Dung recalls her wartime experiences through her unique positionality of having been a very young child during the war years.
Transcript 10: Dung
The interview took place in a café in Cau Giay district on the 29th of November, 2020. After all the introduction of the purpose of the interview, her rights to pass any questions she does not feel comfortable to answer and to not reveal her identity, and other small chats. The interview begins as follows. The following conversation is, however, only the English version one, meaning it is the info the translator interpreted and/or translated based on the questions I ask the question and the answer the interview gives. In this transcript I refer to the translator (her daughter) as “TSL” and myself as “TN”.
TN: Okay, what time is it now?
TN: Okay. Are you originally from Ha Noi?
TSL: So, my mum was born in Ha Noi. But, her parents are from Central Viet Nam. Thanh Hóa province. But she spent her childhood in Ha Noi.
TN: okay. Then we skip question No. 2. By the time the war happened, how old were you?
TSL: Can you repeat the question?
TN: your mum was born in the year 1963. So, at that time the US—Viet Nam war already started. So, your mum lived through the VN—US war?
TSL: Yes. 3 years old
TN: Okay. so, you were still so young.
TSL: yes. When the war happened she was still young. But she remember. When she was 5 years old. 1966 she and her brother has to evacuate in another province. Not in Ha Noi. To Hà Bắc.
TN: is it countryside?
TSL: Countryside. She did not leave with her parents. Just she and her brother evacuate. It belongs to Bắc Ninh.
TN: Younger brother or older brother?
TSL: she has older brother who was 5 years old. So, there is like a camp for the children of those who work for the government. So, they just evacuated to the camp and they stay in Ha Noi to work.
TN: A..so your mother’s parent was ...like official, state officials?
TSL: Both my grandparents worked for …like a government company, state-owned company related to clothing. Do you need to know the name of the company? I will try to translate it.
TSL: Công Ty Bông Vải Sợi Hà Nội. The company now closed down. So, It’s called Công Ty Bông Vải Sợi Hà Nội
TN: Okay. …. maybe it’s easier if you write it down somewhere here. Alright, I will copy it later., so was there any bombing? because you were being sent to evacuate
TSL: So, she said that she will go under .like tunnel on the street.
TN: Oh. Wow. So, it’s on the street?
TN: So, down there, there is like bunker yea?
TSL: yea Okay
TN: Oh. Wow and this is in the city, not in Hà Bắc?
TSL: In Ha Noi
TN: Okay, and this is only for children or for all ages?
TSL: Everyone. Whenever they see plane, they just find nearest tunnel, the hole. So, in other state,
TN: So, do you still have it?
TSL: Not anymore
TN: So, they built it for the purpose of hiding?
TSL: The government built it.
TN: Oh. Wow. what’s the name of it in Vietnamese? At that time...
TSL: hầm tăng xê
TSL: There is another one. Hầm trú ẩn. only in Ha Noi. It’s bigger. She described as longer underground. So, it can have held more people.
TN: Okay. this one in the city center usually whenever you see plane, the instruction is you jump into the hole? But then why they sent the children to Hà Bắc? was it really bad?
TSL: because parents still have to stay in Ha Noi and work
TN: oh. I see. And this is only for parents who worked for the government?
TSL: She was saying that this was organized by every company. Not by the state.
TN: Okay. So, it was sort of the initiative from the company, yea?
TSL: yes. Collective
TN: Okay. What did you feel at that time as a child being sent away?
TSL: So, she said she miss her parents very much ad still have that feeling right now. she really miss my grandparents because they only visit kids every two weeks.
TN: Yea..how long were you in Hà Bắc?
TSL: About a couple months because …for a couple of month but she can’t remember now how long. Then she came back to Ha Noi because they can’t arrange that camp for so long. It costs a lot. That is why.
TN: ahh...it costs a lot.
TSL: The hometown is really small. So, they can’t go there in big group. So, whenever she hear the alarm saying the airplane is about how many kilometers. So, everyone is coming to move to the next street to….so to the tunnel. The big one.
TN: What about what she said that they can’t afford it. That it costs a lot to send children to Hà Bắc.
TSL: It’s for the company. They can’t maintain it for so long. They have to pay money. But they have to pay by rice. They have to. So, she is saying that in the war time we have food stamp policy because they stay in Ha Noi. So, the parents will use that amount of rice and other food and send it to the camp. but, they don’t take any money or anything for catering to children. Just the food.
