He had to beg for food, shelter and rides; some people had nothing but they gave him everything
Tran Hung John, a 23-year-old Vietnamese American, briefly worked as a farmer in Thanh Hoa Province during his trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. He brought no money and succeeded in proving that in Vietnam one can survive just on the kindness of total strangers.
It took 77 days, and a lot of Vietnamese hospitality, for Tran Hung John to hitchhike and walk from Hanoi to Saigon without a dime in his pocket.
The 23-year-old Vietnamese American said the trip fulfilled his goal: to prove that the kindness and generosity of Vietnamese people he met on the road could sustain him for the 2,000-kilometer journey.
He took off from Hanoi last June after several foreign blogs said that Vietnam was unsafe and unfriendly for travelers.
The US-born Hung said he was inspired to make the trip by the stories of his grandmother, who had told him that the hospitality of Vietnamese was second to none.
"None of the people I asked for help rejected me," Hung said. "If they could not help me, they introduced me to someone who could."
He had prepared for the journey by studying Vietnamese for more than a year after quitting his job at Vietnam Television. He's not very fluent yet but can understand various regional accents.
All he took with him were clothes, medicine, shoes, a tent, a leaf hat and a camera. He also brought a cell phone but rarely used it. He took no money.
He traveled by asking truck drivers for rides and by walking, which he had also trained for.
The longest stretch he did by foot was more than 50 kilometers from Quang Tri Province to Hue, a walk that took him over 12 hours.
Hung, who graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, said before the journey that he was nervous and ready to die if the kindness of strangers failed keep him alive.
But it never came to that.
"There was love and help from everyone; people I'd never met."
One time in Quy Nhon, the capital city of Binh Dinh Province along the south central coast, he had a 40-degree Celsius fever and a family took care of him like he was their own son.
Hung said there was no person or family that left the biggest impression.
"Many people let me stay with them, many people fed me and made me feel like I was at home."
He fell in love with rural Vietnam on the trip.
He spent most of his time with farming families and was astounded by how kind and strong they were despite extreme hardship.
"When I came to big cities, I usually stayed with friends I know on Facebook. But in rural areas, I was welcome at any house."
He said many families and children cried when they said goodbye to him.
He met a young man named Thinh, who dropped out of university to take care of his mother and tend the fields at home.
"Difficult lives have created strong people," Hung wrote in an entry about Thinh in his journal about the trip, which he shared with Vietweek during the interview.
He also met a young teacher named Hung in Ha Tinh Province in north central Vietnam who created an English class by using chairs for tables. The classroom had nothing in it, but he managed to teach 200 children English and other life lessons.
Hung said the teacher also instilled in his poverty-stricken students senses of confidence, honesty and the ability to express their true thoughts and feelings.
Then there was a 10-year-old girl Hung met who had to take care of her three younger siblings as her parents worked far from home and only came back at night.
"The journey showed me this kind of hardship for the first time and it made me admire rural Vietnamese people so much."
Hung also spent time as a farmer tending fields in Thanh Hoa, not far from Hanoi, both to assist the host family and to gain a new experience.
"I did it for three days and it was a real heavy and exhausting job.
"I woke up at 5 a.m. and worked until 6 p.m., picking corn, harvesting rice and doing many other things. At the end of the day, you'd just want to clean yourself and sleep, but it's not easy either as there're blackouts almost every day, and you could be too sweaty to sleep," Hung wrote in his journal.
"And the meals were very simple, just rice with plain soup, a little vegetables and a little meat. I could not understand how people could walk all day with such little food."
He said he will return to visit his new friends, but not as a guest next time. He wants to help them with as much as he has.
"First thing, I will collect books and clothes and bring to the children."
The journey has strengthened his commitment to live and work in Vietnam, although his family lives and has a business in the US.
"I love Vietnam and its people and want more people to know about it."
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