Why is education so important for people like me?

A few weeks ago, I went to a barbershop. The girl who washed my hair is just 14 years old. She is the oldest one in the family of five children. Her father is a house painter and her mother is a housewife. I asked if the barber girl wanted to go back to school so that I could find a way to help. She shook her head. She was happy with the job. She could make money to support her family. Going to school would not help her at the moment. And of course, I could not force someone to go to school if he or she did not want to.

Twenty years ago, I was just a normal girl like her. My dream at that time was just as simple as any woman in my village. I wanted to grow up, get a husband then settle down.

Unfortunately, life did not wait for me to grow up. When I was 6, my family went bankrupt, my father went from the richest man in the village to a bomb sawyer, which almost killed him in a bomb accident. Later, he immigrated to the South to start a new life. He took my mother, my older brother and my younger sister with him,  but not me. I was considered the smartest kid in the family and there was no future for me in the new area which did not even have a primary school.

My relatives looked after me. They were poor though and taking me into their families was like taking a bag of weed which just caused them trouble. I wanted to get out of that situation and I knew that the only way was through education. Over the years, I was always the best student in the school in my hometown.

When I was 14, I moved to the South to reunite with my family. I soon found out that my parents were not in a good relationship. I suffered from autism. I stopped talking to my father as I hated the way he treated my mother. I hated my mother too because she became a coward and depended so much on my father. I asked my teacher to help me settle in a dorm, where I could be away from my parents to focus on my study. School became my friend, my home, and my hiding place.

When I graduated from college and got a good job, I returned home and told my mother that I could take responsibility for her if she wanted to divorce. She said no. I then decided to quit my job to travel the world, to enjoy a life that I had never experienced. I was moved to do things that women in my country didn’t normally do. Travel gave me a chance to see many countries, learn about different cultures, encounter many types of people and to ultimately understand the world that I was living in.

The first time I applied for this fellowship, I failed. I had not known why I had wanted to go back to college until one day I sat among my backpacker fellows hearing them talking about boy and girl stuff and I questioned myself: “Is that all about life?”. No, I did not want to live a life that is boring. I did not want to live a life that is all crazy either. I wanted to live a life that is meaningful so that other young people can look up on me and know how to change theirs. That was when I decided to apply for the scholarship again. And now I want to express my sincere thanks to Rotary. Thank you for failing me the first time to teach me the lesson of being persistent and helping me find my true passion. Thank you for accepting me the second time to make me believe that hard work always pays off in the end. Especially thanks to Lyn Kenny and David Warren, the two amazing Rotarians who never gave up on me during the last two years. And thank you to my great mentor — Roger for guiding me and having been together with me through thick and thin.

During my last Tet holiday, I traveled back to my hometown to visit my relatives. My aunt was making food to serve my uncle and his friends. I was the only woman who was invited to sit at the table with the men. My uncle was proud of me, and he wanted to introduce me to others. He did not know for sure what I am going to study. But he knew about America, the country he fought against in the past and now the country he wishes to live in.

I put my cup of beer down, walked to the kitchen and told my aunt to stop making food to come and join us. She said that she did not drink, she did not know what to say with other men, so she refused to join. She did not realize that I did not need her to drink or talk. All I needed from her was to get out of the kitchen, to prove that women do not belong to it, to tell men that women also have the right to sit at the same table with them.

Some said that I should stop studying and start doing my own business because schools do not help much. But blaming schools for not teaching you well is just like blaming life for not being easy. I do not think life should be easy. In contrast, life should give you lemons to teach you how to fight the good fight to truly live in it. And therefore, it is not school’s job to make me successful. It is my job to take the advantage of what school gives me to create my own opportunities. And I know that I am going to prove it during the next two years at Duke University.

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The beauty of Vietnamese women

A long time ago, I had a conversation with Roger on the conception of marriage. He said, “you know, I think Vietnamese people have a different view of marriage. To us, marriage is about love. Not every case is right but most of them. To Vietnamese folks, I think marriage is a conception of survival. Women need men to survive because men are providers. That is why a retired man like me still caught Vietnamese girls’ attention when I travel to your country because they think that I am the men of dollars and I can help them survive.”
At first, I did not believe in what Roger said. Through time, I came to my realization that Roger statement is definitely true.
Compared to other friends, I am lucky enough because my parents have never asked me to get married as others. The reason is they how well independent I am.
During the Tet holiday, I traveled back to my hometown where I spent almost 14 years of my childhood without parents. My uncle wishes for me in the new year were that I soon settle down and get married.
– You know that I don’t need money from men, right? So give me a reason why I need to get married? I told my uncle.

