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.




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.







“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.


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.)
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…

“Have a baby here, then you can settle as a U.S. citizen”

One of the most frequent questions that Vietnamese American people have asked me since I have traveled to the US is: “Hey Linh, do you wanna settle in the USA?”. Vy –a Vietnamese scholar who works as a waitress in a restaurant, was surprised when my answer was “No”.citizenship

She told me that a lot of people pay big chunks of money to get here. That is why they do not want to turn back. Vy also wants to live here. She said she wanted to get married to an American guy.

It is true that 99% of the people who come to the U.S. are here for the American dream so why I would be any different?

During my time in Washington DC, I hung out with Mr. N. He is a director of an international foundation in Vietnam. We have known each other since I started the Volunteer House Vietnam organization (VHV) and he came to help build VHV.

This time, Mr.N was in D.C. for a training course. He treated me dinner at a luxury Italian restaurant.

After hearing about things that happened to me in Vietnam, Mr.N  looked at me and said:

– I think you should live here, Linh! This is a country for people who love freedom like you.

– How? My visa will expire after a year. I don’t want to live in a country of freedom without being able to do anything freely because of my illegal staying.

–  Have a baby here then you can settle as a U.S. citizen.

–  You know that I love to travel, don’t you? How can I travel with a baby?

–  Take the baby with you!

Honestly, I was not surprised about the idea of having a baby to settle legally in the U.S.. Many young women from poor countries are doing it that with the hope of changing their lives. However, I was surprised when Mr. N, a representative of the elite class, said it.

I will have a baby when I really love to have a baby and when I can be sure that I am able to take care of my child. I wonder what those people who want to settle in the US by having a baby have in mind. Do they want to change their lives? Have they ever thought about the life of the baby? Have they ever asked the baby “Hey kid, do you want to be born and live here without a father?”….

Heaven and Hell

I sometimes wish that I were caught by IS, I had been on the plane that crashed in Sinai killing all 224 people on board or I got cancer. Do you want the reasons? Because if I were caught by IS, people all over the world would pray for me, if I had been on the plane that crashed in Sinai, people all over the world would be in mourning for me. And if I got cancer, I could do anything without judgment from others because people will sympathize and say that “She is going to die. Let her do anything she wants!”
Many times I have asked myself why people only allow you to do anything you want when you are going to die. If you were a 26-year-old woman like me, strong, and you do not care about getting married, having children, or making money, I am pretty sure that people will ask you tons of questions “Why? Why? Why?…” because they want you to do the same things as them.10432491_10153531031433041_3754541073250906186_n
During my trip to Hanoi, I had a chance to meet a friend. He invited me to work with him to run a coffee chain because he knew that I am famous and it might help his business. I refused because his idea was not interesting enough. Also, I told him that I want to travel around the world.
He looked at me and said, “Hey, Linh, you are 26 years old now. Stop traveling and think of making money. You are talented and I believe that you can make a lot of money!”
– “Why do you think we should make a lot of money?” I asked in response.
“Because with that money, you and I can do anything we want, even travel around the world.”
“If you can travel with a limited budget or even with no money, why not travel when we are still young?” I asked.
“How come?”, he wondered.
“You can ask someone to stay for free, you can work on the way to make money for food and tickets. You can hitchhike if you dare. Everything is connected through the internet now.”
“Do you think that I will sleep in a stinking dorm or on the street, I will sit on a smelly truck, I will work as a waiter to make money to keep going, I will eat something like a beggar eats? No, I do not like that. That is hell in my eyes. I want to live in heaven.”
“Yep. But staying here and wasting my youth to do things I do not like is hell in my eyes, man!
– ….
If you thought that my story would end here, I would say “No!”. The last sentence is this: “If you think that travel is a way to relax, you can be like my friend, work hard to make a lot of money until you get old then use that money to travel with a cane. If you think that travel is a way to learn new things around the world, to make your brain creative, to find out exactly what you want and who you are, please go travel when you are still young and do not wait to get rich to see the world.”
There are no hells; there are no heavens, either. Those are just your feelings when you are happy or unhappy with what you are doing.
01.25.2016/Vo My Linh

Mr.Kang & the story of responsibility

I met Kang at 3 pm in a coffee shop in District 1. He looked like a student. He was wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and glasses. Kang launched a campaign on the crowdsourcing site Indiegogo last November to buy an iPhone for Pham Van Thoai, a tourist who allegedly fell prey to an unethical retailer at Sim Lim Square, a shopping mall in Singapore.


Kang & I in a coffee shop


Recently, Kang helped a Vietnamese woman escape from enforced labor in Malaysia and to get back home safely. On his visit to Vietnam these days, Kang decided to use a part of the money he raised to buy food, toys, and medicines for Thien Binh orphanage in Vietnam. He also called a fried chicken company, an ice cream shop and team of young people in Ho Chi Minh City to support this charity.