TN: Right. The food. And they had somebody there to stay with the children?
TSL: Yea. There was nanny and her name was Ha.
TN: only one?
TSL: She just remember this woman because she really scare her because when she stare her. Everyone is very afraid of her and this woman also have a son who bullies the others. That is why when the grandparents came to the camp, she will rejoice ad she can sleep every time she see the grandparents.
TN: yea. But did he ever bully you? The son
TSL: He always bully her. She said that he was afraid of her not because of her, but her son.
TN: Oh...I see. Do you still talk to him now?
TN: Okay. So, in that camp, do they have some kind of activity? Reading, writing?
TSL: No. There is no activity because at that time she is only 3, her brother 5. She can’t remember well. But, she said that for the older children, there was no activity like teaching, writing.
TSL: Okay. She was saying that my grandpa was an officer in a big company. So, only superior officer can send the kids to the camp. there were not a lot of children. It is state company because at that time every company in Viet Nam is state company.
TN: Right. Do you know if this kind of children camp was normal for every company to organize?
TSL: Just some. So, there are company and school.
TN: Okay. So, you went back to Ha Noi after a couple of months and the war was still going on?
TSL: So, in 1966, it’s time when American came to the North and bombing. So, yes still going on.
TN: did you witness that event? The bombing
TSL: So, she said in 1966, she is, first still young and second because the view of the city, the sky was clouded wit houses, so she can’t witness the bomb really well. And also mainly. The Americans bombed the area around Ha Noi, not in the center. Because of the protection of the army in the center was really strong. So, that’s why they did not came. Because of the protection.
TN: right. So, until the war ended. Did you experience certain event that scarred you?
TSL: So, there is another event happened in 1972 like the Americans came to the North again and at that time you know there is occasion in Ha Noi. They use another…. how to say…another radar. That is why we can’t detect their coming in the radar. Radar jamming because at that time they started to use radar jamming system. so, we can’t detect their airplane. So, they just came to Ha Noi and at that time she remembers...she just go back from school. No... no. not from school. But she just walking on the street and there is no alarm. That is the first time airplane came to Ha Noi not detected.
TSL: Okay. So when that event happened school announced that they go shutdown. That they will shut down.
TN: So, okay because she was living in Hang Bac Street which is 1 km away from the bombing area. So, she can’t see. But just hear and then the school was shut down and they have to prepare to evacuate again.
TN: again. for the second time, to where this time?
TSL: Hà Tây
TN: Is it province?
TSL: So, couple years ago it belongs to Ha Noi. But now it expands. This time she came to Hà Tây with family and the department of my grandmother just moved to Hà Tây.
TN: what department?
TSL: tailoring. She was a tailor.
TN: Okay. for how long this time?
TSL: she can’t remember exactly. But it’s from April to December.
TN: Was here anything special during this second time evacuating?
TSL: yes. Its 12 days continuously shooting and bombing. Ha Noi devastated.
TN: and when you finally go back to Ha Noi, was the situation better from that day onward?
TSL: It was on Tet. because it was on the 28, Tet holiday in Viet Nam. So, she just remember everyone was preparing for Tet and they don’t have to come back to evacuation.
TN: During Tet, what did you do with family? like normal things
TSL: That happened after Paris agreement. They don’t bomb Ha Noi anymore and she was happy.
TN: Okay. and the Tet was normal? Like people cooking...
TSL: Okay. this is funny. She was talking a bit back. She said that it is a time backed. She said that Pháo cao xạ 100 mm/65. It’s a gun in evacuation. She said she that she can see this Pháo cao xạ 100 mm/65 at night.
TSL: In evacuation place. She look toward Ha Noi at night because …she said that from far away. That is when she looks at the sky in Ha Noi, she saw the American, she did not remember how far from her place, her evacuation place. But, she look to the sky and she saw the fire explodes in the sky ad she felt very happy because she thought it was very nice. She looks at it and she thought “oo...it’s beautiful. It’s like firework”. The first time she saw something so beautiful.
TN: Oh. My god..haha..haha. it didn’t scare her, but it was fun
TSL: It was the first time and the last time she saw it. So tired, you know to run away from the airplane. She still has that kind of feeling. So whenever she heard about war in Iraq, she feel very scared and all the feeling just come back. The feeling of running away and saw the bomb.
TN: yea. Does it affect you in your daily life?
