By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
“My Phuoc” means “joy and fortune coming to America” in Vietnamese, according to Linh Kieu Ngo, and that’s what he named the print shop he opened 26 years ago in Chinatown.
Ngo’s joy has now turned to sadness after shutting down his business on Jan. 30.
“I threw away all of my inventory,” he said. “I sold my printing press on eBay for only $135.”
For the past five years, Ngo has been a victim of the digital revolution. Fewer and fewer customers patronized his business.
Even when Ngo didn’t take a paycheck, he couldn’t afford the rent. “I thought if I worked for free, I could turn the business around,” he said. “I guess I didn’t want to face reality.”
Home computers and printers are inexpensive, and consumers can easily do their printing at home. From simple to complicated color printing, people have learned to print their own business cards, calendars, and personalized stationery. And the machines are clean, not dirty like the old traditional printing machines with ink spilling all over. The Asian Weekly was once Ngo’s customer. A decade ago, the paper bought its own color printers and began printing materials in-house.
As a final resort, Ngo attempted to sell his business, but no one responded to his advertisements. “I can’t catch up with technology,” Ngo said. “I was hoping my daughter could teach me computers, but….”
The proud man remembered how he raised a family of two daughters, now both college graduates living out-of-state. One is attending medical school at Duke Univeristy. The other is getting her master’s degree and working in Ireland.
He also sponsored his four siblings to immigrate to America. “That’s 13 people altogether,” he smiled, referring to his ability to support them when they arrived, in addition to raising two children. “They all have jobs now.”
“I am proud of having my business,” Ngo said, recalling his good business days when he and his wife worked as many as 14 hours a day, seven days a week. He rarely took a vacation during the past two decades until he visited his daughter in Ireland. He was impressed with all the changes in the outside world, he said, including Paris.
“I came to America in 1980 without any money, as a refugee from Vietnam,” Ngo said. “America is a great country. It gave refugees assistance. The government paid for everything. I’m lucky to come to America. I felt like I am achieving the American Dream.”
Ngo earned his associate degree in printing from Highline Community College. He also worked for other printing companies before starting his own business.
“I love the printing business,” he said. “I like to play with machines.”
Now, his machines belong to a bygone era. Most small print shops are struggling to survive.
Although he was tormented for a while wondering if he had made the right decision, Ngo says he is relieved now that his business is closed. At 58, he is free and young enough for new adventures, and is pondering the next chapter of his life.
Does he ever get mad at the Internet, which destroyed his business?
“Technology is wonderful and amazing,” Ngo said. “I can now connect with my family in Vietnam through Skype, and we see each other face to face. No, I don’t want to turn the clock back.” (end)
Assunta Ng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.