Nguyen Dang Ha from Halong Day, Vietnam. 21 years old.

Ha was a member of the crew on the boat that took us across Halong Bay to Bac Ha Island. A small group of us slept on the boat that night and after everyone else had gone to sleep, I stayed up talking to this soft-spoken young man. What was first just an opportunity to help him practice English became a very personal conversation with a person whose attitude, situation and desires mirrored those of so many people we met and spoke with in Vietnam. Nguyen, a once royal name that is now one of the most common in Vietnam, seems an apt name for someone so indicative of young people in this country.

Though Ha was happy to talk with me, his English was poor. Since I did not record the conversation I cannot quote him directly but have reconstructed sentences from my notes.

1. Where are you from?

From Halong Bay. I was born in Haiphong but now live on this boat most of the time.

2. What is your occupation? Why?

I am crew on this boat. There is not much other work to get. Vietnam is a very poor country but it has good people. They will work hard and maybe in 2010 things will be better in Vietnam. It will be better for my children and their children. Things will get always better.

3. Do you enjoy it, or would you rather do something else?

No. I love this area but I'm a young man. I want to know everything. Working on the sea is very boring. Also there is very little money. My boss pays me 25 dollars each month. Maybe I could be a taxi driver in Hanoi and make 75 dollars. I would most like to be a tour guide for foreigners. I could earn 6 dollars in one day but to get this job I need good English. I would need to go back to school and pass exams and go to the university for four years.

4. Have you traveled much or been outside your country?

I have been to Hanoi. Not further than that. I work almost every day and have no time and money to travel. I would like to see the Sahara one day. That is my dream. To see the stars. It is very hot in the day and very cold in the night I read in a magazine. My dream is to see stars in the Sahara under a cloudless sky.

5. Tell me about your family? Are you married?

Not married. I am 21 and my sister is 23 studying journalism in university. Last year she was married and had a little boy. My young brother is 15. He is in school. He will probably be a tour guide because my father cannot pay for university. My older brother is 24. He sometimes helps my mother sell vegetables at the market but he is a drug addict. He smokes cocaine and injects and has HIV. I think he will die in two years. My father looks after parked bicycles in the town. He earns about 13 cents for each bike.

6. Do you have access to the Internet?

Yes, in town but I do not know how to use it. I don't know computers. In school we learned but there were only 10 computers for 45 minutes for 40 students.

7. Where did you learn your English? Why did you learn it?

Just from tourists and a little from school.

8. What do you do for fun?

I like to swim. I like to read Conan Doyle. You know? Sherlock Holmes. I read the newspaper. Afghanistan. Afghanistan. needs a new government. They do not treat the women equally, they must cover the whole body and the man can have five wives. Osama is bad but so is the bombing. My mother's brother died from American bombers. He was Vietcong but that is history. Maybe it is not the best but I think that if you work hard, if your children work hard, then it can be better.


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