Immediate cultural immersion.

It was quite a hassle the second we arrived Ho Chi Minh City, as we hurried to get to our Airbnb to pack for our spontaneous overnight trip to Vung Tau with a group of Chinese-Viets. Only a 2-hour ride from Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau is a popular destination among Vietnamese people. After being dropped off, we went on a cable car to reach our hotel resort in the mountains, which included a huge amusement park and we went to explore the place as a group. The first language of the Chinese-Viets was Cantonese so they only spoke Mandarin when we were around. We later learned that they came from Guangdong (relatively close to Vietnam), and that their ancestors walked from Guangdong to Vietnam three to four generations back. The group met at and go to the same Christian church (which we went to the following Sunday). During the evening after dinner, they had a Christian fellowship (where they sang Chinese songs and talked about their love for Jesus), and then they left some time for us to conduct our interview with 6-7 of them. I learned that the Chinese in Vietnam barely feel any discrimination, but when they do, it’s political rather than personal, and usually only lasts for 1-2 weeks. During those periods, they’re a bit afraid to speak Cantonese outside their homes, in fear of being associated with China. They claimed that most of the ethnic discrimination against Chinese occured in Hanoi, because it’s within close proximity to China, so if you’re Chinese-Viet there, you’d be associated as someone from China, instead of Chinese-Viet. Compared to the Chinese in the North, they’re quite “lucky”. Despite not facing discrimination, it’s easy to distinguish that they are Chinese because when they speak Vietnamese, they have an accent so people can tell they are Chinese-Viet. It is also apparent that Vietnamese people want to distinguish between them and the Chinese- eg. by calling the Chinese New year festival Lunar New year; and by saying “traditional medicine” instead of traditional Chinese medicine like most of the other places in the world. This is because a long time ago, Vietnam was part of China, so Vietnam had lots of Chinese influences as Chinese cultures were assimilated into Vietnam. However, they are now separate entities, so the Vietnamese want to be distinguished from the Chinese, as they claim that Vietnam was occupied by force.


We also interviewed Huang Lao Shi’s son who spoke some English (who also went on the Vung Tau trip). He is a third generation Chinese on both sides of his family and considers his Chinese ethnicity as a privilege, as it means he can speak more than one language compared to the locals, which comes to an advantage when it comes to applying to jobs. Additionally, he says he has “cultural advantage”, as he can watch Chinese movies and read Chinese books. Later on, he mentioned that Chinese education was not always allowed- in 1945, all Chinese schools were banned. The Chinese government claimed that they would bring all the Chinese home from Vietnam but they didn’t. Because no one ever picked up the Chinese in Vietnam, they were forced to move to the countryside to farm (leaving the education sector), and many Chinese shops/schools/properties closed. Now there are Chinese schools but they are all private. This follows the pattern that we saw in Jakarta and Manila, where the Chinese were targeted and Chinese “culture” was banned by the government.


On Day four, we headed to the War Remnants Museum, which was really emotionally burdening- it honestly felt like the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia which I went to for Week 7. I had no idea that the war that the Americans started created such a LONG-term effect, not only on the innocent Vietnamese civilians who were largely targeted, but also the American soldiers who were forced to fight the war, and their families, as well as soldiers from other countries. There are lots of children born with disabilities because of the Agent Orange used by the Americans in the Vietnam war, even today. People are still trying to reverse the effects of the toxic chemicals used on these civilians and their environments currently. Another issue existing in Vietnam is the tension between the North and the South. When I went on a tour to Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong River, my tour guide talked about how 99% of government officials come from Hanoi and other Northern provinces, and that it is quite corrupt, with the officials not caring about and discriminating against the people in Saigon.


Despite being slightly more developed than Manila and Jakarta on the surface, Vietnam still has a long way to ago, and this is partially caused by the number of wars that the country has fought in the past few decades. In my opinion, Ho Chi Minh City currently looks like 1970s-China, but at the same time, it has such a rich, distinct culture that I can’t seem to penetrate completely, as I didn’t have as deep of a connection with Ho Chi Minh City, although a lot of things/food there reminded me of China.

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