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Charity begins at new homes: the Vietnamese carpenters that built hundreds of houses for free

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Hundreds of new houses for low income families in An Giang Province have been built over the past several years by a group of carpenters doing their best to support their community.

The group is led by Tran Van Hien, 81, also known as Tu Hien, a native of the region who is widely known across the province thanks to his charitable deeds.

Philanthropy on the frontier

The latest project being undertaken by Tu Hien’s team is a new office for the border guards stationed at the Phu Huu Border Post. The building is the fourth phase in the team’s project to rebuild five control posts for local security forces.

The carpenters in Tu Hien’s group are laser focused on the job in front of them. Communication is minimal – after all, talking doesn’t build buildings. At the forefront of the project is Tu Hien, who directs the group with vigor rarely seen of men in their 80s.

“The living condition at the border post looks terrible. They are under a tremendous burden from the pandemic, yet their barracks barely look like they’ll survive a harsh storm,” Hien explained.  

Hien’s charitable acts have even caught the attention of the Cambodian guards stationed just opposite the Vietnamese post. 

“I used to travel to the other side of the border to help build houses for poor Cambodian households, so they know us well. There are times when [the border guards] over there even donate wood logs to us so we can make houses for more people in need,” he said.

Each year, Tu Hien and his team build dozens of houses for the poor, but their charitable work doesn’t stop at homes. In the past they’ve built bridges for villages that lack connections to the outside world and even taken on burial work for families that couldn’t afford a proper funeral.

Intact leaves cover the tattered ones

Though Tu Hien is known for his philanthropy, he himself has often been in tight squeezes for money, with barely enough cash to put food on the table for his children.

One of Tu Hien’s most memorable philanthropic moments happened several years ago when he met a widow in Phu Thanh commune with no place to stay but the basement of a neighbor’s house. Tu Hien and his team stepped in to build the woman a place to stay using wood that Tu Hien had purchased to fix up his own dilapidated house before the rainy season.

Feeling like a new house wasn’t enough for the woman, Tu Hien also scavenged more wood and built the woman an altar for the woman’s deceased husband. He also purchased furniture, kitchenware, food, and spices for the woman and her family using money from his own pocket.

The widow was just one of out of many individuals whose life has been changed by Tu Hien’s good deeds.  

Over the years, the carpenter has kept a secret notebook detailing the plights of those he’s countered and planned to help every single one of them.

Members of Tu Hien’s workshop eating vegan meals. Photo: Tien Trinh / Tuoi Tre
Members of Tu Hien’s workshop eating vegan meals. Photo: Tien Trinh / Tuoi Tre

Of course, Tu Hien would not have been able to help so many people on his own and he’s thankful for the contributions from his network of volunteers and for donations given to his cause by dozens of other benefactors.

In 2008, Hien received a surprise donation from three brothers – a plot of land for him to build his own carpentry workshop.  

Using the gifted land as his headquarters, Tu Hien and his partners are able to help more people in need.   

Each of the volunteers on Hien’s squad have their own specialties, such as building houses, constructing bridges, and even making caskets. This mish mash of talents helps them cover all the needs of the region’s poor.

The teams operate on a volunteer basis, but each member still strives to contribute massive amounts of effort, with about twenty volunteers showing up to tackle most projects.

Hien also saw people who joined his volunteer lineup after gaining a foothold and moving upwards in life thanks to the house he’s built for them. Others in his rotation of volunteers are simply striving to give back to the community.

Nguyen Van Hon, who turned 91 this year, has been showing up to help Hien for many years despite his own impoverished conditions.

“I’m old but fairly healthy myself, so showing up here every day is no big deal,” Hon said.

Nhan, a volunteer driver who transports wood for Hien’s workshop, is another unlikely member of Tu Hien’s team.

Last year, Nhan was in a road accident that broke his leg. His mobility has been significantly restricted ever since, yet he still manages to show up for the team as if nothing had ever happened. He also found a lover with whom he recently tied the knot.

“I promised my wife that I would prioritize my family’s financial stability before dedicating all my time to the workshop to help those who are less privileged than me,” Nhan said.

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Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/features/20210403/charity-begins-at-new-homes-the-vietnamese-carpenters-that-built-hundreds-of-houses-for-free/60125.html

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Female drivers and glorious tracks on Trường Sơn Mountain

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TREACHEROUS WORK: Female drivers take a rest on the Trường Sơn Mountains route. Photo courtesy of Dung

 By Minh Thu

When Vũ Thị Kim Dung, 75, opens an album of old photos, her eyes shine brightly. She recalls her time serving the Army as a truck driver on the Trường Sơn Mountains route. There are few words that can explain how hard those days were. However, she still feels proud of being part of a female driver platoon, the only one of its kind formed during the anti-American war.

