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Nursing homes more than a question of cost



Illustration by Trịnh Lập

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Việt Nam has one of the fastest growing ageing populations in the world. In 2019, those above 60 made up 11.9 per cent of the country’s population. This number shall rise to more than 25 per cent in 2050.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, from 2036 Việt Nam shall be classified as an ageing society, where the elderly make up a large and influential part of society.

This is the result of the country’s successful drive to lower birth mortality rates dozens of years ago and the consistent decline in the birth rate. 

In about a dozen years, Vietnamese society will have all the issues of an elderly population: lack of a working age population leading to the extension of the retirement age and the needs for healthcare for people of advanced years. More nursing homes are likely to be built.

The longevity of the elderly can be a wonderful blessing for an extended family, where the younger children and grandchildren can take care of their clan’s eldest. 

“My grandmother is 104 now,” says Đặng Thắm, a mother of two teenagers. “She’s in great health and as much as I love her, I cannot visit her as much as I could. Once a month is ideal, but I still can’t make it sometimes.”

But her grandmother lives happily at her son’s home, with his family and the adult son’s family, which means the great-grandmother is being taken care of by six other people, including grand children. 

A popular Vietnamese saying goes, “A mother can raise 10 children, but 10 children cannot take care of one mother!” At times, this is painstakingly true.

In a recent debate, popular film director Lê Hoàng and actor Quyền Linh spoke on TV about how to take good care of one’s ageing parents. 

Quyền Linh prefers the Vietnamese way of taking care of elderly parents at home, living in the love of their children and grandchildren. He feels strongly about taking good care of one’s mother and believes a family shall be cursed if children do not show filial piety to their parents, one of the cornerstone of Vietnamese desired qualities of being a righteous man/woman.

 “No, you cannot send your parents to a nursing home if you have a home!” he said.

Lê Hoàng opposed the idea of keeping grandparents at home to stay with their children and grandchildren.

“The elderly must have their own life, their own joys and happiness. Their joys need to go beyond that of their children! If you can afford it, sending your parents to nursing homes can be a relief for both the parents and children,” he said.

The fight can go on forever, as each side has their own reasons and arguments. One can never give a proper answer.

“My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s for more than 10 years,” a friend and middle-aged mother of two told me recently. “She started to have symptoms, and we took her to doctors for help quite early on.”

She had her mother living with their nuclear family for 10 years, having domestic helper at the time, until it became too exhausting for both sides, as the mother did not recognise anyone, nor was she aware of what she was doing.

She resorted to sending her mother to an expensive nursing home, where she was quite well taken care of until she fell and broke her hip. 

It was a long, painful journey for the woman, who kept wishing her mother could recognise her again, even just once. The memory-losing mother also kept telling her husband, “Who are you? Why are you so kind to me?”

Many of the elderly say they rather stay home to see their children and grandchildren every day. But some disagree and say they would feel like a burden if they sold their home and moved in with one of their children.

Taking care of ageing parents needs not only love, but also understanding, knowledge about elderly health concerns as well as untiring efforts.

“Having just finished one’s meal, they then say their children didn’t feed them,” is a Vietnamese saying about the decline or loss of short-term memory in the aged. Anyone with elderly parents must bear this in mind. It is important to be patient and loving.

If you are in your 50s and 60s taking care of your parents, it’s already a stretch because you’re still working. If you’re in your seventies taking care of centenarian parents, then it’s a blessing for you. Though in your seventies, you may have more time, your health may not be up to the task. 

In a packed room on a busy main road at a small home appliance business, I recently heard a busy woman telling her mother (or in-law) sitting in a wheelchair to move over as she did not have enough room. The house was literally packed up to the ceiling, and the lady in the wheelchair couldn’t move anywhere else. There was a room upstairs, but she wanted to stay downstairs, so she could see other people.

Anyone managing that little space, balancing her business and family while taking care of an elderly person, could lose control and end up being less than exceptionally polite, even to their own mother.

Many would say, send her to a nursing home, where she can be taken care of, meet friends her age and get a health check every day. Children could come and visit when they have time.

If the family can afford nursing home costs, they may choose to do so. The parent may be in better physical health, but not getting to see familiar faces may eventually lead to emotional health issues. 

