An elderly woman from Kien Giang Province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta is healing from a painful, lifesaving medical procedure she went through to help save her son from the life-threatening burns that once covered his body.
Vo Thi Thu Ha from Ta Loc Village, Son Kien Commune in Hon Dat District did not think twice before donating a massive amount of skin from her thigh to her son’s skin graft surgery.
Though her leg is riddled with scars, the pain from having her skin removed is nothing compared to the agony of seeing her son in soreness from the burns on the entirety of his body.
‘I just need him alive!’
Ha, 62, has never had an easy life. As a child, her family had very little and poverty seemed to follow her into her adult years.
After marrying her husband, Le Van Duong, the couple moved into their house in Ta Loc Village and began working as hawkers.
Though their life together was difficult, they had no qualms about bringing two children into the world.
As an adult, Thai Minh Phuong, Ha’s son, spent his days maneuvering a sampan throughout the Mekong Delta’s winding waterways to scavenge for coconuts.
|Despite being still in much pain, Thai Minh Phuong moves his wheelchair around selling lottery tickets every day in Kien Giang, Vietnam. Photo: Chi Cong / Tuoi Tre|
Selling the coconuts earned him about VND100,000 (US$4.4) per day, which he put toward supporting his aging parents.
Things became more difficult for the small family in 2011 when Duong was caught in a motorbike accident on his way to work. Though he survived, he now suffers from a chronic brain injury.
In November 2020, the family’s fate once again took a turn for the worse when a petrol leak on Phuong’s sampan caught fire and the boat went up in flames, engulfing him and leaving critical burns all over his body.
As he writhed in pain at Kien Giang General Hospital, Ha could do nothing but look on a worry about the fate of her son.
Doctors decided their best option to save Phuong’s life was to transfer him to Cho Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City for intensive treatment.
Though Ha only had VND500,000 ($22) to her name, she insisted that doctors carry out the transfer and do everything they could to save her son. She would worry about finances later.
Ha expected to give up everything she had to pay for her son’s surgery, but she never thought of what would come next: donating her own skin.
After the transfer to Cho Ray, doctors told Ha her son needed donated skin for a skin graft surgery. Ha did not hesitate to volunteer.
Even after doctors explained that Phuong only had a limited chance of survival, the mother remained steadfast in doing everything she could to give her son a lifeline.
Soon after the medical operation, doctors announced that everything had gone smoothly and Phuong would recover.
Ha herself was still in pain from having the skin removed from her leg, but it was a small price to pay to keep her son alive.
A path to healing
After undergoing several surgeries during his four months at Cho Ray Hospital, Phuong is currently on the mend.
But while his life has been saved, it will definitely never be the same. Doctors believe he will never walk again and he is currently confined to a wheelchair gifted by local philanthropists.
The transition from being healthy and independent to completely dependent on his mother has led Phuong to contemplate suicide more than once.
|Le Hoang Ba (first right), a religious leader, hands over money his organization raised from philanthropists to Vo Thi Thu Ha (second right) and her son (third right) in Kien Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Chi Cong / Tuoi Tre|
“I just wanted to die then. It was so bad that I even had bones protruding from my legs,” Phuong recalled.
Fortunately for Phuong, the love and support from friends and his family was enough to keep him going.
“My mom gave birth to me the second time. If I died, she would never get over the grief,” he said.
Now, though his life is completely changed, Phuong is determined to start afresh, heal, support his own child, and provide for his parents the same way they have always done for him.
To earn money, he sells lottery tickets though lockdowns and social distancing restrictions induced by COVID-19 made life difficult for a while. Still, Phuong is trying to look on the bright side.
“I’m so glad I can earn VND100,000 [$4.4] on good days,” he shared.
Ha is equally excited for what life has in store for her.
Her daily routines include getting up in the small hours to cook for her family, tend to her son’s wounds, and cycle a small food stall where she sells banh chuoi chien (fried banana pastry).
Meanwhile, her husband Duong cycles more than 10 kilometers each day to sell lottery tickets, though there are days when the brain injury from his road accident affects his business and he loses money.
Yet Ha remains optimistic about her family’s future.
“My husband and I can make more than VND100,000 each day. I use that money to buy food and medication for my son,” Ha explained.
