15 June 2010

Paradise of the Blind 瞎子的樂園

Not long ago I asked a friend of mine what he thought about Vietnam. Lee, a Taiwanese living in Hong Kong, travels there frequently for business. “The country is not much to look at,” Lee shrugged, “except for their beef noodle soups and mail-order brides.” Indeed, there is a perception in the wealthier parts of Asia that, with all the human trafficking going on in the country, you can order Vietnamese girls online or even bid for them on eBay. My friend’s candid response left me with a frozen smile and a broken heart. That’s when I decided to write an article for all the Lees out there, not to change their minds but to open them to a beautiful country with an ugly past.



I visit Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s twin metropolises, a few times a year for work. Few in Hong Kong know or care much about Vietnam...

_______________________

Read the rest of this article in HONG KONG State of Mind, published by Blacksmith Books, available at major bookstores in in Hong Kong, on Amazon and at Blacksmith Books.


27 comments:

  1. Hello Jason,

    Really enjoyed the article on Vietnam and your effort in shining more lights and awareness towards Vietnam, its culture and its past history. I do agree with you and admit that I myself does not know too much about the country, nor have had the desire to go there whenever I pick a vacation destination. However, I think it would be a fascinating experience to visit the country once in my life time.

    Thanks again for your eye opening account on the country.

    -jc

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  2. Thanks, JC, for your comment and for reading my article right after I posted it!

    Jason

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  3. Hi Jason,
    I liked your article. There is something truly regal about Vietnam that other low self-esteem eastern and southeastern countries cannot say which is: "Vietnam won the war and fought off their attackers." China, Japan, Korea and many other countries who were colonies never managed to fight off their imperialist rapists. To this day you can see these insecurities in East Asian people in their over the top nationalism and ugly tourism. I like to call it the "low self esteem asian man/women syndrome" who needs to flash you their Rolex and or LV bag 24/7.
    I do not agree that Vietnam is all things derivative of China. It is more creoled and or hybridized culture with many different sources.
    Just got back from Vietnam 2 weeks ago to check out the Chinatown there.
    JB

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  4. 試過有一次,要橫過一條有六條線的公路;視線範圍內,沒有天橋沒有班馬線沒有紅綠燈;我跟友人惟有戰戰兢兢、硬著頭皮地走過去。但更危險的是,此時此刻,竟有街童走過來討錢。友人說他們“命賤”,而我的感受是:能生活在香港,是自己幾生修到,一千一萬份的福氣.

    另一次參觀越戰遺址Cu Chi Tunnel @ HCMC, 還未踏進地穴,已被那刺鼻的泥沼氣,弄得咳過不停。再試想像:伴在耳邊,每隔半秒,是如雷的機關槍聲;每天大半的時間,活在缺氧的地穴內,不見天日,沒吃沒喝,看不到明天。友人說在那情勢下,倒情願自殺;我無語。也不清楚,會有勇氣死,還是有勇氣活下去。 http://www.cuchitunnel.org.vn/content/index.php?lan=1
    Definitely an eye opening experience !

    VT

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  5. Thanks, JB. You certainly have a strong opinions about Asia and Asians - we have that in common!

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  6. Hi VT,

    Thanks for sharing your own stories in Vietnam. I will make it a point to visit Cu Chi Tunnel next time I am in HCMC.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  7. Absolute brilliant article, Jason, and such an eye-opener. Send you my comments and thoughts on it soon, need to 收拾情绪 after reading such a "startling" piece.

    Christine

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  8. When my eyes first feasted on the word "Vietnam", my first impression was, (here's the naive and over-romanticized of me at work again), oh, the French influence and the culture and the remnants of that beauty left, intertwined with a dose of Asian culture perhaps? And the Vietnamese coffee? After navigating through the first paragraph about the comments by Lee, my past impression of Vietnam as being the farm for the refugees and illegal immigrants and people coping with difficult lives sedimented in my mind. And I was brought back to the reality.

    I have never been to Vietnam, but I am afraid I disagree with you on the point that it is Asia's blindspot. Admittedly it is not as "touristy" or popular as Thailand and Cambodia ith its Angkor Wat, but this country does get mentioned and discussed and visited amongst my circle of friends.