An elderly woman, Thu Phan gave her thoughts about the matter online: “I’m 69 years old now, and I took care of my grandchildren when I retired at 55. When they were little, I took care of them, and when they went to school, I would help them with their homework at night. For me, I feel happy because I have not wasted my life. I feel happy, healthy and useful. But later on, when I get older and need help, whether I’ll get help depends on each person’s blessing.”

Even for the very elderly, a home can have its benefits. They will need to push themselves every day, which will not deteriorate their health but, on the contrary, give more strength, not only to cope with everyday life, but also to strengthen them generally, as long as they are willing to try. 

And for us children, we only wish we can do our best to earn enough money to have our parents living with us when they want to, and also be able to afford a nursing home for them if they want it.

Đức Dũng, a middle-aged man, added to the online discussion, saying. “I’ve been assisting my elder sister to take care of our mother, who has had Alzheimer’s for 14 years and has been bedridden for seven. It is my wish to take care of my mother and be by her side when she leaves us. But my wife and I have been saving so that later, we can both go to a nursing home because we don’t want our two daughters to suffer taking care of us. 

“Then if they insist, we would be thankful to God and to our children. It would be wonderful if they can manage their own families and us. But as our grandparents said, ‘Each tree bears its own flower, each family has its own issue’.” VNS


Your Vietnam

In Vietnam, man gives artifacts a second life



Old artifacts are not only valuable, but also a keepsake for many families. Many people would be extremely sad if an artifact was damaged for some reason. In such cases, they may eventually find their way to an expert like Nguyen Khac Duy.

Ten years ago, the man, now 34, who lives in Sa Dec City in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, returned to his hometown after completing his military service and assisted his family business in trading artifacts.

Noticing that the supply of artifacts was dwindling over time, Duy thought of finding solutions to repair damaged items, which would allow his family to sustain their business for a long time to come.

Giving old things a second life

In the early days of trying to repair damaged artifacts, Duy’s lack of confidence meant he only fixed his own artifacts for fear of further harming customers’ precious items. 

However, after some time, as the artifacts he repaired became more common, more and more collectors came to ask him to help them mend their damaged pieces.

“To repair broken artifacts requires many phases. The first is mixing the glue to stick on the lost part of the piece,” Duy explained.

“Only when the glue has dried can I begin to restore the shape of the lost or broken parts.

“In the next stage, I use a sander and sandpaper to remove the preserved glue and make the glued parts look like the original state.

“In the next step, I cover the attached part with paint and trace the patterns of the lost section.

“In the final stage, a layer of paint is applied to protect the pasted part and make it match the rest of the artifact.”

While some people think Duy’s work is easy when they see the artifacts that can be restored to normalcy after a few steps, the man said it is a time-consuming process that requires a lot of attention and patience.

According to him, every single step in repairing a valuable broken artifact is equally important. Mixing the glue, for instance, entails an appropriate amount so that the broken parts stick well to one another and do not fall out easily when physical forces act on them.

It is also necessary to be gentle when brushing with the sandpaper so that the solid parts can be polished smooth and in the best condition.

According to Duy, the step of mixing colors is the most time-consuming, as he has to try to find the color that is most similar to the original. 

The only way is to mix the colors little by little until he has the one that suits his needs. His experience has been that when the paint goes from wet to dry, it can change into a different color and then he has to start all over again.

Depending on the damage to the artifact, Duy would need a day or more to fix it. Each of the old or antique objects has its own interesting story, which always reminds Duy of fond memories.

“There was a customer who brought me a vase dating back to the 19th century that was completely broken. The artifact did not seem to have its original spirit when you looked at it at the time. When I was able to restore it to its original state, I could give it a second life. When they received the repaired artifact later, they thanked me and presented me with many gifts,” Duy recalled.

Duy said he regrets seeing the broken or damaged artifacts, so he often thinks of finding ways to restore them. He is happy that he can make a small contribution to protecting the ever-shrinking world of artifacts by returning them to their original state.

“I am so happy to be able to return the damaged artifact to its initial values, both emotionally and physically. An intact artifact shows its own spirit, which also benefits the owner when it is exchanged or sold,” said Duy.

