I do not know if it is a cultural thing, or just a personal kindness of Be, but for thirty years he let me misspell his name without comment.
Every check I paid him for the six years he worked with me, every check I wrote for the next 24 years as I had special jobs done, every time I posted about his wonderful work, I misspelled his name. For almost thirty-two years I have misspelled his name as Bei Van Tiet. (Pronounce similarly to Bay)
Today as I looked at the paper his name and picture jumped out at me. Be Van Tiet of Boise, passed away Wednesday surrounded by his family.
I first met Be in the fall of 1979 when I was contacted by his sister’s church asking me if I could help find a job for a Vietnamese refugee who was a jeweler. I had been open only a short time and asked them to bring him down for an interview.
He spoke no English; I spoke no Vietnamese, so naturally I hired him on the spot. His sister, Hanh Bennett was married to an American and did speak English, so for a while she would come down and translate for us when necessary, as well as buying him several thousand dollars worth of tools that he needed for his job.
The week after the tools arrived I heard this horrible banging and clanging so went in to his room and there he was breaking things so that they would be like the old tools he had worked with in Vietnam.
Oh, what he could do with a short broken stub of a file! The magic that he produced with the rolling mill as he took gold and smelted it to the appropriate karatage for the job and then hand pulled the wires and rolled out the sheet that he needed to cut pieces from to create his hand made masterpieces.
He was a quiet man and a hard worker. He cared deeply about his work all while wondering if he would ever see his wife and children again.
While we were working through appropriate government chains to attempt to buy their freedom they escaped via boat. The boat was stopped by Thai pirates and horrible things happened, the worst of which was that his daughter was stolen to be sold into slavery and was never heard from again by Be and his family in spite of years of searching.
Through it all Be worked quietly and diligently, although you did not ever need to mention Thailand to him if you did not want to hear about how bad the Thai people are.
(Personal note: In my dealings with the Thai people and my visit to Thailand, I found the Thai people to be loving and extremely kind. Of course, I was not dealing with Thai pirates. I presume that pirates of any race are not my kind of people, regardless of where they are from.)
When I changed business models I helped Be get a job with another jeweler in town who closed his store a few years later. Be then worked for Micron here in Boise, when they were a start up company, but was eventually able to open a small Vietnamese corner market where he sold foods, candies, rice cookers and hand made jewelry.
He always had an assortment of small jade pendants, rings, hand made gold chains and other items available for his grocery clients and he would sit in his store and make jewelry when not selling food.
Many of my favorite treasures were made at that corner grocery store for clients who appreciated his unique hand made approach to jewelry. He would never quote me a price, just told me the first few times that I asked that I would treat him fairly as I always had so I always paid him more than I wanted to so that I could be sure never to violate his trust.
He had been sick for a while and the doctors wanted to operate on him to prolong his life. He told them that he was old and ready to die. Somehow I would have not expected him to do otherwise.
When I went to the viewing earlier today I sat through a beautiful ceremony by local Buddhists and was shortly thereafter surrounded by his family who treated me as an honored family friend and guest.
I cried all the way home.
Note: This was written on April 8th, 2011 after I returned home from his viewing. Two examples of his work are shown below.