No one is prouder to be a Farrington High School grad (1983)…no one is prouder of his “grew up in Kalihi” heritage…….but KEN TRAN’s life story is a little bit different from many of us who were “island born”…..
In 1979, among the thousands of South Vietnamese people who fled from their homeland to escape the tyranny of the newly installed Communist government in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon ) was a young thirteen year old boy named KEN TRAN and his even younger sister TIFFANY TRAN. Both were born in the Cholon area of Saigon in the late 1960s while the American-supported South Vietnamese government still had control of South Vietnam . After South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese Army and the exodus of refugees began, Ken’s parents decided to send their children to freedom but could only afford to pay for two of their six children to leave. Since Ken was the oldest son, his Chinese parents wanted Ken to go to America and earn enough money so he could some day help pay for the rest of the family to join him! Tiffany was the only daughter and the parents wanted her out of “harm’s way” so sent her with Ken.
There were over two hundred refugees aboard the ship with Ken and his sister! After nearly two weeks at sea, the ship initially docked in Malaysia but it was sent back out to sea because Malaysia was overwhelmed with too many South Vietnamese refugees. A week later, with very little water and less food supplies, the ship was allowed to land in Indonesia . That Ken and his sister survived twenty days at sea with little water and food is a tribute to their personal will and determination. Towards the end of their boat trip, the two youngsters went several days without eating; each lost a lot of weight and thought they would probably starve to death before they landed in a refugee camp in Indonesia .
Later in 1979, Ken and his sister were allowed to join an uncle in Hawaii where both grew up and went to school. Ken says, “I grew up in Kalihi and went to Kalakaua Intermediate and that was more tough than the 20 days at sea because I spoke very little English and all the “locals” picked on me. But I’m proud to say I’m a Farrington High School grad! Go Governors!!!” It was during his twenty years in Kalihi than Ken began to adopt the Hawaiian culture as part of his own!
Ken Tran chose to become a professional cook and has slowly but surely progressed up the ladder of success, eventually serving eleven years with the world famous “Tanaka of Tokyo ” restaurant chain in Hawaii . He was Executive Chef of “Tanaka of Tokyo ” (in the Ilikai Hotel) from 1992 – 1999 and was featured in several Honolulu and Japanese newspaper photos/stories because of his expertise as a chef!
Ken’s brothers Phillip, Johnny and Chung had their own scary moments just trying to survive under Ho Chi Minh City ’s communist rulers until they were allowed to leave South Vietnam in 1989. After living and working in Hawaii for over ten years, the “Brothers Tran” decided to move to Washington State in 1999 with dreams of opening up their own restaurants.
Initially, the Brothers Tran worked for a variety of food outlets in Seattle (including Microsoft Food Service/Benihana/ the Emerald Grill at the Seattle Holiday Inn) gaining valuable experience in preparing/serving multi-cultural menus before opening up their own places. Currently the Brothers Tran are owners/managers of the Pho Huy Vietnamese café in Mukilteo (which brother Chung manages) and the Ginger Palace restaurant in the Ramada Hotel by SeaTac Airport (which Ken and Phillip co-manage while Johnny is maitre d). Ken describes the menu at the Ginger Palace as Pan-Asian. I’ve always wondered what “Pan-Asian” meant so Ken showed me the Ginger Palace menu and said to me: “Picture a map of Asia…starting with Korea to the North and sweeping down the Asian coast line to India on the South…see how we have emerged the tastes of the various countries along that coast line into our menu…a little bit of Korea (kalbi) and Japan (teriyaki) and Mongolia (beef) and China (kung pao) and Thailand (pad thai) and Vietnam (pho) and India (curries)…..and of course we have the American classics (steaks, shrimps, hamburgers)….then we blend in the Hawaiian taste (Hawaiian Garlic Chicken Wings plus the Aloha Friday specials)…..we also have vegetarian dishes and low-carb dishes…we have something for everyone!”
Ken has never forgotten what he calls his Hawaiian/Kalihi heritage and recently created an “Aloha Friday” celebration every Friday at the Ginger Palace restaurant where Hawaiian Islanders can come in, relax, have a Pan-Asian or great Hawaiian style meal (including such as ahi poke, lau lau, lomi salmon, kalua pig, etc) and enjoy live Hawaiian music (9pm – 11pm.) Go try it on any Aloha Friday (every Friday)…..great food, attractive and fun place!
Ken’s sister Tiffany Siou is now a doctor (psychologist) who still lives in Honolulu . Ken’s parents have made several trips to Hawaii and to Washington State but could not acclimate to the American lifestyle and have chosen to remain in their Vietnam homeland.
Until next time…..be kind to each other…..me ke Aloha pumehana……….Danny