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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“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

Abortion & Humanity

A few days ago, a friend of mine asked me whether she should procure an abortion. Her fetus was just one week old. On the evidence of her situation, my advice for her was having an abortion. However, when I shared this story on Facebook, many people yelled at me because they think that abortion is inhuman.abortion-demo
Now, I think force majeure applies in this situation: a young girl is pregnant although she took a pill and her boyfriend used a condom while having sex; she and her boyfriend are not in love; her family cannot afford her to feed the baby; she is young and does not want to have a baby at this time. Some will tell her not to have an abortion because it is murder and inhuman. I support safe, legal abortion. Here are something to consider:
1. People believe abortion is inhumane. So it does not matter how big or small the fetus is, it is unacceptable to kill a living thing inside your body. What about a girl taking emergency the hormonal contraceptive pill (aka morning after pill) after having unprotected sex? Does it also mean she is killing a little living thing?
2. She wants to have an abortion to forget the past and have a fresh start. You say it is inhumane. At the time, the fetus might be a little tiny cell. You force the girl to let it grow because it is her and her partner’s fault. You condemn them for being cowards if they even think about having an abortion. When the baby is born, the guy is not brave enough to stay and support, the mother gives up her dream in order to look after the baby. So as a consequence of protecting a cell, the baby, the biological father, the mother and others such as the grandparents and stepfather will have a difficult life. You call that being humane?
3. You say once the baby is born, the mother can put the child up for adoption and then she can start her life all over again. Have you thought about how the baby would feel? The baby would think that dad doesn’t want me, neither does mom. You want to protect the tiny cell, let it grow, let it be born and then DUMP it in the world without its parents; somehow it feels unwanted and starts hating its parents. You force the tiny cell to grow up without asking whether it wants to live or not and you think that you are saving its life. You call that being humane?
4. You ask those wanting to have an abortion to stop. You promise them that you and many charity organizations will take care of their babies and give them a good life. Can I trust you? There are millions of people in this country still living in slums, who have no access to health care and education. They are human beings. They were once a cell. They don’t receive any help. You promise that you will give our babies the best lives as if this world is full of magic.
5. You say orphanages and charity organizations give the best care for kids and they all live a happy life. Well, it might be true when they are young. Once they grow up, nobody cares what is going to happen to them. If they fail to be successful in life, you say it is because they were abandoned by their parents and the children don’t have support. Have you ever thought about the beginning when the couple wanted to have an abortion because they couldn’t give the child a good life? You asked them not to do so. Should you be responsible for the child’s success as well as their failure? To be honest, I have not seen any organization brave enough to take on this responsibility.
6. You say abortion is inhuman. Recently, a 10-year-old girl in Paraguay was sexually assaulted by her stepfather but she could not get rid of the unborn fetus according to those who defend humanity because this is murder. You force the 10-year-old girl to grow up in shame and with psychological disorders for something that she did not do. You do not give her a chance to change her life. You take away her human rights, her women’s rights as if women are born just to give birth, and do not have a right to pursuit happiness. You cannot even take care of the 10-year-old girl, cannot protect her but you welcome the baby inside her tummy as if the baby can have a great future.
7. You say abortion is inhuman. According to a United Nations’ report in 2013, every year in developing countries, 2 million girls under 14 give birth under unwanted circumstances. Many of them suffer long-term health problems after giving birth. An estimated 70,000 adolescent die each year due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth at a young age.
8. You vehemently condemn abortion so those people who want to find a way out, want to get rid of the past in order to rebuild their lives, have to go to unsafe abortion places. Nobody dares to teach these girls to have a safe abortion because society condemns abortion. As a result, statistics show that over the past two decades about one million women and girls have been killed and more than 100 million people have been injured (many for a lifetime) due to complications from abortion. Your view is to save a child for humanity but you also mercilessly trample on the rights of the mother.
9. Dear single moms, I always admire and respect what you have done to overcome trouble and gossip and how you help your children grow up happily. I totally agree that single mom life is moving on, however, you don’t have the right to criticize those who have an abortion or to call them murderers because they don’t want to be single moms. You are not in their shoes.
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