Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) - full transcript

Trinh T. Minh-ha combines archival footage, text, and interviews to paint portraits of Vietnamese women past and present. She explores the fiction of documentary and the truth of subjective experience and all their inherent contradictions.

- Our two salaries are no longer enough.

I do some sewing in the evening for a couple ladies.

We receive from time to time

a package from my brother who lives abroad.

He sent us two kilos of MSGs,

trick it was all full.

We sell them back to the free market

and buy whatever we need.

It's a very satisfying exchange.

This is the same situation for almost all families.

How can we do otherwise?

My mother lives with us, my father is depart.

Six of us live in two tiny rooms.

My mother is 60 years old.

She is still strong and in good health

to take care of the housework

and to cook our meals.

This leaves me some free time to do my sewing.

They say that my job is better than the artist.

I belong to a restaurant service.

Sometimes I go to the embassies

when there is a reception or a dinner.

I feel less isolated.

I do see some forgiveness going and coming,

but we can't develop any relationship with them.

A foreigner, in principal, is already a spy.

Even a socialist or even you.

We live in constant suspicion

between husband and wife,

between children and parents.

Suspicion is everywhere.

There is no amount of trust.

When a foreigner give us something,

it may be because of pure sympathy for us,

but it is often taught that they want

too often something more from us.

You have to know how to compose yourself

to be admitted in the heart of the system.

Sometimes I revolt against the fact

that our children cannot have a bit of meat or fish,

whereas the foreigner can sneeze at them.

But Vietnam offers what it has best

to the international diplomats and government staff.

You should come and see at least once

what the meal in a Vietnamese family is composed of.

What is more beautiful

than a lotus in a pond?

Yellow stamens, white petals, green leaves.

Always near mud, yet never smells of mud.

You try to run but I won't let you.

Young woman, are you married yet?

And she replied, "Easy young man,

"you're spilling my rice.

"Yes I am with husband,

"his surname is Viet

"and he's given name is Nam."

- When I first met the woman of the south,

we looked at each other with distrust

but not with hostility.

Slowly we start talking to each other,

forming trust, we have come to Nyanok,

and this were a radical turn

that have changed my political understanding.

Before, I learn in the political caucus

that the capitalism were the exploitation

of man by man.


In our societies, society,

we just got all mixed up in suffering,

so that way we don't have to deal with them.

We prefer to cultivate fear and suspicion.

A society that impose on its people

a single way of thinking and a single way

of perceiving life cannot be a women's society.

I ignore how the capitalist society function.

I ignore its disease.

Between two ways of exploiting mens,

it is difficult for me to choose.

In spite of all the years of resistance and of revolution,

the same hierarchical principle exists.

We cannot deny what we inherit from China,

and in spite of our own divergency

with China we are full

of their customs and political conceptions.

The pains of reeducation are an example.

You cannot cure man's conviction

by reducing him to the animals.

Before, I would not dare to speak up,

to say what I thought, but today,

the citizen is different.

I am living rebirth,

and that have turn fear into fight.

I have nothing to lose other than

this poor salary and some fruit tickets.

The young people think like me,

I'm not alone.

The young people, they are tired

to hold a gun like we hold chopsticks.

And the real education is also

application to leave, to advance women condition.

Girls want to rediscover

their femininity, to please, to desire.

They come for loves and for colors.

Look at me.

I no longer have any breasts, any hip.

My skin has dry ups because of undernourishment.

I no longer look like a woman.

Our men no longer to desires.

They spend their time among themselves in cafes,

to drink and to smoke.

There is always a tendency

to identify historical breaks,

and to say this begin there,

this end here.

While the scene keeps on recurring,

as unchangeable as change itself.

Life seems suddenly fragile and vulnerable.

The passive resist,

and what is almost forgotten reappears from the winds.

Nobody knows, they say,

whether Ho Sung Hu really existed,

or whether she was a mere name.

She wrote poems in the 19th century,

but they were notorious for the scandal they caused,

and they continue today to defy

the principles of right speech

and a good manner of womanhood.

So, some men went as far as affirming

that poems signed under her name might not be hers.

They might, of course, be written by a man.

Who was then, we may ask, this feminine man,

whose womanness was violently attacked

and trashed by male poets of the time,

and who wrote feminist poetry on free love,

on single mothers,

on labia minora and labia majora desire,

who attacked polygamy and double standards of morality,

who ridiculized male authority and religiosity,

and who challenged all the norms

of Confucian Patriarchy?

when he claps his hands, she has entertained.

When she claps her hands, he has made

a significant contribution to his village,

his town, his country.

The fatherland, as they call it now.

For a life to save another life,

no more self pride.

