Nguyen Quoc Tuan, 40, being treated at a hospital after an acid attack left burns on 96 percent of his body. Photo courtesy of Nguoi Lao Dong
Nguyen Thi Kim Loan has suffered recurring nightmares ever since a woman, mad with jealousy, threw acid in her face eight years ago.
“I'll never forget it; I was on my way home from work; my sister was riding on the back of my bike. All of a sudden, I thought someone had doused me with boiling water but my sister shouted that someone had attacked me with acid,” said the 37-year-old, Ho Chi Minh City wife and mother.
“The worst pain came when my one-year-old son didn't recognize me; he cried when I picked him up.”
Loan still bears significant scars on her face, neck and chest. She also suffers from a crippling fear of strangers.
Like Loan, many acid attack survivors in Vietnam, never fully recover from their trauma.
“They suffer serious physical and mental damage,” said Huynh Anh Binh, a Ho Chi Minh City-based psychologist. “Most trauma gets better with time, but the pain caused by acid lasts for the whole victim’s life.”
Consumed by jealousy
A group of men plays cards in Loan's rubble-strewn alley off District 8’s An Duong Vuong Street. Her small home sits amid rows of similar houses, occupied by recent rural migrants and poor residents who never got ahead.
Since the attack, she's rarely ventures out, fearing that others will gawk at her scars. On this hot, sunny afternoon, she seems remarkably pale.
Loan once worked in a garment factory, but now remains virtually trapped in this three by four meter room with a toilet in back.
Today, in the midday April heat, the close air feels scorching.
Loan's husband, Thanh, was recently diagnosed with kidney disease delivers but continues to deliver goods to a nearby market for VND200,000 (US$9.5) a day. The couple has sent their two children to live with her parents in Dong Thap.
Both Loan and Thanh say she was a victim of unfounded jealousy. A water pipe in their previous home leaked, chronically, and Loan frequently called the landlord's son to fix it.
Eventually, the man's wife, Lam Thi Huong, came to believe that her husband loved Loan and decided to attack her with acid.
Huong served just two years for her crime. After her release, the court ordered her to pay Loan VND20 million.
So far, she's received only half of the money. She can’t see very clearly now and the acid ate through most of the teeth in her lower jaw.
“I can stand the pain but I cannot bear to show my face on the street,” she said, shaking her head with a difficulty caused by the thick scars in her neck.
“I always wear a large mask whenever I go out to buy food for me and my husband.”
The blind postman
Nguyen Quoc Tuan remembers January 18, 2012 like it was yesterday.
The last thing the 40 year old postman saw in this world was a man in a raincoat, mask and helmet rush into his house.
After dousing Tuan, his wife and his four-year old son with acid, his assailant lunged at him with a knife.
Following a painful struggle, the assailant fled into a nearby house and locked himself inside.
Police later identified the man as a neighbor named Lam Tien Dung.
Tuan was admitted to Cho Ray Hospital with burns on 96 percent of his body. His wife, Pham Thi Thanh Xuan, and son each lost an eye.
Dung's motive remains a mystery.
A court ruled that he suffered from mental illness and ordered his family to pay Dung's victims VND500 million ($23,750).
Lieu, a longtime neighbor, recalled that the families had quarreled about dead leaves falling from ornamental plants raised by Dung's elderly father in a second story garden.
When Xuan confronted the old man about the matter, Lieu says, he screamed at her and hit her. Shortly before the attack, the couple erected a tin roof to catch the leaves and resolve the issue.
Tuan, Xuan and Lieu all believe Dung to be sane and allege the family bought him a certificate of mental illness to protect him from jail time.
The family received their compensation, but the attack utterly broke them.
“I see a monster every time I look in the mirror,” Xuan said. “Far more painful is the idea of anyone seeing my scars and assuming that I must have had an extramarital affair.”
Tuan has returned to his hometown in Long An Province to live out the rest of his life in a house on the edge of his parents' property.
“They haven't allowed me to live there [in HCMC] since the incident,” he said.
Asked how many surgeries he's undergone, he replied: “I don’t remember. Maybe a dozen. Maybe twenty. All were very painful.”
Tuan once earned VND7 million ($332) a month working as a postman. Now he can no longer work due to his blindness and the crippling effects of his many injuries.
Occasionally, his siblings and a few former co-workers come and pay him a visit. He doesn't worry much about his appearance: “Except for my rare trips to the hospital. I stay locked up in my house.”
“It is sad to live alone like this but I can’t do anything. I have no future.”
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