TSL: Sometimes. It is deeply ingrained in her mind because back in the childhood she spent sometimes alone. She did not have friends around her. She has to spent time away from her parents a couple times and she read news, number of deaths during war. It’s so horrible. She still have that kind of feelings.
TSL: So, sometimes I think this is like conditional reflect whenever she hear noise with my grandparents at home, she will hide under the bed.
TN: This is after the war is over?
TSL: during the war
TN: Okay. What about after the war?
TSL: sometimes she dream about it. but have the kind of image when she read the new about war.
TN: hhmm..yea. when you have this kind of dream at night, this is in your after war life, yea?
TSL: Yea...including in Germany. Now she doesn’t have that dream frequently. She still, but not frequently. So, after the war immediately after the war she still have the dream of running away.
TN: does it affect your work?
TSL: So, she …it makes you feel very ner…vous. That sometimes she just wake up in the middle of the night. It after her psyche.
TN: Does it affect your relationship with your daughter and husband and friends?
TN: Did you ever go to see psychologist to tell them this story? To resolve it.
TSL: No, it is not disorder
TN: Okay. Let’s go back to the Tet. I want to know how Tet looks like at that time?
TSL: After the war, everyone come back and they are very happy.
TN: Yea. Correct me if I am wrong, so 3 days before Tet, do you go to grandparent’s tomb to clean the tomb.
TSL: At that time..you see that those days a lot of people just came back to hometown to clean tomb and pay respect to the ancestor. Back in the day, they don’t have that luxury because it’s a lot of time, effort. It is really hard.
TN: So, Tet at that time was so minimalist. Just cooking?
TSL: Yea. They still celebrate it. but not very much because of the transportation. It is not like now. it takes a long time to go back to your hometown.
TN: Okay. When did you get married?
TSL: When she was about …. when she came to Germany.
TN: Okay. Tell me how, ...what is the process of you going from Viet Nam to Germany.
TSL: Okay. So, it is really long story but so after she graduate from university at that time the economy was really really bad. The Russian collapsed. Communism in the Russia collapsed. At that time, she graduate from university. It is really hard to find a job and the economy was really poor. So, she decided to go to Russia like by scholarship. However, she was tricked. When she came there, there was no school and then she went to Germany. That’s all. From Russia to Germany straight. So, she came to Russia in 1992 and she came to Germany in 1993.
TN: Okay. anyway, the war ended in 1975 and at that time you were 12 years old and you went to school normal?
TN: Okay and then at home, what kind of, let’s say cultural education about how to be woman for example, how to cook?
TSL: All Vietnamese has to do that in very young age
TN: Yea...yea ad your grandparents also taught your mum to do that?
TSL: Because she is the second child in the family so she has to observe. My grandparents has 6 children, but my uncle died in 1991. So my uncle graduate university in 1982 and according to rule, you have to serve in the army for 2 years and after 2 years he came back, he had cancer and passed away.
TN: I want to know about your education. So, at that time what did you study?
TSL: Studied Russian language
TN: Did your mom ever give her teacher gift?
TSL: Yes. In the teacher’s day, they just come to teacher’s house, bring cakes for teachers, some fruits, oranges, recycled products. Very simple.
TN: Number 4. I want to know if she has to work, doing household chores, taking care of her brother or sister.
TSL: So, just go to school and go home take care of the family. cook, get water, babysitting.
TN: Question in number 9.
TSL: She said that at that time, elite class, rich people, they are very closed because they can’t show their material possession because there is a lot of suspicion from the government and yea sometime the government will send people to investigate the house if they see my family that was rich at that time because they think that they are evil. Having possession, fortune is not the correct duty.
TN: Okay. But, were they nice? The ones that you know
TN: So you need to hide your possession?
TSL: because at that time the way the government see people is different. That is why they have to hide it.
TN: In what way? Dress like normal people?
TSL: Yea. From the way they dress, from the way they eat, the table manner. They try to be as normal as possible...hahaha...
TN: Okay. I guess number 10 does not apply to your mom
TSL: At that time, she said, it was influenced by Chinese culture, cultural reformation, cultural revolution
TN: Okay, this is for number 9. Okay. number 11. Do you remember your parents or family member telling you about how to be woman in Vietnamese culture?
TSL: So, Vietnamese woman must have 4 virtues; speak calmly/ slowly, the way they behave to the husband, the son, the father
TN: Is it Tam tòng, tứ đức thing?
