Phi, twenty-five years old, is the older of two brothers and was raised in Nhat Tan village, Hanoi, by his father, fifty-eight, who raises and sells trees for a living, and his mother, fifty, a primary school teacher. His younger brother, nineteen years old, is currently studying electrical engineering at university in Hanoi.
Before we even get started Phi wants everybody to know that he is “happy and enthusiastic about life” but that he has a “serious attitude about work”. More about that later. Why are you so happy? “I don’t know. I’m just happy.” I’ve felt this about Phi every time I’ve spent time with him, whether teaching or just relaxing, and throughout the course of our video chat preparing for this short story of his life.
Phi was born with eyesight so poor it is not even measurable, though he can make out the primary colors, blue, red and yellow with some difficulty. He grew up attending public school with the sighted and was never even aware that there was such a place as the School for the Blind. Though he was sometimes physically bullied in school by his classmates, he also had a friend who often protected him. He feels that he’s “just a normal guy” and didn’t let that bother him then any more than he seems to think about it now.
Rather, in school, he focused on his interest in mathematics (avoiding English which he found very difficult) while when not at school he enjoyed helping his father plant and transplant trees. He especially loves the peach trees for which his village is so well known. These are the decorative peach trees so beloved for their delicate pink blossoms and which, along with the quat trees are proudly displayed in front of people’s homes throughout northern Vietnam during the Tet (Vietnamese New Year) holiday season. He loves the feeling of the soil and the young saplings in his fingers and appreciates knowing that their growth is contributing to a healthy and beautiful environment, explaining that no pesticides are used in their cultivation.
After graduating from high school, unable to find work, Phi stayed home helping his father and doing volunteer work such as collecting used clothing for the needy. He also discovered at one point that he has a talent for raising cats and dogs. In addition to these pursuits Phi undertook training courses in IT (two months) and Japanese massage (two months) at the Training and Rehabilitation Center for the Blind. It was there that he learned, just last year, about the opportunity for additional training and employment at Omamori Spa.
Since coming to Omamori, in August of 2019, Phi has mastered the techniques of the Omamori Massage, Swedish Massage, and Foot Massage. Just one of the measures of how serious he is about his work is that, in spite of a lack of any natural ability as a masseur (according to his instructors) he has tenaciously pursued his training and has become of the most sought after and consistently highly rated therapists at Omamori! Even so, he is aggressively pursuing further training, determined to master every therapy offered at Omamori and become one of our master therapists, or even a teacher. Phi has further proven himself true to his own words, “very serious about my work”, by being one of the two therapists who always, and enthusiastically agrees to work late when clients arrive unexpectedly late in the evening. He’s also the one who encourages Cuong, one of our therapists who has had to overcome considerable handicaps, to join him. The pair of them are well known for their constant devotion to their work and their positive attitudes.
In addition to his many friends at Omamori, Phi also has a dear friend from school, working at a bakery, who he still keeps in touch with. It’s easy to imagine the two of them, chattering away about most anything and everything, as he says they are prone to do. No doubt this special friendship, his many other friends, his love of nature and planting trees, and his love of animals at least partly explain his constant smile. He does express one big frustration with his blindness, however. “I can’t drive a car.” But he can and does use his white can with pride and explains that it helps a great deal, especially at night time.
In spite of the disadvantage his blindness presents when trying to navigate, Phi says that he feels it gives him a big mental advantage, making it easier to keep his brain focused on whatever might be the task at hand, and in particular, when trying to do mathematical calculations in his head.
Before closing our discussion I asked him about any big dream he might have. “Dream…? I’ve got lots of dreams”, he explained. Marriage, family, owning my own home and travel count amongst the big ones. He’s also thought about owning his own business. When I suggested becoming an independent animal trainer, though, he thought that he’d rather own his own spa some day.