No pride, no self.

She kneels and begs mercy for him

who is her son, her husband, her father.

- I am a doctor with almost 30 years of experience.

My husband, he also a doctor.

His was assigned to the military hospital of the city.

When Saigon fell in 1975,

we were among the most murderous.

We die being Communists,

we are no less Vietnamese,

we are nationalists.

I would never erase the memory

of that day from my mind.

It was total panic.

All our friends call us to tell us to leave.

My husband and I do not know what to do.

He told me, we have nothing to blame ourself for.

We are not criminals, we are from the south.

If the country divide into two

it was not because of us.

Of course, my husband wore the uniform,

but he wore it in spite of himself.

Each government feels it's citizens assist in best.

My day begin at 7:30 and end at 4:30.

With a break, one hour for lunch, of one hour for lunch.

Afterwards, I had to attend civil

and political education courses every other week.

I had to write a resume of my past life.

I was smarter than them.

I kept a copy of my first declaration.

I just recopied it exactly each time,

respecting the commas and the periods.

In the beginning I tried to make things work

at the hospital, but slowly we found ourselves

in as much fear of this crush than of submission.

I carry out my work in a heavy silence.

I stay in the service for two years,

and would probably stay on

if my husband had not been arrested.

To tell the truth, we never knew

the real reasons for his arrest.

Today we supposed it was a problem

of power and competence.

The passions pay for us to the oldest.

There was a kind of complicity

among the people of the south.

When the doctors of the new regime

took over the hospital,

all the services worked.

Two years later, this was a disaster.

The equipment were paralyzed.

The stock of medicines, empty.

The buildings, dilapidated.

As the understaff of the hospital, we became cumbersome.

In a way, we assisted to the failure of victory.

Forward, I didn't receive any news concerning my husband.

I came up against a mix silence around me.

My collaborators written me,

but never asked any wishes on my husbands disappearance.

Everybody stunned into silence.

It was terrible to live in the world of silence.

I was no longer used to it.

From then on I was inhabited

by the feeling of terror.

I discovered fear.

Sometimes I did not even dare breathe

for fear of myself.

I didn't want to hear my own heart beating.

Despair sitting down within me.

I had given up all form of resistance.

After three months in this, it's more fear.

I decided to quit my job.

As for my husband, I was left without news.

I had to find out by myself

the reasons for his arrest.

The question that kept on coming back

in my mind was why did they wait two years

before sending him to that camp of reeducation?

I prefer to forget that moment

when I saw my husband in his prison clothes,

looking desperate.

It is a painful memory.

Twenty five months, twenty five months in hell.

My nerves cracked, my children were neglected like orphans.

The only reasonable solution was to quit that job,

to accept to lose the rations tickets,

and to live in uncertainty.

I earn 80 dong per month.

A salary of destitution in a path of humiliation.

I am not the ideal person to be interviewed.

I have never had a passion for politics,

although this does not mean that I am not interested in it.

How tragic is women's fate?

In Vietnam, almost everybody, poor or rich,

uses verse from the Kim Van Kieu fluently

in their daily expressions.

Also known as The Tale of Kieu,

the national epic poem recounts

the misfortunes of women in the person

of a beautiful, talented woman, Kieu,

whose love life has repeatedly served

as a metaphor for Vietnam's destiny.

The heroine, a perfect model

of Confucian feminine loyalty and piety,

was forced by circumstance to sacrifice her life

to save her father and brother

from disgrace and humiliation,

and to sell herself to become a prostitute,

then a concubine, a servant, and a nun,

before she was able to come back to her first lover.

Kim Van Kieu was written in the early 19th century

in the people's language known.

Despite it's length of 3.254 lines,

it became so popular that it was

widely cherished by all social strata.

Only a few decades after it appeared,

illiterate people knew long passages of it by heart

and recited it during evening gatherings.

It has also been loved for its

unorthodox approach to sexuality.

Although Kieu's destiny is meant

to be sadly complicated, because of the woman's beauty.

She not only freely chooses her lover,

but she also eagerly loves three men.

Her life offers a revisionist interpretation

of the Confucian principle of chastity

that govern the conduct of women.

I wish to use my body as a torch,

to dissipate the darkness,

to awaken love among people

and bring peace to Vietnam.

Yet Ti My poured gasoline all over her body

and lit the match.

- Socialist Vietnam venerates

the mothers and the wives.

The women do not exist, she's only a labor force.

The liberation of the women

is understood here as a double exploitation.

The men want to keep the better share of the cake.

They hold the key positions of power,

the women only get the leftovers.

They not a single woman at the Political Bureau.

The men are the only ones

to discuss problems that concern us.

