Hiep is twenty-four years old and was born in Hanoi. He describes his father as a “freelancer”, working a wide variety of jobs, depending on where there is a need for his services. His mother is a kindergarten teacher. He also has a beautiful younger sister, sixteen years old.
When we asked Hiep what the one thing he wanted to tell people about himself, his response came as a surprise, though maybe it shouldn’t have. “I want to know why I was born vision impaired.” That said, he doesn’t seem to dwell on that question much and we soon got on to a number of other topics.
Hiep went to public schools, attending alongside sighted students until the 8th grade. He left school at that time and began tending the cows purchased by the family to supplement the family income, taking them to pasture and leading them home again in the evenings. He did this for a year and a half before going to work in his uncle’s machine shop, assisting with a variety of errands, including product and parts delivery and handling. In Hiep’s own words, since finishing the eighth grade he has continued his schooling in “Life School”, a school which has clearly taught him a great deal about life.
After working a variety of other jobs he got trained as a traditional massage therapist in a Tam Quat studio, working there for four years until 2018, when he left to come to work at Omamori Spa. He explains that, though a friend recommended Omamori to him as early as 2016, even knowing that the work would pay much better and that it might be a better job, he was afraid to apply because he had been told he would have to learn to speak English. Speaking with him now, though his English is limited, his fear might not be evident given his enthusiasm for using what he knows. And though his enthusiasm for, and dedication to his work as a massage therapist are considerable, he has reserved most of his energy during the course of our conversation to talk about his greatest passion and grandest interest, as well as the work to which he feels he has dedicated himself more than any other.
I was impressed when Hiep told me that he loves to run and that he is actually a professional runner, representing Hanoi in the national championships. He began as a professional seven years ago, in 2013, first running for Hanoi in 2014. He now has a total of eight gold medals to his credit, incorporating four different categories of races: the 100 meter, 400 meter, 1,000 meter and 5,000 meter events! Though he considers the 400 meter race his greatest strength, we were impressed by his 100 meter time of 12 seconds. Not bad, considering the world record is 9.58 seconds! Though he has run races competing against sighted runners, as well, most of the races he has run are run in competition against other visually impaired runners. As a professional runner Hiep is contracted on a yearly basis and earns a steady salary of six million (6,000,000) Vietnamese dong per month, the equivalent in 2020 of US$ 254 per month. As a point of reference, many waitresses and service personnel working in small eateries and coffee shops earn little more than this even working full time.
Consistent with his broad variety of work experiences, Hiep has a wide variety of interests in addition to his passion for running. He also enjoys music, watching movies and cooking, amongst other things. Actually, he is one of the best cooks amongst all of the therapists working at Omamori, according to our director.
Though he often felt frustrated by his visual limitations as a child, after coming to work in Hanoi he has made friends in virtually every place he has worked. Observing that there are many people with limitations and difficulties far greater than his own he has learned to be content with all that he has, explaining that at Omamori he is living with friends, indeed, virtually a family away from home. He enjoys their support and friendship and being able to play games, cook and relax together with them.
As for how he is treated by other people and how his visual limitations have played a part in his working and community life, he explains that he feels little different than anyone else in the city because most people don’t even know he’s blind. However, he does feel that he actually has at least one or two advantages over sighted people in that he is able to focus more on his work without the constant distraction of visual stimuli all around. He believes his blindness also makes him more sensitive both to touch and sound.
If you are fortunate enough to enjoy a session with Hiep, we’re sure you’ll agree.