Finding Duong, Finding Myself is an intense, true account of my journey to rekindle a sense of purpose in my life and to satisfy a lifelong, deep yearning to achieve something significant for individuals in a third world country. I believe that many people in the developing world share this desire to assist individuals directly, instead of the ‘armchair’ giving to which many resort. Additionally, I wanted this story to be a wakeup call to ‘socially-conscious travelling’, where travelling becomes an act of giving and sharing with the local community, rather than simply glimpsing, photographing and passing on to the next tourist site.
My story reveals the forward planning, fundraising methods, experiences, emotions, feelings and stories, both intensely sad at times and sometimes humorous, of a trip through Vietnam in mid 2009. It exposes and reveals my own raw, honest emotions and those of the people I met and helped along the way, including the severely disabled street boy Duong, in Hanoi. It is also an account of deep emotions and the need for healing of the Vietnamese people themselves, in the aftermath of years of foreign occupation and war and their extreme gratitude towards even the smallest generosity shown them.
The story unfolds, city by city as partner Gary and I are led seemingly at random, into the paths and lives of individuals whom we can assist. We follow our instincts, often into situations that are extremely awkward or uncomfortable or even dangerous because we lack the language and understanding of Vietnamese society and cultural norms. Increasingly I become aware of spirit guidance at work, as the process of finding individuals to assist along the way becomes an easier and more joyful task.
This process culminates in the sighting of the street boy Duong pulling himself along the ground on his hands at the very moment we are departing by bus, to spend a week in the mountainous town of Sapa. Against all odds in bustling, congested old Hanoi, I find him again. An emotional story unfolds of the friendship that develops and my purchase of a three-wheel bicycle that in some way gives Duong back the legs he lost in a childhood accident. Duong and I form a remarkable bond akin to mother and son. It is a bond that I have since come to believe, with the help of powerful intuitive experiences and unexpected messages, has a spiritual link with a child of similar age who I lost to an abortion some thirty years ago.
There is a powerful ending to this story following my return to Australia. I had commenced writing the book and was liaising with Blue Dragon organisation in Hanoi in order to follow up Duong’s welfare. In consultation with him we had devised a plan to assist with his future education and living costs. During this process however, devastating news of Duong’s death came to me in a telephone call to Australia in September 2009. The shocking information revealed in that call, was to change the direction my life was heading. Writing this story recommenced a year later following much personal soul searching and processing of emotions and I have dedicated the book to the memory of Duong.
The experience of socially-conscious travelling tested my beliefs about poverty and my ethics around the whole process of giving and its consequences. This story has been written as an expression of my innermost thoughts and feelings. I have exposed aspects of my conscience; feelings of guilt, discomfort, deep sadness and at times extraordinary empathy. It is a hopeful and sometimes humorous account that will inspire others to also combine the pleasures of foreign locations and cultures with the ethics of conscious travelling. This story will appeal to the traveller who seeks psychological and spiritual wisdom; those who are tired of ‘travelling for the sake of it’ and desire a deeper, heartfelt connection with local people and experiences along the way. It will capture the imagination of those with a yearning to do more in the world in a way that is individual, unique and self-empowering. The beautiful stories of the many individuals I encountered along the way, will deeply touch the hearts of readers, at times moving them to tears.
I commenced writing this story in the months following my travels to Vietnam in June 2009. My partner Gary and I had completed a remarkable journey from Ho Chi Minh City in the south, to Hanoi in the north. Along the way we distributed money to individuals, purchased specific and much needed goods, such as shoes for an orphanage and we had bought a shiny new bicycle for a disabled young man called Duong, who was unable to walk. A remarkable friendship gradually developed between the three of us. We had also established connections with staff from the Blue Dragon organisation in Hanoi, with whom we would liaise in the future and who would later monitor our friend Duong and assist us in distributing funds to him.
On our return to Australia, I managed to continue the connection with Duong via intermittent emails. Following our departure, he had cleverly figured how to register an email address and send updates translated into English, with the kind assistance of several local friends in the old quarter of Hanoi. A beautiful photograph of Duong sat at my writing desk at home and I was thus able to talk to him and feel his presence, as I commenced the long process of recalling the events of this journey. I felt sure he would be pleased and honoured to be acknowledged in such a way. Additionally I hoped that sharing the full story of my fundraising process and the journey of distribution, would benefit others interested in similar projects.
August 2009 proved to be an industrious writing month and I spent a good deal of time home alone, concentrating on my writing. By mid September I was well in to the fifth chapter of the book and planning for my next fundraising event was under way. One Monday evening Gary and I were on our way to a local coffee house, looking forward to live music and the company of good friends when we received an astonishing phone call from Hanoi. That short conversation with our Australian friend Michael Brosowski, director of Blue Dragon, resulted in an abrupt halt to not only my plans for assisting Duong but also to the progress of writing this book. It was not until September 2010, almost one year later, that I was finally able to return to my computer to record this remarkable, heartfelt story.
Chapter One…The ledge dwellers of Shimla.
You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.
My extraordinary journey through Vietnam is the primary focus of this story but the story did not begin there; I want to take the reader back to the beginning. The original ideas and impetus for my fundraising efforts, my tour of Vietnam, how the funds raised were distributed and my desire for socially-conscious travel, had their beginnings in a mountainous town called Shimla in the region of Himachal Pradesh in Northern India.
For many years, a heartfelt yearning to explore the cities and villages of India had lain dormant within. It seemed exotic, so much more enticing than the ‘safe’ annual trip to Europe or perhaps America.