Sunday, May 10, 2009

Part 2: Chess proponent shares harrowing story

Polgar: Part 2: Chess proponent shares harrowing story of getting to U.S.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Story last updated at 5/10/2009 - 2:04 am

This is a continuation from last week. Some readers would like to know who my husband is and what is his role in chess.

Susan Polgar: How did you manage to survive?

Paul Truong: I guess my father and I survived because of our inner strength. We said to ourselves, "we have to live. We have to make it because if we don't, my younger brother and mother would eventually die in Vietnam." They had no way of taking care of themselves. The communists did not treat them well after learning of the escape of my father and me. They punished them. They took away everything they owned. So we had to be strong and make it. We had no choice.

SP: I've known you for more than 20 years now. I know you usually don't want to talk about it. But I think this is really important for chess fans around the country and around the world to know why you are so passionate about helping chess. I think it is very inspirational. Please go on. How did you survive?

PT: We were drifting nowhere for a long time. All of sudden, after weeks of nothing but ocean, we finally saw land at the end of the horizon.

SP: So that was it?

PT: Not exactly! We could not get there because we had no fuel. And it was too long of a distance to swim. No one would make it. But luckily, I don't know how, but the current apparently pushed us slowly closer. Then out of nowhere, Indonesian navy ships came in front of us to stop us from entering. My father was brought to the commanding ship. They told my father to turn our boat around. My father explained to them we could not. We had no fuel, no food, no water and many of our people had died. They said they had orders not to let us in. If we do, they have no choice but to shoot us down.

My father told them in that case then please just save all of us from a slow and eventual death by shooting all of us now. We would not make it anyway.

Upon returning to our boat, my father ordered everyone to throw overboard all the dead bodies that relatives were still trying to hold on to for a proper burial. This was our only hope to show them how bad the situation was. When the captain of the commanding ship saw how many bodies were there, I think he changed his mind. An hour later, an official helicopter circled around us and they officially requested to have us brought to safety. In my heart, I know that the captain had radioed for help. But he would never admit it.

SP: So this was the end of the journey?

PT: Kind of! To make the long story short, after we were brought to this wild and deserted island, we were safe. But we still had no food. I had to hunt and fish with my bare hands, and find fruits from the jungle. We had to do whatever we could to survive.

This was a real survival experience, not the game you see on TV. Many more people died as a result of malnutrition. We stayed here for about 5-6 months I think. Then finally, we came to New Jersey on Dec. 1, 1979. I spoke no English. I was frail. I was very rusty in chess. It was a disaster.

SP: So did you start to play a lot of chess in here in America? And did anyone know what you had to endure?

PT: I played in any tournament that I could afford to enter. I had no money. I was going to high school full time (without even knowing the language) and I worked seven part-time jobs at night and weekends to raise money to send back to Vietnam to help my mother, my brother and more than 60 other relatives. Most people did not know this. Some knew, but very little. I did not want anyone to feel sorry for me. I wanted to earn everything by merit.

I became a master again in 1980. I was right around 15. I won many tournaments, but I could not afford to enter many big tournaments, so mostly regional ones.

SP: So when did you leave chess?

PT: At the age of 17, I had to make a very hard decision. Do I want to continue to play chess and be a professional, and to fulfill my dream of being a grandmaster? Or do I just give it up and go to college and have a professional career?
I chose to leave the game. How could I be a world-class player if I did not even have the opportunity to train or play? So I went to college.

SP: What happened after college?

PT: I began working professionally. I worked very hard. I put in 16- to 18-hour days, seven days a week. I did that every day for 15 years. Then in 2001, on 9/11, you remember we had a business meeting right around the World Trade Center area that morning. I guess someone up there did not want us to go. That was when I felt that it was my calling to do something I always wanted to do, and that is to get back into the chess field. That was always my true love.

SP: Is this why making a difference for chess is so important to you?

PT: Yes. Absolutely. I lost my chance to become a very special player in chess when I was younger because of the political situation in my country. I did not have this chance. Then when I came to America, I could not pursue chess fully because I could not afford it. That is why it is my mission to change this.

I want to be able to give every child an opportunity to play this game. I want every child who wants to pursue his or her dream will have the proper guidance and assistance. I would like to promote chess as a tool to help all children academically and in life. I know that I may not reach every child. But I will give it 150 percent everyday to fulfill this mission. Why not? Who says we can't do it? If I can survive everything I went through in life, why can't I do this?

I don't know failure. I don't accept failures. I don't understand the word "impossible." I did not risk my life, give up everything to come here to just be another person. I want to make a difference. I want to give back for the blessing I had.

SP: Is this where you get your passion?

PT: Yes! Whatever I do, I give 150 percent of myself. Everything I do, I do with a passion. Everything I say, I say it with a passion. This is me. I hope my passion will rub off on other people. I hope that when more people see why I am doing this, they will join and lend a hand.

There are about 40-45 million people who play this game according to the numbers I read. Why can't chess be bigger and more popular? I am absolutely positive that we will succeed if everyone works together and what we do can change an entire generation.

Source: Avalanche Journal
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