– Well, you do not need a man. But when you get old, you will need children to take care of you.
It seemed that my uncle did not realize that he, himself, had never taken time to take care of his parents (aka my grandparents) before they died. But on the whole, his view of marriage is still to survive: If you don’t need the men when you are young, then you will need the children to take care of you when you get old.
The day before getting back to Vietnam after one and a half years traveling around the US, I had coffee with a Vietnamese scholar who was studying in L.A.
“There is a man that I don’t like much. But if I marry him, I can be granted U.S citizenship. What should I do?”, the little girl asked me.
“Well, just ask yourself to see if your marriage matters or to be a US citizen matters,” I replied to her. Later, I heard that she got married to that American guy.
Many don’t know that I have a sister whom I barely mention about and rarely talk with. I never care about her purpose in life and what she wants to do in the future. The only thing I helped her so far was asking Roger to teach her English. Roger always praises her and reminds me to stop being too strict with her. I said because she is my sister, that is why I have to be more severe with her than others. I want her to be independent, to work hard to get what she wants.
I don’t know what to say on this occasion, the Women’s day. It might be true that many Vietnamese women view marriage as a way to survive. But it is also true that after getting married, they dedicate their whole life to taking care of their man and their children, always forgive their husband if the husband makes mistakes. They are the most endurable and altruistic ones that I know.
Women in a modern world do not need a day to free themselves or to remind men how to treat them. But the world definitely needs a Women’s day to remind men and children like me of the beauty of our women.

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THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ROAD IS THE ROAD THAT TAKES YOU HOME

It has been 15 years since I left my hometown in Hue, Central Vietnam. My parents could not understand why it took me that long to finally make a decision on coming back and visit the place where I was born and raised.

My parents relocated to Binh Phuoc in 1997 and they asked for my relatives to look after me. Life without parents was not easy for me as long as I always carried the question why they left me. Having said that, Hue is still considered my home where my childhood was filled with love, joy, sadness, and grief.

I remember the flood of 1999 that submerged 25 districts and villages in the central area of Vietnam, killing at least 595 people. To survive, we had to climb on the roof’s top and waited for the rescuers. The deluge did affect our life later. Having plain rice to eat was a fancy thing at that time. A mixture of rice and jackfruit’s seeds was my staple food every day. The day I traveled to the South to live and study, I swore to God that I would not return until I got rich.

“So Linh, are you rich now?”, my friend asked.

No, I am still a poor student. But my soul might get richer to let me know that there is something that cannot wait for me until I get rich and my grandmother is one of them.

Over the past 4 years, I have traveled a lot. Travel takes me far away from home, but it also teaches me where is home. Home is where I always think of; where made me the person I am. I just learned that the road today does not take me to gorgeous places as I always planned. However, it is the most beautiful road ever because it takes me home.

Linh Vo/ Nov 2, 2018.

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What I don’t like about Vietnamese women

Vietnamese women are strong. I don’t say that because I am a Vietnamese woman. I say that when I look at my mom and the women in the village where I grew up. They wake up early every morning, go to the rice fields, turning their backs to the sky, until the sun goes down. Then they go back home and start cooking and taking care of their children. To be honest, I do not know how they can have time to enjoy their lives by living that way.

However, saying Vietnamese women are strong does not mean that I always laud them. There is one thing that is always a recondite thing to me: why do Vietnamese women seem to not want equal rights with men even though they probably can get it?clip-danh-ghen-lot-do-gai-xinh-tran-trui-giua-pho-4

Vietnamese women are accustomed to an inveterate ideology: men are providers. Vietnamese people have an idiom: “Phụ nữ hơn nhau ở tấm chồng” which means that the standard of comparison between two women is their husbands. To date, although many Vietnamese women get jobs, get paid, they still want their husbands to be providers.