As for the Women's Union,

the Mother-in-Law's Union,

they have make of us heroic workers,

virtual women, and we are good mothers,

good wives, heroic fighters.

Ghost women with no humanity.

They exploit us in the shop windows

for foreign visitors who come

to look at our lives, as if we were polite animals.

The image of the woman is magnified

like a saint and we are only human beings.

Why don't we want to admit that these women

are tired of seeing, to see their children exposed to war,

deprivations, epidemics and disease?

The very idea of heroism is horrible.

The woman is alone.

She live alone, she raise her children alone,

she give birth alone.

It is a sea of solitude.

The revolution is allowed to the women

to have access to the working world.

She work to deprive herself better,

to eat less, and she has to get used to the poverty.

Love, when I was young I want to become a writer.

My parents told me you have to write with your heart,

but don't forget your heart belongs to the body.

So how to write, then?

I therefore quit the writing

for a more scientific profession.

Love, personally I had to purge this word

from my vocabulary.

I no longer want to remember.

I live in total emptiness around me,

perhaps inside me.

Yes, we had to live for love.

Any emotion that escapes man's control,

that happens inside the body,

a very personal intimacy.

I now to love my bicycle,

my own bicycle with its own tires.

I have a sincere affection for it

because it help me when I'm tired.

It is a loyal companion.

It keep me company in my morning solitude.

It take me home in my distress in the evening.

It is the only witness of my movements.

- I am willing to talk but you should not

have doubts about my words.

There is the image of the woman

and there is her reality.

Sometime the two do not go well together.

I am 35 years old.

The age of the resistance movement and the revolution.

I do not know what a society of peace look like.

My childhood was not of struggle.

I am a child of the Party, my parents are hierarchy.

They had to fit me with the regularity of school,

since my childhood.

My childhood was secure,

I were proper, cherished,

and there was always educated answer to my questions.

I went to school with the red scarf

around my neck, and at 16 years old

I was trust an important role.

I was a leader in my University.

I was taught discipline and rigor.

Life would go on smoothly

if there had not been a liberation of the south.

The reunification and my being

shrank from the cycle.

A painful confrontation and deaths.

Even you who live in the west,

if you are admired and liked,

it's because we women of Vietnam.

We work so that your image may be beautiful.

We contribute to the respect

the world has for Vietnamese women.

I turn from Vietnam.

The two sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi,

are Vietnam's earliest history of resistance,

are proudly remembered for the uprising

they led in fighting against Chinese domination.

Every year in spring time,

on the 60th day of the second moon,

young Hanoi children are seen

parading on their elephants

in the community in Hanoi.

It is fantasized that to conquer the female armies,

the only successful strategy the Chinese soldiers

finally came up with was to

strip themselves to the skin,

and expose their skin shamelessly

to the sight of the female opponents.

The women fighters retreated in disgust,

and the two sisters committed suicide.

The stories that grew around

the beloved heroines of Vietnam history

tell about both the dreams of women

and the fears of the men who fought

or heard of such accounts.

Popular descriptions of the physical appearance

of the sisters are often confusingly similar

to those of Trieu Thi Trinh,

another cherished figure

in the memory of the Vietnamese,

and a young peasant woman

who led 30 battles against the Chinese.

She was said to be nine feet tall,

with frightful breasts three meters long,

flying over her shoulders as she rode on an elephant.

She too committed suicide rather than

return to serfdom when her army was defeated.

We call her Trieu Thi Trinh,

but also Trieu Trinh Vuong,

Trieu Trinh, Trieu Au, Ba Trieu.

The market remains women's city.

It is the heart of daily life,

where information is exchanged,

and where rumors are spread.

It is also at the market that one taste

the real popular cooking of the country.

My worthless husband gambles all day.

If I told the world we would both be shamed.

Don't laugh, it's true.

I'm the daughter of a Confucian house,

a work of art sold to a stupid bumkin.

That's what I am.

A golden dragon bathing in a dirty pond.

They spread on the pavements,

their baskets full of merchandise,

and wait patiently.

- I will tell you the lives of women

who are the misfits of history.

They are, by the thousands,

those who live in economic distress.

They sell everything that is marketable,

including their bodies to support their family.

They deny their dignity to survive

and become prostitutes in Socialist society.

Are you askin' me if there

are social services to help them?

You must be dreaming.

You underestimate the trauma

of the women of the south.

We suffered the war,

like on our women combat the years.

This war went on without our consent.

We were swept along like in a tornado,

crushed in the machine and nobody could stop it.

Today many women must demean themselves

because they have no choice at all.

Some accepted to living with a cadre,

simply because of economic necessity.

They often dare buy tickets and protection.

