of interesting fruit that finds its way onto the table: pomelos (the largest member of the citrus family, they look something like a huge grapefruit), plums, star apples (sometimes called milk fruit) and star fruit (so called because when sliced it, looks like yellow stars).
Back in Ho Chi Minh City, that carefully tended city rooftop vegetable garden reflects an important aspect of Nina’s life and that of her family. Somehow, in Vietnam’s largest and fastest-paced city, she and Thuan Vo have managed to maintain traditional values in a rapidly changing world; striking an enviable balance between old and new, family and professional life.