Khang sits on a bed wearing headphones as his hands fly over the mouse and keyboard and he smiles non-stop. He is streaming Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a multiplayer first-person shooter video game.
The 22-year-old is only slightly larger than his computer.
He chose to become a video game streamer half a year ago so that he could have a steady job after the Covid-19 outbreak put paid to his street vending of banh ran, a deep-fried glutinous rice ball had as dessert.
Nguyen Minh Khang used his two years of savings from selling street food to buy a computer. Photo courtesy of Khang.
Khang, real name Hoang Trung Nghia, lives with his grandfather in a small house deep inside an alley in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
His parents told him to use the name Khang in the hope it would bring him luck, after he was born with brittle bone disease or osteogenesis imperfecta.
His bones were “as soft as a noodles” to the point they could break without any impact.
“My grandfather told me that when I was around two or three years old my bones would break even if I was startled by the sound of balloons exploding or any other loud noise,” he recalls.
He had more than 50 broken bones during his childhood.
“Doctors would say due to my condition they could not use casts and my broken bones had to heal naturally. So now, some parts of my body have a strange appearance.”
Khang rubs his arms at places they broke once when he “gently waved a spoon” as a child.
He has been taking calcium pills on the advice of doctors for more than 10 years now, and his bones have sufficiently hardened for him to be able to sit up and do light activities.
Though wheelchair-bound, Khang is happy he can manage his own personal hygiene and do light work without relying on others’ help.
Not wanting to be a burden on his family, two years ago he set up the street food stall at his doorstep on Hang Chieu Street. He was doing fairly well until the global pandemic came and customers stopped coming. He had to find another way to make a living.
He used his savings and borrowed some money on top to buy a computer for VND24 million ($1,000) and became a game streamer. His grandfather supported him.
“I have really liked playing games ever since my parents let me read books and play video games a lot when I was a kid due to my condition.”
He wanted to become a streamer since it was becoming an increasingly popular form of entertainment in Vietnam, and says he streams for around five hours a day.
He faced many difficulties when he first started, but insults from keyboard warriors were what hurt him the most.
“They mocked me saying ‘a cripple addicted to gaming’, ‘go online all day and rely on support from parents,’ and more.
“People have said worse things to my face, so I got used to the abuse on the Internet.”
He is confident that as long as he tries to improve himself, he will be loved by people someday.
Gradually things improved, and he began to attract more and more views. From 20, 30 views in the beginning it rose to 50 and up to 200, and Khang began to love the job more and more.
He streams on Playerduo and wants his channel, Khang Banh Ran, to become a friendly and fun place for people to come and relax.
His biggest joy now is waking up every day and turning on the screen to talk to his followers.
“I feel what I’m doing is right since there are people expecting and waiting for my live stream. I will keep going and definitely achieve the results I want.”
He gets donations of VND100,000-200,000 a month from viewers, not much compared to his earnings as a street vendor, but having work to do and earning some income in this difficult time keeps him very happy.
Going to school for the first time at 19
Khang with his friends. Photo courtesy of Khang.
His father and grandfather took him to the school, and on his first day the 19-year-old was fascinated by and curious about the environment.
During his first three months at Will to Live Center (WLC), a social enterprise that provides computer and life skills training courses to people with disabilities, he was happy when studying and sleeping with many people with similar circumstances.
He learned more life skills and computers there, but it was not until he earned his first income that he began to shed his inferiority complex.
“In the past I used to be very upset when people stared at me and gave me strange looks. Now, I feel proud of being able to spend money I earn myself.”
Khang’s biggest goal is to take his grandfather and parents on a vacation trip, and the other is to earn enough money to help send his two younger sisters to university.
“I want to give the two of them the opportunity to thrive so they can take care of my parents in my place.”