We met Long in Pho Shop #10 close to St Joseph’s Church in Hanoi.
Pho Shop #10 has a few tables seating eight at a time, so you find an empty space and squeeze in. The menu is Pho Bo (beef pho) with different cuts of beef. Brisket is the most expensive option at 15,000 dong for a bowl (that’s about $0.75). After giving your order you wait a few minutes and then a steaming bowl of unctuous broth and noodles with thin slices of slippery, fatty meat on top comes to you. You can order greens (morning glory) and beansprouts as extras, along with a doughnut kind of thing that soaks up the broth. The table condiments are soya sauce, chilies, limes and salty fish sauce, which you add as much and as often as you like, then dig in slurping up noodles and broth using chopsticks and a spoon. It is the most wonderful food.
Long is a student and at 16 he has decided to study tourism. His English is flawless and we spend a good half hour talking about what we think about Hanoi and what kind of job he wants to get in the future. He would like to visit the UK as part of his studies, but acknowledges that it’s unlikely as passports are difficult to get.
It’s nice to hear somebody talking about studying in such a positive way, and so I ask whether he minds if I shoot a few pictures as he eats and chats to D. “No problem”, he says and carries on slurping and asking about the UK as I start to shoot.
I should add that I ate my Pho super quick- it’s that addictively good, I’m not that good at photographing and eating.
The East and especially Viet Nam is rising fast economically, and the younger generation can see the immediate benefit of working hard and getting a sound education. I know there are good kids in the UK and a lot of young people want to make something of themselves and are willing to study hard.
For a lot though, the education system is just a series of holding patterns and exercises in crowd control. I’ve seen it first hand kids; coming out of school with a basic grasp of mathematics and English, yet convinced somehow that the world owes them a living and if they could just get that one lucky break that they all seem to have been waiting for for their entire life, they would achieve fame, fortune, slim figures, six- packs, dried sticks in vases in the corner of their rooms just by appearing on the X- Factor/ Britain’s Got Talent /The Voice or by shouting meaningless “business- speak” like the current shower on “The Apprentice”.
After 15 minutes, Long suddenly looked up and said;
“Oh no, I forgot to put my glasses on, I want people to think I look clever”.