REI-Vietnam News

“Just Jacq”—A Tribute to Jacqueline Ngin

by Presley McFadden |

Image: “Just Jacq”—A Tribute to Jacqueline Ngin
In Praise of a Devoted Life

Happy Birthday, "Just Jacq"

“Happy Hải”, “Terrific Tuấn”, “Decisive Dương”, “Magnificent Mary”, “Graceful Grace”, “Kind Khoi”, “Peaceful Presley”, “Trustworthy Tiến” and so the game goes. We sit in a circle and introduce ourselves to newcomers in our “Fun Club” group at Mike and Jacq’s house and we then come to the hosts themselves.

“Merciful Michael.” The first impression of Michael is slow to anger and has a gentle spirit about him. A powerful personality, still, to be sure – but quite different from his wife’s.

“Just Jacq.” Jacq is seen as more direct, firm and out for justice! She is going to tell you like it is and her words will be fewer, but just as timely. Michael and Jacq compliment one another perfectly, and while this simple ice-breaker game could never come close to giving us a full picture of each of their characters, it does give us a bit of a glimpse.

And a glimpse is sometimes all people have. They walk away knowing a lot about Michael and perhaps all they need to know about Jacq, with “Just Jacq” becoming dangerously confused with “simply Jacq,” or “only Jacq.” So, on the occasion of her birthday, I’d like to take the opportunity to honor someone who has been a big sister to me – Jacqueline Ngin – by sharing some more of what I’ve seen in her life over the years.

The truth is, Jacq might not mind the latter interpretation of “Just Jacq” at all, because she is such an amazing servant, happily and effectively helping and advising behind the scenes. She is one of the most hospitable people you will ever meet. In fact, that’s how I got to know the Mike and Jacq a bit better in the first place. When I was travelling through Singapore to Vietnam in 2004, they allowed this ang moh (foreigner), who was only planning to be in Vietnam (where they had already lived for a few years) for 11 months, to stay with them. To further illustrate how important that 5-day stay at their home was – on my second day there, they introduced me to my future wife! (But that’s another story.)

I had met Jacq a month earlier in the U.S. during a REI conference in Colorado. The first thing I remember her saying to me was: “Oh, you don’t eat seafood or vegetables? I’m sorry, but you’re not going to make it in Vietnam!” None of this, “Hey, it’s great that you’re leaving the States to go and work in Vietnam and I’m sure after some time there, you’ll be able to adapt and acculturate to the lifestyle there.” Uh-uh. Jacq just dropped the truth on me – “Change your eating habits.” No “ifs” “ands” or “buts” about it – get it done. You have to change.

I thought to myself, “Who is this lady? She just met me and she thinks she can just be so upfront with me? I’ll show her.” Well, that didn’t happen. I eat a lot more seafood and vegetables these days. “Just Jacq” was right.

As time went on, and I ended up staying in Vietnam longer, I got to know Jacq better and become more accustomed to her style of communication. Sometimes her words have still stung, much like words from a big sister are prone to do. But in the same way, she has also been, more often than not, spot-on with her words. Because, let’s be honest, sometimes the truth stings – sometimes it even annoys.

There is a song called “Brother’s Keeper” that I quite like. One lyric that reminds me of Jacq is: “There’s no point in pointing fingers, unless you’re pointing to the truth.”

She was super-helpful when I was pursuing that wife I mentioned earlier. It wasn’t just Michael who was giving me counsel. She was such a gift when I had a Chinese friend that needed her as a big sister too. She was the one who told Michael to “go for it” when the vision of Tea Talk was forming. What a blessing of support those words are to a husband. And the support hasn’t stopped. She has trained staff there in baking, and has done so well that she can with humility and yet with a healthy pride say that who she has trained is now better than she is.

Indeed, she has shown her strengths and vulnerabilities here in Vietnam over the years, in both word and deed. There has been much laughter and plenty of tears. She has been through a lot (including the motorcycle accident injury pictured above), and has blessed many around her through her unshakeable conviction that she is there for a purpose.

I’ve been on the receiving end of her forgiveness more than once (and for things more serious than that time I exploded an air-tight container of sugar cubes all over her kitchen because I didn’t know how to open it properly) and enjoyed some of her awesome meals. I’ve seen her persevere through a motorbike accident and passionately home-school her daughter on the second floor of a house off Khuất Duy Tiến. I’ve seen her care for our own kids and, most recently, even help us in naming our new son Owen.

“Just Jacq” has just been a model of patience, diligence, consistency, and sacrifice. We in Vietnam are more than blessed to have not just Michael but also Jacq – they come as a powerful package, and support one another wonderfully. As a result, they support and build up others more effectively, beautifully.

Happy Birthday to my big sister – Jacqueline Ngin. Thank you for always being someone that I can learn from and look up to.

PEACE, Presley

Note: On January 1 in Singapore an hour-long television show was broadcast featuring Michael, Jacqueline, and Grace Ong. The TV program is called "Show Me a Singaporean," and the hour-long program, which normally shows the life of 2 or 3 Singaporeans living around the globe, exclusively featured the Ong family in Hanoi. The majority of the broadcast is in Mandarin, but English and Vietnamese are also spoken. Even if your Mandarin is a little weak (!) this show is well worth watching. The video is in two parts; the first is about 28 minutes long, and toward the end of it you can click on the sign for the second video, which is about 15 more minutes. Click on the following link to watch: ENJOY!

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