by Phuong Mai and Van Dat
Hearing Apsaras dance
Just several hundred metres away from the famous My Son Sanctuary in the central province of Quang Nam, many tourists stop at a simple shop displaying delicately carved statues of Apsaras, the celestial dancers.
The tourists would appreciate the beauty of these small sculptures even more if they knew if they are made by a man who can neither hear nor speak.
Pham Ngoc Xuan, 47, born with his speech and hearing impairment, was inspired by the Apsara dancers carved on the Cham towers at the My Son Sanctuary when he was very young.
His mother, Van Thi Lieu, recalled that in his childhood, she and her husband had to bring Xuan home from the sanctuary, day after day.
“We wondered why Apsara statues had caught so much of his attention.”
Xuan began to pick up stones near the sanctuary and to etch images of the beautiful dancers on the walls. Then he began to sculpt them on stone, using a piece of metal.
His mother proudly said his statues were getting more and more beautiful. “He is truly talented.”
Do Ba Son, a tourist from Dong Nai Province, said after hearing the mother’s story that it is perhaps the passion for Apsara dancers that helps Xuan make statues “that look lively and very similar to those found on the towers”.
On seeing his natural talent, Xuan’s father decided to set up a small shop for him to sell his sculptures; and a neighbour – a teacher – help him to make a sign in both English and Vietnamese to attract visitors.
Xuan’s statues are priced at between VND100,000 and 400,000 ($5-20) depending on their size.
“His father and I now feel at ease when we see him earn his living,” Lieu said.
The roach approach
Revulsion. This is the instinctive reaction of most people to a cockroach, but for Nguyen Thi Kim Anh, the much-maligned insect has brought home the bacon for the last 16 years.
Though there are reports of the insect being a delicacy in some parts of the world, Anh and her family have not been feasting on them.
What she does for a living – catching roaches and selling them, mostly to ornamental fish breeders and fishermen, was not a matter of choice. Poverty pushed her to this most unusual of all vocations, and despite several attempts to give it up, she has ended up going back to it. She now thinks it could be destiny, and is resigned to her fate.
Anh, born in poverty, lost her father when she was just three years old. Her mother remarried and her stepfather treated her very badly, forcing her to work at a very early age. She had to drop out of school in second grade and sell lottery tickets.
Later, as she grew up, she did whatever job people gave her. She worked as a maid, she helped sell coffee and did a host of other things as the family struggled to make ends meet.
She was lucky enough to marry a kind man who loves her, but the marriage made no difference to their state of penury.
Anh does not like to dwell on how she took to roach catching, but it was suggested by her husband’s boss in 1997. She was willing to give it a go if it meant the family would not starve.
At a selling price of VND100 per cockroach, she has been able to earn between VND80,000-150,000 every day.
Catching roaches, typically between 3pm until 9pm every day at traditional markets, is not the hardest part of Anh’s job. It is the lack of understanding and sympathy from people around her that hurts the most.
She has been called crazy and teased endlessly, prompting her to try and give up the vocation several times, but was pulled back each time.
In a fateful ironic twist, Anh’s persistence has paid off. She has now become well known for her “talent”, and earns more money from her job.
In fact, she has been approached by several people to catch roaches in their houses, but has so far rejected all such assignments.
“I am afraid they will accuse me of stealing their property,” she said. — VNS