My childhood was a succession of days living in fear because of the war, in great misery when losing a family member because of bombing, in great distress because of persistent poverty and starvation.
I once witnessed the bombing sight all around me. One summer afternoon, when my whole family was having dinner in the middle of the yard, a piece of about twenty-centimeter bomb whooshed by, cutting the bicycle – my father’s most precious property – into halves. Luckily, it did not hit anyone, if not someone’s head might have fallen off. The biggest bomb exploded just around one hundred meters from me, when I just had time to lie down on the ground to stay away from being injured. I did not ever have a nice sleep at that time. Whenever we heard the warplane wailing above the sky, my whole family had to get up and climb down to the underground hideout, which was just some meters away from our beds and connected with another A-shaped hideout.
My oldest sister died of being dragged over ten kilometers by a tank connected with a barbed wire from her legs. At that night, our neighbors buried her without having time to untie the barbed wire. It was not until when we moved her remains after the liberation day that the wire was untied. My mother’s close-behind sister died of being bombed when she was working on the rice field. The distance between life and death was just within a hair’s breadth, with someone died of being bombed just some minutes after talking and having fun with some other people. My parents, on seeing that the war made death become so easy, decided to have as many children as possible so that they still had some children left in case any of the children died. And the result was they had up to eleven children. Ten of us have been so lucky to be alive until now. Deep in my memory, my parents had to move house no less than ten times within eight years in order to keep us safe. It would be quite exaggerated to call it “house” since it was set up with our neighbors’ help just within two days, with the roof made from rice stubbles, the wall from bamboo stems mixed with rice straws, rice husks and clay.
The war ended, and we had to face starvation. Each of us, coming from a family with so many children, had to work to overcome the harsh life. I myself had to do a variety of work such as keeping the buffaloes, gleaning rice, catching rice field crabs, making bricks, collecting thatch, firewood and cajuput, making straw brooms, making tapioca from cassava, etc…The hardest work, and full of pain, must have been making bricks while I was only at grade seven. I had to climb down to a very deep pit to carry big pieces of clay on shoulders and pile them up, from which I then had to make bricks one after one. Almost every day, my back faced the blazing hot summer sunlight, and I did not ever know how much coal dust I inhaled into my lungs.
The three years studying at high school fell into the deepest economic recession period of Vietnam, when the country was focusing on solving the war consequences. Staying more than twenty kilometers away from home for the study, I had only one shirt and one pair of trousers to wear for class. Whenever they were dirty, I had to stay at home to wash them and waited until they were dry to wear for going out. I was therefore aware from my early age that I needed to study to change my life and stay away from the persistent poverty. I did try to study very hard and was lucky to become one of the only two students from my high school who could pass the entrance examination to the polytechnic university, where I took a program in construction. Five years passed by, I graduated with high distinction but refused the university’s offer to stay as a lecturer since teachers’ life was also full of difficulties at that time.
I went out to work, and simultaneously learnt English. There were not many people learning English, and not many foreigners to Vietnam in the past time. I was just able to learn around ten simple sentences for communication, within which I could use to ask or answer other people’s questions. And I kept learning more sentences whenever I had been able to use fluently the old ones. The question that I very often used to ask whenever bumping into a foreigner was: “What do you think about Vietnamese people?”, which was always responded as “Friendly” (mean Thân Thiện).
I was one of the two Vietnamese people who were lucky to be offered with a full scholarship for a Business Management course in Coventry, UK. Everything went on with me like a dream, and I led a very happy life, taking the advantage of every minute to sense the life abroad, to acquire the knowledge of doing business and improve my English. During that time, only by queueing up at the bus stop or underground subway station could I sense and learn many things about the country’s culture and modern civilization. I did obtain much knowledge of business administration, customer service and know where customers’ satisfaction might come from. I also got to know many things in daily life such as what a common British breakfast might include… I also could experience and understand why the Westerners pay much attention to reading culture, and that they read anywhere at any time. Until now, I occasionally startle in surprise to find that my customers have better understanding and capture more information about our Thân Thiện Friendly Hotel from its website than I do, since they might have done more reading.
