Nhâm, age thirty, was born into a family of 5 people from Thanh Hoa Province, and is now married and has a five-year-old son. Her mother died unexpectedly two years ago at the age of 54 and is survived by her husband, age 65 and her two children.
It would be difficult to overestimate Nhâm’s importance to Omamori, both as Master Teacher and as Master Therapist, but also as one of the earliest and most key team members, along with Director Nguyen Huong and Director of Training, Nguyet Gau. Her story begins with her long-held dream as a schoolchild, to one day be a teacher herself. Perhaps her current role as master teacher and recruiter can be traced all the way back to this childhood dream. Sometimes fate can lead us down interesting paths and hers has certainly been one such example.
Though Nhâm had wanted to pursue art and literature in her university studies, she was not accepted for admittance into her chosen university. Learning of this setback, her uncle, who had connections with the faculty at Hanoi’s finest medical university persuaded her that she should apply there in the Department of Vietnamese Traditional Medicine. Nhâm says that when she was in middle and high school she was just an average student and didn’t give much serious thought to her future. Once enrolled at this university, however, she had the good fortune to have the department head as her mentor and lead professor. His gifts in anatomical drawing made an immediate impression on her, but so did his gifts as a teacher in his field, as well as his passion for healing others. And so it was, that during this period of her life she discovered her own love for taking care of other people.
Unfortunately, once she had finished her studies and become a licensed physician, she had to learn a hard lesson about the realities of the inner workings of government-administered work in present-day Vietnam. Though she applied for several positions in the prestigious public hospitals it was made clear that positions would only be made available to those able to make substantial “gifts” to the authorities concerned. Unwilling to indulge in such behavior nor willing to even consider approaching her parents for such assistance, Nhâm decided to accept employment in a series of private clinics specializing in traditional medicine. These clinics typically offered treatments based on a combination of herbal prescriptions and physical healing methods, including acupressure therapy.
Here, Nhâm’s knowledge of human anatomy and her strength and skill with acupressure treatment made her very popular with the clientele, especially as many of the clientele preferred to work with a female therapist. Demand for her services was all the more intense as most of the other female clinicians preferred the less physically demanding work of preparing and prescribing plant-based treatments. She, however, found this work to be both more interesting, as well as better paying. Sadly though, in what Nhâm had assumed would be a strictly professional setting intended only for the treatment of people’s illness, she was shocked to learn it was not uncommon for some clientele to expect a “happy” or sexual ending to their physical treatments. Management simply turned a “blind eye” to those female clinicians willing to engage in this behavior to augment their income. After the disheartening experience of working in several such clinics Nhâm, now married and expecting her first child, discontinued her employment and remained at home to prepare for childbirth and care for her husband.
It was during this period of time that Nhâm first learned of Omamori Spa, her future employer. Nguyet Gau was, at that time, entirely responsible for the management and operation of Omamori Spa in Hanoi. However, she was in sore need of additional assistance and a friend of hers who knew Nhâm had suggested that she could be of assistance. Given Nhâm’s poor experience in medical clinics, however, and with what knowledge she had of spa environments (limited mostly to her understanding of Tam Quat, or traditional Vietnamese massage therapy) she had serious misgivings about going back into any environment that might be rife with similar problems. Even though it was her friend making the introduction to Nguyet and Omamori, after numerous attempts at convincing Nhâm to consider employment at Omamori Spa, it was only when Nguyet suffered the loss of her father and was desperate for someone to come in as her replacement while she attended to the family’s affairs that Nhâm agreed to visit Omamori.
It is a tribute to Nguyet’s salesmanship, tenacity and sincerity that she succeeded in convincing Nhâm to come to work on a trial basis. Nhâm agreed, over the phone, to an initial sum of 200,000 Vietnamese dong, plus lunch, to work the morning shift. Though she and I joked about her poor negotiating skills paired against those of Nguyet’s salesmanship and negotiating prowess, in fact the reality came as a surprise and a revelation of Nhâm’s true character. Arriving at Omamori that first day she was completely unprepared for what she encountered. Where she had somehow imagined that Omamori was a luxurious, large scale spa, what she encountered was a very small, single story operation, though elegant and charming in its design and decor. Then she discovered that the receptionist who greeted her was physically handicapped and that the staff giving massages were all blind! Indeed, Nguyet, the very woman who had recruited her was, herself, seriously visually handicapped.
Nhâm felt embarrassed that she had negotiated for more money to come to work and too ashamed to eat the lunch that had been prepared for her, feeling that others might need it more. In fact, though her son was already seven months old by this time and she was in need of the money, she tried to refuse payment for the day’s work. Nhâm only accepted payment when the receptionist explained that the owner and director, even though she was away in the United States, would see on the video camera that she hadn’t been paid and would be angry with everyone.
Worried that she would be depriving the other blind and visually impaired therapists of work, Nhâm initially had no intention of returning to work at Omamori. She agreed to return to work on two conditions. She would only take clients that needed the physical strength that she alone could provide, or when all other therapists were already engaged with their own clients.
Once having established herself at Omamori for a while, she soon began to discover that although she had prided herself on her ability as a massage therapist, in reality, she had now entered a whole new world of therapy. With Nguyet’s guidance and careful instruction she learned that she actually knew little about how to keep herself from becoming physically overwhelmed by the physical demands of massage. She learned a whole new approach to massage that takes advantage of human ergonomics, using proper body position and taking advantage of the body’s own weight to give deep muscle therapy, rather than relying on brute muscle strength. She and Nguyet also took turns massaging each other, giving constant feedback and experimenting with new techniques to improve each other’s skills, thus becoming each other’s teachers. Pursuing their learning even further and continuing to the present day, Nhâm and Nguyet have also practiced on and with some of their most talented students, critiquing and learning more from each new student.
Since coming to work at Omamori Spa Nhâm has developed a deep sense of pride and personal reward knowing that she is helping not only her clients, but also her students and co-workers, as well. She says that she loves coming to work knowing that the vast majority of her customers are kind, mannerly and appreciative. Nhâm also loves working in a clean and healthy environment that is physically beautiful and comforting. As one of only two sighted therapists there are things that she can do for others that make everybody's life easier, an additional source of pride.
Back in 2016, one particularly appreciative client approached Omamori Spa with the idea of creating a franchise operation in partnership with Omamori. Nhâm and Nguyet worked with that client to make such an operation successful but soon learned that the task was an overwhelmingly difficult one, with a vast number of variables to be considered, variables that few people who have not worked inside of a spa (especially a spa where almost all operational staff are blind) could not possibly appreciate. Together with the director they decided to disengage from this project and focus on the flagship operation. They were thus able to focus on making it even stronger and more successful, ultimately spawning the new branches in operation today, both in Hanoi and in Hoi An. These, rather than being franchises, are fully owned and operated by Omamori Spas, Inc.
After eight years of hard work and tremendous personal development at Omamori Spa, Nhâm and Nguyet were offered a trip to Thailand with two of the volunteers who have assisted Omamori in a variety of ways. In some ways a highlight of her career, This afforded her the opportunity to see and experience a very different culture and to learn about what has made Thailand famous the world over for its legendary massages. Nhâm returned to Vietnam with a renewed confidence in her own skills as a massage therapist and healer, and with a deepened understanding of what great customer service and attention to detail can mean in enhancing the total experience of a spa. She and her dear friend and teammate, Nguyet, have a renewed commitment to making the Omamori experience the best ever, with a long term dream of making it possible for Vietnamese massage, also, to become renowned and sought after by people the world over.
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