Sometimes they do it with the best intention

in the hope that their husband may be liberated.

Time goes by and they see nothing happening.

Sometimes a woman find herself pregnant,

but goes to the camp to visit her husband.

She stand there in front of him

with this belly of humiliation.

He looks down and remains silent.

I will spare you of the most sordid traumas

that many women live through.

When the smoke clears,

the inevitable roundup of prisoners,

many of them seriously wounded.

Among the captured, a large group of women,

traditionally used by the enemy

as ammunition bearers,

village infiltrators, and informers.

Always recurring

in the prisoner's mind is the fear

of the time when the witnesses

themselves die without witnesses.

When history consists of tiny explosions of life

and of death without release.

The witnesses go on living

to bear witness to the unbearable.

Selling one's body remains an active trade.

A Vietnamese woman journalist said,

"Nothing runs in our blood

"except venereal disease."

Women do not become prostitutes for pleasure,

they suffer the counter shocks of our country's history.

French colonization, American presence,

long war years that have dismantled our society.

Today, all we have left

is the promise for a better society,

but a sun rises every morning

on anguish and uncertainty.

It goes down every evening with the fear

of not being able to nourish one's family.

My mother married me off to a child.

God knows there was no lack of young men,

and now his mauling is all the love I get.

He falls asleep and snores till morning.

I ask you, what kind of spring is this?

Sisters, how many times is a flower to bloom?

- My sister lives in the south.

I went to see her after the reunification.

More than 20 years of absence and of separation.

But my sister did not choose exile.

We are too attached to our family.

It was like a miracle to find ourselves there

facing each other again.

My sister sat still.

She was staring at me as if I came from another planet.

I could see a glimmer of revolt in her eyes.

Suddenly her cold grave voice told me,

you, my little sister, the socialist doctor.

She stood up from her chair,

took my hands and led me to the mirror.

Look at yourself at least once.

I had not, indeed, looked at myself

in the mirror in for years.

And I saw an old worn out woman.

I gazed at my own image with rapt attention

and realized I wore the same clothes,

the same wooden shoes since the night of time.

I did not think another word as sisters.

I would stare into the depth of my soul by mass anguish,

and my mind became confused.

I became aware of my own existence.

Peace restored, our problems have increased,

professional relations have deteriorated.

Equality between men and women

still figures on the program,

but the relation between

the women themselves are most uncomfortable.

The officer in charge is a woman,

but she is not a doctor.

Her function is above all political.

She is there to control

the ideological aspect of the profession.

A conflict has arisen between her

and the health technicians.

It is a problem of power,

political power versus professional competence.

We have been trained to think

that women have to please men

to the detriment of another woman.

If woman could trust woman

then we could talk about liberation.

Dear sister,

what we loved most at the time,

my girlfriends and I,

was to be able to buy little snacks

to pass them on secretly

to each other during class.

how would you translate these into English?

I am thrilled just at naming them.

It was a real treat to savor them

at one of these street vendor's carts

in front of school,

or , not far from our house,

where was his specialty.

I gave some private lessons then,

and had some pocket money I could spend,

since Mother had always forbade us

to eat on the street I felt

particularly excited to do so

and to taste anything that appeared novel to me.

When I think about them now,

they're really nothing special,

but the fact that they were forbidden

made all the difference.

My friend who was from central region

said in Hue girls coming back from school

in hats and white ao dai crowded

the Truong Tien bridge every afternoon,

their tunic flapping softly

in the wind like butterflies.

Every young man had gone through

a period when he would regularly

find himself standing there

just to look and contemplate.

If he followed her on the left,

she would pull her hat down

on the left side of her face.

If he stepped to the right,

she would pull it down

to the right side to prevent him

from looking while she kept

glancing at him at leisure.

The majority of the people there

wrote and appreciated poetry,

perhaps because of its unforgettable landscapes,

just like those in the north

about which Mother and Father so often told us.

- Everything is public.

We receive our patient in a cold large hall,

in the presence of the officer in charge.

It is very difficult to establish trust.

How do you want a woman disclose

her intimate sufferings when there is no intimacy

to preserve professional confidences?

It is impossible to feel for someone's

pains and sufferings when there

is no complicity between a doctor and her patient.

When a woman understood nothing to her body,

to hygiene or to contraception,

she came to see me and shyly whispered these to me.

Vietnamese woman does not

unburden herself easily to someone,

she is caught in prejudice, inhibitions and taboos.

In the old society,

the body was an unnamed place,

non-existent, not talked about.

If a woman's body got sick,

it was immediately thought that she

had had sexual relations outside the norms.

Even today this mentality

continues to bloom in our society.

Ignorance drives women to a world of silence.