According to Pham Van Linh, chief of Ta Loc Village, Ha and her husband receive a monthly government grant of nearly VND300,000 ($13) to support their needs.
“We really sympathize with Ha’s situation and provide rice and essentials to help her family get by,” Linh said.
Le Hoang Ba, a local religious leader, said he and other members of the local community raised money from philanthropists from across Vietnam to cover Phuong’s medical bills.
Ba added he is full of admiration for Ha’s sacrifice and love for her son.
He could not believe that she was back on her feet just one week after undergoing a surgery herself to save her son’s life to tend to his needs.
Enjoying happiness and safety in Việt Nam
Việt Nam was the first place Charlotte Lou visited in Asia back in 2016. After falling in love with the country, she decided to make it her home.
That summer, Charlotte backpacked for a month from HCM City to Hà Nội.
Anyone following her Instagram account can see beautiful landscapes throughout Việt Nam, while clips on her TikTok page are funny, with the young woman sharing her feelings and incidents when trying to speak Vietnamese.
What shines through social media is an energetic woman with a deep love for Việt Nam and the Vietnamese people.
“It just clicked, like I had an epiphany, I just fell in love with Việt Nam,” she told Việt Nam News. In the summer of 2017, she backpacked alone in Indonesia for a month and in 2018, again, she backpacked for three months in Thailand and Cambodia.
When she came back after her summer break, she knew she wanted to stay longer than three months. She then asked her boyfriend if he wanted to do something crazy – travel more, for even longer. They prepared and then in January 2019 they left Switzerland with their backpacks.
They went to the Philippines for one month but it didn’t go as planned, she didn’t feel the same connection and it wasn’t as awesome as she expected.
They decided to go to Việt Nam.
“After all the countries I visited, Việt Nam was still number one for me in my heart, so I asked him if he wanted to go and he agreed,” she recalled. “We arrived in Sài Gòn, bought bikes and travelled from Vũng Tàu to Hà Nội.”
“We drove for two months, visited so many beautiful places, and met so many incredible people, even back then when we couldn’t speak any Vietnamese, the people, the culture, the landscapes, everything was incredible… So, when we arrived in Hà Nội, we talked, and decided that we would not leave.”
Lou said she hasn’t faced any big challenges living here.
“I guess the biggest challenge, was for me to adapt to one specific detail. In Switzerland we’re known to be right on time, if you tell a friend, let’s meet at 1pm, it’s really 1pm, not 1.15pm. We’re very punctual.
“So every time I travel, whether it’s in Brazil to see my family or even in other countries in Europe, I need to relax and remember that people are often late, or just not as punctual as in Switzerland. In Việt Nam, it’s the same thing, I regularly stress myself to be prompt and on time but then I remember that here, I can be late too; otherwise, I’ll be waiting,” she said.
Lou said she loves to hear her Vietnamese friend’s point of view on things, or about how people think about certain topics.
“Every country has its own culture, customs and manners and I really enjoy being able to understand more after every conversation,” she said.
She is interested in the history of the country, from Chinese oppression to the war with the US.
“It’s dark but so interesting and I see that the people are also really proud to have fought and won,” she said.
“Việt Nam is very unique and I love how Vietnamese people are so proud to be Vietnamese, proud of the country but still love foreigners and are so welcoming.”
She was also impressed that the Vietnamese people are so willing to help. She shared one such experience in a video.
Her motorbike broke down on Hai Bà Trưng Street at around 7pm. She went to a tea shop by the pavement and some men from the tea shop came to see her bike and tried their best to fix it.
“At first two men came, then three, then five men came to fix my bike,” she said. “They spent 30 minutes helping me. I intended to invite them for some beer but they refused.
“Hà Nội is a big city but anytime I have trouble, there is always someone helping me, which is quite different from other big cities in Europe and America that I have been to. People in such cities don’t often help strangers like here. This only happens in Việt Nam. This is one of the reasons I love the country so much.”
The clips received warm comments and reached over three million views.
Lou said her boyfriend has a stable job in Hà Nội, and has been with her for seven years. She also has a cat named Toosie.
“He’s a rescue, we brought him home two years ago after someone posted on Facebook that the cat was found trapped in a plastic box under the sun, covered in flees and bleeding,” she said.
Lou admitted she loves learning languages. Besides her mother tongues, which are French and Portuguese [her mother is Brazilian], she learned English, Spanish and Italian.
