Saturday, February 25, 2012
Yesterday in the early afternoon, our world lost one of its brightest stars.
Le Dinh Nghia (pictured in the grey jacket), an extraordinary young man from Thanh Hoa province, died in an apparent road accident. He was a few months short of his 21st birthday.
Nghia's funeral was held in his home town this morning, and at least 300 people were there. Everyone is just devastated.
I met Nghia on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City in 2006; I first wrote about him here. That photo of him shining shoes is a precious memory of my first encounter with Nghia. I knew immediately that he was somebody special. He was never a beneficiary of Blue Dragon; he was a friend and a little brother. He was a part of us.
Nghia brought sunshine and life. I have a vivid memory of hearing him one morning calling me with the words: "Mot ngay moi!" In English, he was saying: "It's a new day!" That was his bubbling, confident personality. I've never known anyone like him.
That same personality landed him in plenty of trouble over the years. He kept us busy bailing him out of a fight at school, or a run-in with the police... I had my own arguments with him from time to time. But he was so true to his name, which he once told me means: "Loyalty." No matter what conflict or argument he had with anyone, he was still their friend. Nghia would help anyone with anything - no matter the personal cost. I once asked him if he knew how to repair my CD player. He didn't, but he spent the next 3 months searching until he found someone who could. And then he refused to let me pay.
Nghia's sudden departure leaves a huge hole in many of us. So many people relied on him. After finishing some schooling, Nghia went on to study mobile phone repair, and he opened his own shop. Late last year we made this short film of Nghia for our website:
Nghia: In my own words
But there's so much he does not say in that short clip.
Like how he almost couldn't open a shop because he used all of his savings to help an older brother who was in trouble back in the countryside, so had to go into debt to start his business.
Or how he then grew the shop to employ 3 of his older brothers, and other friends who needed a job.
Or how he then started training other disadvantaged kids in mobile phone repair.
He doesn't say that he then went on to get a driver's licence and buy a taxi so he could work a second job at night; and that he paid for another brother to also get his licence so that they could work the taxi around the clock.
And he doesn't say that with all of that under his belt, he still wanted to do more, so he started studying to be a DJ.
Nghia had so many dreams, and they were never for him alone. All the money he earned was for his family; one of his brothers married just 2 weeks ago, and as far as I know Nghia paid for nearly everything.
He gave me one of my two dogs; a tiny pup I called Bear. I still have Bear, and I'm sure she senses that something is wrong.
Tonight I still find myself in disbelief that Nghia has gone. I cannot imagine a few days going by without seeing him at his shop, or sending him a text message, or having a quick drink with him at a cafe.
Nghia, you were a great person and you lived a good life. You left us far too soon, but we will do all we can to honour your beautiful memory.