Trans-Vietnam journey foots mountainous classroom bill

By Thuy Quynh   July 15, 2020 | 02:34 am PT
Trans-Vietnam journey foots mountainous classroom bill
Bui Ngoc Quy reaches the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi on July 9, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Thuy Quynh.
A man traveling from Saigon to Hanoi on foot has raised over VND127 million (around $5,500) to build classrooms for children in mountainous areas.

When the government declared the social distancing campaign over the Covid-19 pandemic in April, Bui Ngoc Quy was working for a florist with a monthly salary of VND8 million (around $346).

During this period, he felt a strong need to do and experience something completely different. In April, he quit his job and decided to go on a long walk – from Saigon, where he worked, to the capital city of Hanoi – about 1,700km or more than a thousand miles. He estimated it would take him about 50 days to cover the distance.

He also made the walk more of a challenge by not taking any money along. And a week after he set out, he felt motivated to make his walk more meaningful by raising money for cause – building classrooms for children in a commune in the northern highlands.

Quy, 23, embarked on his long trip at 4 a.m. on May 25 from Saigon with no money in his pocket. In his backpack, he had five pairs of socks, two pairs of shoes, three sets of clothes, a hat, his phone, charger and extra power banks.

Even though he was regular jogger, Quy found the going difficult. He traveled around 40 kilometers per day. The first day went smoothly. But on the second and third day, his feet began to blister and his muscles became sore, and his footsteps became sluggish. But he was determined.

Everyday, he woke up early and headed out at 3-4 a.m. At around 7-8 a.m., he would stop at a street vendor or a local’s house, share his story and ask for some food. Then he would set out again.

At around noon, he would stop again for a break, try to get some food, and continue walking until 7-8 p.m. He would, at this time, request someone to let him spend the night in their house or verandah.

In case he did not succeed, he would continue walking till around 10.30 p.m. or whenever he found a gas station, and request that he be allowed to take a bath and spend the night there. After doing this for three days, he took a day off to recover.

His aim was to walk 12-15 hours a day, but there were days he walked 22 hours and covered nearly 80 km a day, especially when crossing the Ca Pass in central Phu Yen Province, deemed by many locals as one of the most dangerous passes in central region.

"Being unable to find a place to sleep over was a very common occurrence because people do not know me. So I slept on public benches, in parks or the front porches of houses, or streetside coffee shops with hammocks."

Quy poses for a photo with local fisherman near Hoi An ancient town, Quang Nam Province. Photo courtesy of Quy.

Quy with a local fisherman near the old Hoi An Town, central Quang Nam Province. Photo courtesy of Quy.

After he’d walked for about a week, he felt that he should make the trip even more meaningful. Through his past volunteer works, he knew that children Mu Ca, a poor commune in Muong Te District in the mountainous province of Lai Chau, were in need of financial support. So he turned his trip into a fund raising event for these children, to help build additional classrooms.

He contacted the education department of Muong Te District and announced his campaign on Facebook.

Overcoming skepticism

Quy faced doubters as soon as he began posting about his campaign. Many expressed concerns that it was a scam. After reading all the negative comments, he was disheartened and even thought of quitting his trip.

"When you were about to quit, remember why you started. So I told myself I should continue the trip to prove myself. I was shocked later to receive such enthusiastic support," he said, smiling.

The first donation he received was VND200,000 ($8.64). Quy was so happy that he jumped like a child.

"Someone has faith in me," he shouted out.

But the donation remained the same after three days and he was worried again. But on the 12th day, the balance in the account soared to VND126 million (around $5,445), making him constantly rub his eyes and cry for joy.

At first, he’d thought he could only raise around VND40 million (nearly $1,730). But in just 10 days, the amount of donations reached VND120 million (nearly $5,190). All the funds were transferred to an online account.

Looking back on his journey, Quy said the decision of not bringing any money was the most difficult challenge. But he decided to go ahead for the totally new experience he was looking for and to feel the joy of receiving kindness from strangers.

He said he was afraid of being rejected in the beginning. But when he was hungry and tired, he ignored all thoughts of ego and dignity to ask people for food and a place to sleep. He asked for food from local vendors and paid them back sometimes by doing chores for them. But many families also gave him free food.

A native of the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai, Quy had moved to Saigon in the hope of starting a business. While waiting for that hope to come true, he began working for a florist, and the social distancing campaign pushed him on to a path he’d never thought of earlier.

Nguyen Anh Tai (L) and Quy pose for photo

Nguyen Anh Tai (L) and Quy pose for photo in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Thuy Quynh.

Inspired to join

Nguyen Anh Tai, a native of Nghe An Province was so struck by Quy’s story on Facbook that he decided to try and meet him in person.

"I learned about Quy's story through Facebook and decided to follow up on his journey. I admired his energy very much. When I heard his was coming to Vinh (capital of central Nghe An Province), I contacted and met him in person. The next morning, I accompanied him for 60km from Vinh to Nghe An's Dien Chau District."

Tai said that walking with Quy in 40 degrees Celsius heat and the hot breeze was extremely uncomfortable. He developed blisters and it became painful. But Quy encouraged and boosted his spirit.

"Even though he is still very young, Quy has a positive energy in life. I admire his thoughts and energy. Knowing that he wanted to raise money for building schools for poor children, I asked him why he didn’t advertise his campaign more so many more people would know."

He said he wanted to do whatever he could on his own and did not want people to think negatively about his actions, Tai added.

Later, coincidentally, Tai was in Hanoi when Quy reached the capital city, and met up with him at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

Last Thursday, at around 8 p.m., Quy reached Hanoi’s Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, having passed 20 provinces on his way over the previous 45 days. He was sunburned, but not burned out.

Sweat dripping from his face, he said simply: "I've completed my trip."

Not really.

In the next few days, he will head over to northern Lai Chau Province to hand over the donations he raised.

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