To marry and have a child, how banal,

but to be pregnant without the help

of a husband, what merit.

Up there, a hanging panel, the governor's shrine.

Oh well, if I were turned into a man

I'd do better things than that.

Doctors, women who relieve other women.

As in the fairy tale,

the flowers falling from my lips

are changed into toads.

She helps, he directs.

She directs, he rings.

- It is a contempt for human effort

to believe that we adapt ourselves,

even to poverty.

Our fellow people who live abroad do sometime

have the same reasoning.

They come back to their native land

to visit their relatives,

they temporarily share their promiscuity,

then they go away.

They can afford a small effort

of heroism and adapt themselves

to the unusual surroundings.

But for those of us who remain

in the country,

we have to go on living this life

without joys or pride.

To say that we are courageous

or heroic beings is to pay

a tribute to our revolution.

But to glorify us is, in a way,

to deny our human force.

The notorious double day

flashes back in my memory.

Women work as a full unit of economy production,

and do all the unpaid housework and childcare.

Popular sayings qualify the three steps

of her life and her victimization

as that of a lady before marriage,

that of a maid during marriage,

and that of a monkey long after marriage.

- It is only to hide her exploitation

that they flatter her conceits.

Let us take the example of the street sweepers.

These women are doing a very repellent work.

They select a few of them and they

put them on the platform

during a congress or a meeting.

They make them read political discourses

quickly put together by men,

and the trick meets with success.

These women forget for a while

that they are sweepers and have the illusion

of being full citizens.

I am caught between two worlds,

this socialism which I reject

and the capitalism which I do not know.

- Our bosses are often men, women assist them.

This is what equality amounts to.

We fight very tiredly for our rights,

but the men always succeed to win over.

Sometimes they may make a few compromises

because we are with them in number.

In meetings, women never take the floor

to claim or demand.

They speak, but only in a feminine spirit,

a spirit too eager to please, to please their boss.

They can't simply say we think or we want,

they only submit such and such opinion.

They listen and they raise their little fingers.

It's very difficult to speak freely when one

does not have the power.

The guards of Women's Union are our mothers-in-law.

They recite this is written by men

and put women in the work market.

- Women fight for a more equitable society,

and when we will have won

the fight against bureaucracy,

strip away the incompetent,

then we will make a first step

toward revolution.

And this task also belongs to the women.

- Women have been always educated

to sacrifice themselves.

Women do not dare say they are being

mistreated by their husbands.

They are ashamed.

Meetings are the places where

different ideas are minimized.

You have to be careful when you look at our society.

There is the form and there is the content.

Truth is not always found in what is visible.

Our reality is inhabited by silent tears and sobs.

Women's liberations, you are still joking, aren't you?

Interview, an antiquated device of documentary.

Truth is selected, renewed, displaced,

and speech is always tactical.

So how many interviews in the overall?

Whom do you choose?

In one case, 150 interviews

were made for the film.

Five were retained in the final version.

What criteria?

Age, profession,

economical situation, cultural regions,

north, south, and center.

Critical ability, personal affinity.

Spoken, transcribed, and translated.

From listening to recording, speech to writing.

You can talk? We can cut, trim, tidy up.

The game often demands a response to the content,

rarely to the way that content

is framed, spoken, and read.

Between the language of inwardness

and that of pure surface.

Dear Sister,

there was something particularly pleasurable

in going to an ice cream place

to enjoy a drink in Vietnam.

I feel no such excitement here,

where ice cream shops have no ambience.

To find such pleasure again,

one has to go all the way to Houston, Texas

or Santa Ana, California where Vietnamese communities

form their own towns and villages.

It sounds like getting old and outdated.

The pose is always present,

and accidents on film are known as controlled accidents.

The more intimate the tone,

the more successful the interview.

Every question she and I come up with

is more or less a copy

of a question we have heard before.

Even if the statement is original

it sounds familiar, worn, threadbare.

By choosing the most direct

and spontaneous form of voicing and documenting,

I find myself closer to fiction.

- Morning teachers, morning boys and girls.

I'm Linh Tran, Vincent's mom.

Today I have a chance to talk to you

about Vietnamese women's dress. Ao dai, we call it ao dai.

Vietnam has over 4.000 years of history.

In the beginning the Vietnamese woman dress

has composed of three pieces,

one in the back and two in front,

and two pieces that tied together.

In 1744, Vietnamese King Vo, V-O,

he asked all Vietnamese women had to dress

with a pen, a pen like this.

- Hi, good morning teacher and everybody.

I would like to show you that the Ao Dai

was designed by Madame Vo

like Mrs. Tran just told you.

