Ông ngoại đang tắm – Grandpa’s taking a shower

(Bản dịch tiếng Việt ở dưới)
(The opening is not my story)

(Supposed to write something about the benefits of taking a master’s course in the UK. Then it turned out into this)

That day, when we were playing together on our comfy bed, it poured. Dropping her chipper laughter, Ụt, my sweetheart, turned to me: “Is grandpa taking a shower, mommy?”

I was startled for a moment. I looked at her: “Why are asking me this?” She knows, in the most truthful sense, that her grandpa was gone.

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Giá trị lõi

Chuyện thứ nhất:

Cách đây 2 năm, tôi bắt đầu viết những bài đầu tiên về hướng dẫn xin học bổng. Ngày đó thông tin về học bổng toàn phần không nhiều, cũng không được ai hệ thống lại thành các nội dung lõi như tôi đang cố làm bây giờ.

Thế nên sau một thời gian, người cả người tốt lẫn người … chưa tốt lắm tìm đến.

Mấy đứa người tốt rất hiền lành và nhiệt tình. Họ nhờ tôi giải đáp thắc mắc “trên trời dưới bể” về học bổng toàn phần. Khi thì là thông tin quy trình, nhiều khi thì xin nhận xét cho bài luận (có người đến giờ vẫn còn luôn kể lại cái ngày “được” tôi bóc tách cho te tua và “bớt ảo tưởng”), thậm chí có khi còn nhờ mock-interview giữa 2 đầu cầu Anh Quốc – Việt Nam. Cuối cùng may mắn thế nào mà mấy người đó đều được học bổng cả, trở thành fellow của tôi.

Chuyện với người chưa tốt lắm thì drama hơn.

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False failure

20 years ago, Benson was a promising architect. Having two master’s degrees from UCL, Benson was working for a renowned firm in London.

One day, his team was tasked with designing a skyscraper in the city. The concept was intriguing. Instead of a boring flat façade, they proposed a curved glass front. They named it “walkie-talkie”.

The construction was fast. The skyscraper was inaugurated only 3 years after the design stage.

But then, one day the client called: “Come here and see what you have done”. When they arrived, the building was normal. Everything was going so well, except the client gazing at them like a lion preparing to rip a gazelle apart. He pointed at a car outside the “walkie-talkie”. It was deformed and marked off with police tapes.

It turned out that the curved glass façade became a giant concave mirror, focusing sunlight on the car. Where there is a concentrated sun ray, there is extreme heat. It melted the car. Simple physics.

That year, the “walkie-talkie” was given an award – The Worst New Building in the UK. What’s worse, Benson’s firm was sued by the client.

Fortunately, he walked away with a clean track record. But that marked the end of the company. He lost almost everything, his reputation, his job, and his career.

But Benson was undeterred. He applied for his third master’s course at the University of Cambridge. His experience with the walkie-talkie was put into words in his application essay scoring him a full scholarship.

Last year, I took a master’s programme at the University of Nottingham. As luck would have it, Benson was my course convenor and mentor. He has been taking charge of this master’s programme for 10 years. Whenever I think of the man, I recall his catchphrase: “You cannot sell your architecture by bullshitting”.

(This story is fiction yet based on a real incident. In 2013, the infamous “walkie-talkie” melted some parts of a Jaguar car. The owner of the building paid £1,000 to the man whose car parts were melted.)

Hanoian introversion

Half past seven on a Friday morning, mildly cold after erratic drizzle. The slight chill wrapped my limbs and back as I calmly strolled across the courtyard at 17 Ly Nam De Street, in one corner of which stood my wife’s scooter ready for her commute.

But there was something unusual in the background. Just as I turned my eyes around, a little thing sprinted from a bush and sat oddly petrified just some steps from where I was. Apparently, his slick dash was too eye-catching amid the static lot. It was a squirrel.

Having lived in the downtown of Hanoi for 28 years, this was the first time I saw such a thing. Not only as squirrels were elusive, it is also because the urban sprawl left them not much room to survive. The encounter with the spiky-eared rodent was unusual, yet so sweet that it hooked my sight until a wake-up call came.
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[My UK Path] Episode 8: The Relay

My dad rarely shares his childhood stories. While I have lived with my parents for 27 years, still there are many accounts that I have never heard until I am married. Because he would only recount some pieces in his unusual moments of excitement, when the two dads, my father and father-in-law, enjoy their drinks in a family feast.