Between 1966 and 1967, the US and Sài Gòn armed forces increased their attacks against the liberation forces in the South. The US-Sài Gòn air forces also tried to disrupt the supplies and reinforcements from the North to the South.

The need for transporting army supplies and personnel for the southern battlefield became more urgent than ever. That’s the reason why the Female Drivers Unit was founded officially under the name of army heroine Nguyễn Thị Hạnh in 1968.

The female drivers were given the task of transporting goods, soldiers and the wounded. They made history as a heroic platoon. They often suicidally crossed many dangerous places, heavily bombed by US air force, that male drivers were scared of – Đồng Lộc road junction in Hà Tĩnh Province, High Point 050, and Heaven’s Gate Pass in Quảng Bình Province.

A letter written in blood

Dung was born to a poor family in the northern province of Hưng Yên. She was the oldest among five sisters. Her father died when they were young. The family burden was put on her shoulders.

When the Anti-American Youth Volunteer Brigade was established, many young people in the North enthusiastically volunteered to go to war.

In 1967, there was a call for young people to go to the battlefield in the central province of Quảng Bình. Dung registered without her mother’s knowledge. 

A day before enlisting, she was unable to hide the news from her mother and confessed everything. She hadn’t seen her mother cry so much since her father passed away. Mother and daughter kept hugging each other and crying because the battlefield was so dangerous. Her mother didn’t want to let the young girl go.

Nguyễn Thị Nguyệt Ánh and her husband Trần Công Thắng. When the country reunited, they met each other again and got married. Photo courtesy of Ánh

Dương Thị The joined the female driver team at the age of 20. She had a boyfriend and wanted to marry him, but she was determined to leave for the sake of the country. She registered to join the army under the name of her older sister. Her parents knew about this decision.

“When I got on the train to the battlefield, I saw my father run after the train. He was angry and threw a rock at the carriage. Seeing that scene, my tears poured out of pity for my father, he did not want me to go into the way of the bombs,” The recalled.

Lê Thị Hải Nhi joined the female driver team at the age of 17. She was an orphan so she felt free to join the army. Because she was too young to register, she cut her fingers, using blood to write a letter expressing her strong will to go.

The girls then gathered to join a training course lasting 45 days. They learned to drive and fix the large military trucks. Many of them hadn’t even seen a real car because they lived in rural areas. So driving a truck made them scared and excited at the same time.

A gift from President Hồ

The Female Drivers Unit was officially founded in 1968 with 40 members. Dung still remembers that she was too small to drive a truck. She weighed just 38kg. She had to put a bag behind her back to reach the wheel.

REUNITED: (From left) Drivers Bùi Thị Vân, Vũ Thị Kim Dung, Nguyễn Thị Hòa and Nguyễn Thị Kim Quy. VNS Photo Minh Thu

To stay safe and hidden, they drove at night, and hid the trucks in the bushes during the day. Only one light beneath the truck was turned on, just enough to light up about one or two metres ahead. The drivers felt better driving in moonlight. The roads were treacherous, one side a steep cliff, the other an abyss. They could have been bombed by the enemy aircraft at any time.

“We also had to learn how to fix the trucks. Changing tyres was hard because we weren’t as strong as the men. Sometimes we felt angry and cried because of helplessness,” said Dung. She broke two front teeth with a wrench while she tried to fix the truck.

The female drivers had to use their mouths to suck the petrol out when they hid the trucks. If not, the trucks may explode if they were hit by a bomb.

“Petrol was very precious. We sucked gasoline out and put it in a barrel, then poured it into the car again from the barrel when we were ready to go. Sometimes we accidentally swallowed the liquid, which is very toxic,” Dung said.

The hardships increased when the women got their periods. 

“When we got our periods, we went down the stream to wash, then put the cloth and clothes under the bonnet for the heat to dry them so we could use them again,” Dung said.

“We were so young that we were not afraid of death. Like other girls that age, we were scared of ghosts, the dark and wild animals instead.” 

PAINFUL MEMORIES: Vũ Thị Kim Dung looks at war memorabilia displayed at the Hỏa Lò Prison. She joined the team of female drivers when she was very young. VNS Photo Minh Thu

Bùi Thị Vân never forgets the day in 1969 when she thought she would never come home. Her truck was bombed, but luckily, her teammate saved her from the destroyed vehicle.