- Oh, I tell you, first time in my life,

I never know how to carry the water in to shoulder,

it just like they banging me,

but I had to do it.

I got real good, after three months,

I become, I couldn't be a country girl.

Not Saigon people, no more.

So because they always watching us,

day by day, time by time, even at lunch,

they open the door, go right away in my kitchen,

that they want to watch what I eat.

But you know what, we only eat little bit egg,

and little bit vegetable right in the ground, you know?

I pick it and we eat.

Do you translate by eye or by ear?

Translation seeks faithfulness and accuracy,

and ends up always betraying

either the letter of the text,

its spirit, or its aesthetics.

The original text is always already

an impossible translation

that renders translation impossible.

- I can speak English little bit, also my husband.

- And I say no, please sir,

no I don't wanna escape,

because if I want to escape,

I escape about eight years ago,

when first Saigon fell.

I can go in the harbor, a lot of ship over there.

I can jump over there and I escape,

but no, I love our country.

After my husband was reeducation from the government,

yeah, so I love our country,

so please don't shoot me, no.

He said, you tell me the truth?

I said I swear.

Because I read the book my husband read in labor camp.

They caution him about the political.

I read it and I know how to talk.

I said well, I believe in the government,

I believe in the Chairman,

so we have liberation, why I have to escape?

I am Vietnamese, I don't know how to speak English.

Why I have to escape?

I convinced him and he said he called me Chi Tieu,

because I cherish my name I don't want to tell him,

my name Chi Tieu.

Then he say Chi Tieu, where you get

your education, what level?

I said well, I only talk a lot,

I don't have any, no education.

Only 15 minutes, it take me 15 days to see him.

Only 15 minutes, then I have to come back to Saigon.

After I listen to my husband,

when I came home, you know,

I saw all the things of mine.

The furniture, radio, TV, good clothes,

everything go to the flea market,

and from then I become a sale lady in the street,

on the street, in the street.

I buy thing and resell it,

get the profit to take care of my children.

- The anxiety, but if I don't have roots,

why have my roots made me suffer so?

Running mute among other survivors,

your heart beats, echoing with each footstep.

You are led by an American officer

to a large, deadly silent auditorium,

when suddenly upon opening the door,

you found yourself in the company

of thousands of voiceless peasants,

a soundless, densely packed mass

of people awaiting their turn

to be lifted off the ground.

- No, no, it was 1976. 10 years later,

I work with coal commonly,

they told me to be quiet, quiet,

they said talk less, no one gonna get hurt.

And I look at the fire and I said no,

I talked with my supervisor,

I said no, please.

Said why, what's the matter?

I said well, every time I look at the fire,

my nightmare comes back

and I'm thinking of the time

of war in Vietnam, the bombing.

And he said be calm.

He is my supervisor and also my neighbor.

He said kid, according to your story,

you have been through a lot.

What's the matter with the fire?

I know you do it. Do it, kid, don't give up.

He gave me some energy,

and I was like oh yeah why not?

You know what, and I do it.

I was too small and the fire goes high like this,

you know, every time when I rake the pole to open,

you know what I have to jump over the opening,

and even sometimes my hair would burn

and my eyelashes were burned too.

I just tried to do the work,

get the money to raise the children.

Then my worker, she said kid, you burned your hair.

I said well, is it all right?

I touch my hair, it just looked like

And I smelled it and yuck,

and I touch my eyelash and they all so curly.

He couldn't give the work to someone else?

- No, they said that they hired me,

then they told me they loved

that I'm very, very, I'm small,

but I'm very, very strong in here,

so they said all right I'll make it.

You asked me to write about

what I remember most from my stay

at the refugee camp in Guam.

I shall never forget the day when we left.

I was suffering from excruciating stomach pains

and was getting ready to go and see the doctor

when an American officer showed up

to tell us we had to leave in five minutes.

As you knew, since father chose not to leave at the time,

we were four women then, mother and daughters.

Upon our arrival at the airport

with our meager bundles of clothes,

we were struck by the sight of people

carrying suitcases of all sizes.

Mother, who have had experience

in fleeing war on foot,

was convinced not only that we had to

reduce our belongings to the minimum,

but also that the clothes we wore

and carried should be dark colored

so not as to draw any attention to ourselves as women.

The Americans were brash and coarse,

they were yelling at us as if we were

a bunch of cattle or pigs.

At Guam, a limited number of tents

and folding beds were thrown at the flock.

People panicked, and everybody

was shouting and crying.

As the law of the jungle dictated,

only the most physically brutal

and aggressive succeeded

to lay hand on these things.

We cannot compete with the men.

We waited till night time

before additional beds and tents were brought in.