“F***, you did it; then why can’t I?” – It was his thought when he first saw a fresh Vietnamese graduate who had just returned after his overseas study. The guy was looking very smart in his suit and tie, arousing a fit of jealousy in my dad. My father, who had always been malnourished, determined that he would go abroad for his first degree.
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[My UK Path] Episode 6: What is it like to be a Chevening scholar?

1. Your mother’s maiden name is no secret to your Chevening fellows because theirs “happen” to be identical to yours.
2. You realise that the name “Chevening” is actually pronounced /ˈtʃiːv(ə)nɪŋ/ (Chee-V-Ning), like you match the “ch” in “chat” with “evening”.
3. The happy day of a month is the 21st.
4. You enjoy the little Chevening things: a Chevening USB stick, a Chevening Oyster card holder, or even a Chevening power bank.
5. You love taking photos of yourself holding a blue tube made of aluminum alloy.
6. Sometimes, networking with other Chevening scholars is being recognised in a supermarket thanks to your canvas shopping bag.
7. Either spending your time studying, traveling, or taking voluntary work, you just do not want to waste any second. Your name is marked. You can neither extend nor switch your visa. Thus, your time is short.
8. Still sometimes what you really do is just lying in the sun.
9. Your Chevening friends are one of their kinds. The daydreaming master statistician. The goodwill ambassador. The absent-minded sympathiser. The cheerfully loving sister. The traditionally conservative grace. The admirable one. Just to name a few. They are diversely lovely.
Extra: [Personal bit] Your pair of English handmade Oxfords are just like new because you have so few chances to sport them. “They are so glossy that a fly would probably slip upon trying to land on them”

[My UK Path] Episode 5: Wars of minds

For 10 years, the MArch in Environmental Design has been topping the taught master’s mark chart of the DABE at the University of Nottingham. “I tell you: this has never been easy” – said my course director, Benson Lau. He actually delivered the line multiple times. At first, it only came to my mind how hard-working the students had been. However, as things are revealed in due course, they echo a piece of truth implied by the Hongkonger-born man that there are wars on untold grounds.

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[My UK Path | Con đường nước Anh] Episode 3 Extra: Recap and response

This post is to explain some ideas implied in my last entry of the UK Path series as well as respond to some latest feedback on the post.

My thanks to readers, particularly who left their comments on my article. Your feedback, though largely adorably negative, is exactly what I love to see.

Yet most of you failed to address the given situation: I was writing about postgraduate study.

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[My UK Path | Con đường nước Anh] Episode 3: No pain, no gain

(Tiếng Việt ở dưới)

“For those who have achieved a provisional mark of 65% or more, you’re in a very good state to get a Distinction for the final mark. You have done really well.” – said Benson Lau, my course director.

“69%” – I glanced over my provisional mark sheet, red eyes weighed down with dark bags.

“I hope you slept well. I saw you guys sleeping during the final review” – said Benson.

“Actually, I pull an all-nighter every single Wednesday.” – I confessed.

Truth unfolding, it has been over 3 months since the autumn term started and I rarely go to bed before 3 am. Apparently, for an international postgraduate student in the UK, things are harsh.
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[My UK path| Con đường nước Anh] Episode 1: How my journey to the West began | Phần 1: Chuyến Tây Du Kí của tôi đã bắt đầu như thế

(Tiếng Việt ở dưới)

“Full scholarships are for the best profiles.” – The thought is widely shared among most scholarship hunters.

How about this? There are awardees whose track records showed academically and professionally mediocrity.

As luck would have it, I am one of them.

Truth be told, I am as average as any man. My bachelor’s degree of credit grade fell into the bracket of average graduates because merit Vietnamese students are supposed to leave their schools holding a shiny distinction or high distinction degree. Profession-wise, I have not been doing well either. My 4-year experience was marked with several job quits and dismissals.

But one may simply need sheer luck to be chosen for an award. I was lucky to benefit from a life of privilege. I have my family.
Continue reading “[My UK path| Con đường nước Anh] Episode 1: How my journey to the West began | Phần 1: Chuyến Tây Du Kí của tôi đã bắt đầu như thế”