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Tácgiả: dchph gởiđăng vàongày Apr.24.2017
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BÌNH NGÔ ĐẠI CÁO TÂNTHỜI
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Tácgiả: dchph gởiđăng vàongày Apr.8.2017
| Kyle Le, Contributor |
Traveloguer and Asia Enthusiast
When I was invited to a former Vietnamese refugee reunion in Saigon, I was expecting a small lunch affair with people who have flourished in their new host countries. People who fled Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon who risked their lives on rickety fishing boats to escape political and economic hardships. I had full expectations to document their success abroad in America, Canada, Australia, and many other host countries where asylum seekers were accepted. But not all refugees found new homes. This twenty-something year reunion in the making was actually full of people who were denied asylum and repatriated to Vietnam.
The first wave of sea refugees were generally accepted by host countries. However, towards the end of the 80s, with refugee numbers increasing, resources depleting, and host countries changing their policies, the UN Refugee Committee implemented new rules designed to discourage and lessen boat people. New screening processes designed to distinguish between political and economic refugees meant that many were repatriated back to their home countries. The screening process was also subject to corruption and bribery, especially after the UNHCR left vetting authority to local Indonesian officials. As the mid 90s approached, refugee camps on the brink of closure, protests were staged and people were imprisoned. By 1996 the Galang Refugee Camp, one of the largest camps in Indonesia, closed and people returned to Vietnam, both voluntarily and by force. These are their stories.
I found myself in front of a busy market as the Saigon sun was rapidly setting yet again. I wasn’t entirely sure where I was supposed to be. Addresses and numbers in Vietnam aren’t always the most reliable. But, out of nowhere Chanh showed up holding a bag of banh mi and pointed into a tiny alley. I walked past his humble home without realizing that it was even a home. Caged chickens were spread throughout the entrance and side rooms, and even some under the sink and stove. A skinny cat meowed under his bed as we looked through Chanh’s iPad photos of him during his days at Galang.
Before his voyage out to sea, Chanh described himself as a well-built man who worked in construction. His ambitions didn’t center on leaving Vietnam. But, his older brother organized an expedition and he was asked to help guide people to the boat. Without much thought he boarded the boat as well and went out to sea for a harsh journey. There were only two containers of water and the rest were fuel. Due to low supplies he had no choice but to drink his own urine to avoid dehydration at sea. This was only the beginning of the suffering experienced by so many refugees.
Once on the island, he worked whatever odd jobs came his way, like farming and construction. He also raised fighting roosters, which authorities later banned. One day, the authorities came into his shack and accused him of murder. He was jailed for two months and when he was released, his girlfriend was already seeing another man. Given the series of dreadful events, Chanh was left disillusioned and heartbroken. In such a state of sorrow, Chanh attempted to chop off his finger. After it was reattached, the pain was too much and nobody else wanted to operate on it. He took it upon himself and with the help of a friend cut the rest of the finger off and sewed the wound closed himself to avoid further infection. After four years living on the island in such conditions, he voluntarily signed papers to return to Vietnam.
Upon returning to Vietnam, the UN provided resources like professional training and he took classes on everything from driving to mechanical work. However, he was never able to stick with anything for too long and spent the past twenty years doing construction work and raising chickens. Despite the dreadful conditions, Chanh believes that his return to Vietnam wasn’t a waste. In speaking with him, he made it clear that he’s found happiness by way of living a simple life. His new iPad has been instrumental in his simple life, allowing him to connect with old friends from Galang, and teaching him dance skills that he was happy to show off at the reunion.
I was on a bus from Phnom Penh to Saigon, and Phuong happened to be sitting beside me. She noticed that I was struggling with my phone (I wasn’t wearing my glasses) and offered to help, which instigated a seven-hour discussion. A few weeks later I reconnected with Phuong and I toured her old neighborhood.
After 1975, her mother and two younger sisters, like many others in Vietnam during this time, found themselves in tremendous poverty. With no money to afford proper shelter, they were left with no choice but to sleep on the steps of a church, which offered no protection from the elements. As the years passed by, she worked every kind of job available to her including wading in the mud to cut rattan. When her husband found himself in legal issues, she used his motorcycle as collateral for a boat ticket. Along with her younger sister, they made their way onto Galang, where she gave birth to a son. Though she made the journey overseas, Phuong failed her screening. Fortunately, when it was time for her sister’s paperwork to be processed, Finland accepted her.