5 years ago, I worked as a journalist covering life stories of Vietnamese celebrities. A neophyte model named Ngoc Trinh told my co-worker during an interview that she would not get married to a man who is not rich. She became famous after that and many Vietnamese women agreed with her point. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the wish of getting married to a rich man. However, if women just look for rich men to get married to, then, they accept that men are providers. Many Vietnamese men made fun of Ngoc Trinh, and because of her, Vietnamese men had a chance to consolidate their belief that men have a right to flout women.

Most old college friends of mine are already married. Perhaps, I am the only single one. A friend kidded that maybe when her daughter gets married, I will still be alone. My friend seems happy. She enjoys her low-paying job and has a husband who can make 7 times her salary.  However, every time I look at her husband, my interest in marriage is snuffed out. I wonder how my friend can live with a husband who always returns home drunk at midnight and asks his wife to serve him regardless of how stinking he is. Is it true that money can buy “love”?

Accepting that men are providers drives Vietnamese women to a belief that they need a man whether or not they love him.  And because of that, many women believe that it is right to have “a cat fight” with someone whom their husbands have an adulterous relationship with.

One year ago, a big scandal happened to a Vietnamese singer called Ho Ngoc Ha. She was considered the most popular singer in Vietnam. She got married to a rich businessman with the nickname “Cuong USD” (the man of USD). For some reason, Ha separated from her husband. She then had a relationship with another rich man who was nicknamed “Diamond man”. The Diamond man was also separated from his wife and about to divorce her to be with Ho Ngoc Ha.

Unfortunately, his wife refused to get divorced. She then wrote on Facebook a tirade saying that Ho Ngoc Ha “stole” her husband. Instead of questioning why a woman did not want to divorce her husband although she knew that her husband no longer loved her, people immediately turned to vituperate Ho Ngoc Ha. They believe that the third one is the reason a family breaks up.  They created an anti-Ho Ngoc Ha group and it quickly attracted thousands of married women. They also called on people to boycott all products that Ho Ngoc Ha represented. For the very first time, many brands in Vietnam were aware of the puissance of women.

I wrote an article saying that women should not go for a “cat fight”, which is despicable and helps prove that Vietnamese women need men to survive. Instead, they need to stay together to protect women and focus on their jobs to show men that women are good without men. Many admonished me and said that I am young so I do not penetrate their situations.

Vietnamese women, are very strong and can sacrifice their lives to take care of their husbands and children. However, they are reluctant to divorce men even if those men do not respect them. They are always proud that they are kind enough to tolerate a husband no matter how bad he is. But they are not magnanimous enough to forgive a woman.

Vietnamese people love gambling

Dea Choi, an American friend of mine, who made a bike trip through Lao, Vietnam, and Cambodia told me that it was a surprise to him when realizing that Vietnamese people know nothing when talking about sports. He conducted a survey among Vietnamese people, whom he met on the way, asked them to name some types of popular sports in Vietnam. Many of respondents named only one thing: FOOTBALL. Needless to say, if Choi asked me the same question, I would respond the same thing.

Don’t panic. There is another thing that I bet Vietnamese people are very excellent at: GAMBLING. Vietnamese kids love gambling, adults love gambling, the elderly love gambling, despite the fact that it is illegal in Vietnam. More interestingly, Vietnamese parents might forbid their children to approach anything resembling a risky situation such as swimming, however, if the kids acquiesce to stay at home and enjoy gambling, that would be acceptable.danh-bac-nghe-an-1-1653

During my time in the States, I had chances to talk with numerous of Vietnamese people. The long settling in the country does not mean that Vietnamese –American perceive well about America. Lots of them do not know how to take a train, and they were surprised when seeing me gooing everywhere by train. They seem to be goddamn ignorant about the so-called “road trip.” And even though they care about everything relevant to the first Vietnam’s president, whom they really hate, they have no idea about a famous trekking trail named Ho Chi Minh in San Diego.

Gambling is such a hardest thing for them to wean even when they emigrated to America. It is also the only thing that Vietnamese immigrants enjoy when living in the States. Almost 16 Vietnamese workers in the nail salon in Chicago, whom I got a chance to talk with,  love gambling and enjoy spending their hard-earned money on that favorite game without hesitation. A worker called “Gai,” who could make good money based on her working experience as a manicurist was still in debt because of her addiction to wagers.

