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”.
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?”….
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.
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
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.
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