Tu, age twenty, was born into a farming family in Bac Giang province. His father farms freshwater fish while his mother farms decorative flowers. Apparently something went wrong when she contracted influenza during her pregnancy, resulting in his blindness. He also has an older brother, twenty-six, who is working in Taiwan as a laborer in the growing immigrant workforce there.
Born virtually blind, Tu underwent two successful surgeries as a very young child which, however, still only improved his vision to about 2 out of 10, enough to be able to see a little but not nearly enough to function well in school. The doctors informed the family that additional surgeries would not be possible and that they could do no more to improve his vision. In his poor rural community it had been felt that attending school would be futile until after the surgeries. Thus he only began to attend school at about age ten and gave up attending school by the time he was fifteen, feeling both uncomfortable in classes with students much younger than himself, and deciding that he was old enough to join the workforce, anyway.
As we chatted, I held my fingers up to the camera on my computer so that they filled the screen. Only then could Tu count how many fingers I was holding up. However, he maintains that he can read a printed book, but only by holding it about six inches from his eyes, and only very slowly. This also causes physical pain, so he rarely reads books. He can also read Braille, but only very slowly, and with the availability of audio books, what reading he does generally comes in the form of listening to audio books. It was through training at the Blind Association in his province that he first learned to read Braille, but it was also there that he took six months of training in Tam Quat techniques (the traditional approach to massage in Vietnam). By the time he was eighteen he had his first job in a Tam Quat studio where he continued to work until hearing from one of the other therapists at Omamori about the opportunity to further his studies and work in a more professional and safer environment.
Skeptical at first and undisciplined in his studies, Tu came to us with mixed feelings about the sudden discipline imposed upon him by his teachers. It was just after he had been at Omamori Spa for a few weeks when he joined my English training group for new “hires”. While I found him to have superb listening and memory skills, his devotion to video games and his shyness about lessons in a language he had probably never thought he would have any use for resulted in less than stellar class attendance. Apparently, his instructors in massage technique were struggling with similar issues. Often missing lessons, or failing to do the exercises and training that were expected as “homework” he soon fell behind the others in his group of “newbies”. His instructors, after conferring with each other and his parents, informed him that unless there were dramatic improvements he would not be allowed to continue with his training.
I asked Tu what caused the change in attitude that resulted in his continuance and current success in his training and work ethic. After twisting and turning a bit and grinning with shy embarrassment, Tu explained that he could now see the obvious difference in professionalism, both in training and in the level of service offered to the clients at Omamori, and mentioned also that since coming to Omamori he has felt safer (from inappropriate customer behavior) as well. Also, he didn’t want to rely either on his parents for financial support nor on the kindness of his teachers, who, though very strict also even offered to feed him in their homes when he didn’t have enough for more than one meal a day. (This, because even though his parents were offering him support, he didn’t want to accept it...and he wasn’t eligible for the free meal program at Omamori because he wasn’t performing up to expectations in his training.) As all of this began to sink in and after struggling with himself for a few weeks he began to make a determined effort to do much better.
With respect to training Tu says that whereas his Tam Quat training had really consisted of being told to observe what the other masseuses were doing and do his best to copy them, at Omamori there are real instructors who have organized a systematic and detailed approach to teaching each of the fundamental techniques. There is a structured approach, beginning with the basic techniques needed to establish a foundation, with continuing and scheduled training in more advanced methods. On hands exams are administered by the instructors at each step along the way. Without passing the exams at each step of the way the students are not allowed to move on to the next level.
Though Tu has begun attending classes and training rigorously he is still an extremely devoted “gamer”. He explains that he saw his first smartphone at the age of seventeen when one of his classmates at the School for the Blind brought one to class. Throughout his childhood and up until that time his only way to entertain himself was by playing games such as tug-of-war, hide and seek, football (soccer) and such with other friends and classmates. Once having seen the game “We Fire” being played on a smartphone, however, he purchased his own smartphone so he could download the game. Unfortunately, the phone he bought wasn’t powerful enough to manage the game. Determined to find a way to play the game on his new phone, he began to learn more and more about smartphones, persisting with one attempt after another until discovering a Chinese version of the game developed by Ten Cent that wasn’t nearly so power hungry. During the course of all this he also became more and more familiar with the potential of the smartphone and has learned to use it to aid in many other ways.
Finally succeeding with the We Fire download, he has become an avid fan of that game and also mastered several others, most notably Arena of Valor. As Tu told of his endless hours of work to unlock the secrets of his phone and to master these games his passion for video games became increasingly clear. So, too, did it become evident that he knows how to focus in order to achieve his objectives. Though he is increasingly focused on improving his ability as a massage therapist Tu told me, with obvious enthusiasm and a prize winning smile that his one dream in life is to become a paid professional gamer. Though he says that at this time he won’t be able to compete at a professional level due to his vision impairment we ended this discussion agreeing that that’s what makes a dream a dream...and that it is determination and persistence that make dreams come true.
In the end, though Tu describes himself as “quiet and shy”, I would add to that that he is clearly also very, very persistent. And it is this same persistence that will no doubt ensure that he one day becomes one of our top performing therapists.