Raymond Tran says he waited in vain for word from the family he left behind in Vietnam. Now, he's dedicated his life to connecting families and friends through the mail.
As email use becomes the norm, half as many Americans are using traditional mail to send or receive information, according to the U.S. Postal Service.
But not everyone fits that mold, especially those who frequent the U.S. Post Office in Westminster’s Little Saigon.
Consider it an unofficial hangout of the world’s oldest, largest, most well-established Vietnamese-American community. It’s a place where nearly 10,000 transactions still take place each month and Global Express Service recently out-sold every other U.S. Post Office.
"Nobody help me except here," Robert Ho, of Santa Ana, said when asked why didn’t go to a closer post office.
Hundreds of customers skip larger, closer and less-busy post offices across Southern California to connect with the Vietnamese-American community in Little Saigon.
They send care packages around the world, especially Vietnam, and across the country to their Vietnamese relatives. They also send critical immigration paperwork.
"People feel like this is home," said Raymond Tran, who’s going on his 21st year at the office. "They need help and I’m here to help."
Tran is living the dream, literally.
"We left for freedom," Tran said of his escape from Vietnam when he was 14. "We lost communication with my parents, my brother."
Tran spent a year in a refugee camp in Malaysia wondering if his parents, still in Vietnam, survived. He anxiously waited to hear his name during mail call, hoping for a letter from his parents.
Letters came sometimes, but usually not. Tran later learned the letters had been lost in the mail, and he decided then to dedicate his life to making a difference.
"I have a dream in Malaysia that one day I will be a mailman or something to deliver the mail. Everybody happy to get a piece of mail," he said.
Thirty-five years later, not losing mail is still Tran’s priority.
"He help me get my package back," Ho said. “The package lost in the mail was worth $500, and he got it back.”
Tran’s supervisors laud his performance, too.
"Customers value the service they get from employees at this office, especially Raymond Tran," USPS spokesman Richard Maher said.
Nearby businesses also value the unlikely hangout. Michael Vo moved his insurance business next door 20 years ago and said he has no regrets.
Today, Tran is married with two children who have graduated from Southern California universities. His workplace drawers are filled with awards for outstanding service.
He said his favorite rewards are the happy faces of his customers.
"I don’t like lose any mail," he said. "No mad faces."