Vo My Linh
Vo My Linh

Vo My Linh

A Vietnamese woman who loves travel to see the world. Co-authored ten books of short stories for teenagers. The first novel “Over The Hill” was published in 2015. The Founder of Volunteer House Vietnam (aka VHV) which provides free accommodation for travelers in exchange for free English lessons for underprivileged children.

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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 on 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.

Vietnamese’s drinking business culture

Vietnam is the third-largest alcohol consumer in Asia, behind Japan and China, and the leading consumer in Southeast Asia. According to industry figures, Vietnam drinks even more than its more wealthy neighbor Thailand.muon-cai-thuoc-ban-phai-han-che-toi-da-viec-nhau-nhet-tiec-tung-anh-internet-tin8-5-1606

The rate of alcohol drinking in Vietnam has increased by more than 200 percent over the past 10 years, state media recently reported, due in part to rising disposable incomes and to demographics – a million people reach the legal drinking age of 18 each year.

In the West, the purpose of drinking is to have fun with families and friends or to enjoy an important game. In Vietnam, the purpose of drinking is to get drunk, and yes, it will be a waste if you are not drunk. More interestingly, alcohol and business go hand-in-hand as a rule in Vietnamese business. Many agree that it would be a big disadvantage for their jobs and businesses if they did not drink beer or wine. The question is: why did it start?

Most businesspeople (in Asia) believe that alcohol and social drinking is the easiest way to understand(or get to know) their partners. They rely on the effects of alcohol to gauge a crucial part of the business deal, honesty, in vino veritas. The explanation seems cogent enough to convince readers. However, in my opinion, there is a gender issue underlying this business culture.

The issue stems from traditional gender roles.Vietnamese men are considered to be very conservative, who believe that the business world is only for them and that women should be at home taking care of children. Furthermore, they are also afraid of women overcoming their traditional roles and achieve equal rights. Therefore, based on the fact that most Vietnamese women do not drink, (according to WHO research, fewer than two percent of Vietnamese women drink alcohol at all), the requirement of alcohol tolerance in business restricts women from getting involved in business and to helps preserve men’s leadership. Putting it simply, if a woman does not drink, she will be kicked out of the business, yet if she drinks, people will judge her decency. As a result, women are bound to the role of housekeeper.

Today, many Vietnamese women drink as a way of getting equal rights and a good job.

Do I support them? Well, women should drink if they want to. However, drinking is an inappropriate way to get equal rights. Instead, women should show men how well they can handle business. “But to do well at business, women have to drink!!!” No, a job that requires women to drink is not a good job and a boss who requires women to drink is not a good boss.