The artifacts that were repaired by Duy. Photo: Chung Thanh Huy / Tuoi Tre

The artifacts that were repaired by Duy. Photo: Chung Thanh Huy / Tuoi Tre

Promotion of timeless values

Looking at the artifacts repaired by Duy, it is hard to imagine that they were damaged in the past. The way Duy takes care of the ancient artifacts shows a great passion that drives him to do this extremely specialized work.

“I take the damaged objects from the customers and do my job. Then, when I look at them after they have been perfectly mended, I feel like I have overcome another challenge,” he said.

“As you know, no two things are identical. For example, today I have to repair a bowl that is broken in two, and tomorrow a kettle with a shattered spout. It is the customers that make me train myself to cope with the different requirements, so I do not feel bored.”

In fact, few people know how many skills an expert like Duy must have to give an antique a second life. As a case in point, chemical knowledge is needed to mix the chemical ingredients in the reshaping and color design phase.

Moreover, such experts must be artistically talented to redraw the lost patterns or details, and they must have archeological understanding to create the ‘color of time’ which resembles that of the past. All these requirements make the number of experts in this field shrink over time.

“To do this job, you have to be patient, skilled, and esthetic,” Duy said.

“If you do not have any of those, it will be difficult for you to do it. For instance, you have to be patient when waiting for the glue to dry, which I often have to give up because of failure.

“I suffered many failures before I was successful. For example, in the color mixing phase, I never succeeded in combining the color the first time. Instead, I tried many times, adjusting a little each time until I had the color I wanted. Often, I tried almost ten times and failed until I had a color that was most similar to the original.”

Duy recounted that local authorities had offered him the opportunity to hold events at his home for visitors, hoping to promote the local tourism industry. 

But the expert admitted that he easily loses concentration when working in front of crowds. Besides, cleaning the artifacts raises so much dust that it may not be good for health. Therefore, Duy has temporarily declined this offer.

However, he still spends time greeting people and explaining what his special job entails to anyone interested. In fact, the pundit also wants to pass on the ancient value that lies in the old items.

“I am always honest in my work. When I took the damaged artifacts from the customers, I told them that I could restore the objects to their original condition, not perfectly, but about 80-90 percent,” Duy said.

“Fortunately, the customers eventually accepted the artifacts I repaired, although the fixed objects may not look like the originals. Besides, I suppose I work in the culture sector, hoping to preserve the old values and convey them to the people of today.”

According to him, today’s market for artifacts is quite complicated, so many people refuse to accept the process of mending or repairing.

“Also, sometimes repairing is used to cheat others and turn a damaged antiquity into a valuable one. I always remember to keep my soul pure, light, and enthusiastic in my daily work,” he said.

Refusal to help cheaters

Q.T., a collector of ancient artifacts who lives in Sa Dec City, speaks highly of Duy.

“Duy is an admirable person because he is so honest and says only what he knows,” T. said.

“When he repairs a damaged artifact, he only takes the amount of money that corresponds to his work instead of paying attention to the owner and the value of the object.”

“He has frankly refused to take orders from people who wanted to make fake items to earn illegal profits.”

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Your Vietnam

Former drug addicts find new life



Lê Hương

(Additional reporting by Minh Phương)

Though they are three strong men leading normal lives with happy families, few people know their dark past as chronic drug users.

The men are now utilising this valuable experience to help other drug users quit addiction.

“I started using drugs in 2010, just after I entered the university,” Trần Trung Anh told Việt Nam News. “I was afraid at first, as I knew a little bit about its harm. But my friends kept challenging me. They said: ‘Are you scared?’ All boys try drugs at least once. So I tried.”

Anh said his first try only brought some uneasy feelings, but after using it many more times, he became addicted. He doesn’t even know when.

“I just know that I spent all my money buying drugs with my friends,” he said.

Lê Ngọc Hiền, likewise, behaved badly in his childhood. In 7th grade, he spent nights playing with his friends and racing bikes. In 12th grade, he started taking drugs, although heroin and methamphetamine are banned by the state. When he graduated from the College of Science and Technology, he was already a heavy addict.

