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Family's sacrifice provides opportunity for spa owner
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Photo: Todd Welvaert
Hong Nguyen, the owner of Shangari-la Day Spa, was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was 7 years old. She now calls the Quad Cities her home and owns a spa in Moline.
MOLINE — Other than playing in her grandfather's fruit garden as a toddler, Moline resident Hong Nguyen does not have any vivid memories from her early childhood in Vietnam.

As a 4-year-old during the latter part of the Vietnam War, Hong's family traveled to the city of Hue on the eastern coast of the country. In Hue, the Nguyens joined many other Vietnamese families on small fishing boats and fled the country. Hong's mother was pregnant on the boat, an addition to a family that already included Hong, her two younger brothers and an older sister.

However, her family blocked out many of these memories.

Before the cramped fishing boat was picked up by a U.S. Navy ship, one of Hong's younger brothers died of starvation and dehydration.In addition to dealing with the loss of an immediate family member, some of Hong's relatives were arrested as they tried to flee the country.

Soon after the Nguyens arrived in Pennsylvania, Hong's mother went into labor. In a rush to help her, Hong's father jumped up from a picnic table the family was sitting on, and Hong's leg broke in the scurry. Caring for a newborn son, a child with a broken leg and two other young children, the Nguyens decided to change their original plan to find a home in California. A Quad-Cities church decided to sponsor the Nguyens, and they were flown to Davenport.

"There were not many other Vietnamese families in the Quad-Cities yet when my family got here," said Hong, whose parents opened up a Vietnamese grocery store called Hoa Thanh soon after their arrival.

The Nguyens still manage the store today on West 3rd Street in Davenport.

Although it took some time to get acclimated to the area, more Vietnamese families continued to flee to the U.S., and the Vietnamese community grew in the Quad-Cities as well.

While the Nguyens developed a strong and successful home base in Davenport, Hong's older sister decided to enroll at the University of Iowa. After Hong finished her junior year at Davenport North High School, her mother wanted her to live with her sister in Iowa City and finish high school there.
After her senior year of high school, Hong followed in her sister's footsteps and applied to be a Hawkeye. Shewas accepted into the business school, but her college career stopped short after two years.

"I was offered a job with decent pay so that seemed like a better decision then," Hong said.

Not long after she took the job, Hong received a phone call from her mother telling her she had bought a chain of nail salons around the Quad-Cities. While her mother wanted her to get her degree, Hong thought she could use the skills she had learned to help run the salons.

Hong said she thinks she made the right decision leaving Iowa City. Once she established a clientele at a salon, her family sold it, and Hong continued this pattern in Muscatine and Burlington.
With a successful track record and a lot of experience, Hong wanted to open her own salon. However, she did not have enough money to start something on her own, so she looked to the people who always had been there for her.

"My whole family helped me out on this project. They believed in me even though they could've lost a lot of money," said Hong.

At the age of 31 in 2004, Hong opened the Shangri-La Day Spa in Moline.

She had to find trained employees whom she trusted and to build a clientele to support her new business.For every issue she encountered opening her business, Hong remembered all of the struggles her family went through that allowed her to have this opportunity.

"My mom is my hero, so I try to live by what she taught me," Hong said. "I just treated other people how I wanted to be treated, and I knew that I would be accountable for all of my actions."

Sticking to her mother's advice and sleeping only two hours each night, Hong was able to build a successful business.

"My clients became my friends, and my employees became my second family," she said.
Although she now gets more sleep — about five hours each night — Hong still considers herself a workaholic and said she still does not have much free time.

Now 39, she hopes to adopt a child and continue running her spa while giving back to the community that raised her.

Every February at her spa, Hong co-hosts a "Martinis and Manicures"fundraiser with the Rock Island County Medical Society Alliance. All of the proceeds go to Trinity Medical Center's children's ward.

"I give back because I wouldn't have been able to follow my dream without the help and support from my community," she said.


Vietnam

-- Location: Southeastern Asia, bordering the Gulf of Thailand, Gulf of Tonkin, and South China Sea, as well as China, Laos, and Cambodia.

-- Population: 91,519,289 (July 2012 estimate). No. 13 in the world.

-- Languages: Vietnamese (official); English (increasingly favored as a second language); some French, Chinese, and Khmer; mountain area languages (Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian).

Source: CIA World Factbook.




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(More History)