Though she speaks a little Vietnamese, Lou said she gets nervous when she has to speak sometimes.
“I’m afraid people will not understand me, or I won’t understand them or they think I’m a bit dumb for not understanding,” she said. “Vietnamese is hard and it’s easy to make a mistake.”
Lou made a TikTok clip on Vietnamese words that western people often mispronounce, including the words “mông” [bottom] for “món” [dish].
Having travelled throughout Việt Nam, Lou finds it hard to say where she was most impressed.
“I remember being so amazed by the beauty of the landscapes when driving on the coast… it was breathtaking,” she said. “And I remember once, me and some friends we slept on the beach, in hammocks, and during the night we saw a family of pigs on the beach, it was really unexpected and beautiful.”
Lou said she and her boyfriend were a bit stressed when the pandemic started and they didn’t know what to do.
“I remember calling my dad, I told him about my concerns.”
He told her to stay if she feels happier and safer in Việt Nam.
“I’m so proud to be here, I know I didn’t do anything except from staying at home but seriously, Việt Nam handled COVID-19 better than most other countries.
“We were ok for so long, my friends back home were in and out of lockdown for ages and we were here… chilling. The last lockdown was obviously tough but well… nothing compared to Europe,” she said. — VNS
Young Vietnamese turn to ant keeping for peace, relaxation
One of Vietnam’s newest trends is ant keeping – a not-so-traditional hobby that involves caring for the ants, occasionally auctioning off colonies, and using the pastime to build a deeper connection with the natural world.
Nguyen Tan Minh Nhut, a 30-year-old resident of Binh Tan District, Ho Chi Minh City is busy putting the final touches on 30 formicaria – the formal name for man-made ant tanks – he plans to deliver to customers at the end of the week.
Each of Nhut’s ant farms boasts two compartments: a nest and an outworld.
The nest, made from cement or light brick, is typically placed at the bottom of the formicarium and is meant to simulate a natural ant colony.
It features a manmade system of tunnels that allows the ants to exist in nearly the same way they do in their natural habitats. Within these tunnels are a living area, food reserve, and nesting place.
Nests in formicaria are not always manmade. Ant keepers who prefer ant-led tunneling use sand and soil and let the ants tunnel as they please.
Atop the nest is the outworld, where ants can work and play.
|Ant keepers sometimes make highly creative designs for their ant farms. Photo: Huy Le / Tuoi Tre|
To build an outworld, Nhut works closely with customers in order to meet their exact requirements. While some customers prefer stones and twigs so that the outworld resembles a rainforest, others prefer a more desert-like appearance.
There are even ant keepers who prefer to keep their formicaria simple and simply fill their tanks with little more than dry leaves.
Of course, different ant species require different environments.
Field ants, for example, prefer holes where they can play hide-and-seek, while ants which typically live on plants need spacious areas with lots of branches and twigs.
“An inappropriate outworld stresses the ants out. It reduces the efficiency of female workers and the fertility of the queen ant,” said Nhut.
“Sometimes the whole colony perishes.”
Formicaria feature a transparent cover which allows a clear view of their daily activities.
Many ant keepers liken watching their ants to viewing a living painting.
It takes meticulous work to design and assemble a formicarium. Even the tiniest scratches on the glass, or misplacement of mundane details, can create a nuisance for observers.
Formicaria must also be properly sealed to protect against any external factors and prevent outsider ants from encroaching on the colony.
“Keeping ants? Are you nuts?”
Raising ants is sustainable and basically cost-free.
Devoted keepers go to great lengths to build their colonies, often venturing to the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City looking for queen ants after a torrential rain.
|Le Duc Huy owns 10 species of ants, a few of them can be seen in this supplied photo.|
Some even brave the dangers of forest streams, hills, caves, and bushes to find rarer species.
“I often ride to Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, or Dak Nong Provinces on ant-hunting trips. Even after driving between 45 and 250 kilometers, there are days I can’t find anything but snakes and centipedes,” said Nhut.
“I do occasionally find queen ants, but they don’t always lay eggs. I have to take them to a laboratory for inhabitation. Only 10 out of 100 queen ants can spawn a colony, and that process can take up to a year.”