Hiền remembered his mother often insisting in vain: “Please give me back the child I gave birth to.”


Both men struggled to break free from drugs for years as their bodies got weaker. They tried to kick out the habit through faith, at the Nguồn Phước Protestant Rehabilitation Centre on the outskirts of Hà Nội.

ROLE MODELS: Lê Ngọc Hiền (3rd left) plays shuttlecock kicking with former drug users at a rehabilitation centre on the outskirts of Hà Nội. VNS Photo Lê Hương

“I was a nice child, but drugs changed me into a bad person,” Hiền said. “I did not care about anything, neglecting my parents and my family. Drugs were the only thing I would care for.”

“I realised finally that the liking I had pursued was opposite to what I wanted,” he said. “I wanted my family to be happy, but drug addiction destroyed my body and my life.”

In December 2019, Hiền decided to go to a rehab centre to make a new life.

Anh could not stop using drugs even though he wanted to. He was so lost in drugs that he was expelled from university in 2012. Then he came back home. To get money to buy drugs, he started to rob and steal.

Once he was arrested by the police, and called his mother and told her if his family did not help, he would be jailed.

His mother soon persuaded him to enter the rehab centre after she helped him out.

It took the men a year to get clean, and now they are both drug-free.

“All my first wishes to God were like challenges,” Anh said. “Things like: God, please bring my wife back to me. And he did. Gradually, God won my trust.”

MUSIC THERAPY: Trần Trung Anh teaches inmates at the centre. VNS Photo Minh Phương

Grateful to the centre, the two men decided to stay to help others quit the bad habit. Anh now teaches music to the inmates at the centre and hopes he can inspire them.

“Now these boys call me ‘teacher’,” he said. “I feel I don’t deserve that title. But I feel my life has more value. I’m respected and loved. I no longer depend on drugs, and I can help many people.”

Hiền now manages a rehab centre in the northern province of Bắc Ninh.

“All drug users want to change, but they don’t know where and how to start,” Hiền said. “What I have received from other brothers, now I give to others.”

He stays awake with the addicts under treatment at night, massages them, encourages them, prays with them, and utilises his belief to change them.

Hiền said he appreciated his odyssey of being additive to drugs, as without it he would not be able to understand the current addicts and help them start new lives.

“Belief in God now is like a lifebuoy for drug addicts, who have often been ignored by their family and society,” he said.

CHANGING LIVES: Lê Ngọc Hiền (3rd left) at the World Leaders Summit in Hà Nội. Photo courtesy of Lê Ngọc Hiền

Rehab centre based on trust

Phạm Đức Chung, a former centre inmate, decided to multiply the detoxification model and founded another Nguồn Phước rehab centre.

Nguồn Phước now runs 14 centres in six localities in the country, which also takes care of needy children with parents in jail.

FORMER ADDICT: Phạm Đức Chung in a meeting with his crew. Photo courtesy of Phạm Đức Chung

Drug addicts come there to lead a simple life, away from drugs and means of livelihood, practising physical exercises and learning the Christian tenets. They pray several times a day. The centres can host hundreds of drug addicts at the same time. 

“We have helped rehabilitate many young addicts,” Trung said. “They return to their families and do good things.”

Among his staff are 35 volunteers, who are former drug addicts.

“That’s what brought me happiness and meaning,” he said.  

Mẫn Thị Hường, Hiền’s mother, said she could never have imagined this day.

“Before, my family had only sorrow and suffering,” she said in a trembling voice. Thank God. Without him, my family would never have today.”

Hường is willing to share her family’s story with others, especially drug addicts’ families, to help people in their quest to beat addiction.

SPIRITUAL HEALING: Phạm Đức Chung (2nd right) in a visit to the Government Committee for Religious Affairs early this year. Photo courtesy of Phạm Đức Chung

Nguyễn Thị Vân Anh, wife of Anh, strongly recommends Christian institutions to drug addicts for rehabilitation.

“Such an environment is good,” she said. “People love one another very much.”

Former drug addicts like Chung, Hiền and Anh have now found new purposes in their lives – bringing hope to lost brothers like they once were.

Commenting on the rehab centre model based on Protestant values, Hoàng Bá Hai, an official from the Government Committee for Religious Affairs, said he appreciated the model.

