My name is Ta Duc Quan, and I am from Tan Thanh, Ninh Binh province. I served in the army for 21 years. I have a daughter studying in Hanoi Law school, and a 14 year old son currently ranked second in his grade. Life was great. Until it wasn't.
One afternoon, I was out with my daughter when I felt everything around me darken. I figured that I was just tired or dizzy, and didn’t worry about it further. However the next morning, when my mother woke me up for breakfast, I couldn’t see her at all. I was soon diagnosed by a doctor with uveitis. I suspect my sudden loss of eyesight was caused by exposure to places with high radiation during my time in the army, but I can only speculate.
The two years following my sudden onset of blindness were an inescapable nightmare. Imagine turning a corner and in the blink of an eye, you realize that your life has fallen apart. That was how I saw my reality. I was ashamed, and developed an inferiority complex; I didn’t want anyone’s pity but I also didn’t want to face the truth—that this kind of existence would be my daily life now. I basically fell face first into a world that I had no preparation for. In my first meal, after losing my sight, I couldn’t see the bowl of rice, so I just felt around and hoped that I wasn’t spilling anything. Then came the sobbing—first from my mother, then my siblings. From then on, I stopped eating with my family. I locked my door and had hardly any human interaction for a year. Every person who came to my door to ask how I was doing would only add to my ever-increasing guilt and shame.
Once, I ate noodles with a relative. I'm not sure if I gave any indication that I couldn't see, but two people walked past us, and I could hear them say “Poor guy." Maybe they weren't even talking about me, but it made me burst into tears. Now, I avoid eating in public at all costs. I just can't take the pity, even if it is well intended.
How I came to study in BlindLink’s Swedish Massage course through the Ninh Binh Blind Association ( NBBA) was through pure chance, especially considering I spent the majority of my time in a 11 square foot room. That day, my son visited, and I asked him to check whether there was any new information on the NBBA website, since I hadn't yet learned how to use a phone without sight at the time. He found some information on the massage therapy course, and called to inquire further. A few days later, we met the Vice President of NBBA, who promised to sign me up for a massage course, the same one we found. That was the first time I stepped foot into the world of the Blind Community.
The first day in class left me with a deep impression of the field of massage. At first, I intended to learn massage as a way to occupy myself, but that first day changed my perspective on things. I suddenly was able to open up, maybe because due to their circumstances, my fellow classmates could offer understanding rather than pity. Maybe because I could feel the sincerity of my teachers, who want to help us live more comfortably with our disabilities. Regardless, I felt accepted, and that alone held more comfort than I ever could have imagined. At first, like many people in Vietnam, I thought: “Why would you want to study massage? It seems simple enough."
However, as I was taught more about Swedish Massage and proper massage standards from BlindLink’s professional instructors, I became mesmerized. Every day, I couldn't wait to return home to try my newly-learned techniques on my family. The longer I practiced, the more my understanding increased. I love the fluidity of the movements, the smooth, unbroken rhythm that my instructors manage to maintain despite how energy consuming it is. I even love the pre-massage preparations—everything should be very precise and detailed, according to procedure. As the end of the course approached, I realized my thought process had changed drastically from when I first started. Hardly 30 days had passed, but it felt like a lifetime. Everyone around me had different backgrounds, and the stories they told made mine seem paltry in comparison. Not to discredit my own experience, of course, but my fellow peers and the BlindLink teachers really inspired me to not let myself be reduced to my circumstances. I realized it was time to start rebuilding my life. During the course, I brought my instructors and friends from the dorm for a visit to my home. It was touching to see the relief it brought my family. My grandmother even called from Nha Trang with congratulations, saying that she wants nothing more than to see me in good spirits, and meeting other people than can understand what I am going through. Recently, I received eye surgery that helped me to see a little better. The doctor advised me to rest, but I requested to go back to my massage class, albeit with more moderate practice time. I studied after class ended, to catch up for the days I was absent due to the surgery. I think those interested in learning massage therapy should have passion and love for this field.
Learning English was no different. It makes me laugh to remember my enthusiasm, despite being a forty-something year old man, to happily sing the song “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes!” with my fellow classmates. Those days were the most carefree and relaxed I've been since my eyesight disintegrated. Massage is something that I can pursue, that I can use to make a living. My family isn't struggling financially; they can support me if that is what I want. But if I can still work, then I will try my best to do so. I hope to someday go to Hanoi to participate in another BlindLink massage course. I have sufficient funds to open a massage facility, but there is a big difference between opening it and maintaining it. Therefore, I will continue to learn and practice the things I've been taught, and gradually buildi my skills and experience. I am determined to accept my situation—I now realize there's no need to view what happened as a misfortune, as I have so much to look forward to.