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!!!

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

“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