Day in the life

Nguyen. Photo: UVic Photo Services

By Rosemary Westwood

A day in the life of janitor Hung Nguyen starts early and by 7 a.m. he has already scrubbed the floor of the University Centre’s main foyer.

For the past 14 years, Hung has arrived at 5 a.m. in a crisp navy shirt bearing UVic’s logo and cleaned the floors, windows and seats of the Farquhar Auditorium and University Centre. He knows the building as if it were home.

Hung clasps his hands on his knees. He smiles and says his wife and brother-in-law work as janitors for UVic, too. Hung’s son is a recent graduate of the business program. The university is a supportive place to work and the job has helped him raise his family of four children, he says. That’s no small feat for the man who began his journey to Canada on a boat bobbing in the ocean near Vietnam, his home.

“I am a boat person,” he says. “We escaped Vietnam in 1981.”

Hung and other members of his family boarded a small boat, 36 feet long and six feet wide, and pushed off into the ocean. They and many others floated, waiting and hoping to be picked up by larger ships. Hung’s boat was one of the lucky ones, he says. An English ship carrying oil passed by his small boat on the way to Singapore and took the refugees aboard. His family lived in a Singapore refugee camp, then made their way to Canada.

They settled in Burns Lake in northern BC. Hung had been a fisherman in Vietnam and moved to Victoria a year after arriving in Canada, hoping the island’s fishing industry would hold a job for him. But he shakes his head and says the techniques are too different. He couldn’t find work and returned to Burns Lake, where he worked in a sawmill for seven years. But he liked Victoria’s warmer climate and the bigger city feel, and once again moved here in 1992. Two years later he began working at UVic, where his brother-in-law was already working.

Hung walks quickly through the back hallways and rooms of the auditorium, pointing out where performers warm up and equipment is stored. All the twisting carpeted hallways are his responsibility, every row of seats. He speaks with pride and says his bosses must like his work because he’s never cleaned another building. It takes two full days to get it all done.

At 1 p.m. Hung heads home. “Sometimes I go catching crab and fishing,” he says. He enjoys the water and fresh air, but says they no longer remind him of Vietnam. Hung plans on retiring one day, but for now he is content with his work at the university. “I enjoy it very much,” he says.

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