When you meet Hieu, the first thing that will strike you in him is his radiant smile. Whenever I see him, I have the feeling that he is the happiest person in the world, who is simply unable to get depressed or angry with somebody. I have always wondered where his amazing positive attitude comes from….until I asked him about his childhood in Vietnam.
The 90’s seemed to be like a fairytale for Hieu. As he described this period:
“Well, I would say that my childhood was pretty blissful. I was lucky enough to be born in the 90’s, when peace had already been achieved in my country for 15 years.”
Hieu is grateful that he had the chance to spend his childhood in such a peaceful and stable period for the country, especially as he is well aware of what his ancestors went through before.
“As you might know Vietnam underwent three wars – one with China, another one with France, and finally – with America. The last was concluded in 1975, and Vietnam officially opened its doors to the world in 1986. The diplomatic relationship with America was normalized in 1995. So basically during the 90’s our country’s political and economic situation was pretty favorable and safe. We were lucky to be born and raised during that time”
Hieu grew up on the outskirts of Hai Duong – a Vietnamese province in the Northern part of the country. He spent most of the time with his grandparents, as his father was working far away from home and his mother was taking some advanced courses in education at the time.
“Sometimes my brother and I felt a little bit lonely, but that made us love our parents even more when we saw them back.”
Even though his parents were far from him, Hieu grew up in a close community.
“The town where I grew up was a very nice community. Everybody knew everybody and they were like our family.”
Apart from spending time with locals, Hieu enjoyed going to school, even though he had to wake up very early in the morning…The young boy usually woke up at 5 or 6 am.
“Well, don’t get shocked, because most Vietnamese schools from the elementary to the college level start at 6:45 or even earlier, so it is pretty normal for us to get up a way earlier than that to prepare for school stuff.” he explained.
Similar to other 90’s kids, hide-and-seek and soccer were quite popular among children in Vietnam. However, Vietnamese kids also came up with more creative kinds of games, one of which was Meo Duoi Chuot, or “Cat Catches Mouse”.
“First a group of players use rock, paper, and scissors to decide who will be the cat and who will be the mouse and the rest just form a little circle. There are like 10-11 people in one game, so the rest form a closed circle to separate the cat and the mouse. The game starts when the cat starts chasing after the mouse and everybody else chants a theme song. The challenge for the cat is that it has to follow exactly the same route that the mouse has taken and if the cat fails to catch the mouse during the song, then it has to take another round. With another mouse, of course, as a punishment.”
When he was a kid, Hieu was not very fond of books. However, he was an enthusiastic reader and subscriber of a kids’ journal called Math and Kids.
“I had almost all the issues and there is still an extensive collection of these issues in my home. We usually solved problems from each issue. We were very excited about sending them to the publishers and then we got little monetary rewards for our work. That was pretty amazing.”
That explains why Hieu is so passionate about mathematics nowadays. In addition to majoring in Math and Economics at AUBG, he is a devoted tutor teaching both Calculus and Linear Algebra.
“I have watched it about 10 times, but I never get bored. It is about the journey of the four monks to India. It is an adventurous story.” Hieu said.
“Most of us did not like old songs that were favored by our parents.” Hieu explained.
When asked about the taste of his childhood, Hieu seems to be more than excited.
“I loved my grandmother’s stir-fried rice with eggs and chicken so much. When I was a kid, I just couldn’t imagine one day without it! It is called Com Rang in our language.”
“As children, we stole fruits from the farmers. (Laughing) But the funny thing is that when we got caught, we weren’t punished at all. We were even rewarded with more fruits, and you know, they gave us milk, even chicken and fish. As I said, everybody in the community was very close and they liked us. “
That last quote made me smile…and laugh…and then think. It must have been a wonderful community, indeed. In fact, Hieu’s childhood seems to me so simple, peaceful and delightful that it is like a fairytale – in a land where all people live in harmony and happiness, ready to help each other and forgive the small mistakes… Because they feel like one big family! I wonder if such families still exist…I don’t know. One thing is certain, however – they did in Hai Duong during the 90’s.