I asked Kang why he wanted to convince Singaporeans to donate money to Mr. Thoai Pham when most of them think that it is not their responsibility. Kang replied quickly: “Sure that is not my responsibility, not yours, not Singaporeans’ and not someone else’s. However, it does not mean that we allow ourselves to stand here, look at a weak one being bullied and let it happen. We need to demand justice for him or her, we need to make things right for society. For example, if we see an accident in front of us, you would not want to help because it is not your responsibility, others might not want to help because it is not their responsibility, but I would help for sure. Because if we cannot even help a fellow human being … then we are worse than animals.”In the post calling for people to help buying an iPhone 6 for the Vietnamese tourist, Kang wrote:

In the post calling for people to help buy an iPhone 6 for the Vietnamese tourist, Kang wrote:

Mr Pham Van Thoai came to Singapore for a dream holiday with his girlfriend. In a move that must surely qualify him as a boyfriend-of-the-year candidate, he pays S$950 to buy an iPhone 6 as a birthday gift for his girlfriend. As a factory worker making a salary of S$200 a month in Vietnam, this makes his purchase equivalent to 5 months of his salary. So, when was the last time you spent half a year of your salary on your significant other?

Now most of us do some basic research online before dropping serious money on our gadgets and he must have done the same, as he knew right away that S $950 was an unbelievable bargain. So the retailers make him sign some ridiculously worded invoice in English (a language he barely understands) and as he was leaving the store, they stopped him and forced him to pay an additional S$1500 for a bogus 1-year warranty before they would allow him to leave with what he believed he had purchased. 

The retailers (Mobile Air Pte Ltd) “generously” offer to refund S$550 but as this would mean that 2 whole months of salary would be stolen from him, he refuses. He then goes down on his knees and begs them to refund the rest of his money while the staff at the outlet laughed at him. 

So the police and consumer association of Singapore were called in and were only able to recoup S$400 for him. So he leaves the shop with his girlfriend S$550 poorer, with no iPhone 6, in tears, sore knees and his dream holiday now shattered. 

This is NOT “ok”, this is NOT right. We are *NOT* a nation of thieves and cheats….”

That compelling argument was successful in convincing people. I told Kang that people in Vietnam did not want to help Thoai because they think that if he is a poor guy he should not spend his money on an iPhone. He was a snob. Kang answered me: “But he was still right. He used his money to buy things he wanted; he did not steal money from others or cheat people as the way the retailers did to him.”

I went back home after the nice talk with Kang. His answers made me think about the word “responsibility”. Many of us are not willing to help others because we think that it is not our responsibility. We live for ourselves more than we live for others and it is not wrong. However, if we think that then we are not worthy to ask for beautiful things to appear in this society. And we are also not worthy to ask for help from others when we are in the hour of danger.

