by Hoang Ha
Mountain trip sparks romance
Hoai Chung, 30, a graduate of Williams College, who works as an SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) instructor in HCM City, met pharmacist Quy Ngoc last September on a trip to the summit of Fansipan, the highest point in Viet Nam. Chung fell hard, not on the mountain, but for Ngoc. Expressing it in his own inimitable way on his Facebook page, he wrote: "I was mesmerised by this lady who played the piano, sang melodramatic songs and ... treated my diarrhea."
"It wasn't love at first sight; it was destiny," he continued.
Likewise, Ngoc was also lovestruck: "I was mesmerised by him, too, but didn't have the courage to tell him my feelings until Valentine's Day this year when I accompanied him back to Sapa for the Shoes for Sapa project."
Shoes for Sapa is a project of KIDS Vietnam, a non-profit organisation whose mission is to improve the lives of underprivileged children. The group delivers shoes, warm clothes and food for children in Sapa and surrounding areas to help them prepare for the cold season.
"Our love journey didn't sail as smoothly as we expected, but we sailed on and made it through this serendipitous adventure," the couple wrote in a letter addressed to their friends on Facebook.
Ngoc and Chung will get married next month, and the wedding gifts will be unusual ones.
On their Facebook page, they wrote: "As much as we would love to have you at our wedding banquet, we understand that it is indeed difficult to arrange a trip to HCM City on a weekday. For some of you, September 2 (Vietnamese National Day) may be perfect timing for a relaxing vacation elsewhere.
"So Ngoc and I are building a free English-book library to promote reading for pleasure and enlightenment among my teenage students. In the event that you can't attend our wedding, we fervently hope that you would give us an English book as your wedding gift: either classics or current bestsellers, fiction or non-fiction."
On blogspot.com, the couple has created a wish list of books, and keeps an updated list of the books they have received.
Teen bikes N to S for charity
Tran Viet Duong, 18, is travelling by bicycle from the country's southernmost point, Ca Mau, to its northernmost point, Lung Cu, to bring notebooks to poor children on the way.
"If backpacking is just for fun, happiness will fade quickly," Duong says.
After sharing his idea on his Facebook page, Duong received support and donations from many friends.
"I think being a grown-up means that I am living not only for myself," he said.
He says the target of 180,000 notebooks was in proportion to his age, 18.
Even the goal may have been unrealistically high, he admits that he is willing to work hard to reach it.
When he finally reached Sapa, Duong had delivered 2,000 notebooks to children in remote areas. The result was modest but he felt happy because he was carrying out his dream.
"Though what I did is far from the target, I will continue," he said. "The smiles of the kids are so beautiful. They are attractive to me, and give me motivation."
Duong's decision to start the trip right after he took his final exams for high school delayed his entrance to university by a year. His parents considered his decision to be "crazy", saying that it showed he didn't care about his future career.
But Duong says his "success" can be delayed by a year, but the happiness of children could not, even for one day.
He explains that notebooks do not cost much, and the belief of the people who donated them brings hope to the children.
The smiles along the way and the many thank-you's from teachers and children, he says, warmed his heart as he rode his bicycle in the cold rain and sometimes slept under bridges over the last two months. — VNS