Another time, she carried many wounded soldiers. They had been bombed again and were seriously injured even more.

On the way, one soldier told Vân to sing any song she knew. Vân was surprised but tried to sing because music may sooth the pain of the soldiers. She sang many songs, from lullabies, quan họ (love duets) to patriotic songs. When they reached the shelter, one soldier died. His friends told Vân that her singing consoled him in his final moments. Vân burst into tears. She never forgot that day.

Driver Phạm Thị Phàn from the northern province of Thái Bình did something extraordinary. She was one of the first two female drivers of the army to surpass High Point 050 in Quảng Trị Province which even experienced male drivers were afraid of.

The night was so dark and the vehicle was just inches away from the edge of the cliff, but she remained calm and followed the route. Her bravery was highly appreciated. President Hồ Chí Minh gave Phàn and her comrades a watch as a gift. Recently, she donated this watch to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.

FRIENDS AND COMRADES: Female drivers reunite at Hỏa Lò Prison in Hà Nội. VNS Photo Minh Thu

Coming home wounded

The battlefield is arduous and fierce, but it is also the place where many beautiful relationships flourished. The love story of Nguyễn Thị Nguyệt Ánh and her husband Trần Công Thắng is one such case.

They met by chance at a concert in 1966. She was a driver and he an engineer in the army. They fell in love but in 1968, his unit was ordered to go southward and move into Laos.

Although apart from each other, their feelings never faded. He gave her a notebook, in which he had written poems and love letters. Ánh said she overcame the troubles during the war thanks to this notebook.

“Every word he wrote helped motivate me to carry on. We waited until the day the war ended,” Ánh recalled.

When the country was at peace, the female team drove in the parade ceremony at Ba Đình Square in Hà Nội. When Thắng heard there was a female driving team from Trường Sơn Trail, he ran to the square. They found each other at long last.

In 1977, he moved to the General Department of Logistics and Ánh applied to the Ministry of Finance to be a driver. They now live together happily. The little house in Long Biên District, Hà Nội, is always full of laughter from their grandchildren.

Returning from the front, some people enjoyed peace and happiness, but others came home with wounds and scars.

When the country was reunified, Dung returned to her homeland. She had lost confidence and turned down many proposals of marriage, because she had passed through the most dangerous roads soaked with poisonous Agent Orange sprayed by the US forces along Trường Sơn Mountains.

“I saw some of my comrades die of cancer. We all swallowed gas which is very poisonous. I also had lung disease. I am an invalid, so I was not comfortable or confident to marry anyone,” Dung said.

A neighbour set her up with Chu Minh Tuấn. He was also a soldier, a war correspondent. His wife, a teacher, had died in an accident. At this time, he had three children. He sent Dung a letter with sincere words, expressing how he sympathised with her. The letter touched Dung and they married in 1990.

“I became a wife but can never be a mother, it is a constant regret in my life. Fortunately, my husband’s children all love and respect me,” said Dung.

Even so, Dung is delighted with her present happiness. She confided that many other members of the team were even more miserable, some lived in poverty, some never married and lived alone with beautiful memories of their youth.

Despite the fragile border between life and death, all the female drivers survived and came home after the war.

Even 50 years later, they regularly meet up to recall the old stories that stay forever in the minds of the heroic drivers.

 “We reunite every year. I am very happy that we all still respect each other. We have passed along the edge of life and death together,” said Dung.

The female drivers sacrificed their youth to the nation. Today, they hope that young people will contribute more to society and respect the value of peace. VNS

Source: http://ovietnam.vn/life-in-vietnam/female-drivers-and-glorious-tracks-on-truong-son-mountain_324336.html

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Vietnam looks to exact tax from buy and sell groups on Facebook

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While content creators and app developers for YouTube, Facebook, and Apple, among other big tech platforms, are under the Vietnamese taxman’s scrutiny for their income from e-commerce activities, a drove of petty sales on cyber buy and sell groups are still slipping under the radar. 

Various buy and sell groups, oftentimes entitled ‘cho dau moi’ (wholesale markets), can be found on Facebook.

Each of them specializes in a category — snacks, clothing, and the like — or a specific item, durian, avocado, and others.

Cyber kiosks

When compared with a traditional market space, these buy and sell groups aggregate a seismic number of members, which often reach some six digits.