A few months later Phuong was offered to be sponsored as a guardian for her sister, however, if she left the island her mother and two other sisters in Vietnam would not be able to resettle. If she returned to Vietnam, then her family would be sponsored over. She ultimately decided to help her family and six months later she was left alone in Vietnam as a single mother. She returned to doing odd jobs, including sneaking into the Saigon Zoo by crawling into dog holes in order to sell cigarettes. The trials and tribulations of her life are plenty and continue to this day, and I can do little justice to her amazing journey in this short piece.
When I first met Phong and his wife, they immediately took a liking to me and invited me over to their home. They joked about how they were literally the last ones to leave Galang. The two met in a coastal town near Vung Tau. He was adopted and given to a South Vietnam family that was going through difficulties, politically and economically, after the conclusion of the war. Later in life he worked as a sailor for free with the hope that it would offer the opportunity to escape. Having been a part of that family now meant that with the regime change his existence was often up against certain odds. For instance, when his daughter was born he was not able to obtain a birth certificate for her and had to use his friend’s name instead.
The opportunity to flee eventually came and he soon found himself on the island, facing uncomfortable situations with his wife and their two children. The barracks system consisted of long temporary homes with no privacy, and such buildings were supported only by some wooden planks despite housing many people. You can imagine losing the traditional family hierarchy with communal housing. Eventually, Phong and his family bought themselves a shack and moved in.
After four years on the island, their asylum was denied, and Phong and his wife took part in the camp-wide protests, during which a series of hunger strikes and sit-ins took place. Two people even committed suicide by fire as extreme means of protesting the terrible living conditions. Eventually, the Indonesian military came in and arrested the main aggressors. Phong’s wife was especially aggressive in her protest and was taken away.
Phong rejoined his wife on Pinang Island where the family spent almost two years in prison. His wife described how she had to climb on the roof and wander into the city at night to beg for additional food for her family. She recalled how generous the Indonesians and Chinese locals were to her. Eventually, they were forced to return to Vietnam.
To this very day, Phong claims that his life as a forced returnee has negatively impacted his social status. His livelihood consisted of selling whatever goods he could get at market spaces. Phong and his wife feel like the past is still haunts them, negatively impacting their ability to do simple things like purchasing land.
When Thuc walked up to my table at the reunion the people next to me knew immediately who he was. Someone whispered to me that he was one of the three who protested their failed screening by self-stabbing. Again, I was not sure what that meant until he lifted his shirt and showed me without hesitation.
A few days later we were walking together in his alley and as we came up to his house I was shocked. It was one of the largest homes I had ever seen in Vietnam. Though it’s clear he’s come a long way from his time at Galang, Thuc still carries the heavy burden of memories his shoulders. After his father returned from the reeducation camps, he had the potential option to go to America because he served under the Americans during the war. His father refused to emigrate, but Thuc was still determined to leave. His job as a noodle maker restricted him greatly, and though he tried numerous times to escape, he was always captured and sent back home.
After countless attempts, Thuc made it onto a ship, where he witnessed how unfairly people were treated when it came to food rationings. He claimed that the crew received much healthier portions of the jicama and water that he and others had. Things got so bad that a man on board, who carried a grenade, threatened to blow the entire ship up if conditions did not get better. Fortunately, after the second night they were picked up by a Panamanian ship heading to Holland. This was quite rare because after the changes of world policy towards the boat people, most ships did not pick up refugees. The ship’s captain gave them the option of going with their crew to Holland or being sent to Galang. Thuc was desperate to go anywhere, to escape the harsh conditions of life at sea, but the majority of his fellow refugees wanted to go where they knew loved ones would be awaiting their arrival. As soon as they were on Malaysian soil, they regretted their decision.
A couple of years later, Thuc failed his asylum screening even though he had papers proving his father’s role during the war, thus granting him political refugee status. The interviewer who was an Indonesian official did not believe him and thought his papers were forgeries.
According to Thuc, when the UNHCR passed over power to the Indonesian officials, also known as papas, they had the authority to grant resettlement tickets to anyone they wanted, as long as they did not go over a certain percentage. This lead to many Vietnamese women mingling or getting extra close to the papas. This also led to many others who knew those Vietnamese women to bribe the officials for tickets of their own. A ticket that started at $1000 quickly rose to $10,000. Thuc obviously did not have that kind of money so, as a way of protest he and two others decided to stab themselves while handing a letter of grievances to a Bishop visiting from the Vatican at that time. Unfortunately, Thuc never made it to the top of the hill to the church where the Bishop was located. He passed out halfway as security swarmed him. He was sent to another island for surgery, as it was discovered that the knife had plunged so deep that it punctured his liver. Thuc eventually agreed to return to Vietnam because he only saw his path to death before him at the camps.
