Freedom At Any Cost: Local hair stylist makes most of opportunity

By Justin Berg
Contributing Writer 

Imagine growing up in war-torn Vietnam, surrounded by violence and uncertainty. One day, you bid your family farewell, squeeze onto an old wooden boat with a faulty engine and 186 other people, and set sail to God knows where.

That was the reality for local businesswoman Quynh Nguyen (pronounced “Kwenn Gwinn”), then 20, fleeing Vietnam in 1987 in hopes of one day making it to America.

The boat labored along for two days before the engine broke down. Equipped with no food and very little water, the Vietnamese passengers were at the mercy of the sea. The boat floated in oblivion under the dark, black sky, tossing about on the gloomy, choppy water—no land in sight in any direction.

So, there Nguyen was, on a boat in the middle of the sea, with no food, no family and no idea how long she’d be out there. Despite being allowed just a couple sips of water per day, she kept hope alive. To keep her mind off the grimness of the situation, she eagerly talked to others about their more promising future in the U.S.

Six grueling days after the engine died, Nguyen, weak with hunger and her lips cracked and bleeding, spotted a green mountain in the distance.

“When I saw that mountain, I was born again,” she recalls.

It took one more day to dock at shore, but she finally stepped off that boat and set foot onto Thai soil.

Thailand was a safe haven to many refugees at the time, with Americans and other Westerners providing relief. Although she had to sleep on palm tree leaves the first night, Nguyen was brimming with hope.

After two long years confined in a refugee camp, Nguyen finally had her immigration interview. After explaining how much she desired freedom, her request was granted. “Welcome to America,” the interviewer said—beautiful music to Nguyen’s ears.

Nguyen was then sent to the Philippines to learn how to live in America. Six months later, the tough-minded Vietnamese woman who had fled the Communist regime was on a plane to California with a bigsmile on her face.

She worked a sewing job and went to school. She got married. The rest of her family eventually fled Vietnam, landing in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Nguyen and her husband made the trek up to Bellingham 12 years ago to be close-by.

After arriving in Bellingham, Nguyen took a job at a local salon and quickly became its best stylist. When the shop’s owner retired a year later, he bestowed upon Nguyen his loyal customers and she opened her own salon out of her house on Marine Drive in Bellingham.

And, I can tell you, I’m glad she did. She’s been cutting my hair for more than five years now, and every single time I look in the mirror when she’s finished, I say, “Yep, that’s exactly what I wanted.”

Nguyen has many faithful, longtime customers, and is brilliant with perms, colors, hilites and good old- fashioned men’s cuts. She even gives family discounts.

Nguyen is always in a beautiful mood, thankful for every ounce of freedom she worked so hard to attain. She risked everything seeking opportunity in the U.S.—and she has made the most of that opportunity.

Her salon, Quynh Nguyen Beauty Salon, is at 683 Marine Drive, right across from Coconut Grove, in the green house with the white gate.

For more information call 360-671-2241.

Justin Berg is a freelance writer, marketer and salesman who has lived in Bellingham for seven years. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, he graduated from Miami University in 2002. His passion is baseball. He is the author of several ebooks, including “When Baseball Was Black And White” and “How To Get Rid Of Sinus And Breathing Problems (For Less Than Three Bucks)” He can be reached at

Tags: ,

Related Stories