- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

HANOI — D inh Van Phu is a “little person,” as he calls himself, with a big dream. More than anything in the world, he wants to go to the United States, because “there are 10,000 little people there.”

As he sits behind his modest stand on a street in central Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, the 4-foot-tall Mr. Dinh, 37, could not seem farther from the land of his dream.

Selling tea, fruit and chips barely pays for the rice he eats every day, and the prospect of finding a real job is virtually nonexistent.

But instead of despairing and pitying his poverty and loneliness, he is taking small, yet important, steps toward achieving his goal.

In less than two years, he has learned to speak English remarkably well — a customer who turned out to be a Canadian teacher invited him to attend her classes free of charge.

“I read my books every day and sometimes listen to tapes,” he said on a recent Saturday morning.

He practices speaking English, and creates opportunities for himself by striking up conversations with passers-by who look Western. More than 40 of them have left him their names and contact details in a notebook, and he has corresponded with some of them by e-mail.

“Hellooo,” he calls to foreigners, who usually do not see him until they hear his voice. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

His guests often end up staying much longer than they expected when they sat down, seduced by his friendliness and charm.

He even wrote to the Texas-based organization Little People of America, which granted him free “hardship membership” for the last two years.

Mr. Dinh, whose parents live in a village outside Hanoi, spends most of his time in his tiny refuge at 24C Hang Cot Road.

A wooden ladder in the basement, which is just big enough for him to bathe, leads to a room with a bed, a small table and a couple of shelves. He keeps his English books in a briefcase under the bed.

Above his street-vendor’s stand is a sign that reads: “I want to go everywhere.”

He would like to visit Britain, Italy and many other places, he said, but he is longing to go to the United States.

“I hope that someday I can go to visit some little people in America,” he mused. “I think they will help me.”

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