A clumsy note for a year

I do not recognize myself as a mountaineer or travel expert. For some reason, the Vietnamese media and the people who are following me on Facebook label me that way. My inbox is always full of messages asking me how to apply for a visa, how to travel here and there as if I know everything. Many times, my foreign friends, when seeing me appear in bunches of newspapers, magazines & TV channels, queried me on how to become well-known. I said, perhaps you just need to have your limbs frozen off while getting stuck on a ledge on some mountain. Putting it simply, you have to be almost dead.
The day I got back from the Nepal avalanche in 2014, many correspondents approached to interview me and laud me on how brave I was. I told them over and over again that, no, I was not brave, the reason I climbed to the top of Annapurna mountain was that I wanted to run a trekking firm. The media ignored that fact. A woman who climbed to the top of a mountain for the purpose of making money was not inspiring enough. I told them that if they praised me, please mention that I had a mother who was at home and suffered from domestic violence. Please also tell the readers that many women in Vietnam were in the same situation. They were braver than me, I was not, absolutely not, and that was why I ran away. The reporters, however, seemed not to listen to me. Everything I saw from bunches of articles was that “she climbed to the top of the mountain, she climbed to the top of the mountain.” I felt completely lost …
The day Dae Choi took me to Redondo Beach in San Diego to bike, we sat together for a while. Choi told me that he once did a bicycle trip through Southeast Asia and was surprised that people in Vietnam knew nothing more than football when talking about sports. That is true. Yet there is a kind of sport that Vietnamese people know very well: gambling. Kids in Vietnam love gambling, young people love gambling, old people love it too, even when they emigrated from Vietnam. That is why so many Vietnamese people love gambling in America.
Recently, I stopped my trip in Guadalajara to volunteer at a hostel named The Roof Backpackers and prepare for my English exams. Two years ago, in the first trip of my life after quitting my job to travel, the first country where I stopped was India. People asked me why India. I said that I wanted to learn English. They all laughed (of course, how not to laugh when hearing one chose to study English in a country where people have a very bad accent?). “It was cheap,” I said in tears. Who does not want to travel to the U.S. or UK to learn English? However, I had no choice. If you are wondering why I did not return to the U.S. to prepare for my exams, my answer is, “because Mexico is cheap.”
The Roof Backpackers hostel is boring. Its guests are weird. Marcus has stayed here for 6 months doing nothing except watching movies every day, sometimes talking and laughing alone. Daniel and Edgar – two Americans camped on the roof for 3 months, exchanged sexual favors with Zahira – a Mexican student who is volunteering with me. One day it rained heavily and I could not sleep.
Hugo Alejandro booked a bed for a month but I always found him asleep in the bathroom or on the couch every morning when I went to prepare for breakfast. An English girl called Jenny, who has suffered from panic attacks and self-abusive behavior, exchanged sexual favors with the owner – Galo. Galo likes a Japanese girl called Nat. Nat had sex with a teenage Italian in my dorm. People from different countries all stop here for only one reason: Tequila (Guadalajara is the hometown of Tequila).
It is ridiculous that a traveler like me, who is supposed to be gregarious, found only one friend to talk with and that friend is living thousands of miles away. Zuf (a little brother who hosted me when I was in Wisconsin) once asked me what is the hardest thing when travelling. Well, it is not the matter of travelling with a limited budgets. It is not the matter of travelling alone. It is about how to get along and find things in common with people around you, which significantly determines whether you enjoy your trip. Unfortunately, a woman like me who is travelling to learn and see the world found nothing in common with the people in this hostel. They travel to relax and do crazy things because they are young.. Maybe I am the craziest one among them. I am the only one who is different.
I sometimes heard another Linh inside my head telling me, “hey Linh! wake up and go.” Yes, I really wanted to go, fall into the stream of life like the others. However, the next day when I woke up, everything was the same shit, the owner was still there with dental braces in his mouth, Jenny’s arms and legs were still full of cuts, Edgar was still in Zahira’s bed. Life is never as easy as the words “just go.”
I was almost quiet until recently when I met Dung. He is a Vietnamese-American, speaks fluent English, Vietnamese, Spanish and Chinese. He came here to study at a medical school nearby. However, he has to return home soon because he got an invitation for an interview from a medical school in the U.S., which is definitely better than the one in Mexico.
Dung suggested we talk in Vietnamese and he was kind of disappointed when I refused. In fact, I really wanted to speak in my mother tongue, the language that I grew up with, the language that I love. However, the question is, why did I fly thousands of miles to come and volunteer here and talk in the language that I can speak at home?
That day, Dung & I spent time on the rooftop sharing stories with each other. The memories of 7 months of travelling around America flew back to me. I asked myself what happened to the old woman called “Mrs. Gai”, who I met when following Mrs. Tuong in a program of elderly care when I was in Texas. Mrs. Gai was really happy when she met me – a person who she could talk with in her mother language. During 20 years of living in the States, Mrs. Gai collected around $30,000. She sent back $15,000 to her relatives, asked them to buy land and build a gorgeous grave for her. The rest of the money, she planned to give to her children to transfer her body to Vietnam after her death.
