This depressed voice actor turned to the sound of water for solace. It worked
Today, we’re revisiting a feature story from RadioActive alum Merk Nguyen, "Water is the sound of freedom for my 'Ba.'"
Hear it again: Water is the sound of freedom for my 'Ba'
Back when Merk was working on this story in 2014, she was getting ready to go to college, and leave her friends and loved ones behind in order to start a new chapter of her life.
Getting ready to leave home had Merk thinking a lot about her dad’s experience leaving his home and family behind in Vietnam when he was a teenager.
It’s been nine years since Merk shared her father’s journey with KUOW listeners.
And since then, water has taken on a whole new meaning for Merk as she’s continued to grow as a daughter, friend, and creative.
Freedom for Ba, and peace for me
’m at my parent’s house with Ba — in the driveway that he’s turned into a giant koi fish pond (with a bridge, his own Space Needle, it’s a whole thing).
He’s working on building a new waterfall around The Angel Pond — named after me, Angela, even though most people nowadays call me Merk — a punny nod to the former German chancellor, and also my stage name.
He’s got more gray hair than I remember but not enough to look like he’s actually in his sixties or — thanks to my toddler nephew — a grandpa.
Ba walks me around the side of the house to his finally-finished gazebo — it’s now his fish hospital.
Ba’s still the funny, forgetful man I’ve always known. It’s been almost nine years since I told his story, and a lot has happened since then. Graduations, big moves, and I got married.
Which is also why I don’t live with my parents anymore. Or see Ba that often, even though I’m a 10-minute drive away.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is water's importance as a symbol to the both of us — freedom for Ba, and peace for me.
His life story became a jumpstart for my career. After sharing his story, I decided to dedicate my life to storytelling. First, through radio. And after graduating college in 2018, through podcasting.
After college, I moved to Brooklyn for a year. I missed home but found comfort in the rain or when I’d cross over the Williamsburg Bridge, which overlooked the water.
"You move away from home because your career, your work that you want to complete what your dream — you want to do, like me. I do the same thing," Ba says.
Those dreams kept evolving. I wanted to represent Vietnamese-Americans in a big way. It’s a dream inspired by knowing and sharing my dad’s journey to the U.S. I specifically felt a need to do this in the entertainment industry. So, voice acting became the next destination on my storytelling map.
I left New York for North Hollywood, just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020. And all things considered, I was fine — still working my podcasting job and finding solace through solo trips to the beach. Ba’s shop was an essential business, so he was okay, too.
Around this time, my then-boyfriend, now husband, introduced me to the show, "Legend of Korra." It’s an animated series that’s a follow-up to Nickelodeon’s "Avatar: The Last Airbender."
There’s something deeply compelling and relatable about Korra, a powerful teenage character whose foundational element is water and whose job, as the Avatar, is to restore peace between nations, worlds, and enemies.
I knew it existed, but didn’t watch it growing up. But seeing it in 2020, this show inspired me to pursue my dream of a career in voice acting.
There’s a point in the show where Korra struggles physically and mentally to the point where she doubts her abilities as the Avatar and goes on a hiatus.
Little did I know, I would also face those struggles, struggles where I felt like I wasn’t capable of anything, like I couldn’t be a good daughter, a good worker, friend or even a voice actor.
At the time, my dad could sense something was up, but I was too ashamed to tell him what I was going through mentally.
"I have a feeling that you doubt that can," Ba said. "You want to do it but something on you, you feel down. That’s why you get away from it. To hide it, right?"
He was right. I hid away the confident, go-getter spirit I usually carried with me. I felt like I lost it.
Strangers were meeting a totally different Merk, and some of my friends said they didn’t know who they were talking to when I’d call.
I fell into a dark depression.
I quit my podcast job, thinking that maybe, just maybe I could make voice acting happen.
But as my depression got worse, I couldn’t think of reasons to believe any dream was possible. The obvious answer for my mental health was to move home, but I was dreading that so hard.
Questions swirled in my mind: If I left LA, wouldn’t that mean I was giving up on my voice acting dream? And everything my parents worked so hard for, to help me in my life, is that all going to waste?
I resisted for months but it became clear that moving back to Washington was the best decision.
I remember one day at my parent’s house, near the waterfall, I sat with Ba.
It was a sunny summer day and yet I felt gray, sad, and blank inside. I looked into his eyes and cried, wanting this cloudy feeling to go away but it wouldn’t. He looked back at me. Neither of us said anything but just sat there, listening to the sound of the waterfall.
Even though we both didn’t have words to say what we were feeling in that moment, water was there to provide us both a sense of comfort. Looking back now, it was always there. Water has been, is, and always will be part of each one of us.
There wasn’t one magical day that washed away my sadness, but over time, I learned to recognize and manage it better with the help of loved ones and watching cartoons. And soon after this waterfall moment, my voice acting career started to take off.
In 2022, I booked roles for video games, Hulu, DreamWorks Animation and even Nickelodeon. And I feel my storytelling dreams are evolving again.
Listen to the full story above