Appearances can be very deceiving. Who would think this ebullient and very attractive Vietnamese young woman would have a constitution of iron?
Oanh (similar to saying the name Juan in Spanish) went to Đại Học Sư Phạm Huế, the College of Education at the University of Huế. In Việt Nam, the teacher’s colleges take the best and brightest - only a medical school requires higher entrance scores. Because the tuition is waived at Sư Phạm, Oanh incurred an obligation to teach after graduation. She was assigned to Nam Đông, a remote mountainous area west of Huế inhabited mostly by minority hill people. It is a long way from Huế. Her mother and 12 year old brother live in Huế. Her mother is not that old, but has no education and survives by selling small sundries from her home.
Every week end, Oanh would throw a leg over her motorbike and ride home to Huế. Besides helping her mother with a little extra money, she would also work as a waitress and travel desk clerk at the Mandarin Café. I asked her why she wanted the job doing menial work as a waitress when she was a university graduate. Her answer? She wanted to improve her English
Last October, Oanh and her boyfriend decided to get married and got the proper paperwork from the government. From what I understand about Vietnamese law, they are legally married. A few days after getting the license, but before having any kind of ceremony, her husband suffered an accident on his construction job and lost his right leg - above the knee. He gets $40 a month and has a poorly fitted artificial limb given to him by a charity.
Vietnamese custom dictates that if you break or lose part of a bone, you cannot have sex for one year. That means Oanh and her husband have never consummated their marriage. Since they have never had a formal ceremony, they must wait until this October when the year is up.
It has been a super hassle for Oanh to teach in Nam Đông, spend time with her husband who lives with his parents in Phu Bai, come in to Huế to care for mom and kid brother and work at the Mandarin.
It would be a great help if she were able to transfer schools and get a teaching job in Huế . She would be close to Mom and only a ten minute motorbike ride from her husband.
But – she could not afford the “fees” she would have to pay the school officials to let her change jobs. She didn’t have the five to ten thousand dollars needed to grease the right palms.
Enter Mr. Cu. It seems he knows a certain woman who is in charge of education for Thừa Thiên - Huê Province. A few days ago, Cu was called to a meeting of the provincial education committee. It seems the Minister of Education and Training for all of Việt Nam was coming and he wanted to see one of the orphanages Cu helps.
At the meeting, Cu mentioned Oanh's predicament - - and voila, the change is made. No bribe - no paperwork - just done! The change was made right then.
The next day, I went to the Mandarin for breakfast – and I thought Oanh's face was going the break in half from the huge smile!
But that is typical – she is always smiling and says (in excellent English) “I try to always be happy.”