Propping up the bar with… Scotty Nguyen… Part I
Saturday, 21 November 2009
Have you ever had an epic conversation with some bloke at a bar, woken up the next day and then really wished you’d recorded it? Fortunately, we make a rule of always recording our bar conversations and that’s why we can bring you… Propping up the Bar with Scotty Nguyen.
Bluff: Where did it all start, Scotty?
You know, 20 years ago I don’t remember thinking about becoming a poker player. When we were growing up as kids in Vietnam we always watched American movies. We only knew two cities, Las Vegas and Hollywood. We didn’t know about anything else. We don’t know New York, California – none of that. We don’t know anything about London, Paris. I mean, it was too much for us.
Growing up, every kid goes, “I wanna go to Las Vegas. Look at those lights!” We’d just go crazy to see that town, the town that never sleeps. I was living in California, and then one night we had a pay cheque, like, 100 bucks each, six of us, and we never did anything. We’d just go home, Friday night, get together, have a drink, get ready to go dancing.
Well, we saw Las Vegas on TV. So, I say, “You know, from there to here is about four or five hours?” Why don’t we just drive over there? We just had a pay cheque.”
Three of us ride out to Las Vegas. So there we go. We’ve got no clothes, no luggage or anything, right? We just hop in the car and go before we change our minds. Friday night, you know, teenagers, six of us, the gas in the car, off to Las Vegas. When we get to the first casino… Oh. My. God! That’s it baby, dream come true. In Vietnam we watch that on TV, now it’s right in front of us.
You know, everyone’s like goose bumps, it was so exciting, every one was like “Yeah, come on baby! We’re gonna see all the girls,” and all that. The first casino we walked in, every one of us under 21 – we’re all, like, 19, 18, but when we go in there we change the money, put the money in the change machine, played like crazy. The next thing we know somebody taps our shoulders. Turn around, security. “Can we see your driving license? No, you guys cannot play.”
But by the time they’d kicked us out, every one of us was broke (much laughter). When we went in we had about $1,000 all together and after we get kicked out, we add it all together and have less than 40 bucks. Why didn’t you kick us out two hours ago? We would have had all this money! We walked out, standing around with the car. Standing in the parking lot, all sad. What are we going to do, we’ve got no money? We didn’t even get to see the main town. Let’s go home man. We’ve got enough money for gas. Everybody sits down. Everybody’s so disappointed. We turn around and go home.
About half an hour on the way home and I go, “Come on. You know what our dream is? Our dream is to see Las Vegas, right? That’s only the first casino. You know how many casinos they got behind that? Red, bright lights, rainbows, you know, gonna be so pretty. Come on let’s drive through it before we go home.” My friends say, “All right, what the hell let’s go.”
We go through town… Oh my God! When we saw the town we forgot about the money. We don’t even think about that. You see women everywhere. You know this is like 20 years ago, hookers were everywhere. And they’re just standing on the street; I mean, they’re everywhere! It was legal then 20 years ago. Oh my God, look at this, look at this. Look at this casino, looks at these lights, look at that woman! So now we’re starving, every one of us is hungry. We saw a buffet, all you can eat 99c. Let’s stop over there, Harrah’s. So we all parked the car and go and eat Harrah’s buffet. We’re eating, the bus boy’s cleaning the table from where the customer just left. Two bus boys come out. One of them says, “Look at this place, it’s so busy and we don’t have enough help.” I heard something – only I heard it – and I said to one of them,
“Excuse me, do you think they can give me a job?”
“Well, yeah. Just look at this place. See that little woman that just walked by. She’s the manager. Talk to her. She’ll give you a job.”
But back then you had to join the union. You had to pay a certain amount. Every 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning you go over there, sit for hours, waiting for them to call your name. Me, I just walk up to her and say, “Excuse me, Miss, I heard that you can give me a job”.
I didn’t speak good English then. She looked at me and said, “Follow me”. Just like that, “follow me”. Go into her office, she asks me what is my name, etc, etc. I fill out the application right in the office. She asked me all kind of questions. She asked my name, I say, “Thuan Ban Nguyen.”
She goes “What?”
