Trang, twenty-four years old and visually impaired, is the youngest child in her family. Both of her parents are fifty-four years old. Her father is a sailor working on a fishing boat, while her mother stays busy at home caring for the household.
Both of her older brothers, ages thirty-two and thirty, as well as her sister, twenty-eight, are married. Trang is the only family member suffering from visual impairment for which no one knows the cause.
She is both quiet and shy and as with many such people she is also an excellent listener. She stood out in my English lessons for her ability to listen to a new word and pronounce it almost perfectly, as well as for her ability to learn quickly and memorize correctly. She is capable of quiet surprises--no doubt far more than I was able to coax from her during the short time we shared in conversation. In spite of her generally quiet, studious nature she shared with me that one of the things she loved doing as a child was collecting flowers bugs and insects. She especially loved to frighten her unsuspecting friends with the scary-looking ones. I was surprised in an entirely different way to learn that this quiet young lady has wasted no time since coming to Omamori in cultivating a romantic relationship with one of our newest staff therapists; indeed, a relationship that she says will likely culminate in marriage sometime in the coming year. This would make them a family, of course, only adding further to the richness of the “Omamori family”.
Unsurprisingly, in spite of Trang’s serious visual impairment, she did very well in primary school, and in middle school became a member of an elite group of the most successful students. Continuing her public school education, Trang was admitted into the best public high school in the district. As this school was more than 10 kilometers from her family’s home, her family rented her an apartment nearby the school in order that she could focus on her studies. Nonetheless, at high school, she faced much greater challenges as the schoolwork itself became increasingly difficult and her vision got worse.
I was yet again surprised when Tràng told me that whether at school or at home and throughout her public school studies until graduation from high school, she spent most of her time studying or working on classwork. She had no time for nor any interest in hobbies or pastimes. I asked her about how she was able to keep up with her classwork in this new school environment. She explained that she had to rely almost entirely on listening to the teacher, then returning to her apartment after school and writing down all that she could remember, though she was able to sometimes borrow notes from a friend. These, she would copy down in her own way so that she could read and refer to them later, for review. At school her classmates treated her the same as anyone else, assuming that she was simply shortsighted. Meanwhile, the only assistance she received from her teachers came in the form of exams that had been copied and enlarged so that she could more easily read them. At home her family encouraged her independence, knowing that this might be the only way that she could get ahead in spite of her vision impairment.
Her favorite subject in high school was biology, while one of her least favorites was English. She didn’t care for grammar, and worst of all, each of her teachers (all Vietnamese) seemed to have a completely different notion of how to pronounce English words. As sensitive as Trang’s ears are it comes as no surprise that this would have been a constant source of irritation. Trang denies being aware of any particularly keen sense of hearing but feels that her visual impairment has perhaps somehow resulted in a much more delicate sense of touch, very useful to her in her work as a therapist, and feels she has a particularly well developed olfactory sensitivity, explaining that she is able to distinguish subtle differences in scent better than many others.
Following her interest in biology, Trang applied to and was accepted into the Vietnamese School of Traditional Medicine where she is now enrolled, taking classes on weekends, and from which she expects to graduate next year and become certified to practice medicine as a physician. At present, she especially enjoys learning to create medicines from herbs and organic materials. She also enjoys learning about human anatomy, and in particular the study of the muscles and bones. She also looks forward to her classes in acupuncture.
She describes herself as straightforward, dedicated, highly demanding of herself, and very serious about her work as a massage therapist. I have nicknamed her “Cham-chi”, a Vietnamese work that sums up what, to me, when working with her, and in learning about her exceptional efforts in school, can simply be described in English as “driven”, but seems far better expressed in Vietnamese. It seems highly likely that she will succeed in her dream of establishing her own clinic one day.