None of us could really sleep for weeks,

especially Mother, whose anguish

in sharing a tent with others came,

not from the fear of theft,

but from that of rape.

Most unbearable was the public

washing and toilet facilities,

enclosed in some crudely assembled wooden structures.

The latter were mere holes dug in the ground,

in which overspilling excrements

could never be evacuated fast enough,

and could be smelled at miles and miles away.

I was so obsessed by this that even today,

when I go to national parks,

it is a real ordeal for me

to be forced to use these restroom facilities.

However distant the memory, I can hardly bear

the sight and smell of these wooden cabins.

- Sorry, I just got a cold call

from my mom saying I can't believe

how much change you went through

since we came here.

My mom and dad, no not since, from Vietnam to America.

And she went through so much transition

from one culture to another, you know.

Remember those spandex pants you bought me?

Like snake skin kind of, tight.

Like New Year's Eve and I brought it home,

you know, and I put 'em on

and I didn't have matching sweater,

so I asked her if she had a black and gray sweater,

she goes oh, well here, and she gave me this sweater.

And I was gonna sneak out, like you won't see me,

but no, she kept asking let me see those pants,

see what you're wearing.

- I can't believe it.

- I thought she was gonna be scandalized,

like oh my god, it's too tight.

She took one look, she's like oh I can't believe

how much that matches.

I was just thinking no, she took a look at me

and she's like you know,

if you wore that a couple months ago

you would have been overweight

but I think you've lost enough weight

so you look good, looks really good,

I like that design.

When I was looking for a sweater

in her closet she had these leopard skin patterns,

these silky shirts, something that I would wear,

I couldn't believe Mom's going wild on me.

But that's just one of the things,

I mean I see so much gradual change from her.

- Well you helped her a lot.

- Even the whole values,

well it's not so much help,

it's like I put her through a lot. It's like sneaking out...

- But you guys smoothed it out after high school

and you moved out of the house,

that was a big dramatic reveal.

- Ah dramatic.

Climb trees.

Hangin' around.

I am like a jackfruit on a tree.

To taste me you must pluck me quick,

while fresh, the skin rough, the pulp thick.

Yes, but oh I warn you against touching.

The rich juice will gush and sting your hands.

Dear Ming Ha,

since the publication of the book

I felt like having lost a part of myself.

It is very difficult for Vietnamese woman

to write about Vietnamese women,

at least in France, where in spite of the

Mouvement de Liberation de la France,

maternalism remains the cornerstone

of the dominant ideology.

To have everything as it should be,

I should have accepted the preface

from Simone Dubois as my publisher had wished.

A million Vietnamese disperse around the globe.

It will take more than one generation

for the women to hear it.

Of course, the image can neither prove

what it says nor why it is saying it.

The importance of proof,

the impossibility of a single truth,

in witnessing, remembering, recording the women.

As I was about to leave her,

she reached for a magazine

and asked if I had heard or read about the refugees,

especially the mountain peoples,

who had passed away in their sleep,

without any evidence of heart attack

or any of the other recognizable disease.

The reporters describe this

as one of those mysterious,

inscrutable Oriental phenomenon,

but I think they died of acute sadness.

Sad to the extent that ones bough

is rot as we come and be safe.

- I need you to help me with something.

- Sure Kim, whatcha need?

- Okay, I want to measure around

the table I put in here, there are three or four.

One thing the man said he learned

to let go of while in prison is identity.

The singular naming of a person,

a race, a culture, a nation.

That's why they use three times,

but the meaning is different.

So how do you translate that?

Before you're married you're a lady.

After you're married you'll be a maid.

Then after the marriage you'll be a monkey.

And all that's bad.

But I don't think

I will be.

Vietnamese are adjusting to their new lives,

mastering elevators and escalators,

learning wristwatch type punctuality,

taming vending machines,

distinguishing dog's canned foods

from human canned foods,

and understanding that it was not permissible

to wander the streets, the hotels

or anywhere outside in pajamas.

- War is a succession of special effects.

The war became film before it was shot.

Cinema has remained a vast machine of special effects.

If the war is the continuation

of politics by other means,

then media images are the continuation

of war by other means.

Immersed in the machinery,

part of the special effect,

no critical distance.

Nothing separates the Vietnam war

and the the film that were made

and continues to be made about it.

It is sad that if the Americans

lost the other, they have certainly won this one.

There is no winner in a war.

- Here in Berkeley it's not so bad you know,

because you have so many orientals

that people recognize the difference

between the oriental cultures,

like Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese,

they're not like oh, they're all the same.

I don't know how many times I ran into problems

where people are like, first of all,

they pretend like they're interested enough to ask you,

are you Chinese or Japanese?

