The Perfect Enemy | Based in Taiwan, Bremerton native accomplishes her dream of working in foreign affairs
September 25, 2022

Based in Taiwan, Bremerton native accomplishes her dream of working in foreign affairs

Based in Taiwan, Bremerton native accomplishes her dream of working in foreign affairs  Kitsap Sun

Read Time:5 Minute

In 2003, a 22-year-old Leann Luong, who had just received the prestigious National Security Boren scholarship, was interviewed by the Kitsap Sun and said her dream job was to work in Vietnam as an American diplomat.

Nineteen years later, Luong, 42, said she has accomplished her career goals.

Luong, a Navy/Marine Corps Programs Officer at the Security Cooperation Office at the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), said she’s accomplished her dream of working in foreign affairs overseas and serving her country. The AIT is the de facto U.S. embassy, located in Taipei.

Luong is the granddaughter of Hau Tat, the matriarch of the family that started Bremerton’s Emperor’s Palace and who fled oppressive regimes in both China and Vietnam before settling in Bremerton. 

Luong’s current job duties include providing oversight and “in-country” management support for Taiwan Navy and Marine Corps Security Assistance. She serves as the principal interface between Taiwan Navy and Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, assisting with foreign military sales programs, according to Luong.

Luong said she enjoys the position, which puts to use her knowledge of East Asian international relations and her language ability.

“This is my favorite position,” Luong said. “The work is challenging but very rewarding.”

Luong received her master of arts certificates in international relations and Mandarin from Brigham Young University and John’s Hopkins Nanjing Center in 2005 and earned her bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies from Western Washington University in 2003. 

Before that, she graduated from Bremerton High. Her family fled from Vietnam to Bremerton in the 1980s as part of the United Nation’s Orderly Departure Program, which permitted the immigration of Vietnamese to the U.S. and to other countries between 1980 and 1997. 

Her grandmother, Hau Tat, originally from Guangzhou, China, and Tat’s 15 children, including Luong’s parents, Kim Tang and Sam Luong, emigrated to Bremerton after Sam Luong’s sister escaped Vietnam in a boat. She settled in Bremerton and sponsored the remaining family members in the U.S.

Catch up:Matriarch of Bremerton’s ‘Emperor’s Palace’ family left a legacy of opportunity

Leann Luong’s father, Sam, washed dishes in a Chinese restaurant to support his family and opened Emperor’s Palace on Kitsap Way in 1991. Leann Luong grew up in Kitsap County and received several scholarships that allowed her to study international relations. Her studies opened the door to opportunities to return to the countries her family once fled and study Mandarin.

ICYMI:Scholarship helps student return to land she once fled

During her career, Luong has also served in the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, as a Political Officer; assisted at the U.S. Embassy Brasilia in the Consular Section; worked for Defense Security Cooperation Agency as a Program Manager; and was in the Department of State’s Political-Military Bureau for nine years.

“You have to have quite a bit of experience to work in the security cooperation office (in Taipei), I would think, managing a program. But you know, it’s worth it. It’s really a dream come true,” Luong said.

Life in Taiwan

Leann Luong, Luong's daughter and her friends at a barbecue in Taiwan

Though tensions across the Taiwan Strait have risen in recent years, Luong describes her last two years in Taiwan as living a normal life. Luong arrived in Taiwan in September 2020, when the Taiwanese government required 14 days of quarantine for those who entered the country from abroad to prevent COVID-19 transmission within its borders.

As of Sept. 19, Taiwan has had nearly 6 million laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 93.42% of its population has received its first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Taiwan Centers for Disease Control.

In the past two years, Luong has biked, played tennis, and hung out with friends and family to explore foods, night markets and restaurants in Taiwan. She wore a mask for a  long time until the government eased its mask policy.

“When it (the pandemic) got bad in Taiwan we didn’t do much, but after the government relaxed its measures, things got back to normal very quickly,” Luong said. 

Luong likes the city view and the activities happening in downtown Taipei, but she also enjoys wandering in nature, citing a trip to Sun Moon Lake, a famous tourist spot located in the middle of Taiwan, Luong said.

“Taiwanese people are kind, generous and we have enjoyed and learned so much living in Taiwan,” Luong said.

Leann Luong bikes at Meiti Riverside Park in Neihu District in Taipei.

As a Chinese Vietnamese American, living in Taiwan is both hard and easy for Luong, she said.

“It’s easy because I kind of look the same. I have dark hair. I’m of Asian descent. But then they expect me to speak Mandarin a lot better than I can…so I think it’s hard and easy at the same time,” Luong said.

Luong is grateful for her family, professors, colleagues and friends who have helped her fulfill her dream, and she encouraged those who are interested in international relations and a life working abroad to seize scholarship opportunities, she said. 

“I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing now if I didn’t have their support,” Luong said. 

Luong plans to stay in Taiwan until her term abroad ends in 2025 and she’ll return to Washington, D.C., to continue to work for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Luong said.

Reach breaking news reporter Peiyu Lin at pei-yu.lin@kitsapsun.com or on Twitter @peiyulintw.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to kitsapsun.com today.