In one beautiful afternoon, as I was strolling along a street with my little lovely daughter, I saw a piece of land small but with great potential for tourist development. It was so appealing to me that I had to use the term “love at first sight” to express my feeling when I first saw that piece of land. I bought it right away. And five years later when its price went up twenty times, I was still very determined to refuse selling the land to other people when they wanted to purchase it. I thought: “How could I give my lover away?!” With an amount of capital borrowed from bank, I set up my business with a ten-room hotel. I spent wakeful nights to consider how to have the highest number of rooms which are still comfortably designed on such a small land area. It is also of great importance to think of the hotel’s name, which should be conformable to its owner’s personalities, meaningful, to the guests’ liking and easy for them to remember. I decided to name my hotel after one of Vietnamese people’s characteristics, “Thân Thiện - Friendly”.
During the first six years’ business, there had always been a great number of guests in favor of our hotel, which made all the rooms occupied almost every time. However, I found it hard to develop the business with such a small hotel. I felt constrained from opportunities to manifest my business ability but failed to do anything due to restricted financial source. After some times, with the amount of capital saved from the business and borrowed from bank again, the hotel was upgraded and expanded to 30 well-equipped rooms with a system of elevator and restaurant…One more time, I spent sleepless nights for months to work out the most convenient hotel space and the best interior decoration within my limited financial condition. Guests have had complimentary remarks about my hotel, which makes me very happy since I have had full conditions to express my ability when applying the business administrative knowledge acquired from Europe into practice. I have thrown myself wholeheartedly into my work, days and nights, to design an online booking system, train the staff, and to find out the explanation for the “customers’ satisfaction”. It’s not very likely that you will be as “satisfied” living in a 5-star hotel room of hundreds of dollars as living at our Thân Thiện Friendly Hotel of just several tens of dollars. Specifically working out the explanation for “Thân Thiện”, which means “Friendly”, together with the staff we have spent years doing research on this, and we have always borne in our mind the meaning “Thân Thiện – Friendly” so as to express our character in the right way throughout our customer service.
One principle all of our staff have to remember is that anyone “losing money” will “regret their property and be unhappy”, but they will “be happy” provided that “they can receive good services”. If, at the same time, “their happiness” is greater than their “regret and unhappiness”, then “their happiness” still remains – that is the “customers’ satisfaction”. Therefore we have always tried to provide our customers with the best services and receive the least possible amount of money to make them satisfied.
As I have shared with you before, the prolonged poverty closely tied to my childhood. The unfading obsessions about the sorrowful past time have always reminded me of doing something to rise from the poverty and change my life. I obtained business skills from the basis to MBA, and improved my English by self-study during twenty-three consecutive years. My English study was a very hard task without favorable conditions and environment for practice. Besides, I have the conception that the more people I can bring happiness to, the happier I will become, which can somewhat compensate for my miserable past time. All of the above things have brought the idea of “Tea & Talk Program” at Thân Thiện Friendly Hotel into real life, which can provide students with an environment to practice and improve their English speaking skills.
Most Vietnamese students in general and Hue students in particular are as poor as I used to be, they therefore just need to “Drink tea and talk” without having to pay anything else when participating in the program. At this time, I am thankful to hundreds of guests of the hotel and other people who have registered for the “Tea & Talk Program” to help Hue students improve their English speaking skills so that they can have more opportunities to look for jobs in their future.
I think that, in this life, if you determine your life’s objective, fan the flames of passion for work in whatever field it is, search for and apply the available sources of the humankind, work wholeheartedly, then you can achieve success; simultaneously, if you can make something beneficial to the society, you will experience a happier and more meaningful life.
That is my own story. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks for your time reading the story, for your understanding, sympathy and support for us - Thân Thiện Friendly Hotel.
Mr. NGUYEN XUAN THUY