I met Khanh, age twenty-two, for the first time today. This was my first time to meet someone entirely new to me with only the benefit of video-conferencing and an interpreter.
Khanh, born and raised in Hoa Binh province outside of Hanoi, was born totally blind in one eye but normally sighted in the other and has three sisters, ages thirty-five, thirty-three, and twenty-four. Her oldest sister, Bich, who also trained at one point with Omamori but now works far away, was born totally blind, though her blindness is medically unrelated to Khanh’s and the doctors are not certain of the cause of either one. Her father, age 65, and her mother, age 57 are both shopkeepers.
When I first met Khanh her face reminded me of the serene beauty of the subjects of some of the great classical paintings I’ve seen in the National Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi. When meeting with my subjects in order to be able to tell their stories I generally try to introduce some humor into the conversation--to shake them loose from their foundations, so to speak, so that I can pry loose an interesting twist, an anecdote or a piece of mischief with which to liven up the story. It probably took thirty minutes before I was able to get Khanh to break free from her Mona Lisa smile and reveal another side of herself--and then only for a few moments. This was when I told her that I was prepared to characterize her as “serious, quiet, and dedicated to her work”. At this point her body language changed for the first time. Her facial expression changed, almost instantaneously, as if water had been poured over a dried flower blossom in preparation for making a cup of tea. “You don’t know me, she almost chortled. I’m quiet now because I’m talking to you for the first time, I’m speaking in Vietnamese and you’re speaking in English, we’re using an interpreter...and it’s all being done by video conferencing.” After she carefully measured responses to most of the questions that had come before, it was as if someone had just turned on the lights in a dark room. A room that soon dimmed to a much darker, but serene soft light once again as we continued the conversation.
As Khanh explained, because, though blind in one eye, she can actually see very well, she has never applied to the government for any special status. She has also been able to complete her education, going through public schools until graduating from high school, and then pursuing a degree in traditional medicine, completing her certification at Vietnam’s finest school of traditional medicine. She graduated and received her certification in 2018 and has been working as a physician in a private clinic ever since.
She learned about Omamori from her older sister Bich, who had studied and worked with us some several years before. Khanh’s motivation for coming to study and work at Omamori is different from most of those who come to work here. Simply put, Khanh has a carefully laid out plan for the future. At the traditional medicine clinic where she works she is currently being trained in the sub-specialties of acupuncture and acupressure but plans to pursue in-depth training in the area of traditional medical preparation and prescription, as well. She wants to compliment all of these areas of knowledge with a thorough understanding of massage, as used to treat illness and pain, and of course to develop the skills necessary to apply this knowledge when offering therapy to her clients. This, she believes, will give her a well rounded and thorough grounding in all of the essential elements required to offer comprehensive services as a traditional practitioner in her own clinic, the clinic she hopes to open in her rural home town in about eight years. As such, she anticipates studying and working with us on weekends for a number of years while continuing her work as a physician during the week.
Whereas when I have queried most of the other therapists about their childhood interests and their romantic interests later in life, the conversation has often become playful and lively and has often taken interesting twists and turns, with Khanh, the conversation, though equally interesting, stayed on target from the beginning of our conversation to the very end. Her only real hobby other than cooking and eating, a minor diversion from her real focus, is reading. Anticipating that she might enjoy adventure, history, fantasy or romance as a diversion, I asked what she likes to read about. All of the topics were related to traditional medicine: acupuncture acupressure, illnesses that can be cured by traditional medicine, and the like. Unlike so many other young women her age she has neither a boyfriend nor family plans (though I acknowledge that here, too, it may well be that her self ascribed shyness, language, interpreter and technology are responsible for somewhat obscuring the picture).
Nonetheless, I would be hard-pressed to describe a person of her age who has thought through the requirements for establishing a successful practice in traditional medicine in a small town. She has even already thought through the issues of cash flow, demand, and future growth, laying careful plans to be fully qualified to operate alone until such time as her clientele might grow. Her plans to establish this clinic when she is thirty years old are no more arbitrary than her choice of reading material. She explained, thoughtfully, that she believes it will take this long to learn what she needs to know and to become experienced enough to gain the confidence of her clients. Her ambition is to establish a clinic that will raise the standards for other clinics specializing in traditional medicine, much as Omamori has done in the field of massage therapy. We certainly wish her well and look forward to having her with us on weekends for many more years.