    All the glory of French influence aside (which has remained ingrained in me all along somehow), the next flashback on my mind as I traversed your piece is the Vietnam War and everything that has slithered past (though the memory remains in all who have lived through that era, whether one is in Vietname or not, I know). I thought of the poem I had to study when I was still in high school in Sydney, "Homecoming" by Bruce Dawe, that tells of the horror and inhuman treatment of that war, and the dead bodies that actually managed to "come home" to Australia is accorded nothing reminescent of the warm reception one gets on returning home from a foreign place. The irony is, these are the bodies of the soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for their homeland. My heart (instead of my smile like you) froze on that recollection, and tears welled up in me at the brutality of the past, and bringing years of unjustified "despise" on that country and the suffering of the people in its aftermath. When the Vietnamese people, same as us all, are just trying to fight for their daily lives. Like the Vietnamese community in Sydney, there was a sizable community when I was there but I could sense the people being very wary of them and what they might do. They are prejudiced already by being Vietnamese in a lot of cases, I saw.

    It is an atrocious plight, the remnants of history which lots of us would rather do without and forget. But when every flutter in the past is shaping the very course we are heading now, we can only hope that it can knock a bit os sense into each one of us, especially when we question seriously for how much longer this planet and humankind itself can put up with our own folly.

    Christine

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  9. An excellent overview Jason. What you say rings true with my experiences. I visited Vietnam 5 years ago and was impressed with the spirit of the people despite their troubled recent history and relative poverty. The US government should be ploughing billions of dollars in to the country in reparations for a disastrous war.

    SJ

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  10. As usual, another brilliant piece from Jason. I haven't been to Vietnam but met a lot of Vietnamese during my stay in Melbourne. I worked with them, worshiped Buddhist temple funded and built by them, grew to love the Vietnamese food and shopped at their grocery stores almost every week. Your article certainly gives us another prospective of modern Vietnam.

    I re-read the article a week after you uploaded it. Yet, this time, dare I say your photographic skill has outdone your writing skill. Unlike the past articles, this time, what lingers in my mind is the photo of your recent Hanoi trip with that chubby little boy's limbs. (Don't misinterpret it. It is just you captured the innocent lives of the future generation Vietnamese)

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  11. Hi Christine,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments as always. My article on Vietnam is indeed a sobering one, precisely because its 20th Century history is so different from that of the rest of Asia. Only Burma and Cambodia suffered a worst fate (and you bet I will be writing about them soon).

    You should definitely make it a point to visit Vietnam soon. After that you can let me know whether you agree with my observations!

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  12. Thanks, SJ.

    Reparations, good point. (Sigh) But what can be repaired?

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  13. I am glad you liked my Hanoi pictures, Phil.

    You should also make it a point to visit Vietnam and let me know if you agree with my observations after your trip!

    Jason

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  14. I love to read this article Jason, remind me of my hometown Indonesia. We have the similarities like fragments of the country bitter past and the ghost from its history.

    Just wanna know about your opinion, what do you think about the chance to growth and future in the developing countries like this? Because I found out that many contradictions in the rich culture, religions issue, the local life.

    Thanks for your answer. Cheers :)

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  15. Absolutely disagreed with u in some points:

    1) Vietnam is not a blind spot at all/ as you said economically one of the promising nation in Asia with it's young population. maybe its a blind spot in the eyes of a Hong Kong Chinese, but then again what is Hong Kong all about: senseless consuming and nothing more than an appendix of a Great Britain or now Great China. To explore other countries from this view is quite mediocre.
    2) Since the Vietnamese language has much similarity with Chinese, so for sure it's not same like Tagalog but more like Cantonese. Is Cantonese a disappointment? Thank to the transcription into Latin alphabet by the French some hundred years ago Vietnam has a very closer connection to France what makes it a very appealing mix of Western modernity and Eastern culture. Food in Vietnam with french influence is absolutely unique in this part of the world!

