Free Hugs Draw Large Crowds in Ho Chi Minh City

By Long Nguyen
September 03, 2009
freehugslong2HO CHIMINHCTY, Vietnam – Standing outside Ho Chi Minh City’s Opera House on July 31, Doan Quang, 19, a student at the city’s International University, was happy to announce that in 30 minutes he had hugged around nine people. But he also admitted that he was turned down by 15. At first, he was ashamed. “But then I got used to it. I believe the next person will be glad to hug me,” he added. This was the spirit of the Free Hugs campaign, which brought together more than 200 students, residents and visitors on a Sunday morning.

The “Free Hugs” campaign was started by an Australian, Juan Mann. After going through a personal upheaval in England, he returned to his hometown and felt extremely lonely. He carried a sign saying “Free hugs” and wandered around public places, offering hugs to passers-by. A clip of him hugging people was captured by his friends and attracted 7 million views on YouTube in the first two months. This campaign was then adopted in large parts of the US, Sweden, China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

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The July event in Ho Chi Minh City kicked off in front of the City Opera House, the commercial center of the city that also attracts many tourists. The “huggers” then walked along nearby streets, holding high their self-designed “Free Hugs” signs,which were written in English and Vietnamese.

This campaign was organized by three students, who got plenty of responses from youth through their blogs. One of the organizers, Nhan Thanh, 20, said that there were two purposes for the campaign. First, it aimed to help Vietnamese people get closer and become more open with each other. Secondly, he wished to deliver a friendly image of the Vietnamese people to foreign tourists.

As the students walked around, hugs were shared with many people, especially street vendors and newspaper sellers. Le Chi, a street vendor, said that she was moved when she was hugged by not only one but many huggers. On being asked when she was last hugged, she could not remember because “it was so long ago.”

freehugslong4One elderly woman showed great interest in the signs, but said that she was illiterate. A hugger then approached her and explained what they were doing. And another warm, loving hug was soon delivered.

The crowd and the signs attracted the attention of manyforeigners. Many of them stopped to take photographs and joined in the hugging. Michael Mann, 28, an American photographer, wrapped up his feelings in one word: “Happiness.” Other foreigners thought that it was “very nice” to be hugged by so many Vietnamese youth on the street and added that it was “a terrific idea.”

While hugging an elderly man, one of the participants, Dang Hung, was asked: “Are you Japanese?” According to Hung, this question came up because it rare for Vietnamese people to hug each other. So the man thought he wasn’t from Vietnam.

There were, however, some reluctant participants too. One woman even “threatened” that “you’ll get into trfreehugslong5ouble if you dare to hug me.” Vinh Ba, 72, said that the Vietnamese still think like some decades ago and do not usually show their affection. According to him, hugs are for lovers only.

Minh Tuan, 19, said that he had hugged many people during the campaign. But he added that he did not show this at kind of affection toward his family members very often. “Hopefully, there will be a big change after today,” he said.