Behind the Book: The story of Vietnam's street children
by John Shors
I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of traveling. A time existed, after I graduated from college, when I taught English in Japan and then backpacked around Asia. I had little money and tended to stay in rooms that cost a few dollars a night. With nothing more than a couple sets of t-shirts and shorts in my backpack, I visited places such as Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Korea. Some of these countries I grew to know quite well. I’d find a cheap room, rent a scooter, and explore as much of an area as possible. Sometimes my future wife or my friends were with me, though I was often alone.
I saw so many beautiful things throughout these adventures, sights such as the Taj Mahal, the Himalayan peaks, and white-sand beaches unspoiled by humanity’s touch. But I think that I witnessed the most beauty within the street children I encountered. These children seemed so similar, country to country. They were out at all times of day and night, selling their postcards, their fans, their flowers. For many nights in Thailand, I played Connect Four with a boy who wasn’t older than seven or eight. We bet a dollar each game. Some travelers told me not to play with him, convinced that his parents were nearby and were sending him out at night to work. But I never saw his parents, and one night I spied him sleeping on a sidewalk, a piece of cardboard his bed. I don’t think I ever beat him in a game.
Throughout these travels I met hundreds, if not thousands, of children who lived on the street. Sometimes they were sick or had a physical deformity. But most of them were simply homeless—abandoned into extreme poverty. Bright, eager, and unafraid to laugh with a stranger, they taught me so much. I owe them so much.
My encounters with street children inspired my new novel, Dragon House. Set in modern-day Vietnam, Dragon House tells the tale of Iris and Noah—two Americans who, as a way of healing their own painful pasts, open a center to house and educate Vietnamese street children.
I’m quite excited about Dragon House. David Oliver Relin, who lived in Vietnam, and is the best-selling author of Three Cups of Tea, let me know that he thought it was “a sprawling, vibrant novel.” Robert Olen Butler, who fought in the Vietnam War, and won a Pulitzer Prize for his collection of short stories about Vietnamese Americans, told me that Dragon House is “a strong, important work from a gifted writer.” Such feedback from two wonderful writers, and two people who spent a significant amount of time in Vietnam, means a great deal to me.
It is my hope that Dragon House will be a success, and out of that success something good can happen. I plan on donating some of the funds generated from my book to an organization called Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. This group works with children in crisis throughout Vietnam. Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation offers disadvantaged children a wide range of services and support to help them break out of poverty, forever, by getting them back to school and helping them achieve their best. If you would like more information on Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, and what I am doing to help, please visit my website.
I appreciate the support of everyone who reads Dragon House, because the success of my novel will allow me to help street children in Vietnam, and to raise the level of awareness of the perils that street children face around the world.
My very best wishes to you.