Viet Nam News
by Lê Hương
When asked why he decided to settle in Việt Nam, Saleem Hammad said it was fate, or ‘duyên’ in Vietnamese.
For the past seven years, images of Saleem, a well-built handsome young man, have become familiar to Hanoians.
He has appeared on TV shows, entertainment programmes and catwalks as an actor, MC, model, interpreter and tour guide. He has also impressed the local community with his fluent Vietnamese.
He said he loves the word “duyên” in both meaning and sound.
“I feel lucky to have the chance to come to your heroic country,” he said. “If Palestine is the place where I was born, Việt Nam is the place I belong to.”
Saleem Hammad in Hà Nội.
Born into a poor family in Palestine, Hammad passed the entrance exam to the Al-Istiqlal Universtiy (Palestinian Academy for Security Science) in 2011. He achieved excellent results and gained a scholarship to study at Hà Nội University.
“Việt Nam welcomed me with a cool autumn,” he recalled his first memory of Hà Nội in November 2011. “From Nội Bài Airport to Hà Nội’s centre, I saw many green trees and lakes.”
After his first months, Hammad became one of the best foreign students at the Vietnamese Studies Faculty and acted as class monitor for two years.
He liked wandering the streets and enjoying coffee on the pavement, but never went to boozy parties with friends.
“I had some difficulties eating here as I do not eat pork while pork is popular in Việt Nam,” he told Việt Nam News.
Now he has found food he can eat like noodles with beef, spring rolls, vegetables and grilled meat.
“I’ve adapted Vietnamese recipes like bánh chưng (sticky rice square cake) by swapping pork with mutton,” he said.
It’s a recipe he is proud of. He also intends to make sticky rice cakes using camel meat.
Saleem Hammad (first right) makes hummus, a traditional dish of Palestinians on a TV show.
After graduating in July 2016, Hammad returned home to work at the international department at his old university.
“Returning home, I missed Việt Nam after a week,” he said. “But I did not immediately book a ticket back to Việt Nam.”
Nine months later, he returned to Hà Nội.
“The reason was simply because I missed Việt Nam,” he said. “I believed that Việt Nam would offer me lots of opportunities.
“I love the peace in this country, which my Palestine desires for. Vietnamese women are the other reason.”
Hammad said he loved Xuân Diệu’s poem Yêu (Love).
“That’s an impressive poem to me as Xuân Diệu was among the rare poets who dared to compose romantic verses in a fierce war while other poets wrote about revolution and the war,” he said.
He also said he loved Hồ Chí Minh’s poems.
Now he works as a communications specialist and interpreter at the Qatar Embassy.
Saleem Hammad (first right) learns how to make sticky rice square cakes.
His main source of encouragement during his studies in Việt Nam has been his mother.
“My mum is the youngest in a family of ten children,” he said.
“She cared a lot about my grandfather, who took her on business trips with him.
She had to stay at home to care for her parents after she finished grade nine. This led to her dreaming of having a child who had the opportunity to study, which inspired me.”
Saleem Hammad (middle) with artists from the Tày ethnic group in Thái Nguyên.
At 14, Hammad worked as a builder, then a waiter, and then a cook. He earned enough money to quit school, but his mother said she did not need his money, only his degree.
“When I phoned her from Hà Nội, she never cried or said that she missed me,” he said.
“But in 2015, I called and told her I was the best foreign student at the faculty, and she cried,” Hammad said.
“I’ve experienced meaningful moments in Việt Nam,” he said. “I will save all those experiences in video clips to show my children.”
Hammad said he plans to launch a new Youtube channel soon to focus on both the Arabic and Vietnamese languages.
“Youth passes quickly like a shower,” he told students at the recent Culture Exchange Festival hosted by the Vietnamese Studies Faculty. You should not waste your youth. Do not spare any passion or enthusiasm for this beautiful time.” — VNS