Vo Thi My Linh

Life in heaven

I went to Aruchour village, about 260km from Kathmandu, when the Nepalese paiyu flowers were blooming everywhere in the fields. It was turning to winter and the temperature dipped to 10 degrees Celsius at night. I stayed at Ramakanta’s house. It was close to the bus stop, however, the street was rough and dark. Ramakanta’s neighbor was with me. He carried a full bag of goods and staggered about drunkenly. He was not a big drinker. He just wanted to keep warm by drinking a little alcohol. Unfortunately, he fell down because it was dark but stood up fast and kept going. I took the phone out of my pocket and turned it on to light the way for him and Ramakanta. I did not know how they would see without my phone but they did get home safely many times without lights.
My job was to assist Chinu teach children English. Actually, I did not help much but people were happy to talk with a young foreign teacher. After class, I went to a farm to help the farmers. To be honest, I did not do much but the villagers were excited to see a traveler working in the fields. I was very glad to witness their lives.
A particular day in Aruchour
Everyone in the village was awake by 5 a.m. I knew that from the howling of a trumpet and the sound of people calling each other. Mr. Ramakanta also got up early. He wore short pants and went to the shed to cook food for the cattle and milk his buffalo even though it was very cold. Mrs Ramakanta prepared breakfast in the kitchen. The Nepali usually have breakfast at 10 o’clock. After cooking, Mrs. Ramakanta put the food in the cupboard and went to the field to harvest codo.
 Sightseers would think Aruchour was heaven. The Paiyu flowers had crimson blooms, the rice terraces resembled broken mirrors, the mountains were covered by white clouds, the sun rose in the mist and sunset peeked out from behind old bamboo trees, the cock crowed in the early morning and there was a chorus of birds. However, if you worked in the fields with the farmers, you could see how hard their lives were.
A family in Aruchour village
This area was surrounded by mountains: in front were mountains, behind were mountains, right flank and left flank were also mountains. Arable land was used for cultivation. The peasants carried out crop rotation. They started with rice, then corn and codo (a kind of millet), then potatoes. They made the most of the valuable time, and there was no rest for the land. They also took full advantage of each crop. The grain from corn was used for food, the stalks and cobs were dried and used for firewood. With rice and codo, after separating the seeds, the stalks were used as fuel. Every house had a huge stack of straw that was used as food for cattle in the winter and summer. If a family had no cattle, they could exchange their straw for cow-dung to fertilize the fields. Most of the arable lands were used for crops so there was no room for grass. To cut fresh grass for the cattle, people climbed to the tops of mountains and crossed the hills to get baskets of grass.
Each house could only devote a small piece of land to grow vegetables. I was surprised and did not understand why Mrs. Ramakanta cooked vegetables so long. I later realized that they did not want to waste old vegetables so they softened them for chewing. In summer and winter, vegetables couldn’t grow so they would dry field cabbages and put them in a bag in the cupboard. When the harsh weather came they used dried vegetables to make food.
Although they live in the mountains they lack firewood because they dare not cut trees. Therefore, there was no firewood to heat water. They took a bath only once a week so most people have head lice.
 They did not have machines for anything. When they wanted to plow the fields, they called their neighbors for mutual help. People with buffaloes could offer their buffaloes, healthy people could offer their health. In return, payment was a meal with rice and vegetables. The village only had one tailor who had to take his sewing machine around the village to make new clothes for people. They lived and experienced poverty like that.
Carrying words to school
Mrs. Chinu and I once took some young students to an English competition called “Spelling Contest”. The contest was held in support of this poor mountainous area, which lacked learning facilities. Books, notebooks, pens, dictionaries, etc. were luxuries here. Teachers in this region had not been trained in any teachers’ colleges. To help children learn English, a teacher read out a word and students tried to memorize that word by spelling it. Each school chose five students for the contest. There were 10 schools in Syangja District which participated in the contest. Going from Shree Sabodaya School to Shree Dara Daurali, we had to pass three very high, long hills. It seemed that the students did not care about the sinuous, sloping path. They were holding a sheet of paper and reading words silently while walking.
It took us three hours to reach the contest venue. The contest took place from11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in a solemn atmosphere. The representative of the board of examiners made a speech and contestants took an oath. Drums and trumpets were played. When the chairman of the board of examiners read out a word, the team that spelled it correctly first would score points.
Road to the venue
The award for the winning team was not worth much. Each student received a notebook wrapped in old sheets of newspaper. The award for the winning school consisted of a wooden certificate of merit and a dictionary. The dictionary was small and old. In my country, such a dictionary would be put somewhere and forgotten because most people no longer use paper dictionaries. The teacher of the winning school stepped to the podium and received the dictionary with extreme joy and pride. I thought that the dictionary would be passed and considered as a treasure in this country. I called the journey “carrying words to school”.
I burst into tears when I saw the teacher holding the dictionary with much care as a treasure. I was aware that people in Aruchour village had never suffered from starvation because the villagers always worked hard on their farms. Although the students in the village led a life of deprivation, I strongly believed that they would reach new horizons by continuing to “carry words to school”. They would follow the example of the ancient Nepalese, who attempted to break mountains to build such a beautiful country…
Vo Thi My Linh

Standing steadily without legs

Nguyen Thi Hong was born on March 17th, 1979 in Quang Tri province, the middle of Vietnam. At 4 years old, she suffered from paralysis of her legs.In 2003, an official in her commune suggested her to join a competition in a wheelchair race organized by a district in Quang Tri province. She won a gold medal for the 3,000-meter race. Later, Hong was invited to join the national female weightlifting team, not the wheelchair racing group, in order to compete at the ASEAN Paragames. She won the gold medal in the 47kg category in Asian ParaGames 2003. She now collected more than 20 gold medals and silver medals of many international tournaments. In October 2011, Hong won a bronze medal at a weightlifting championship held in Saudi Arabia. The prize offered her a chance to compete at the Paralympics London 2012. images584610_xh_6

From a paralyzed woman with little education to a woman married to a kind man who dared to ignore the criticism of society, How did Mrs. Nguyen Thi Hong turn her disadvantages into strength to get here today?