TSL: So, they are two different things. Tam tòng is the way. You have to learn. It is a lifestyle of woman. so before getting married, she has to listen to father, the father. Getting married listen to husband, when husband die, they have to listen to the son.
TN: and tứ đức?
TSL: tứ đức is 4 virtues. So there are 4 virtues; Công, Dung, Ngôn, Hạnh. She has to know how to do things. Dung, always has to take care of the appearance. Ngôn, speaking softly and calmly, Hạnh means moral
TN: Okay. did you apply it back then?
TSL: Yea. Until she got married. Not anymore.
TN: Okay. How did it make you feel? To be told this, that you need to follow this rule.
TSL: Now it changed.
TN: Yea. But at that time? Was it too much for you?
TSL: At that time, she was still young and second she did not have any choice and everyone was the same. So, there is no any bad feeling about it because it is the culture. but, now because she travelled abroad, spending some times in western country. so, and also the society has changed. So now dramatically changed.
TN: Do you think your life as a woman was difficult at that time?
TSL: No. It is responsibility. So, she did not feel anything about it and then cooking for the family, she loved that because of the responsibility, but also her choice.
TN: Okay. Do you remember any famine in your time? Or not having enough food to eat?
TSL: No because the food stamp system. our family has a lot of children. so there is always a lot of rice. Only her family. for other friends, neighbors, they don’t have enough to eat. But her family, because they can exchange the food stamp, she doesn’t have any difficulty with food. Rice was rare. Having rice to eat is fortune. Some family did not even have rice to eat, so they have to eat potatoes, and also corn. They have to mix it with the rice to feel full and then one the most commonly used product at that time is noodles
TN: Okay. Going back to the school. Was it normal school that she attended to, or was it you know cultural center? Normal state school or cultural center?
TSL: State school
TN: Did you read or write poem? Number 12.
TSL: yes. She loves poem. She was very romantic. She loves reading. She composed few but not like professional.
TN: Do you remember any poems from your time?
TSL: a lots
TN: Okay. can you give me one or two? Just the title.
TSL: Tố Hữu. I used to study it too.
TN: What is it about?
TSL: related to war
TN: Okay. what about song?
TSL: a lots of song related to Ha Noi. For example, the Autumn Ha Noi.
TN: Alright. What about book? Newspaper?
TSL: So she read some newspapers and there is teenager magazine that was printed by the state-owned. Books mostly from Russia because at that time the printing was so limited
TN: yea...yea. Do you remember the title? Some of them
TSL: Tung Luc Lac. This is a story talks about the Agent Orange. So here is another woman. she leaves her child in the hospital and go to Ha Noi to work. she was a hero but in the French war.
TN: Okay. did your parents ever tell you, you know, the importance of being hard-working person, sacrificing yourself for others, for your country, that kind of things?
TN: and when your uncle joined the war. It was obligation for them, but did your mother ever sort of encourage him to do that?
TSL: No. compulsory
TN: Okay. number 2. Do you have a special place at home or maybe outside where you pray? Or maybe where your parents pray? To feel safe during the war.
TSL: No. Just place to pay respect to the ancestor. According to Vietnamese custom, they just have a place for ancestor just to pray for safety in general. So, she was saying in the past people have altar. Sometime they will go to temple. But not much. There are not many do that.
TN: What about village ritual at that time? Was there any?
TSL: E.ee…she was living in the city. So, the ritual is not very clear. She still know that there is still rituals in the village. In the countryside. They just not like festival. Just an everyone come together to show respect to the one who contribute to the country or the day that the village was formed. Something like that.
TN: Right. Okay, number 28. So, we can combine no. 28. Do you know any of these?
TSL: It is some type of. She compares it with Christian. They also have different types.
TN: So, it’s like schools of Buddhism?
TSL: yes. It is mainly in Hue, in the Central just like ..because Hue is used to be the capital of Viet Nam.
TN: Number 29. Have you heard of these figures?
TSL: only Hyun Pho and Sun Yat sen
TN: What about number 32?
TSL: They all have to learn about this
TN: So. Number 35. What kind of stories about the enemies when you were in the camp or Ha Tay? Or not
TN: from radio?
TSL: Radio, textbook. But don’t remember
TN: Okay. no. 40. Have you heard of these?
TSL: yes . all of them. even I
TN: Okay. number 42.
TSL: yes, it was taught at school at that time.
TN: At school. Okay. skip 44, it is not for your mum.46, we already talked about it. alright, number 47. What were Vietnamese women like in your time? Do you think they were strong, smart?