“Thuan Ban Nguyen.”
She says, “No, no, no. Scotty Nguyen!”
That’s where the name comes from.
Bluff: No joke? She just made it up?
I swear to God. She’s going no, no, no… Scotty Nguyen. From now on you’re Scotty Nguyen.
I say, yes.
Bluff: Love it, love it.
And then she looked at me. “When can you work?” I say “Now”. I didn’t know what to say so I just said now. She said you can’t work now, look at you, painted shoes, jeans – no, we need black pants, black shoes. Shirt we have. All you need is to come up with black pants and black shoes and then you can work tomorrow. You’re gonna work from 4 till 12. Don’t be late. Start tomorrow.
I walked out, talked to my friends. I said “I think you guys have to go on home without me.” They looked at me like, “What? What the hell are you doing here? You’re nobody here. You don’t know one person here.”
But this is it. This is my dream. I’ve got no money. Six bucks in my pocket, that’s it. No suit, no pants, no luggage, no nothing, right? They go, “What you gonna do man? You gotta go home and get your things.”
I said, “I can’t, I’ve got to work tomorrow.”
I let them know that I was Scotty Nguyen now. The first Vietnamese to have an American name out of all the Vietnamese people we knew. I look at them, I’m Scotty Nguyen now. They go, “What? How the hell you come up with that name?”
Finally they left and I walked back into Harrah’s, back into the restaurant, ordered a Coke and sat there thinking. And I saw a guy there, black hair, exactly the same size as me, same height, same build, everything. I walked up to the guy, he’s a bus boy “Excuse me, are you Vietnamese?” and he says yes, and I was just so happy. I start talking to him, “I just got hired. I don’t know anyone. You think that I could stay with you until I get my first pay cheque? And I pay whatever that is and help out with food, gas, etc, etc. He goes, “Oh, yeah… why not?” and we’re still friends now. I help him so much now. If he’s late for a car payment, mortgage, I lend him the money. The baby needs something I loan him the money. I never see a dime back. Just because I think back to that day.
It’s like everywhere I go any place I go. Taiwan was the same thing. I was there as a Vietnamese refugee. I don’t know anything, not the language, not anything – somebody up there is looking out for me.
When you get to Taiwan they put you in the camp, surround you with soldiers and police, watching you, right? Whatever they give to you, you have to eat it. Whatever clothes they give you, you have to wear. You don’t have a choice. You can’t say, I don’t like this, I don’t like that. I stayed there for six months. Seven hundred of us, all refugees. One night I said I’m going to go in the city and get what I want. I told my brother and all the guys I escaped from Vietnam with that I’m going to be in the big city. They’re all laughing. The next day I’m missing in action.
BE: How did you get out?
SN: I just climbed over the wall, baby!
We were refugees. We weren’t dangerous people. It’s not like they kept you prisoner. They don’t care. But nobody even dared to do something like that. I, by myself, climb over the wall, get to the bus station and wait for the bus. And they’re like, “Where you going?” and I just point towards all the lights and all the buildings. They say, “Penghu?” Now I buy the ticket to go there. They drop me over there. About an hour away, all by myself, don’t speak any Chinese. Up and down streets, everywhere and everywhere, one supermarket, they sell beer, noodles, milk you name it. So I walk in and saw the old woman and the old man behind the desk. So I walked straight in there. I used like sign language, me (pointing to himself). Right outside they have a man carrying a case of beer, putting it in the trunk. She looked at me, and pointed. Just like that. I have a job! She said something, looked at one of the guys, he came in spoke English, and at the time the only thing I know is name so I say name and I hear him say someone’s name, like it’s my name. I say Thuan Ban Nguyen. What? Fan Nguyen Suyen? He’s just given me a new name! I have a new name everywhere I go. They hire me right there on the spot.
She said right there across the street, that’s their house. Giant house, right across the street. Then we go to the fourth floor and she shows me the room. This is your room, a bed and everything. Then she showed the clock. Tomorrow 8 o’clock, me and you, we work. In less than six months I was speaking Chinese just like a native.
Next week, pretty much the rest of Scotty’s life story…