According to a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper correspondent, these groups allow advertisers to promote products on their platforms for a fee, usually collected as a membership charge.

The charge is not in place until the group grows to a decent size, as group administrators usually let sellers and buyers interact freely to grow the community at first.

To sign up for membership, sellers must submit their personal information as well as ID number, plus a specific fee. In return, they receive a number for their virtual kiosk in the marketplace. 

In the most bustling groups, fees can go up to VND1.6 million (US$70) per year.

Members have the right to push their post directly to the group’s feed without having to wait for administrators’ approval, while choosing the ‘golden hours’ to run ads so that they can reach more customers, a group stated in its policy.

While non-paying members can still promote their products on these groups, they will have to wait an unspecified amount of time to get their posts approved.

In several cases, a group does ban no-paying members from advertising on their platforms.

Who will shell out?

Despite earning much from advertising, the buy and sell groups in Vietnam have paid a little amount of tax in recent years.

This negligence is partly due to the taxman’s prioritization of taxing content creators and app developers, which share the ‘e-commerce revenue’ category with online marketplace sales, said Ta Thi Phuong Lan, deputy head of the Tax Administration Department that is in charge of small and medium enterprises, business households, individuals under the General Department of Taxation. 

E-commerce platforms, including buy and sell groups for traditional goods and services like food, drinks, and consumer products, will be monitored carefully in 2021, the tax official added.

The tax bodies are tightening the leash on e-commerce activities on the basis of the Law on Tax Administration, most specifically those in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi where trade is the liveliest.

As per the law, individuals who sell their own consumer items will not be subject to taxation, but other non-consumer items such as ships and yachts would require a certificate of origin to be eligible for sale. 

Trading personal items would also be taxed if they are classified as business activities. 

Trading platforms are obliged to collect information on sellers, including personal details and total revenue, and hand them over to the taxman when required.

In reality, most e-commerce sites are aware of the income of sellers on their platforms, even if the transactions are made in cash. 

“Requiring the platforms to file and pay tax on behalf of the sellers will be very convenient for the tax authority, as they have the legal position and cash flow to do so,” Lan pointed out.

Draft law

The General Department of Taxation are collecting feedback on a draft law regarding taxation of individual sellers of e-commerce platforms, which offer two options. 

While the first option requires sellers to pay their own tax, the other demands that the e-commerce platforms, including Tiki, Shopee, Lazada and Sendo, to file and pay tax for the sellers if they handle the cash flow from these shops.

The taxman will contemplate the optimal choice to maintain the strict regulation of tax responsibility in cyber marketplaces, while also encouraging e-commerce in Vietnam.

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Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/features/20210516/vietnam-looks-to-exact-tax-from-buy-and-sell-groups-on-facebook/60967.html

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Cancer, chemotherapy cannot stop Vietnamese boy’s boxing dreams

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Twelve-year-old Nguyen Tri Dung suffers from soft tissue cancer, but he has been a zealous boxer for years and aspires to pursue a professional boxing career.

After going through three chemotherapy sessions, he is back working at his boxing school to follow his dream.

“I have to live and be healthy. I’ll be a professional boxer and take care of my father,” the boy said.

“I’m the only person he has left.”

A considerate child

Dung hardly ever cries in front of his father, even on days when he was wracked with agony in bed.

His first chemotherapy session took place six months ago. The boy was in great pain and he threw up every single day due to the side effects.

Now Dung has taken his spirit and shape back. On March 13, he was the youngest boxer to enter an admission test to become a member of the selective boxer team in Ho Chi Minh City.

He boasted two knock-out victories. Interestingly, Dung was fighting with only his left arm as his right arm was in recovery from ligament injury.

The boy’s love for boxing and Muay Thai, a type of martial arts originating in Thailand, began when was a first grader.

“I had no idea my father was a fighter when I was a kid. I was watching TV fights only,” he said.

“The fighters’ knee and elbow moves were amazing. I was hooked.”

“I cut my father’s pants and had my mom turn it into a punching bag with only cloth inside.”

“I loved Muay Thai instead of kids’ toys. When I turned six, my father signed me up for martial arts lessons.”

After that, the boy practiced Muay Thai, boxing and Vietnamese traditional martial arts.

Nguyen Phu Cuong, his father, was an independent boxer.