Not everybody, however, appreciates the joy of ant keeping and Nhut occasionally experiences criticism for his love of ants.
“People get mad because ants damage their food, but ants are actually very clean,” said the experienced ant keeper.
“They typically take their trash away from the living area, so it’s important to make sure they have a few empty compartments to keep their garbage.”
Nguyen Hoang Ngan is a 25-year-old ant lover in Tay Ninh Province. His family simply cannot understand how he spends so much timing feeding, caressing, and even talking to his ants.
Yet, Ngan ignores the criticism, explaining that his hobby is extremely relaxing.
“Watching my ants relaxes me after hours of stress at work,” he said.
“They remind me to keep myself busy. It’s an indescribable joy to witness a hatching ant egg.”
25-year-old Le Duc Huy, another Ho Chi Minh City-based ant lover, uses his YouTube channel to share his knowledge about ants and provide ant-keeping tutorials for newbies.
Each type of ant is distinct in both looks and habits. Therefore, owning different species is seen as a sense of accomplishment for an ant keeper.
Huy currently has more than 10 species of ants in his collection, including the colorful Camponotus, and he claims to have learned a different lesson from each.
The diacamma ants, for example, are solitary hunters, but work together when a cricket is placed in their tank.
“I was staggered to see such unity in the natural world. The ants put aside their personal habits to work for a common cause,” he explained.
Considering the enormous amount of time it takes to go from a single queen ant to an entire colony, many ant keepers buy and sell ants, typically in packages of one queen and several female workers.
Social network groups of ant keepers generally ban the selling of the queen ant alone because of the potential for buyers to be scammed with immature or infertile queens. The most common rule seems to be that sellers can only offer queens that have produced at least 10 workers.
|This design of an ant formicarium can hold up to 100 members. Photo: Trong Nhan / Tuoi Tre|
The prices for one ant tank ranges from VND300,000 (US$13) to VND800,000 ($35), depending on the ant species.
The most popular species are camponotus albosparsus and camponotus turcestanus due to their impressive appearances.
Buyers typically pay VND600,000 ($26) to VND1 million ($43.8) for a queen and 40-60 workers of these species.
The messor barbarus sells at VND600,000 for one queen and ten workers, while the tetra rufonigra is priced at VND500,000 ($21.9) for the same number of ants.
Purchasing a large colony is also a popular choice. Three queens and 100 workers of the rufipes species sell for VND650,000 ($28.4).
Meanwhile, 12 trap-jaw queens and 200 workers sell for VND1.2 million ($52.5).
According to ant keepers in Vietnam, these prices have gone up threefold over the last two years due to the increased popularity of the hobby.
Online auctions of ants on Facebook attract a great number of viewers. For the auction of a messier aciculatus tank with two queens and 50 males, the highest price was settled at VND600,000 after 30 bids, six times as high as the initial offering.
Ants require water, carbohydrates, and protein. Carbohydrates provide energy for the laborers and can come from honey juices or sugary liquids.
Protein caters for the gynes and larvae. This can come from crickets, caterpillars or worms.
Hàng Mã street decked out in red ahead of the Lunar New Year
Hàng Mã is one of the 36 old streets of Hà Nội and is now decked out in brilliant red ahead of the Lunar New Year. It is home to the traditional craft of making joss paper in different shapes such as horses, shoes, clothes and even houses. These items are burned as offerings to worship ancestors.
The street is also famous for selling themed decorations.
On special occasions such as Christmas, the Mid-Autumn Festival, and Valentine’s Day, the street sells decorations that match the theme of the holiday.
Now Hàng Mã Street has had a bright makeover as Tết (Lunar New Year), the biggest and most important holiday of the year, is just around the corner.
Paper firecrackers, handmade Tết wreaths and posters of calligraphy are among the most sought-after items ahead of the holiday. Wishes of luck, peace and happiness are written on these decorations.
Decorative hangings replicating traditional foods during Tết, such as bánh chưng, bánh tét or watermelon are also snapped up by many customers as they believe that these items will bring prosperity to their families.
For Vietnamese people, no holiday is as significant as Tết. It’s an occasion for family reunions, worshipping ancestors, taking a once-a-year rest and preserving traditional values.
Many families have taken their children to the street to explore the Tết atmosphere and give the kids a chance to embrace the traditional and cultural values at a young age. — VNS
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