No, Vietnamese.

And then they have the nerve

to say oh, same difference.

I find that really insulting.

- I would too, that's ridiculous.

- I'm not so much aware of it till recently,

till you told me that story,

what was it about, it works both ways.

- Oh yeah, that scenario.

- What happened again?

- Oh it was really funny,

'cause what happened was I was living in Taiwan,

and I got on the bus and I'm the only

white American there, and this guy spots me

from across the bus and of course

it's jam packed, you know,

everybody's in each others' armpits,

and they're holding on for dear life

because they're maniac drivers.

And he starts making his way back,

he wanted to get a little English lesson,

which is fine, I mean I like speaking English

to people when they wanna learn.

But it happens like 24 hours a day,

so you're constantly speaking English

and I don't want it to get on my nerves,

exactly, by that time I felt

pretty comfortable with Chinese,

so he comes up and starts asking me questions

and I told him in Chinese

that I wasn't American, I was French,

and he's like well, so what?

I mean if you're European

you gotta speak everything, right?

And I said no, I just speak French,

I don't speak English.

He's like that's impossible,

you're all from the same heritage,

you're all European, you know,

so finally just said okay

and he just started speaking French.

- Oh, busted, big time. Oh, well actually I'm German.

- Oh god, that was embarrassing, I couldn't believe it.

I just kind of pretended to be snobbish.

- So that's why I like this place so much.

It's so funny, when I first came here to visit you,

I'm walking between you and Julie

and you guys both have blond hair, blue eyes,

and here's Julie speaking Japanese

and you're on my other side speaking Chinese,

and here I am, hi I'm from Pennsylvania, speaking English.

It was a nice change of role.

For years we learned

about our ancestors, the Gaulles.

We learned that French Indochina

was situated in Asia under a hot and humid climate,

grafting several languages,

culture and realities onto a single body.

The problem of translation after all,

is of reading and of identity.

French Indochina.

Vietnam, we also call it Nam.

Reeducation camps, rehabilitation camps,

concentration camps, annihilation camps,

all the distinctive features

of a civilization are laid bare.

The slogans continue to read work liberates,

rehabilitation through work.

Here, work is a process whereby

the worker no longer takes power,

for work has ceased to be his way of living

and has become his way of dying.

Work and death are equivalent.

"In Guam I recognized a general," she said.

"He had been one of the richest men in Vietnam.

"One morning in the camp,

"a mob of women came up to him.

"They took off their wooden shoes

"and began beating him about the head screaming

"because of you my son, my brother,

"my husband were left behind."

"The woman is like a butterfly,"

wrote a Japanese poet of the 17th century.

A woman discloses the content of the letter

her father recently wrote in prison in Vietnam.

A poet looking desperately fragile

in photo in his long silver hair.

He did not write to complain

about his politically condemned status,

but only to weep over his eldest daughter's death

on the very birth date of Buddha.

40 days after she died he wrote,

she came back in the form of a golden butterfly

and circled him insistently for an entire day.

What are these four virtues

persistently required of women?

First come you'll have to be able,

competent and skillful in cooking,

sewing, managing the household budget,

caring for the husband,

educating the children.

All this to save the husband's face.

Second, you'll have to maintain a gracious,

compliant and cheerful appearance,

first of all for the husband.

Third, you'll have to speak properly

and softly and never raise your voice,

particularly in front of the husband or his relatives.

Then fourth, you'll have to know where your place is,

respect those older than you,

and yield to those weaker than you.

Moreover, be faithful and sacrifice

for the husband.

The boat is either a dream or a nightmare,

or rather both, a no place, a place without a place

that exists by itself,

is closed on itself and at the same time

is given over to the infinity of the sea.

For western civilization,

the boat has not only been

the great instrument of economic development,

going from port to port as far as the colonies,

in search of treasures and slaves,

but it has also been a reserve of the imagination.

It is sad that in civilization without boats,

dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure,

and the police take the place of pirates.

Hope is alive when there is a boat, even a small boat.

From shore to shore, small crafts are rejected

and sent back to the sea.

The policy of castaways has created

a special class of refugees, the beach people.

Each government has its own interpretation of Kieu.

Each has its peculiar way of using

and appropriating women's images.

First appreciated for its denunciation

of oppressive and corruption,

it was later read as an allegory

of the tragic fate of Vietnam under colonial rule.

More recently in a celebration

of its 200th anniversary it was highly praised

by the government's official writers

for its revolutionary yearning

for freedom and justice in the context

of the war against American imperialism.

For the Vietnamese in the south,

it speaks for the exodus,

or silent popular movement of resistance,

that continues to raise problems

of conscience for the international community.