According to psychiatrist Dr. Tim Fong, co-director of UCLA’s Gambling Studies Program, gambling rates among Asians are higher than those of any other ethnicity in the United States and Orange County’s largest Asian community, the Vietnamese, constitute significant percentage.

A google searching on how many people won gambling in America over past years shows that the majority of winners are Vietnamese: a Vietnamese American called Ly Sam won $55 million casino jackpot in 2013; a Vietnamese nail technician called Vinh Nguyen won $228 million Powerball ticket in 2014; a Vietnamese man in California won $1 million jackpot in 2015; another Vietnamese immigrant called Hung Le living in Dayton, Ohio win the World Series of Poker tournament in July 2016.

Vo My Linh

“Bomb sawing jobs” in Vietnam

Perhaps Vietnam is one of the few countries that has suffered greatly from wars and was always invaded by others although its people wanted to live in peace. The long history of being attacked makes its government afraid of everything. They are afraid of foreigners getting into the country, they are also afraid of their people going outside the country.

Every time I travel, I am recognized as the first Vietnamese friend my companions have met. And the first thing they knew about my country is the Vietnam War. Yes, it was a big war. Regardless of which side was wrong, here are some facts: The U.S. dropped 6.3 million tons of bombs on Vietnam. Four million soldiers and some two million Vietnamese civilians died. The U.S. military sprayed more than 19 million gallons of the herbicide dioxin Agent Orange over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972 to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided cover.

Forty-two years, after the Vietnam War, ended its remains are still ubiquitous in Vietnam. Nearly 5 million Vietnamese have been affected by Agent Orange, including 150,000 children born with birth defects. Some foreign friends have asked me how the Vietnamese people restarted their lives and rebuilt the country after the war. I responded briefly: we restarted at the end.

I was born and raised in a rural hamlet called Lai Bang, which belongs to Huong Van village, Thua Thien-Hue province, Central Vietnam.

As every kid in my hamlet, I often ran along our rice fields after it rained to collect bullet shells. Bullet shells emerged from the ground in plowed fields after heavy rains. Kids would collect bullet shells. Adults collected other things, which were much more dangerous: bombs and mines.

As every adult in our village, my father bought a machine called a metal detector. It helped him recognize where bombs and metal shards from the war were located.

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One day, my father left home early with his metal detector. Not many hours later, we heard an explosion. My uncle ran home in a panic and told my mom that my father was wounded by a bomb. People in the village went to rescue my father. Pieces of his clothes were scattered on the vacant land near the hill. His body was full of cuts. His eyes were covered by dust. He was lying on the ground.

My mother packed her stuff to go to the hospital not knowing how long she would stay there. The 6-year-old me had to take care of my sister, who was just 9 months. That day, the doctor said that my father might be blind forever. He needed a corneal graft and infelicitously, it cost a lot of money.

As Americans thought that Agent Orange would help defeat Vietnam, I once thought that the bombing accident would shatter my family. However, Vietnamese people seemed strong enough and my mother was stronger than I thought. Every night when she got home she gave my sister a quick breast feed then went out knocking on every door in my village to beg for a donation. She also begged the doctors in the hospital to help cure my father’s eyes. Her tenacity eventually came to fruition.

It took my father six months to recuperate from the accident. To this day, he still feels pain if the weather suddenly changes.

Now, you might misunderstand or assume that we collected bullet shells and bombs to obviate the dangers.

My answer is, we did not think too much about protecting our village from hazards in the time of dearth. We needed food to survive. And that is why we collected bullet shells and bombs to sell to recycling companies. One kilogram of scrap metal was sold for 3.000VND (around 13 US cents). Making $US1 per day was enough to feed the whole family.

To this day, many families in rural villages still do this. The bombs then will be sawed by people to get the trinitrotoluene, which is used to catch fish. The shells are sold to recyclers. Every year, around 3,807 people are wounded due to bomb/mine accidents. The leading cause is the need to make money. Many deaths occurr, however, people still do not stay away from this dangerous career. Perhaps, they are not perspicacious enough to understand that a bomb is still a bomb no matter how many years it has been underground. Perhaps, the demands of survival do not let them think that sawing a bomb is a stupid idea.

That is why I said we restarted at the end, without a metaphor.

The Vietnamese view of marriages

Tet is known as the biggest holiday in Vietnam and it is a time for everyone to return home to unite with their families after a year of hard work. However, many Vietnamese youths are stressed out by Tet because many people will ask: when will you get married?