I enter her house, which is small and narrow, about 16 square meters. She is there, sitting on the floor, with an appealing smile. She drags her paralyzed legs to make some tea for me. Before that, she turned to her sister and said: “Sis, finish your water and give me the cup then I can pour tea for my guest.” She has only one cup. She also has only one fan. That was why she once again turned to her sister and said, “Sis, can you try to withstand the heat of summer and give the fan for our special guest?” Then I noticed that everything in her house was single. She explained: “I am a frugal woman.” However, even if she had money to buy furniture there was no space to add anything to this house. Nevertheless, I think it is good when people use shared stuff because that can help their affection for each other grow stronger. There is only one thing which is not single here, the laughter of three people: her husband, her son and Nguyen Thi Hong. Yep, this is a house full of laughter….

“I learned how to read so I can read if anyone writes a letter to insult my father”

Being born in Quang Tri, a poor province in Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Hong suffered from paralysis of her legs. On that fateful day, her mother went to sell straw brooms and her father went to work as a tractor driver. She got a fever and when her parents got home they took her to a dispensary. However, it is too late for a cure. Her family could not afford to take her go to a big hospital. They took her to a psychic but that made her worse and her legs were paralyzed.

Spending all day in bed was killing Hong so one day she practiced how to walk. Surprisingly, she could move around in her bed and that made her parents extremely happy. However, a wheelchair was still her main way to get around. When she was 14 years old a charity foundation from America came to visit her and gave her a chance to apprentice with a tailor. One day a little boy came to her house, looked at her and said: “Hey, Hong, if I wrote something to insult your father, I would be sure that you did not know how to read it.” Those words hurt her pride and she asked the charity foundation to give her a chance to go to school instead of being a tailor.

On her first day of school, her classmates laughed at her because of her age. However, she was not frustrated and during most of her school years, she was always one of the top students in her class.

When she finished grade 8 Hong stopped going to school because of her age and she became a tailor. In 2003, she was invited to join a sporting movement in her commune. She won first prize in the competition for wheelchair athletes. She then got into the provincial and national tournaments.

“My legs are paralyzed but my will is not.”

Anyone who has a chance to see her award collection will be jealous of her. At the Para Games Tournament of 2003, Nguyen Thi Hong was entered as a weightlifter because of the lack of athletes in that category. Although that was her first time lifting weights she won second prize and she became a weight athlete.

However, life is a struggle. The department of Sports does not give her anything so she only has money from tournaments. After training, she works as a tailor to make money. Practice and work make her thin but she said: “My legs are paralyzed but my will is not.”

I asked her whether she was afraid her beauty was affected by heavyweight sport. She looked at me and replied in a sad tone: “Yes, I was. My legs are withered and paralyzed. My arms are muscle-bound like a man. I often lay down on the bed and cried a lot. I could not find out what were my faults and blamed God for taking many things from me. However, when I awoke, I looked at my son and my husband. They gave me the motivation to live for them. I realized that if my husband didn’t love my appearance he would not get married to me. Therefore, I need to try my best, win many prizes then my husband can be proud of me.”

A love story with many hurdles

Mrs. Nguyen and her husband have known each other since they were children. He always tried to take care of her and she said that her husband protected her when friends insulted her legs.  In addition, he spent his first salary to buy a bicycle and took her around their village to show her how beautiful it is. That was why she fell in love with him. Unfortunately, both of their relatives forbade a marriage.

She tried to break up with him many times but his faithfulness and kindness completely won her heart. Finally, they decided to leave their hometown and go to Dak Lak (a province in south Vietnam) to build their own family. At the time she was an athlete in Ho Chi Minh city and every time she had a competition she had to take a bus from Dak Lak to Ho Chi Minh city. Her husband became a hired worker for a farmer. After one year, they had a baby. The day she gave birth her husband went to work on the farm. She went to the hospital alone with VND 500.000 in her pocket. That was just enough for hospital fees. In the first month after giving birth, she and her husband ate plain rice with fish sauce to save money to buy milk for their baby.

When her son was a few months old she took him to her hometown to meet his grandparents. However, her relatives looked at her as if she was a depraved woman. She was disappointed and went back to Dak Lak without explaining. She and her husband moved to Ho Chi Minh city because of her job and her husband became an ironworker to help them get more income.

The hope of having their own house

Recently, Mrs. Nguyen stopped working to focus on practicing for the London Paralympic. All household expenditures depend on her husband’s income which is approximately 5 million VND. With that money she needs to spend 1 million for rent, 1 million for her son to study and the rest for other living costs. Unbelievably, they are still happy.

Mrs. Nguyen told me that her family is poor and everything in her house is single but they are always together. Her husband and her son are always in the audience cheering for her at tournaments. Mrs. Nguyen would like to have her own house one day. She then showed me many photos of her family and told some fun stories about them. Through her voice, I could feel the energy inside her thin body….

Vo Thi My Linh

Blog at

Up ↑