    As a person who lived on three continents I always met those ppl like your friend Lee. What a shame to be a person living in the 21st century and keeping this view. This is blindness! Isn't IFC mall not a very charming example of the "paradise of the blind" ? ;-)

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  16. Hi Jason,

    Your writings always excite me. I find them interesting and a must read.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience in Vietnam with your personal point of view. Keep writing.

    As the Constitutional Reform Package in Hong Kong for 2012 is being currently debated and most likely be passed tomorrow in the Legislative Council, I would like to read an article from you with your thought process of it and its development. Thanks.

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  17. The US has granted citizenship to numerous war victims from Vietnam War and in many ways help them to rebuild their lives. Until today there are still many surviving Chinese who had lived through the terror during the Japanese invasion of China. What have the Japanese done?

    Donna

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  18. Truc-M,

    Thanks for your comments.

    (1) I called Vietnam a "blind spot" to highlight how forgotten and neglected the country is among the wealthier parts of Asia, like Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It should be obvious from my conclusion that I do not personally believe that Vietnam is a blind spot.

    (2) Like Tagalog, the Vietnamese language lacks its own alphabet or characters and must be written using Roman letters. It is a factual statement.

    Kind regards,

    Jason

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  19. Thanks, Anonymous. Indeed I am working on a new article on the reform package and I should be posting it this weekend. So stay tuned!

    Jason

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  20. Donna,

    I am not sure how I would or could compare what the Japanese did to China with the American did in Vietnam. To me, they were equally terrifying and atrocious. I don't think America can ever do enough to make amends for what they did to an impoverished country.

    Jason

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  21. Hi Jason,

    to compare Tagalog with Vietnamese is nonsense. Maybe it's good to google before you present your idea as facts. Kindly go to:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnamese_language

    That would help you a lot to understand what I mean!

    Warmest Regards

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  22. Truc-M,

    I disagree. I never said the two language sound the same. I am merely pointing out that neither language has a written alphabet, which is a FACT.

    Jason

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  23. Jason,


    who told you Vietnamese does not have an alphabet. Maybe you google again to see what was before the french transcription. Haha, I doubt YOUR FACTS.

    You said it must be written using Roman letters. My grandfather, who was Vietnamese still could use the national alphabet ( CHU NOM ), which is as similar as Korean or Japanese to Chinese! What's next, your fact? LOL


    Truc-M.

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  24. Truc-M,

    With all due respect, I find it necessary to point out to you and my readers that Chữ Nôm is an OBSOLETE script consisting of CHINESE CHARACTERS. Korean and Japanese both borrow Chinese characters, but over time the two countries developed THEIR OWN written scripts ("hangul" for Korean and "hiragana/katakana" for Japanese), which are still in use today.

    The fact reminds: Vietnamese language does NOT have its own written alphabet.

    I stand by my position.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  25. Jason,

    in your essay you complained about your friend knowing nothing about Vietnam than their women which he can bid for. You said that the wealthy countries in Asia neglect this part of Asia.

    And now you call the Vietnamese language obsolete and they need Roman alphabets. I doubt you have enough intelligence to decide yourself, what is obsolete or what not, compared to what? Compared to your Cantonese or?

    I invite all your readers to know more about Vietnamese by checking this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnamese_language.


    Jason, I leave you to your position. What was the title of your essaye? The paradise of blind! Congrats


    Cheers

    Truc-M.

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  26. Truc-M,

    I am known to enjoy lively debate and nothing makes me happier to have readers that challenge my writing and compel me to, as they say, "keep it real."

    Notwithstanding the above, I am absolutely and unequivocally calling Chữ Nôm obsolete. Yes, I am literally screaming it: Chữ Nôm IS OBSOLETE! That is not, however, to say that VIETNAMESE (the language itself) is obsolete. If you cannot discern the difference or continue to misinterpret my words, then this lively debate will simply degenerate into a mindless bicker.

    I have every faith in my reader's intelligence and they will decide for themselves what (and whom) to believe.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  27. Jason,


    I remembered one Chinese said that the way the Westerner eat is quite barbarian (obsolete), because they use knives unlike civilized Chinese, they use chopstick!


    You got it?

    Cheers Truc

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