Another elderly couple, who owned a big house in Allen, Texas. The wife was 85, struggling with the last difficult days of her life. She could not walk after an accident and the sores on her ass gradually ulcerated due to her age and long hours in bed. The husband seemed strong, however, he was losing his mind. Their children had to go to work every day so they hired an illegal worker to take care of the old couple. The caretaker left after 10 days. The daughter-in-law decided to leave the couple inside and lock the door when they went to work. She also bought food, put it into the fridge and told her father-in-law to help feed her mother-in-law. The old man always sat next to his wife’s bed, caring for her. However, because of his Alzheimer’s he gave his wife tea instead of food. The wife ingested everything her husband gave her as a way to please him. The house stunk as a result of her peeing due to excessive drinking.
Another, a 60-year-old man called Ba, whom I met at a nail salon in Chicago, has lived in the States for just a year. His daughter, called N., came to America to study and decided to have a fraudulent marriage with a Vietnamese American called S. to get a Green card. S. was willing to help her for free instead of asking for $30,000 as others charge. Touched by S.’s kindness, N. fell in love with S.. The couple sponsored their parents to come to the U.S. after 7 years of hard work hard as manicurists. Mr.Ba and his wife sold everything to go for the reunion with their daughter. However, they were quickly disappointed when they realized that there was no friend, no relative, no “café sữa đá” in the U.S. They decided to go to work to fill their time and help their daughter pay for housing. And that was how the old man appeared in the nail salon, where he had to wash customers’ feet who were happy to spend $22 at a nail salon, thrust their stinking feet and order the pedicurists, “hey, wash my feet, cut my nails!!!”
I also asked myself what happened to T.H, a Vietnamese student in Chicago. To afford her tuition, she needed to work 5 days per week. The other days were time for school. As a result, she could not speak English after 2 years in the States. I actually knew her through Renas, a friend of mine who worked as an administrator in an international college in Chicago. The day I had a coffee with Renas to say goodbye to Chicago, he told me that he was really upset that many Vietnamese students at his school didn’t know where downtown was.
A friend called Nhany married a man who has an American father and a Vietnamese mother for an American dream. She was shocked when she realized that her husband had nothing. She worked hard, over 12 hours per day and 7 days per week to make as much money as she could. Instead of appreciating her efforts, the husband got mad when he saw Nhany spending time learning English with me. He also did not allow her to get a driver’s license. The fear of abandonment, which might happen if his young wife knew everything, was the reason for his actions. That is a typical characteristic of most Vietnamese men.
I burst into tears after seeing the truth about Vietnamese people’s lives in the U.S. I was also shocked when a Vietnamese radio channel invited me to their show but did not allow me to say I am from Ho Chi Minh city. Instead, they asked me to say I am from Sai Gon – the old name of Ho Chi Minh city. I sometimes questioned why the hatred has been around for so long. Have they never felt tired or heavy from carrying it? The Vietnamese people who are in the U.S. and the ones who are in Vietnam seem to eat the same foods, talk the same language, but have different flags and never want to shake hands or live in peace. Never…
I also thought about Mrs. Ly, the one I consider as my mother. She loved me, protected me, cared for me even more than her children. She had a dream to win lotteries to overthrow the Vietnamese government to help Vietnamese people. It told her that if she wanted to help, she just needed to give people an education, give them love, and embrace them with her kindness. She kept silent as a way to get me to go to church. No, I cannot be better by going to church. I am just better by being the church.
A year flew by quickly. Recently, a reporter in Vietnam stole an article of mine and embellished the details to induce readers to attack me. I decided to sue the publication despite attempts by many friends to dissuade me. If I ignored what the publication did to me, I would not be qualified to call people to fight for change in the country.
My lawyer and I finally won. The publication had to publish a public letter apologizing to me. However, I also realized that I could not convince the conservative people in my country who criticized me and were ashamed of me because I went to travel with limited money. Roger told me not to worry, that what I am doing is the same as his generation 30 years ago, to build a Canada like today.
Yes, I never worry about what I am doing. I realized that people only know who they are by making a comparison with others. When I was a kid I lived in poverty but I did not know that until I got a chance to move to the biggest city in Vietnam and worked and lived with rich people. I believe my mother would fight for her freedom if she got a chance to see how Western women live. Therefore, I support young people who want to see the world through their own eyes to know who they are, to find out where they truly belong. Sadly, the Vietnamese people who sacrificed themselves fighting anyone who invaded the country, now admonish young people who want to travel to see the world. I wonder what kind of country my country would be.
Dung told me that if he were me he would study abroad, make as much money as he could and enjoy life. Yes, normally people do that and I seem to have enough ability to do that. But…“you know what, when I was a kid, I often played the game called “Rescue the world” with my friends after watching the movie “Journey to the West.” In that game, I played the role of the “Goddess of Mercy.”
Dung got the picture. We both laughed. The sun was shining that day and the last lights through my eyes shed a few tears.
Dung now is gone. He came to give back the key and disappeared quickly when I was busy at making a check-out for two Danish guys. He called it is “French exit” aka “Irish goodbye” or “ghosting”. He moved to another hostel, which he hoped that it would be nicer than my hostel.
The people in my hostel are enjoying celebrating a new year. I am now on my own bed, writing about a new year.
Welcome 2017, for worse or better!!!
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What i got from a $300 road trip

