Owning a coffee and bakery shop in Kon Tum, Hải takes care of everything from bartending, baking, cashier to serving customers. — Photo courtesy of Ngô Quý Hải
HÀ NỘI — After suffering serious burns to his face as a child, Ngô Quý Hải dropped out of school to get away from the bullies who taunted him over his appearance.
Now it's Hải who is having the last laugh, after fulfilling his dream of owning his own bakery.
From dusk to dawn, you will find the 27-year-old baking, serving drinks, tending the bar, and even playing guitar at Sunhouse coffee shop in Ngọc Hồi District, Central Highlands province of Kon Tum.
He chose this name because everyone who visits is guaranteed a warm welcome.
Hải fell into a fire stove when he was just more than 6 months old.
Ten operations followed and although he eventually recovered, Hải still had extensive scaring to his neck and face.
At the age of six, Hai was sent to school but his appearance caused other children to discriminate against him and he lost all his confidence and did not want to go to class.
“Then I didn't want to go to school anymore. I don't remember exactly what the other children said, but I remember it was horrible. They are kids so they said what they thought,” Hải said.
Since then, he only stayed at home and helped his mother sell goods, sometimes playing with dogs and cats or watching TV.
"I also felt sad. I just stayed at home, helped my parents with their grocery store. Other than that I just locked myself in my room, sometimes I only went out once every two years, but it was not really going out. Just going out to buy things nd then came back," Hải said.
No children in the neighbourhood played with Hải, except for a boy named Hoàng Xiên who was born deaf and mute.
When he was 10 years old, Hải had the opportunity to visit downtown with Xiên.
When passing by a pastry shop, the two boys were attracted by colourful cakes. They talked to each other about saving money to buy cakes on Xiên's birthday.
But when they returned several months later, the pastry owner refused to sell cakes to the disabled boys.
Seeing his friend crying in front of the shop because he was not able to buy a cake, Hải dreamt of one day opening his own bakery where everyone is welcome.
Hải said there were two moments that changed his life. That is when he fell into the fire and when he travelled to Germany for a major facial reconstruction surgery.
It was five years ago when Hải turned 22. For the first time in his life, he travelled a long distance of over 9,000km.
German medical team who conducted a major facial reconstruction surgery for Hải. — Photo courtesy of Ngô Quý Hải
After the surgery, he was in a coma for 21 days. Thanks to the dedicated German medical team, he gradually recovered. He then realised that he was living a new life.
At the hospital there, Hải met many other people in worse conditions. This completely changed his whole approach to life.
"After waking up I thought a lot about my life. I saw many people with unfavorable circumstances in the hospital such as people without arms or legs but they still live their lives. That has changed the way I think about life," Hải said.
Returning to Việt Nam in 2017, Hải was introduced cookery at KOTO, a social enterprise that provides vocational training for underprivileged youngsters. During that time, Hải also learned how to read and write.
Hải learns baking skills. — Photo courtesy of Ngô Quý Hải
At the age of 23, Hải learned to write every single word like a first-grader, but this time he did not face discrimination from classmates like 17 years ago.
After graduating, Hải went to HCM City to work for a short time at restaurants to gain experience and accumulate capital to realise his dream.
In early 2021, he decided to quit his job in the city to return to his hometown and start a business. At first his family did not support this bold decision because it was risky to open a shop during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Hải was still determined to pursue his goal. He rented an old house in town and converted it into a coffee and bakery shop by himself. In late April, the shop officially opened.
At first, many customers did not visit after seeing the owner with distorted face, gradually they get used to the friendly boy with a special appearance.
Hải named the shop Sunhouse - the house of the sun which is always warm and open to everyone.
“The shop is small. I feel happy because I have done everything by myself. I am happy because more people come to the shop and love this place," Hải said.
His friend Hoàng Xiên often visits him and even stays for one week to help out.
After so many years, their friendship is still the same. There is one thing that changed: they no longer have to cry in front of a bakery anymore.
And all the pains and gains have given Hải strong will to overcome any hardship.
"In fact, there are many difficulties in life. You just have to try little by little then you will reap success. As for what we are scared of can't avoid, just face it, and try to accept it, just like what I have done," he said. — VNS