Nguyen Tri Dung and his father, Nguyen Phu Cuong, practice boxing in their private martial arts center. Photo: Hoang Tung / Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Tri Dung and his father, Nguyen Phu Cuong, practice boxing in their private martial arts center. Photo: Hoang Tung / Tuoi Tre

The boy, following in his father’s path, singled out boxing as his passion three years ago when he turned nine.

At 11 years old, he was one of the youngest members in the list of talented boxers in Binh Duong Province, around 60 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh City.

A few months later, he was diagnosed with cancer in the left leg. His practicing days halted to make room for chemotherapy sessions in the Oncology Hospital of Ho Chi Minh City.

The 12-year-old speaks passionately about his father, also his first teacher of martial arts.

“When I was little, he told me about his ring fights in Cambodia. He took his skills from my grandfather.”

“My great grandfather was a boxer, too. So, I am the fourth-generation successor of this career.”

He believes that the path of boxing will lead him to a better life. His early days of difficulty motivated him.

“When Dung was six, my wife and I divorced. I took him from Binh Duong Province to Ho Chi Minh City. I was making a living out of boxing,” his father said.

“I became a teacher at a few martial arts clubs. During my free hours, I worked as a motorbike taxi driver and this shift ended at around 5:00 pm when I left to pick up my son.”

“There was a time when I worked at the Muay Thai center located inside his school campus so that it would be easy for his pick-up and drop-off.”

For the last six years, they have rented a place in Ho Chi Minh City. When news of his ailment came about, his friends and students raised a fund for his medical expenses.

“Everybody helped me to set up this small martial arts center so that we could fight his disease and earn a living,” he added.

Dung hopes to step on a professional ring to combat experienced opponents.

“I once fought this guy. He was bigger and more experienced. I got a nosebleed, but it was awesome,” he said.

“I learnt so much from that fight. I could dedicate my whole self to martial arts.”

“I want to live happily with the boxing ring”

Nguyen Tri Dung’s father helps to deal with ligament pain in his right arm. Photo: Hoang Tung / Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Tri Dung’s father helps to deal with ligament pain in his right arm. Photo: Hoang Tung / Tuoi Tre

Dung is a considerate son. He understood how challenging it was for his single-dad father.

Every month, his father had to cover a school tuition fee of almost VND4 million (US$173) and a house rent of VND2 million ($86).

The boy was saddened every time his teacher sent home the monthly tuition bill.

“That is not to mention the VND7 million ($303) rent for the center and my medications. My dad looked really terrified a few times,” Dung said.

For this reason, he sought his father’s permission to enter the selective team of the city.

“If I make it, I will have my salary to help pay for all these expenses, and more importantly, I want to live happily in the boxing ring.”

Unfortunately, Dung was not eligible due to the age restriction of the municipal selective boxing team.

According to the regulations, team members must be between 13 and 18 years old, while Dung is only 12 at the moment.

“He came home shattered by the news. He didn’t talk. He just wanted to practice with me though his arm was in pain,” his father said.

“But choosing to be a boxer means he has to stand tall.”

The malignant tumor that caused his leg to swell has completely disappeared. It left a dent in his left thigh but this by no means could deter the boy’s will.

“During the time when I couldn’t move around, I was really scared that I might end up being lame forever. If so, it would be very tough for my dad,” he said.

Despite their daily efforts, their lives are full of obstacles.

“Lots of people help us. My friends, my students. I want to pay off this debt through my job as a martial arts teacher,” his father said.

“If this class can run well, we will make it through our difficulty. I hope we can have a monthly headcount of 50 members so that financially, we will be able to cope with our living and medical expenditure.”

The Nguyen Tri Dung Muay Thai Center is located on Nguyen Tu Gian Street, Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City.

It measures around 100 square meters. There is no fighting ring and no fancy equipment.

“Hello Tri Dung. I wish you health. Keep up the good work and be the champion you’ve always wanted to be,” wrote boxing champion Truong Dinh Hoang in his letter to Nguyen Tri Dung.

“I believe you will be a champion, too.”

By regulations, a member of the city’s selective boxing team is required to have some accomplishment after two years of membership, according to Co Tan Anh Linh, vice president of the Ho Chi Minh City Boxing Federation.

“We had a talk over his case, but we believe he needs more time for recovery and practice. Personally, I think he has a powerful passion for boxing and he has his family there with him.”

“Dung is a talented boy. He is fearless in the ring. I think a good way to help is a long-term fund so that there is enough material and mental support for Dung and similar people.”

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Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/features/20210515/cancer-chemotherapy-cannot-stop-vietnamese-boys-boxing-dreams/60900.html

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