Anthony Franklin Barnes is a slim, shy Hoosier. It's hard to imagine this quiet American standing in front of a television camera, explaining Vietnam to the world, in Vietnamese.
But he does.
The 31-year-old Indianan Viet kieu is one of nine hosts of Viet Nam - Dat nuoc toi yeu (Vietnam - The country I love), a new reality travel show that debuted on Ho Chi Minh City Television Friday last week.
"I am still new," Barnes says. "I've done two shows where I travel around HCMC and Mui Ne exploring Vietnamese food, culture and traditional jobs."
"Even though Barnes still lacks experience as an emcee, he is very enthusiastic" says Do An Bang, producer of the TV program, said: "Anthony is very good at understanding Vietnamese language and culture. He understands what he says as if he were Vietnamese."
Growing up, Barnes never spoke the language at home.
"My mom is Vietnamese but when I was a kid she never spoke in Vietnamese because my teacher told her it wouldn't be a good idea," Barnes said, explaining that they thought the flood of foreign languages would subvert his learning efforts. "Sometimes, I'd listen to my mom and aunts speaking Vietnamese. I always wanted to learn and master the language."
After graduating from college, Barnes took an IT job in New York and before long he was fed up. "As an IT guy, I worked on developing computer programs but I didn't create or learn anything new," he said.
Two and half years ago, Barnes returned to Vietnam with his mom to travel around the country. A few months after returning to the US, Barnes decided to take a job as an English teacher in HCMC.
When he arrived, he began Vietnamese lessons. Barnes took five classes per week at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in HCMC.
"I had a housemate from Iceland who spoke Vietnamese so well he could talk with everybody in all situations," he said. "I admired him so much and I wanted to be like him."
Despite having studied Vietnamese for two and half years, Barnes displays a profound understanding of the language.
Barnes' Vietnamese teacher Nguyen Ngoc Han, recalls a dedicated student who was always willing to do more for the student body.
"Anthony was hard working," Han recalled. Barnes volunteered to stop teaching to emcee a festival day at the university even though it meant a dent in his income. "When I said to him: so you will not have money from teaching work if you take time to emcee the festival, he said it was ok that way."
Not only does Barnes memorize his lines for each 10-minute segment, he studies every word and makes sure to do background research. He's already met with a man in District 8 who makes animals out of glass. He's tried his hand at preparing a few traditional dishes at the Bamboo resort in Mui Ne.
The show airs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 11 p.m. on the popular channel HTV7. For more information please check the website: www.ilovevn.vn