The day that he arrived back in Vietnam was a day when many Viet kieu, or Vietnamese living abroad, returned home as well as the Vietnamese New Years was approaching. When his group of returnees came back, an immigration officer told them to step aside for the Viet kieu, who are often seen as people who love their country. It’s rather ironic that those who escaped and made it are seen as heroes, but those who escaped and did not make it are seen as traitors.
To this very day, Thuc still wants to move abroad. This answer was surprising to me because it looked like he was currently living such a refined lifestyle compared to so many other Vietnamese. He has a stable job and a warm family environment, but he still does not feel comfortable. When I asked him why he felt this way, he replied that his family has lost too much for him to ever feel like any of what he saw mattered. What is important to him is not being rich or poor, it is being comfortable.
These stories are just a small batch of examples of the many lives, burdens, and experiences that the Vietnamese and all refugees carry with them on a daily basis. For them, the past will never be forgotten, but if nobody documents or records their stories, their experiences will be lost forever to the rest of us. The Vietnamese refugees have integrated so well into American culture. Pho and banh mi are staples of any large city. The Vietnamese refugee success stories are plentiful, but let’s never forget about those who were not so fortunate.
I would like to say a special thanks to everyone who helped me turn this documentary into a reality, from the people who graciously shared their stories, pictures, and poetry; to the friends who helped me translate. And to you for reading and watching.
Tácgiả: dchph gởiđăng vàongày Mar.4.2017
| Zanna K. McKay, |
Special for USA TODAY
The quickly-changing skyline of Ho Chi Minh City, once known as Saigon. Photographer Alexandre Garel will release his book of photographs documenting heritage sites, and often their destruction, over the last five years.
(Photo: Alexandre Garel)
HO CHI MINH CITY — Once an architectural gem emblematic of Vietnam’s era as a French colony, the Tax Trade Center with its iconic Art Deco facade is now mostly rubble.
Despite a petition drive spearheaded by a growing historic preservation movement, the building was demolished in recent months. In its place, developers plan a 43-story complex with a connection to the first subway line in the city.
The Tax Center, built in 1924, is one of many historic buildings in the last 20 years that have been razed or severely altered, according to a joint French-Vietnamese government research center.
Preservationists say developers and government officials are intent on making this city modern and care little for the vestiges of its colonial past. But destroying so many historic buildings, they warn, makes the city less livable and less attractive to tourists — which could undercut economic growth the government hopes to foster.
“The more people get caught up in a consumerist lifestyle, the more difficult it is to address what are considered ‘luxury’ concerns like heritage preservation,” said architect Tran Huu Khoa, 27, a leader of the petition drive that couldn’t save the Tax Trade Center. “But I’m optimistic that a strong civil movement is growing in Vietnam.”
The Heritage Observatory website launched in late January, open to anyone who wants to call attention to any threatened historical building in any Vietnamese city. The information will be relayed to government and civil groups who could intervene.
The government has no such system in place. Researchers, historians and others involved in architectural preservation say a comprehensive inventory is a critical first step in raising awareness about the value of historical architecture.
“We cannot preserve or protect anything if we don’t know where it is,” said Daniel Caune, the French software developer behind the website, who has worked in Vietnam for seven years. The Heritage Observatory already has 130,000 historic photos with captions archived.
Caune is also developing an iPhone app that would prompt users to take photos of heritage sites they visit, simultaneously educating them and using geolocation to place the sites on a map.
Caune is counting on Facebook groups such as “Saïgon Chợ Lớn: Then & Now” which has 5,500 members who post historical and current photos of heritage sites in Ho Chi Minh City. Caune and Tim Doling, a British historian and the creator of the Facebook group, say Vietnamese young people are in the forefront of the preservation movement.
Kevin Doan, an architect in Ho Chi Minh City who is an organizer of Heritage Observatory events, said food shortages and housing were the main concerns after the war ended. “Now that the economy has opened up and people of the older generation have some money, they consider building a new house to be a big improvement.”
“But more and more young people are registering for heritage preservation organizations,” he said.
Young people are getting involved despite the risks associated with openly opposing their government. The arrest of a well-known current-events blogger who went by the moniker “Mother Mushroom,” shows that a crackdown on dissent remains a threat.