1/ How to get travel buddies: instead of staying in a hotel, you should move to a hostel where you have to share your room with others but it might give you a good chance to meet travelers from other countries and ask them to join your trip. Another way, go to couchsurfing.com to create an event to call people to join your trip or look for groups which gather people who have the same purpose as you.

2/ Preparing for the trip:

– Planning for the trip: you can use some apps such as Road trip planner to know how to reach your destinations and how many days the trip takes, etc.

– Getting a rental car: it is easy to get a rental car in the US. You should book a car early to make sure you get the one you want.

– Finding campsites: Most national parks do not allow visitors to camp freely. To look for free and cheap campgrounds, there is an app called “WikicampUSA”.

– Camping gear: you can find most qualified camping gear in Walmart. After 11 days doing a road trip through national parks in West Coast, I and my friends just spent $300/person.17

3/ You might ask me what I get from the $300 road trip. Well, if you get bored with your busy life, a road trip is a good option for you to escape the cities and feel your freedom. You will see another USA, which is not crowded with people, which is not made up by majestic buildings. It is beautiful by itself, by nature. I still remember the day I wandered alone seeing the wonderful canyons running around me, the day I got up early in death valley knowing that the sun is still to rise and people are still alive.

And the most beautiful thing is the people you met on the way, the stories you learned.

I still laugh every time thinking of Ben’s jokes. When we did a trek to Nevada fall and I worried that other friends would leave me because of my slowness. Ben said: “No Linh, they will stop to wait for us because we carry their lunch”.

I still remember the kind lady I met when getting lost in Yosemite. She took me and introduced me to her family, and then walked together with me to help find my campsite. She tried to cheer me up by saying: “Do not worry Linh, I bet your friends are cooking dinner and waiting for you”. We both laughed together when I said: “Nah, they may go seeking me because I am the cook”. When I got home, I saw Alina was there, at the check- in point waiting for me under the biting cold to make sure that she would not lose me again.

Another friend who traveled with a dream to see the US also impressed me. His name is Oleg. He kept moving by hitchhiking, slept in abandoned houses to save money. He carried a 32-kg backpack to be sure he had everything he needed. Many friends including me looked at him, questioning how he could travel like that. However, there is nothing wrong with a man who travels with limited money to see the world. I hope Oleg will be always safe and sound on his trip.

Someone said: “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”. I got back from the road trip with a new mood, new soul, new friends. I told Roger that I have learnt people in the US are very honest. There was no guardian in the campgrounds but everyone went to the check-in point with their money to pay for camping fee. Would it happen in Vietnam? No.

Roger laughed then turned to ask: “So, is it because Vietnamese people are less honest or because they are poor?”

Yes, I believe that everyone is honest. Just because they are poor…

I know nothing

It has been 7 months already since I arrived the US. Just 10 days ago, my friends & I enjoyed the road trip through national parks together. Now, we are going in different directions. Life is funny. People meet, stay together then separate. I wonder whether they are thinking of the trip like me at this moment.1

One of my purposes when traveling to America is to hike to giant mountains, wander along vast deserts and wild valleys which lead me to nowhere to get the feeling of freedom. That was why I decided to do a road trip with friends from CS.

