More than 10 years ago, Dinh Duc Hoang was the main journalist of “Lăng kính Bóng đá” (Football Lens) — the top column featuring 2,000 words a day on the Vietnamese football newspaper Báo Bóng đá (Football Newspaper). He also published his first novel and gained a bit of a reputation, enough to embark on a literary career.
But then Duc Hoang gave up his career in book writing (although there was another manuscript that he expected more than the one he just published), and also stopped writing for the “Lăng kính Bóng đá” (Football Lens) column that had become a trademark, and switched to writing for Lao Dong Newspaper, then VNExpress. Duc Hoang was in charge of “Góc Nhìn” (Perspective) — the column that had the highest number of comments on VNExpress for four years. His articles had sharp, multi-dimensional views on thorny issues targeting the poor and disadvantaged groups in society.
But every time he reaches a certain “peak” in his career, Duc Hoang ditches it to pursue a new path. There may be many people who try to stay at the top for as long as possible, but Duc Hoang is not one of them.
As someone who constantly quits, what are some of the things you’re keeping to last?
I quit my job all the time, always when I was in the state of being loved by the company, with an income that was always high compared to my friends. So if I say that I follow a safe and pragmatic lifestyle, no one would believe it.
I am pragmatic in that I specify clearly what is important to me, which is a small gathering of my family and a few close friends — who give me emotional support, and especially help me build an ego as a writer. I have made a living and supported my family thanks to that, so I will have to protect it at all costs, without compromise. Aside from that, everything else can be left out.
Even though there are things that people consider very important, like jobs that pay 1 billion Vietnamese dongs a year, if I don’t find them belong to my “pragmatic” set, then I will also leave them out.
Is quitting a change of direction, or is it a closure to start anew?
If you still think about what you have left behind, then it probably won’t count as “giving up.” This also applies to love and career. If you still look back after every twist and turn in life, that means you have not given up.
For me, if I quit, I quit completely. I’m pretty “cold” to the past. If I write an article and the editor says it can’t be used, I would stop writing it completely. I don’t have the habit of trying to find other ways to publish an article in other newspapers (and am quite surprised that many authors submit the same article to many places). It’s a bit extreme, but I believe that’s how I create something new.
What have you been most concerned about recently?
What I always worry about is the indifference of many people around me.
A colleague once told me: “Will anyone read about ethnic minorities? Our readers are urbanites though.” I ignored this comment and continued to write the article, and then it became one of the most shared articles in the history of the newspaper. People are so indifferent that they don’t realize how much vibes the society, or even themselves, have; and mainly focus on following the trends to stay within the comfort zone.
Ten years as a journalist, I was raised by society to search for and discover issues of little interest. I receive much love and happiness. But it is also always disappointing to discover that the issues which I consider very important are always being treated with indifference and coldness.
There are topics that move me, for example, the lives of the vulnerable, migrants, or the poor. I wonder about how to influence more people and drive them to care about these issues together with me.
Is that the reason you started working on NICE?
Since writing, I have realized that I can “translate” the lives of the underprivileged for the public to understand. But I kept wondering, was writing enough? What if people just read and don't act? Was my profession just writing?
I still remember this line from the film The King’s Speech: “I had to give them faith in their own voice.” It took me a few years to think about it and concluded that this could be my value. Translating the voices of the weak is not limited to writing articles, and I can create more socially interactive projects.
Recently I’ve been trying to promote a new project, which is to bring together the humanistic ideas in society into one platform and work hard to spread those ideas. I call it NICE - Network of Initiatives for Community Empowerment.
If you leave NICE, what will you do next?
Right now I’m pursuing about 12 different projects, including NICE. Half of them are business projects, and the other half are volunteer projects.
People say I’m highly addicted to work. Personally, I don’t find any reason to not try. In the past three years, I have raised funds to build a few schools in the mountainous areas. Last year, Mai Anh — founder of the charity surgery fund Thien Nhan and Friends — told me: “Building school hasn’t changed much, let’s build a whole village.”
So now I’m working on a scheme to renovate an anonymous village in the Northeast mountainous area into an installation art gallery. We hope to turn it into a new tourist destination and create a long-term livelihood for the people, rather than depending on charitable activities.
What do you find yourself passionate about?
I am passionate about understanding human life. It is easy for me to find joy in reading. I could lock myself in for a month at home just to read, and feel the joy of my brain receiving new information.
I don’t go to café because I’m not passionate about the city scenery, the sky, or the narrow interactions. I don’t travel to “enjoy nature” or “calm the mind” because I’m not really passionate about the forest or the waves.
When I travel, I like to seek new insights, chat with locals, walk through streets and buildings, and participate in communities. For example, the first thing tourists do when they arrive at Hong Kong airport could be taking a photo to “check-in”. As for me, the first thing I did was make friends with a smuggler in the smoking room, and persuade him to show me the smuggled cigarette store in Kowloon.
What do you regret the most so far?
I didn’t give enough love to those who deserve it. There are so many people who are important to me, I can’t decide who to prioritize. It could be my mother, my sibling, my wife, or my son Hoang Anh, who really wants his father to grade his painting. I was too attached to the outside world, obsessed with the fluctuations of life. I have chosen to be a person of society, and my beloved ones understand that, even encourage and be proud of me. But it won’t stop me from feeling repentant.
Do you intend to write a book again? If so, what would it be about?
I am writing one presently. It is a book about the crossroads in our generation. Perhaps it could also be the answer to the first question, about what our generation has chosen to keep and to give up, based on what kind of mindset.
Adapted by Thao Van