Caune hopes Heritage Observatory will serve as a comprehensive catalogue of historic buildings, regardless of whether they’re targeted for destruction.
“This isn’t just a heritage issue, it’s an economic issue,” said Mark Bowyer, who runs the website rustycompass.com, and has written extensively about Vietnam’s tourism sector. “Saigon’s reckless heritage destruction hurts tourism — but even worse, it hurts the city’s livability, its global brand and in turn, its long-term economic interests. Heritage is no longer a niche interest for foreigners in Vietnam.”
An Pham, 18, an engineering student working with Caune to put the first sites on Heritage Observatory, pointed to Hoi An, a town in central Vietnam, as an example of what can happen when historical sites are preserved and promoted for tourism.
The town center, Hoi An Ancient Town, is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is owned by the state, which declared it a national cultural site in 1985. The long-term plan is to link it to nearby Cu Lao Cham Biosphere Reserve and designate the area Vietnam’s first “eco-town.”
Late last year, a $1.5 billion development, New Hoi An City, opened on beachfront property adjacent to the town limits. It includes condos, shopping malls and offices. Developers are promoting it as “The heart of Vietnam tourism.”
Vietnam’s century-old French villas and colonial-era government buildings are a draw for the 8 million tourists who visit the country every year.
“Even in France we don’t have so many examples of the beautiful wrought-iron railings and staircases that you see here,” said French Consul General Emmanuel Ly-Batallan.
Heavy roofs are designed to withstand typhoons and large windows placed strategically to catch the breeze. The consulate, now dwarfed by a skyscraper under construction, is considered one of the best-preserved examples of the architecture of Cochinchina, the French name for southern Vietnam.
A proposal from Ho Chi Minh City’s Council for Planning and Architecture to limit demolition of privately owned villas to those deemed to have little historical and cultural value, is currently awaiting approval from city authorities. The biggest hurdle would be setting aside funds to help owners maintain historic buildings. Many owners demolish villas reluctantly, saying they are dilapidated.
Last summer, for example, a centrally-located villa with rows of carved columns and arches was partially demolished before neighbors pleaded with local officials to intervene. Tuoi Tre newspaper reported the owner spent 10 months seeking permission to tear it down before he started demolition. The villa is still standing, partly destroyed, while the owner awaits a decision from the government.
Owner Pham Cong Luan told Saigon Giai Phong newspaper the demands of modern life and lack of concern by local officials make the villa hard to maintain.
Protests and petitions often have little effect, particularly when the developer is wealthy. The Ba Son Shipyard, built in 1790 for the Vietnamese royal navy, was demolished in 2015, even though it had been designated a national heritage site.
It was sold to private corporations for development. A riverside complex with luxury housing surrounded by a park, a cultural center and a transportation hub is under construction where it used to stand. Multiple 60-story skyscrapers also are planned.
“In the eyes of many people worried about heritage conservation, that [destroying the Ba Son shipyard> situation kind of summarized what was wrong in the city,” said Doling.
Inside the Ba Son shipyard as it was being demolished in 2015. The shipyard still had many original French workshop buildings, including several examples of industrial architecture from the 1880s. (Photo: Aleandre Garel)
A $5 billion bid from the South Korean development company EUNSAN for the shipyard was turned down in favor of a bid from Vinhomes, the largest real estate development company in Vietnam, for an undisclosed amount. Pham Nhat Vuong, the founder of Vingroup, which is the parent company of Vinhomes, became Vietnam’s first billionaire in 2013, according to Forbes.
Historic preservation can be a tough sell in Ho Chi Minh City’s economic climate. One of the city’s oldest churches, Thu Thiem Parish — built in 1875 — also is slated for demolition to make way for a $1.2 billion development.
The petition to save the Tax Trade Center, which garnered 3,500 signatures, gained enough public attention that developers promised to save certain elements of the building and add them to the façade of the new skyscraper.
The Tax Center’s double staircase, resplendent with intricate handmade Moroccan mosaic tiles, was one of the leading examples in the world of the French colonial fascination with the art of North Africa. The owners also agreed to preserve the original mosaics from inside the building, but the staircase was destroyed and the tiles were removed without saying what will be done with them.
As the trove of historical architecture dwindles, the momentum for protecting it is building.
“There’s no reason to destroy it all,” said An Pham, the engineering student. There is plenty of room in the city for both historic buildings and new development, he said. “But people believe they can’t make any money from heritage sites.”
