Vietnam's ex-president and wife make surprise visit to charity eatery

By Tuyet Nguyen   September 19, 2017 | 09:30 am GMT+7

Truong Tan Sang and his wife paid a rare public visit to a charity eatery and made a personal donation of $2,200.

Customers having lunch at a charity eatery in Saigon on Monday had a surprise guest: the former president Truong Tan Sang.

Sang, who was Vietnam's president between 2011 and 2016, his wife and 14 others parked their cars far away, before walking into Nu Cuoi (Smile) eatery on District 1's Cong Quynh Street.

While it is not unusual for Vietnam’s retired top leaders to appear in public functions or ceremonies, a former president showing up at a charity with his wife is still a very rare occasion.

The packed eatery, part of a chain of six, offers VND2,000 ($0.1) meals, which include rice, soup, as well as meat and vegetable, for the poor in the city.

Before settling down, Sang went from table to table to interact with customers and the eatery's staff, as well as to provide words of encouragement.

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Sang talks to a customer. Photo by VnExpress/Tuyet Nguyen

“I used to drive a cyclo but now I have health problems and am too weak to work," a customer said. "Without money, I only manage to get by thanks to people's love and compassion. This eatery only charges VND2,000 so I come here often. It's very delicious and enough to make me full.” 

“Life back in our hometown is very difficult so we've been eating here for a few years now. It has helped us a lot,” two university students replied when asked by the former president.

Sang also visited the eatery's kitchen, which is run mostly by volunteers who help prepare meals, wash the dishes or serve as waiters for free. The only paid employee is the chef who works full time for VND3 million ($130) a month.

The former president and his wife, as well as the rest of his group, also bought the VND2,000 meals and ate alongside other customers. They all finished their meals without leaving any leftover.

Speaking with Nam Dong, the founder of Nu Cuoi charity eatery chain, Sang said he learned of the chain through his wife.

“Coming here and learning that you've managed to open six eateries, I find it very meaningful," Sand told Dong, who retired as editor in chief of the Ho Chi Minh City Phap Luat (Law) newspaper. "I hope we can encourage philanthropists and businesses to help open 600, or even 6,000, more eateries so that the people, cyclo drivers and scrap collectors could have a better life,” he said.

After the meal, Sang's group donated VND117 million ($5,150) to the eatery chain, with the former president personally donating VND50 million.

“This money would help thousands of workers, lottery ticket sellers and poor students have full meals,” Nam Dong said.