Upstartist Diaries

The Smallest Act of Caring Can Be Big

It’s been a rough few days. Just feeling down. Can’t explain why. 

Footsteps from my apartment is an alley full of families serving office lunches for 30,000 VND ($1.30 USD).

I sit down at the cơm trưa stall and start eating. Lost in thought. This soup is delicious though…

Suddenly a large man hovers over me.

“Give me your bowl.”


“Give me your bowl!” I think he says as he snatches my bowl, returning with more canh chua.

I’m hunched over, drinking soup, when the big man grunts, leaving a pitcher of trà đá (ice tea) on my table. Drink up.

I’m afraid to use the stall’s communal tin cups.

His father, a gentle man in his 60s, places the trà đá pitcher squarely in front of me. I know you’re thirsty, don’t be shy. 

He also puts a homemade yogurt on my table. Have a treat. Many restaurants upsell snacks this way. I’m full so I pass.

I am thirsty though. As I start wiping a used cup, the father hands me a clean one.

I sip trà đá for a few minutes. Ahh. 

Groups of students and uniformed workers pass by, laughing. What a colorful city I live in. Life is a little better.

Chú ơi, tính tiền!

I get up to pay. As I’m leaving, the son tosses me another yogurt. You were supposed to eat it stupid, it’s free.

Nothing better than the grumpy man with a heart of gold.

As I walk away I start tearing up.  

I experience these warm interactions in Saigon. But I know they happen everywhere. Small acts of welcoming, sheltering and feeding a stranger. Asking if he wants more soup. Giving him more anyway.  

No banquet or ceremony. Just small, human touches that make the world glow.

A little extra. A ride home. The benefit of the doubt.

As an international affairs student, historic speeches and landmark agreements inspired me. 

Now, it’s these tiny, anonymous acts of noticing others, tenderness, and brotherhood that move me to be a better human. 

More rice? More soup? Drink some ice tea. 

Small, human touches that confirm we’re in this together.

When missing family I’d walk down the street and ask “mom” for a bowl of hủ tiếu bò kho (2014)

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2 replies on “The Smallest Act of Caring Can Be Big”

Darren, this is beautiful.

I do a weekly review each Monday. I list 10 positive things that happened to me the previous week as part my review.

I’ll make the effort to include these little gestures inside the grateful list from now on.


Thanks Andres. I can’t tell you how much this small interaction impacted my day. Can we do the same for others? That’s what I challenge myself to do. I don’t always succeed but I’m getting better.

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