Duong, age twenty-three, grew up in a farming family living in Ha Tinh province, about 30 kilometers from the Laotian border. His mother, age 49, and father, age 50, farm deer and cattle, as well as the crops necessary to provide them with feed: corn, peanuts and hay.
It should be noted that the deer are not farmed to be butchered. Rather, their horns are harvested annually for use in traditional medicine. It came as a surprise to learn that they grow back like hair and thus the deer can be kept until old age. His two older sisters, ages 25 and 23, are both married. Each of them works as a retail store manager for well established large companies. For those who are familiar with the Lotte Center in Hanoi, both of their stores are located within the center.
I had to laugh when Duong informed me while talking about his family that he will get married when he is thirty years old. Me: “Ah! So you have a girlfriend already?” Duong: “Well, not really, but there’s plenty of time.” Quickly changing the subject, Duong began to talk about his vision and his life on the farm, growing up. Though almost totally blind (his ophthalmological reading is a mere .02 out of a possible 10 points) he explains that in the afternoon he sees best, and is able to distinguish primary colors and see vague shadows of movement.
Duong spoke enthusiastically, seemingly affectionately, of his work on his parents’ farm while growing up. He especially enjoyed herding and tending their cattle, taking them out to the meadow to graze. He also enjoyed harvesting corn and peanuts, taking particular pleasure in digging peanuts, probing the moist soil with his fingers and finding the peanuts hidden within. I can imagine, also, his enjoyment of the smell of the earth and the peanut plants.
As Duong grew up in a rural farm community far from any of Vietnam’s large cities the only way he could study up through grade four was to listen in class and try to remember as best he could. It came as a surprise then that in this rural community he was able to attend summer classes in braille offered by the provincial Association for the Blind, mastering braille sufficiently in one month that he was able, thereafter, to take notes in class at school in order to assist with his studies.
Two years later, in 2008, he again took summer classes at the Blind Association. This time he learned how to take notes using a computer to support his studies. Using special software that speaks out the letters as he types them, and speaking aloud the words he has written as they are completed he is now able to write efficiently on the computer even though he is completely unable to confirm anything he has written by looking at the screen. As he became more confident on the computer he also developed a strong interest in listening to ebooks and in using the internet to entertain himself when not busy with schoolwork or with helping on the farm. In addition to his enjoyment of farming and reading or listening to ebooks (both serious and comic) he is also passionate about football (or soccer, as Americans know it). He is active, both in following matches around the world as well as in playing with a local group of blind players in Hanoi. I accused him of being part bat (blind and able to hear well enough to chase the ball without seeing it), which he seemed to find hilarious. He explained that a ball with a bell inside of it is used in order that the players are able to locate the ball by hearing alone.
Unlike many other blind and visually impaired people in Vietnam, Duong tells of going through school without having to endure the bullying and discrimination that so many others must contend with. Rather, he received strong support from classmates and family alike, completing nine years of school while still living at home. He explained that some of his friends would even hold his hand, guiding him through the shapes that were being studied in geometry class, while others would sometimes read his lessons to him in order to support him in his studies.
Even so, once finishing his first nine years of school, he decided to go to Hanoi, where he could earn money in a Tam Quat studio while attending school on weekends. Attending on weekends even now, while working at Omamori, he expects to graduate in May of this year (2020). Once he has graduated from high school he expects to attend university in Hanoi. Given his family’s history with farming and the fondness with which he had described his boyhood on the farm, I had imagined that he might study farming and agriculture or something related to agri-business at the university level. Not so. Duong was quite firm in announcing that he planned to study Business Administration while continuing to work as a massage therapist at Omamori.
It was only last year, however, that Duong suffered a setback that could even have been permanent. Duong and another staff member went for an ill-fated walk one night along a busy road in Hanoi. The use of the white cane, well known in other parts of the world as a clear signal to others that the person using it may be blind, has been almost unknown in Vietnam. Accordingly, neither Duong nor his friend, also a staff member at Omamori, were using canes. A careless driver approached too closely when passing them and hit them both, sending them to the hospital with serious head injuries. Miraculously, both survived and after long periods of recovery have been able to return to work. Duong’s recovery has been complete as far as he and the doctors have been able to discern and he has now resumed his work and his studies.
Though serious about his work as a massage therapist, Duong’s explains that his long term goal is to earn enough to begin investing while continuing as a therapist and then, ultimately to have enough money to be able to work exclusively as an investor. His particular interest is in ventures in e-commerce and in the sharing economy. His ultimate dream, then, is to become a successful venture capitalist, likely focusing on one or both of those sectors of the economy. He asked me to be sure and share this as part of his story.
So it seems that Duong has his life well planned out: Graduate from high school in May of 2020. Get married in 2030. Continue working, saving, and investing. Establish his own Venture Capital fund in 2040? 2050? Regardless, we wish him well.