Poor girl and her duck ascend from humble beginnings to fame across Asia

By Phan Duong   April 21, 2024 | 05:19 am PT
Nguyen Thuy Trang never imagined that Bim Bim, a white duck born from an over-fertilized egg, would bring her family fortune and fame across Asia.

Trang was born and raised in a small remote neighborhood in Tra On District, Mekong Delta province of Vinh Long. In 2018, the spread of animal diseases such as blue ear disease and African swine fever forced her family to shut down their pig farm, plunging them into financial difficulties. Her parents struggled to pay off debts, while Trang’s brother had to work far away from home to help the family.

Trang, then a high school junior, faced uncertainties about the possibility of moving on to higher education because her parents could no longer afford to send her to university.

In a bid to support her family and secure her future, Trang ventured into content creation. Choosing YouTube due to its profitability, she created the channel "Sau Tivi," and started to upload slice-of-life videos featuring daily life in the Mekong Delta.

"But success also requires a touch of luck," shared Trang, now a 22-year-old senior in university.

Nguyen Thuy Trang and Bim Bim in Tra On District, Vinh Long Province, during the summer of 2019, just before Trang started her final year of high school. Photo courtesy of Sau Tivi

Nguyen Thuy Trang and Bim Bim in Tra On District, Vinh Long Province, during the summer of 2019, just before Trang started her final year of high school. Photo courtesy of Sau Tivi

In the summer of 2019, Trang’s mother brought home dozens of duck eggs to eat. But Trang stumbled upon a hatching egg, so she brought it to a duck’s nest and carefully placed it in for incubation. The result was a male white duckling, which she later named Bim Bim.

The family had a flock of black ducks, but the little duckling was ostracized for its distinct bright feathers. Trang decided to raise him separately, and in no time he was following her everywhere.

Whenever Trang was recording new videos, she would put Bim Bim on a plastic stool for fear of accidentally stepping on him. The duckling soon became the star of the show that captivated viewers of the YouTube channel.

In one video, Trang set out to pick carao fruit with a basket in her hand and the little duckling following behind. Another episode featured a farewell before Trang left for the city, with Bim Bim snuggling in her arms.

"During the first 6 months of starting my channel, I had only a handful of new subscribers each month. It only started to take off when Bim started appearing in the videos," shared Trang. "Within a year, we reached 36,000 subscribers, and I was able to monetize my videos".

Trang was making and editing all the videos for her channels with her brother’s old smartphone. At first, her 56-year-old mother, Pham Thi Lanh, did not fully support the idea. She got concerned when seeing Trang talking to the phone all by herself while filming.

But Trang persevered with her vision. To keep up with the goal of releasing one video per day, Trang would spend time filming in the afternoon and finish editing after her evening study sessions.

"Trang slept very little and didn’t have proper rest. After entering university, whenever she returned home on the weekends, she would make 5 videos at once to ensure a week’s worth of content," Lanh recalled.

Trang’s relentless efforts eventually won her family’s support, with her parents getting more involved in the creative process. Her mother would prepare all necessary items or ingredients needed for each episode, while her 58-year-old father, Nguyen Cong Huyen, set up a kitchen space to serve as a filming studio. Later on, Lanh and Huyen even made an appearance in some videos.

A scene from the documentary series She Creates Change, premiered on Discovery Asia on March 8, 2024. Photo courtesy of Room to Read

A scene from the documentary series "She Creates Change," premiered on Discovery Asia on March 8, 2024. Photo courtesy of Room to Read

After more than 5 years, Trang's YouTube channel has amassed nearly 670,000 followers, with more than 1,300 videos attracting 180 million views. The profit from the channel has not only helped her family pay off debts but has also improved their overall life quality. The muddy road leading to her house 5 years ago has been replaced by a concrete road, with rows of coconut trees on the sides.

The motivational story of Trang and her duck Bim Bim was also featured by the documentary series "She Creates Change," thanks to Room to Read - an American nonprofit organization that aims for equal educational opportunities for girls all around the world.

The series includes the stories of six Asian teen girls from Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Tanzania, celebrating their efforts in overcoming adversity through education and creativity. Each 11-minute episode begins with an animated short about a life-defining moment, followed by a short documentary that reveals the teen hero behind the story.

Nguyen Thuy Trang appeared in the first episode, which premiered on International Women's Day 2024 (March 8) on the channel Discovery ASIA.

According to a representative of Room to Read Vietnam, Thuy Trang was a participant in the program from grade 6 till grade 12. From a shy and timid girl, Trang gradually got more confident and eventually became a peer leader, according to the organization.

"When Trang was 16 years old, she came up with the idea of creating the channel "Sau Tivi," earned a YouTube Silver Play Button (for channels with more than 100,000 subscribers) after just one year," said the representative. "This serves as a greatly inspiring story for female students all over the world on how creativity and proactiveness can lift one’s life out of poverty."

In November 2022, the production crew of "She Creates Change" came to Vietnam to get live footages of Trang and Bim Bim. Although the two only appeared in the documentary for a short time, it took the crew two years to research Trang and her channel, including watching and studying her videos.

Since its release, the docuseries has received lots of attention across the continent, which came as a huge surprise for Trang. It was also shortlisted at many film festivals, including the Tribeca Festival, the Manchester Animation Festival, the London Short Film Festival and the British Animation Awards.

"I didn't expect it to be released all over Asia, and that I would be known by so many people," Trang said.

In the near future, Thuy Trang will soon graduate from university. She plans to continue growing her YouTube channel and spending more time with Bim Bim.

According to Trang, Bim Bim is a male duck, but she often dresses him up in a feminine way. Unlike other ducks that normally eat raw food, he prefers cooked dishes such as sausages, crabs, and boiled snails.

Bim Bim has been cooperative while filming, and also very smart and attentive. He gets angry when Trang eats poultry meat or eggs, once even pushing the food right off her plate.

Now, the 5-year-old Bim Bim is becoming less active. He always goes to bed with a fan turned on, or else he’s not able to lie still.

Nguyen Thuy Trang and her parents commemorating Bim Bims 5th birthday in May 2023. Photo courtesy of Trang

Nguyen Thuy Trang and her parents commemorating Bim Bim's 5th birthday in May 2023. Photo courtesy of Trang

Bim Bim acts much like a human being who needs love and attention from others.

Every time Trang comes home after a long period away, Bim Bim stands by a lemon tree to wait for her return, and then he quacks happily at the sight of his human friend. He jumps up and down joyfully as they reunite, snuggling his head into her shoulder.

"The first time I came back home after entering university, he was mad at me for a while. The more I called him, the more he ran away," Trang recalled. "After I hugged him and said that I missed him, he stayed still in my arms for a long time".

Over the years, Thuy Trang has raised two other ducks, but they are not as attached and cooperative as Bim Bim.

"For us, Bim Bim is not a money-making tool. He's the youngest member of my family," shared the YouTuber.

An extract from Thuy Trang's video "Mot ngay di hoc o truong" (A day at school) uploaded on Sau TiVi August 13th, 2020.

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