“Using a belief to guide people to do good for society is worth encouraging. In this case, faith in God can help drug addicts to quit bad habits and live better for the community,” he said. “The rehabilitation model has been recognised by the whole society. I think it sets a good example.” VNS

MINISTERING: Lê Ngọc Hiền (centre) inspires his followers at the centre every day with his faith in God. VNS Photo Lê Hương


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In Vietnam, centenarian does daily push-ups for good health



Living in a house nestled in a rubber forest in Long Ha Commune of Phu Rieng District under Binh Phuoc Province, located in southern Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Ket, 101, wakes up early every morning and does push-ups, her favorite exercise.

“My mother loves doing physical exercise. She does it twice a day to improve her health,” Nguyen Thi Hien, who is the elderly woman’s daughter-in-law, said happily.

After spending 30 minutes warming up, she does 30 press-ups every morning, but she shows no shortness of breath or exhaustion.

She is seldom sick. 

After doing exercise, she washes her face and has breakfast, and then goes to her garden to take care of a chicken flock and a grapefruit tree.

“My mother frequently tells us that she remains healthy and strong, so she needs no help to hold her while she is walking,” Hien, 68, said.

“Last year, she often wore a helmet and stood in front of the house to ask someone for a lift to visit relatives and acquaintances.

“They asked her how she came back, she just smiled and replied that she would return home by herself.”

Ket said, “I live with my oldest son and his wife. They go to work in cashew farms every day, while I stay at home to cook, feed chickens, and do housework.”

Once Ket scared her family.

“In 2019, my mother slept in a hammock for two days and two nights, frightening us a lot, and we took her to hospital. After medical check-ups, doctors concluded she was suffering no illnesses,” Hien recounted.

After such a long sleep, Hien and other family members looked after her more carefully.

On a weekend, her children and grandchildren gathered in the home. Thuy, Ket’s granddaughter, happily massaged her grandmother’s hands and back, while Ket was caressing her grandchild’s cheeks.

Their laughs warmed the whole house.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Bang, Ket’s 56-year-old daughter, and her son returned home to visit their mother on the weekend.

Bang boasted that she had bought a fish to cook tasty dishes for her mother.

Bang said that though her mother is old, she always follows the etiquette of polite behavior.

She often tells the adult children moral stories, Bang recounted.

The 101-year-old visits her garden and takes care of a flock of chickens every day. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre

The 101-year-old visits her garden and takes care of a flock of chickens every day in Binh Phuoc Province, southern Vietnam. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre

A role model for family members

One of many things Ket’s family members admire about her is her excellent memory.

Telling stories about her life, Ket said that she moved to Binh Phuoc Province for work in 1978 from a northern locality.

On deserted land, she and her husband built a house, grew rice, and landed several jobs to nurture eight children.

The elderly woman, named Ket, (R) poses for a photo with her family members. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre

The elderly woman (L), named Nguyen Thi Ket, poses for a photo with her family members in Binh Phuoc Province, southern Vietnam. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre

“A few years later, my husband was ill and passed away, so I had to bear the burden and became the breadwinner,” she recalled.

She still remembers all stories clearly, while her adult children admitted that they could no longer recollect the details.

“My mother can remember all the wedding presents in our wedding parties, and put a name to any of her grandchildren and relatives,” Bang said.

The 101-year-old remains healthy. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre

The 101-year-old remains healthy. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre

Her children and grandchildren see Ket as their role model, and they are following her behavior, lifestyle, and moderate exercise.

“My mother is warm-hearted. She often gives money to her neighbor, who is a victim of Agent Orange, when he visits her home though she has little money,” her daughter said.

Regardless of her age, she takes a bath by herself every day without any help from her family members. 

Furthermore, she made banh tet, a glutinous rice cake, to celebrate the 2022 Lunar New Year holiday.

Her family members are often delighted with her recitations.

“Last year marked her 100th birthday, so she was presented with a strip of red brocade fabric by the state president. She was highly excited,” Bang said.

“My mother got the strip of fabric made into two ao dai [a Vietnamese traditional costume] and one ao ba ba [a traditional garment of people in the southern region],” she added.

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