Vietnamese tradition indicates that the 3 most important things in life are: having a buffalo, getting married and building a house. (In darker days, a buffalo is very important for every family because wet rice agriculture – the major economic activity of Vietnamese people, requires having buffaloes to plow fields.)
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Everyone in their twenties has to think seriously about their future spouse. Vietnamese people seem not to care about whether you are successful or if you are happy. If you do not get a good job, that is still okay. If you are stressed out, it does not bother them too much. However, if you are twenty-something and still not married, that is a problem. And if you are successful and still not married, that is a very big problem.

As an unusual woman, who has not lived with my parents since I was 6, I have never faced the question about marriage. Whether my parents did not care about me or acknowledged that they do not have a right to interfere in my life, I am still a lucky one. However, my brother, who is two years older than me, is absolutely not.

My brother is my parents’ only son. In Vietnamese culture, the reputation of a family depends on the success of their sons and that is why my parents have always cared about him. My father started forcing him to study hard when he was six (I was 4 at that time). In contrast, my brother had no interest in studying. One day, my father found out that my brother played hooky with other kids. He was very angry and beat my brother. After that my brother never dared to cut class.

However, the hard thrashing scared him, obsessed him even during his sleep. If he got low scores, he got beaten. As a result, he became quiet and slow on the uptake. Teachers said that he seemed a dull-looking child.

When I was 6, my parents went bankrupt. They left me in Hue and took my brother and my sister with them. When I was 14, I got a chance to reunite with them. My brother, at that time, could not pass grade 8. One day when I got back from school, my father called me and my brother to sit in front of him. He said: “You know well how much I love you. Therefore, if you want to continue your study, I will support as much as I can even if you need me to sell my kidney. However, if you do not want to study, I will not force you anymore. Your lives are yours, not mines. I want to give you freedom.”

The next day, my brother decided to quit school. He left my hometown to go to Ho Chi Minh city where he would stay with my father’s cousin and follow his dream of fixing motorbikes. He quickly became a connoisseur, got a job, survived and everyone loved him due to his kind character.

A few years later, my father found out that although my brother was sedulous he could not save money. He decided to call my brother back home to help grow rubber trees. My brother returned home, worked as a technician in a motorbike shop nearby and spent time helping my father.

One thing I love about my brother is his kindness. I still remember he gave me all the money that he had made after a week working as a grass cutter to help me buy a calculator for my math class. That is why I love Vietnamese culture. People in the family try to support each other as much as they can, and that is what the word “family” means.

One day when I was interviewing a celebrity (my job was a journalist), my mother called me announcing that my brother was going to get married. The bride was younger than me, good looking, from a well-off family and had graduated from a good college in my hometown. It is unusual for a woman to marry a man who is poorer than her.

My parents were really happy. How could they not be happy when their son, who was supposed to be a dull-looking child, had a chance to marry a good bride? They believed that getting married would help my brother be more mature. Most Vietnamese people think that way. They assume that when someone gets married, the person knows that they have to be responsible for their families. Therefore, they would work hard to save money and take care of the family.

The day I got home to attend my brother’s wedding, my uncle asked me about my feelings. I said I wondered whether the bride knew that staying with my family was completely different from staying with her family. I was concerned about my brother as well. In my eyes, he still was not mature enough and did not know how hard it was to be a husband is. I also recognized that getting married was not what my brother really wanted. He just had a girlfriend and my parents wanted him to get married. My uncle laughed. He said, “God created the elephants and God created grass.” It means that people know how to adapt to a new situation using their natural instincts and therefore, my brother would know how to be a better man.

What I worried about quickly became true. A year after getting married, they had a kid. My brother quit the job as a fixer and started a new project on our own farm. One day when I visited home, my mom was in tears. She said the couple was usually contentious and my sister-in-law was often vituperated her husband. Through talking to her, I realized that the conflict proliferated from the disappointment the wife had in the husband who could not afford his wife.

“Hi sis, you knew that my parents and my brother were not prosperous. My brother is also not one to stay at home and do nothing. He is now on the farm, growing plants with the hope of getting a better future. He works even during the night, sleeps in a hammock. If you believe in a better future, let’s support him. If you cannot bear anymore, you know what you want to do,” I said.

