Because Nguyet, known as Rose to many of her clients and our guests, speaks English so well my video chat with her was conducted almost entirely in English without benefit of an interpreter.
For this same reason I have had the benefit of frequent conversations with her during the time I spent in Hanoi. Her dual role as both therapist and receptionist at Omamori gave us an even better opportunity to get acquainted when things weren’t too busy at work, making it possible to have an especially relaxed visit.
Nguyet was born in Bac Ninh province in the year 2000. Her father is fifty-four years old and her mother is forty-eight. She has two older sisters, twenty-nine and twenty-seven (one recently married) and a younger brother, age eleven. Nguyet herself is the only person in the family with vision impairment and doesn’t know why she was born that way, though she feels it may have been due to some complication or illness during her mother’s pregnancy.
As conversations are wont to do when two people know each other well, ours jumped from the subject of when she might cut her beautiful long hair to questions about her self-proclaimed laziness and back to her earliest childhood memories, etcetera. I should point out that Nguyet seems to love being teased (when she knows she’s being teased lovingly) and I certainly took full advantage of this as we chatted. Pausing to think for a few moments, Nguyet said that all she could remember from her early childhood--before going away to school, was that they had many pets in the house, both cats and dogs, and that she loved them dearly. After all, being nearly totally blind, there wasn’t a lot she could do around the house other than play with the animals. This memory led to her sad recall of the death of one of their cats. Nguyet says her sister told her the cat died because she didn’t care for it well but she believes it was because her dog growled at the cat. Ah...childhood memories.
Things changed very rapidly, however, once her family decided to place her in the School for the Blind in Hanoi, at the age of seven. While I had thought that at such a young age she would miss her family and feel quite lonely, she assures me that it was quite the opposite. Surrounded by other blind and visually impaired children she quickly made friends and, “when not in class I spent my time running around, playing children’s games and singing along with others while someone played the guitar”.
Many times, I have arrived at Omamori ready to begin teaching or working with one or another person on a marketing related issue. Finding Nguyet at the reception desk I would cheerfully inquire how she was feeling that day. Unlike most others, who would usually say, “fine” or some such, Nguyet seemed brutally honest, as often as not telling me that she felt sleepy, just okay, or that she was feeling lazy that day. At least she is consistent! Inquiring as to her experience and feelings about classes at school she assured me that she was not a good student (I’m ot sure about that) and that she didn’t like to go to class. “I preferred to sleep”, she says. However, I learned that she rather enjoyed literature. Her reasons given were that her teacher was “cheerful and deep”. She also enjoyed English class, but mainly the conversation portion taught by her Western teachers, whereas she found grammar laborious and not fun because she didn’t like to study and try to remember the rules. She found it hilarious when I told our interpreter (who found herself mostly out of a job during our chat) that Nguyet’s English would be nearly perfect if she hadn’t been so lazy and mostly slept through grammar class! We all got a good laugh out of that even as Nguyet made it clear that she didn’t need anyone to interpret my remarks. I feel certain that behind Nguyet’s lovely smile and ready laugh lurks some sort of mischief yet to be discovered. Perhaps it’s nothing more than her mischievous pride in her own laziness that tempts one to think this way.
Though I teased her mercilessly and we joked a great deal, as always, Nguyet also made clear, once again, something that I’ve always known about her. She can be and often is also very serious and certainly capable of very clear thinking. Even being as proud of her beautiful long hair as she is, when I asked her if she would cut her hair “just for me”, as I have often done to howls of protest, she told me it was too late. She had just recently cut her hair and proudly turned on the video camera so I could see. Turns out, she had recently sold her hair for 1,000,000 Vietnamese dong in order to help with the family finances under the trying circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.
As the conversation turned more serious we talked of her future plans regarding education, career and family. Without hesitation she explained that no, she wasn’t about to get married or even think about such a thing, though she did admit to having had a boyfriend a while back, for a while. In fact, she explained, “I don’t have time for or interest in boys. They’re too much trouble! Though I have recently graduated from high school, I plan to work full time for the next year and then go on to study traditional medicine at university.” It seems likely that she will do exactly that.
Wanting to know what sort of frustrations Nguyet has experienced due to her vision impairment, I asked her to speak candidly about any frustrations she felt comfortable discussing. Though by the time Nguyet and I had been able to schedule our chat I had already spoken with more than thirty other therapists and asked the same or similar questions, Nguyet’s answer seemed both more thoughtful and more carefully considered than most any I had heard up to that point. Quite simply, she explained that she was most frustrated by the fact that her family never turned to her when they needed help with virtually anything. “They always ask my brother and sisters...but not me,” she repeats.
Though she is clear about her plans for medical school she believes it’s too early to really have an idea of exactly what she’ll do after that. We both agreed that once she’s a trained physician, that might change. We also agreed that we should speak again, many times. Her interest in using her extensive knowledge of English is such that she especially enjoys her work as a receptionist, where she often has the chance to visit with clients from all over the world. If you are lucky, perhaps Rose, as she is likely to introduce herself to you, will both “receive” you and then treat you. Regardless, she’s sure to appreciate the opportunity to get to know you better and to engage in conversation with you. It’s pretty certain, also, that she’s likely to enjoy a bit of friendly teasing!