This story was produced in collaboration with Round Earth Media www.RoundEarthMedia.org a non-profit organization supporting young foreign global correspondents.
Tácgiả: dchph gởiđăng vàongày Feb.27.2017
|By: Tran Anh Minh|
In this Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 photo, Nguyen Thi Xuan sits on her bed in Hanoi, Vietnam. Many Vietnamese women married to Japanese soldiers saw their families split up, but today, the former foes enjoy strong bilateral ties, with Japan and Vietnam cooperating economically as well as in other areas.
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — When Nguyen Thi Xuan said goodbye to her Japanese husband in 1954, she thought he was going off for a year or two on another long assignment. She never imagined it would be more than half a century before she'd see him again.
Like many Vietnamese women married to Japanese soldiers, Xuan's family was split up, victimized by the stormy relationship between the countries.
Today, the former foes enjoy strong bilateral ties, with Japan and Vietnam cooperating economically as well as in other areas, including defense and security.
In a sign of just how far the relationship has come, several surviving widows and families of former Japanese soldiers — including Xuan — will have an opportunity to meet with Japanese Emperor Akihito when he visits Vietnam for the first time this week.
Japanese troops invaded Vietnam in 1940 and remained there until Japan surrendered to the allies in 1945, ending World War II. Xuan's husband, however, was among some 700 Japanese soldiers who remained in Vietnam after revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh declared independence from French colonial rule in 1945.
The Japanese soldiers helped train Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh to fight the French. But after the Viet Minh defeated the colonial forces in 1954, Xuan's husband was one of 71 former Japanese soldiers who had to leave the communist North without being able to bring their families, because Japan was on the other side of the Cold War. He left behind his two children and his pregnant 29-year-old wife.
"I thought he was on an assignment for one or two years, but we then had no information about him," Xuan, 92, said recently.
She said that after not hearing from her husband for six years, she and her family thought he had died, and set up an altar to worship him.
Xuan had to raise her three children on her own by working on a rice farm in a village outside Hanoi. Villagers would call her Xuan Nhat, or Japanese Xuan, mocking her marriage to a Japanese man. Her children also were mocked.
"People called me Japanese son, son of a fascist. There used to be a lot of discrimination. But it is better now," said Nguyen Xuan Phi, Xuan's eldest son.
But anti-Japanese sentiment started to dissipate after communist Vietnam launched reforms in the mid-1980s and opened up to the outside world in the early 1990s.
In 2005, Xuan learned that her husband was alive and living in Japan through a Vietnamese woman living in the country with her Japanese husband, also a former soldier. The following year, Xuan's husband, who had married a Japanese woman, arranged to visit her.
Xuan said she was very happy to see him again after all those years.
"You look great," Xuan quoted her husband as telling her in still fluent Vietnamese when they reunited.
"Yes, I'm fine. I still have been waiting for you," she said she told her husband, who was in a wheelchair after suffering a stroke and visited Xuan with his Japanese wife. Xuan has not remarried, and her husband died several years after his 2006 visit.
While Xuan's family was unable to stay together, when the last group of Japanese soldiers was asked by communist North Vietnam to leave in 1960, they were allowed to bring their families.
But Hoang Thi Thanh Hoai's father, the son of a Japanese soldier, decided to stay behind to take care of his Vietnamese grandmother. He did not reunite with his brothers and sisters in Japan until 1995, when he and Hoai spent six weeks in Japan visiting their relatives.
Hoai, who is now 43 and works at a Japanese eye clinic in Hanoi, decided to study Japanese after seeing how her father was unable to communicate with his siblings after reuniting with them.
"Learning Japanese helps me feel like a bridge of my two families, and more broadly a bridge between Vietnam and Japan," she said.
Today, Japan is Vietnam's biggest foreign donor and one of its top investors and trading partners.
Even defense and security ties have gotten closer in recent years, with both countries facing maritime disputes with China. During a visit to Vietnam in January, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to provide Vietnam with new patrol vessels.
The upcoming visit by Emperor Akihito, whose six-day trip starts Tuesday, further underscores the strength of the bilateral relationship.
Xuan is scheduled to meet Akihito on Thursday. For her, the opportunity to meet the emperor comes late in her life, but is something she's looking forward to.
"I am too old, even my children are getting old," Xuan said in her small home, the walls decorated with photos of her husband and other family members. "I just hope the two governments could take better care of my grandchildren, who are also grandchildren of Japanese people, so that they could have an education and jobs."