The woman was quiescence. I did not have a chance to talk to her again.

Recently, my sister told me that my brother got divorced. She said he was in tears on the day he signed the divorce agreement as he loved his daughter so much. He is now working harder to support his daughter.

This Tet, my parents were not happy at all. Having divorced children is a shame for most Vietnamese people. Everyone kept silent in the house which was already silent. I wonder, did they ever think about this possibility on the day they told my brother to get married…

What Google trends reveal about Vietnamese people?

Someone said clicking through Google Trends feels like tapping the world’s consciousness. There’s no posturing because people query Google without shame as if no one is watching. For that reason the Year in Search 2016 is probably the only end-of-year list you’ll find without bias.
According to the data of 2016’s Google trending searches, people in some developed countries such as the U.S., the U.K, and Australia seem to care about the world and problems here and there. Vietnamese people, however, likely care only about music and games. Therefore, the five most Googled terms in Vietnam are: Euro, Sither Game, Pokemon, “Chúng ta không thuộc về nhau” (We don’t belong to each other) and “Phía sau một cô gái” (Behind a girl).
“Chúng ta không thuộc về nhau”, “Phía sau một cô gái” are the names of two songs, which are considered as “soulless pop music performed for the masses.”
The question is whether Vietnamese people are happy so they just enjoy their lives through games and music or whether Vietnamese people do not care about anything else.
Many travelers when visiting Vietnam admit that Vietnam is beautiful and it seemed enigmatic to them that I always talk about the positive side of the country. There is no doubt that Vietnam is beautiful. It is true and always true if someone takes a vacation, go anywhere around the world to enjoy and relax. Kasim, a friend of mine who took a trip to Cuba, told me that Cuba was the most beautiful country he had ever seen. I asked him what made Cuba beautiful. He said because of classic cars. I realized that if you travel like a vacation, you would be happy even when looking at the classic cars. They are funny, they are classic, they are different from cars in your country. And that’s why you like them. It is like a traveler who gets stuck in the midst of bunches of motorbikes in Vietnam during a traffic jam. Instead of getting mad they would enjoy it by taking selfies. However, if you live in Cuba or Vietnam to deal with that day by day like the locals, it is not cool at all.
Vietnamese people, somehow are happy and enjoy their lives. Many times I asked myself why the happiness of Vietnamese people seems very simple. They do not need to go far, they do not need to discover or understand about a country if they travel. All they need are selfie pictures. Over past years, Vietnam was listed among the happiest countries. However, the word “happiness”, in the mindset of Vietnamese people, is a concept of “acceptance,” not “satisfaction.”
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Why are Vietnamese people not good at swimming

Vietnam is well known for its beaches and rivers due to having an astounding coastline of approximately three thousand two hundred and sixty kilometers, excluding its islands. Waterways such as rivers, canals, and river deltas are integral parts of Vietnamese life, providing a better means of movement via water transportation.

Every year, millions of tourists flow into this country by the beckoning of gorgeous and spectacular beaches where they can experience scuba diving and surfing. Vietnamese people, basically, do not know about these kinds of sports although they own this precious resource. More ridiculously, the majority of citizens do not know how to swim at all. A recent state report shows that nearly 9 children die every day as a result of drowning, it is the Primary cause of death for Vietnamese children. The rate is 10 times higher than some developed countries such as USA, UK, and so on.

Some queried me on why the lack of swimming skills is so widespread among Vietnamese people, people who are supposed to be survival experts due to their regularly dealing with challenging situations. This issue, in my opinion, stems from the ignorant upbringing of Vietnamese parents. Instead of teaching kids skills to face dangers, Vietnamese parents forbid their children to approach anything resembling a risky situation. Vietnamese children normally obey their parents without raising questions. Why? My cousins and I once sneaked out of the house to go for a swim in the river nearby when we were kids. We were beaten later when my uncle found us. From then on, the idea of going for a swim had been painfully erased from our minds.

Protecting children by telling them to stay away from the dangers of waterways and commanding children by using violence is not, in my opinion, an appropriate, constructive strategy. However, we in Vietnam are accustomed to it. That is why when Americans attempt to suicide, they jump from the top of a building, in contrast, the Vietnamese people?……. we jump into the rivers.

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