The boy with telephone number tattoo

By Pham Nga   September 30, 2019 | 06:57 pm PT
It is virtually unheard in Vietnam that parents decide to get a tattoo for a teenager. That too, of their phone numbers.

For a long time in Vietnam, tattoos were thought of as symbols of criminality, something that only members of nefarious gangs got done.

While that taboo and prejudice has been waning for some time now, the popularity of tattoos remains confined mostly to the youth.

But 46 year old Hoang Cong Vien in the northern province of Nam Dinh talked to his wife and both agreed that their 15-year son should get one.

They arrived at the decision after nearly losing their son twice in as many days. The boy has mental problems.

On September 11, Vien took Hoang Cong Vinh to a tattoo shop. On one hand, his name and home address were imprinted in large-sized font, and on the other, the telephone numbers of his parents.

Now, the parents hope that the permanent marking on their son’s hand will help find Vinh whenever he is lost.

Vinh has has his name and home adress tattooed on the right arm and his parents phone numbers on the left. Photo by Duc Thanh.

Vinh has his name and home address tattooed on the right arm and his parents' phone numbers on the left. Photos by VnExpress/Duc Thanh.

When the story was posted on the internet by the owner of the tattoo shop, the responses were mixed.

Vien was upset.

"One comment said: 'Putting a number on the body should be for animal, not for a human being.' We were very upset after reading it and even restless for a few days. It had already hurt us deeply to do this," Vien said.

In 2009, the parents had decided to take the extreme step of putting their son in a foster care center. But after standing at the gate for hours, they decided to leave, since they couldn't bear the thought of leaving their child.

Vinh has finished 5th grade but cannot read or write. "His classmates bullied him at school sometimes. But there were times he disturbed other people and pushed people around. My wife and I had to go to the students’ houses and apologize many times," Vien said.

Feeling sorry about the son having to drop out of school early, the parents bought books to home-school Vinh. But the parents themselves had to give up, because Vinh quickly forgot what he learned and tore up the learning materials.

The mother, Lan, has to stay at home and only works in the fields and the garden, so that she can have time to look after her son.

The gate of their house is always closed to prevent Vinh from disturbing the neighbors.

Only in the afternoon, when Lan is free, she would let her child go out to play.

For the past two months, Lan has often told her husband that Co (Vinh's nickname at home) is up late at night screaming and smashing things around the house.

Having to work 100 km away from home, Vien can only encourage his wife from a far.

On September 7, when Vien was working, he received a call from his wife informing their son had gone missing.

Fortunately, one of the neighbors found Vinh wandering on the street about 2 km away and brought him home.

When were asked where he’d gone, Vinh said: "I went to get a job."

Worrying about his son, Vien drove his motorbike back home at three in the morning and took his son to Hanoi for a medical examination. When they arrived at the hospital, he told his son to stay put while he got in line to register for an examination.

But Vinh disappeared again.

After Vien found his son, he talked with his wife about tattooing information on the latter’s arms in large sized fonts, so that the information was visible even during winter, when Vinh has to wear several clothes.

He said: "We almost lost him two days in a row. Anyone who has experienced that feeling would understand how worried I am. We are heartbroken at having to take such a decision."

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