We did not organize well except trying to rent a good car which has enough space for 5 people to sit and sing together. Ben is from England, Alina from Germany, Angelika from Poland and Aurel from France. I sometimes felt lost because only I am from Asia. However, that did not bother me too much because they all loved and respected me. When I felt useless because I did not know how to drive a car, Ben tried to cheer me up by saying “Linh, you are the leader, if you did not make a fire for this trip, we would not be here together.”

A night when we stopped at Yosemite for camping, Ben had an idea to play a game. Each player was given 9 small slips of paper. Everyone had to write down a celebrity name on each slip. Names must be well known to players including real people in history, fictitious characters, movie stars, famous animals, etc. Players were required to not reveal the names that were written. We placed all of the finished slips into a bowl. Each member of a team respectively grabbed a slip from the bowl, used verbal clues to describe the celebrity name on the slip, and tried to get his or her team to correctly guess the name. Once the name was guessed correctly, 1 point was earned.

We divided people into two teams. Ben, Alina and I were in team A, Aurel and Angelika were in team B. I took the last turn, which means that there were just a few slips of paper left in the bowl. The difficult thing is that I realized I knew nothing about the world. I did not know what movies Jennifer made, what songs made Britney Spears famous, who Tiger Woods and Michael Johnson are. When I picked the slip with the name “Garfield”, I did not know how to describe and just stood to wait for the time to pass. Alina encouraged me: “Linh, if you do not know who they are, just tell me that is a man or a woman so I can guess”. I replied to Alina that I didn’t even know it it was a man or a woman (in fact, Garfield is the name of a cat – a fictional character from the comic strip Garfield created by Jim Davis). Alina laughed at me and said: “What! you don’t even know that is a man or a woman by looking at the name?”. My face turned red.

That night, I did not sleep well. Alina’s laugh was always surrounded and obsessed me. However, it was not Alina’s fault. She, Ben, Angelika and Aurel were not born and raised up in Vietnam where a day’s wage of middle class just equals an hour’s wage of the lower class in Europe. When Angelika and Aurel were enjoying the movie Garfield, my world was painted by fairy tales told by my grandfather. When Ben was a 17-year-old boy traveling around the world, I was just a little girl running along the fields after war collecting shell casings to make money. When Alina was spending time watching sports competitions, my job every day was to follow my mother to the market selling milk. I didn’t even have free time to learn about Conan, Harry Porter, Doraemon. When I got into college, I started writing books for children. I promised myself that if I did not have opportunities to read books like others, I must be an author writing books for them.

I remember the day Daniel taught me English, he asked me about Gandhi & Luther King and was very surprised when I shared that Vietnamese schools do not teach their students about these famous men. Yes, I grew up in a country where people are not allowed to hate our presidents and historical textbooks just talk about the Vietnam war. Students are taught how to remember every single word in those books without understanding what guerrilla warfare is.

The game over, my team was badly beaten. Definitely, it was my fault. I felt ashamed because of that. I even felt more when looking at my facebook page, googling my name in Vietnamese. There are thousands of young Vietnamese admiring me, there are bunches of articles praising me. However, who am I when standing next to friends from other countries?

To my international friends: I want to say thank you to you, who did not judge me when looking my background, always tried to help me to fulfill myself day by day. How many young Vietnamese people are lucky enough to get out of the country and go and see the world like me? Why after so many years, is my country still here where the world does not even know its name?

To the Vietnamese youth, who want to go far in the future: I know that it is not fair for us when being born and growing up in such a poor country that others might not know. However, the world never stays there to recognize our names. We need to go to write down our names on it. Therefore, let’s get out of your comfort zone, go to see the world through your own eyes.

To other Vietnamese people, who have lived and suffered greatly from the Vietnam war: I know that we had to experience a very difficult time in the past. However, if we, ourselves once stepped on a pile of shit, please do not let our children step on it again. Please!….
Vo My Linh