“Are you happy now?”


It’s funny how life works out sometimes.


Five months ago, back home in Chicago, I was walking through the streets of Old Town looking for a summer job.  I walked past one store, Old Town Oil, and was about to continue walking onwards when I did a double take, turned around and walked in the door.  Because of that instinctive impulse and a serendipitous course of events, I found myself spending a lovely Thursday morning in a disability center in Ho Chi Minh City, playing Saigon monopoly with a mentally disabled woman telling me that she was happy because I was there to play with her.


While these two events may at the outset seem disconnected and unrelated (I know that Chicago and Ho Chi Minh are physically very separate), I want to demonstrate the fluidity that exists in our decisions, our instincts, and the flow of our lives.


Bear with me . . .

The DRD Cafe

I arrived at the Disability Resource and Development Center (DRD) (www.drdvietnam.com) center on a beautiful Thursday morning.  DRD is a center that provides services, social stimulation, and social work to physically and mentally disabled people.  In Vietnam, disabled individuals are most often kept to the confines of their homes, stripped of stimulation, education and social interaction.  Parents are both ashamed of their offspring while also fearful of exposing them to the rough and rugged real world, and thus constrain them to the home, leaving them little hope or opportunity for education, employment and a chance of living independently.


Loving life!

I walked into the open-air disability center this past Thursday to see people sitting at tables drinking coffee and chatting.  The environment is open, calm, almost zen like with fresh greenery in the corners and lanterns floating from the ceiling.  The center has created a café as a way to teach and train hearing impaired individuals the skills necessary to become servers; these servers then become advocates for other hearing impaired individuals by passing along their knowledge to them.


At one table sat a chatty and content group of mentally disabled individuals ranging in age from teens to thirties, joyfully chatting and coloring amongst themselves.  They meet Monday through Friday, to write, draw, learn martial arts, and learn to cook, among other life skills.


I sat down with them and started playing Saigon Monopoly with a woman named Thang.

Playing monopoly with Thang!

She said, (she speaks some very good basic English) “ I play this game a lot at home but I am not happy then because I play alone.  I am happy now.”


“Are you happy?” she then asked.


“Yes, I am very happy” I responded.   And it was the truth.


The hour that I spent with Thang and the other students was without a doubt one of the highlights of my week; they melted my heart with their genuine smiles and jubilant laughs and infused into me a new compassion and light-heartedness.  Knowing that my presence was enough to make someone say that they felt happy meant that my day was worthwhile.  As I was driving home (I feel like a natural already!) I contemplated why the most simple actions create the greatest happiness.  One game of monopoly and suddenly I was immune to the aggression of the motos driving past me.  Their horns didn’t pierce me like they usually did.  I floated home on a high of happiness.

A smile that would make anyone melt

So returning back to the curious choices we make in life . . . had I not followed my instinct and walked into Old Town Oil (http://www.oldtownoil.com/) that beautiful June day, I would not have met my co-worker (and all you other fabulous co-workers as well!)  . . .( I also would not know the glory behind an 18 year aged bottle of basalmic vinegar!!)  who would not have sent me to a language center to take Vietnamese lessons where my tutor would not have given me the contact info of her friend Loan who works as DRD and I would not have met these beautiful people and been introduced to this wonderful center.

The DRD Stage


So when that voice in the back of your head tries to tell you something, make sure you listen next time. It usually knows what it’s talking about . . . that little nudging voice is trying to put a little love and joy into your life . . .and maybe help you spread some around the globe as well.

About aweinfur

Learning and Organizational Change graduate student at Northwestern University. Yogi. Happy.
This entry was posted in Adventure, children, Disabilities, Photography, Saigon, Southeast Asia, Vietnam, volunteering. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Are you happy now?”

  1. Tracey says:

    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story… Thang’s sweet question, “are you happy?” and your response admittedly got me a bit choked up. I’m a firm believer in serendipitous events shaping your life (and several actually have me happily living in Chicago now) and this story proves it 🙂 (thank you also for sharing the link to Old Town Oil… I have to check that out after my visit to The Spice House today!)


  2. martha.weinfurter@gmail.com says:


  3. anne says:

    I agree and am happy you have learned to trust that inner voice. I am also happy to see that despite the cultural beliefs about children and adults with disabilities, there also exist people willing to challenge the status quo and support a program that seems to do so much. I hope you go back again.

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