In the last days of the lunar year 2017, crowds of people bustled on streets in Hanoi to go shopping in order to prepare for the Tet holiday and rush home to gather with their families. Along the ways, flowers sold are about to bloom.
In a small room on Au Co street, Tay Ho district, Hanoi, a man who is about 55 years old was taking care of the plants that have been dying and left by their previous owner and enjoying the traditional music of the people living in the northwestern part of Vietnam in a Sapa tourism promoting program broadcasted on TV.
Ronan Walshe, a former lecturer at Oxford University, the oldest university in the UK, said he had been to Sapa about four to five times but never got bored. Each time coming there he found a new feeling.
Born in beautiful Ireland, Ronan went to university in the UK when growing up and had the opportunity to work at an old college at Oxford University for 13 years. However, due to a number of factors, he decided to leave this prestigious school to move to Saudi Arabia, a country located in the Middle East. He said that one of the reasons why he went there is that he wanted to explore this place which is completely different from the UK, with very few people being willing to come and work there.
Working in Saudi Arabia, he was paid a very high salary and was in charge of important positions. His holiday could last up to several months; however, for Ronan and many other Westerners, that is a difficult place to live.
The life there was too harsh and foreigners could not go there during the holidays. They could only stay there for work reasons.
During his 14 years in Saudi Arabia, he accidentally discovered the beauty of Vietnam when a friend invited him to visit Vietnam and he realized that he has dedicated his love to this peaceful and beautiful place.
Ronan's family members live in three countries on three different continents. His sister lives in America, his brother lives in Europe and now he lives in Asia without any member of his family. He spent most of his time working, traveling and exploring.
"Before coming to Vietnam, Cambodia is the most beautiful country I've ever been to, but now nowhere can I compare to the beauty of Vietnam and this will never change," said Ronan.
What impressed you the most when you first came to Vietnam?
Ronan Walshe: At the invitation of a friend, in 2006 I came to Vietnam for the first time and was totally impressed with its mind-blowing beauty. There are so many things that impressed me as it is far different from my life in Saudi Arabia. Vietnam has everything that I want.
Vietnamese people, to me, are perhaps the greatest attraction. The attraction of a place is not created by nature but by the human being. Many people in the world admire Vietnam for the people here. They are very hospitable and friendly and I am always welcomed here. I feel that Vietnamese people are very happy and free.
They are different from people living in many other countries. They do not hate Americans, it is normal for people to wear clothes and hats having American flag because for Vietnamese people, remembering history is to be proud of their fathers’ achievements, not to hate and revenge. If you came to Ireland and wear clothes embroidered with the British flag, especially in the north, you may be beaten or even be shot.
Vietnam has a rich and beautiful culture with many ethnic groups such as Dao, Muong, Tay. I also love the natural beauty of Vietnam with the heart-touching scenery of Ha Long Bay, Sapa.
What are the differences between Vietnam now and 12 years ago?
Ronan Walshe: Vietnam has developed significantly with more modern infrastructure. People's lives are also improved. I see more high-rise buildings, new amusement parks. Technology has also crept into the life of every citizen.
However, despite the fact that technological revolution is inevitable, I still wish Vietnam could keep its inherent beauty. I hope the Government of Vietnam will balance the exploitation of nature and economic development.
Is there anything in Vietnam that you do not like?
Ronan Walshe: Vietnam is quite new to me and I need to learn more as there are many things that I have not explored yet. Despite coming to Vietnam for the first time in 12 years ago, I have spent just a few months living here. Therefore, it's hard for me to find something I do not like.
I noticed that some people coming from the west are afraid of the traffic system here. There are too many motorcycles on the roads and sometimes they even go up the sidewalk. In the West, you will rarely see people riding motorbikes on the road.
What is your next plan in Vietnam?
Ronan Walshe: I am currently teaching English at the center of an old colleague. Teaching has followed me for almost three decades.
In the coming time when my life in Vietnam has stabilized, I will travel and explore Vietnam more. I would go to Central Vietnam and southern provinces because I know that they are very beautiful places.
I have just traveled to the tourist sites in the North so far. I wish I could have been to Vietnam since about 30 years ago, not 12 years ago.
I would study Vietnamese and settle down in Vietnam. I love languages and learn the languages of the places that I have been to.
What differences between students in Vietnam and western countries can you see after more than three months teaching English in Vietnam?
Ronan Walshe: I have never taught any Vietnamese student in Oxford, although sometimes I saw some Vietnamese students there. I think the number of students studying at Oxford has increased tremendously.
I am very impressed with students in Vietnam as well as in Asian countries due to a number of factors. Firstly, they always respect their teachers. I once taught a class of Japanese students and I was startled because the whole class stood up to greet me.
Vietnamese students respect members of their family, their teachers and the older people by bowing and showing their politeness. In the West, students also respect teachers but in a different way.
Vietnamese students are very intelligent and hardworking. They know how to set goals and strive to achieve their goals. They always try to overcome difficulties.
What are their weaknesses?
Ronan Walshe: They are very smart, hardworking and very careful. They usually focus on the details, which is very necessary; however, sometimes they need to make mistakes.
When learning English, for instance, I told my students that making mistake is completely normal and making mistakes can help them to improve their English.
Vietnamese students tend to shy away from mistakes and do not let others discover their faults, which would hinder their progress.
Have you ever enjoyed Tet holiday in Vietnam? And how did you prepare for this Tet?
Ronan Walshe: I used to eat Tet in Vietnam once but do not remember exactly which year. If I was not mistaken, in that time I got a chance to enjoy traditional square cake.
I like the Tet atmosphere in Vietnam as there are many bonsai and flowers sold on the two sides of the roads. People also clean and decorate their house. During the Lunar New Year, family members have the opportunity to reunite after a long working time.
I redecorated my house with red items because I know this is a good color for the new year. I also bought a peach tree, kumquat, Chung (traditional square) cake, and jam.
Thank you very much!