TSL: Yea. They are strong, smart and also, how to say, diligent. Hard-working. But still they have to suffer a lot because they have to take care of everything, family and also financial, household chores.
TN: Do you know if every woman knows how to take care of their house? cooking, bla..bla…during your time
TSL: Okay, so she said not everyone. It happen in every society. she was talking about the owner of our old house. she is a very rich woman because she was born in the family who own jewelry. So she has 9 housemaids. It is really...really rich.
TN: At that time?
TSL: during, okay….my grandparents moved to that house in 1960. So, at that time the owner of the house, she still have some housemaids left. But before that she has 9.
TN: Right. Still in your time, do you think every mother at that time taught her daughter how to, you know, domestic skills?
TSL: Okay… tư sản, elite class, middle class, they don’t teach their children to do domestic skills. So, she thinks it is not good because they don’t know how to take care of themselves. and when bad things happen, everything changed.
[bathroom break interruption]
TN: Okay, you were saying about tư sản, elite class of soceity, they don’t teach their children domestic skills,
TSL: Yea. for example, the house owner, she used to be rich in previous time. However, at the end of her life, she did not know how to do things. So, she sold all her material possession and stuff. And her life, she lives in misery.
TN: Right. So the concept tam tòng, tứ đức does not apply to all women obviously. Alright. Number 50. How did women in your time view beauty?
TSL: Okay. So, I will combine number 50 and 51 because she was talking about it
TSL: So, beauty, beautiful woman at that time, how to say, like round face, white skin, straight nose, red lips and not very tall. Just medium height. 153- 55. The more you are taller, the more not attractive. Unlike now, the taller you are, the more attractive and then about the beauty at that time, we don’t have let’s say too much make up things. They sued eggs, not the yoke but the white one. Then they mix it and apply it to skin.
TN: interesting. no. 52. Do you still have the same belief of beauty?
TSL: it changed. Natural.
TN: Okay. do you think women in your time speak calmly, softly?
TSL: in her time, women in her time still like to speak calm and softly
TN: Okay. after, life after the war. Looking back at war, what do you think of it? what is Viet Nam war to you?
TSL: It’s a …...she had a lots of memories about that. She feel scared, so. whenever she see anything related to war situation…that kind of feeling just came back to her. Anxiety.
TN: How do you see it in relation to today’s generation?
TSL: For this question she said, in our generation don’t witness. So not very involved. All I know about the war is just stories from parents.
TN: right. Are you, are you I any way involved in veteran activity?
TSL: No. not my mum. For me, I did. I came to veteran activity. It was school activity.
TN: Right. Did you ever visit Hoa Lo?
TSL: It’s near her house , between house and school. So she came there every day…. she did not come inside. She just passed. But she read news about that, so, whenever she is there, she is.” oh...my god. How can you do that to human. You know, non-human”.
TN: Right. What was the most challenging thing living through the war as a woman? as a child?
TSL: Because at that time she was still a child. So she feel something, but she feel like. her mum was really hard. She had to do everything back in the day…feeling for her mum, not herself.
TN: did you tell your war stories to Jamie?
TSL: Yes... all the time as bed time story
TN: How is your life now?
TSL: She is not rich but she have a lot of to eat. She and her friends together telling each other stories from old times and she is very happy. Poor but very happy.
TN: Do you still work?
TSL: No. retired already.
TN: is there anything that I haven’t asked that you want to tell me?
TSL: So she wants to tell you about well. Common well where she collects water for her family. that is how people collect water for the family with bucket.
TN: When was this?
TSL: In the war time until 1990s. every day, twice, three times in the evening. Like they have to wait for the cue. It was free. It takes a lot of time to help her mother. girls in that time in charge of household chores.
TN: this is special memory to you?
TSL: Yes, and there is one thing. This is the picture of the old tram in Ha Noi. In 1982 they removed the track. That is the main way to travel in Ha Noi and she is very naughty. So she jump in and out the tram. It was really dangerous and none told her not to do that.
TN: only one?
TSL: There are many. So she live in the area where tram wait. But we don’t have that kind of tram in 1982. And I want to show you something. This is game, jumping rope. You still see that in Old Quarter in the weekend. People still play that organized by cultural club.
TN: So this is the memory from your childhood?
TSL: yea... rope jumping, hide and seek, marbles.
TN: Alright. It has been quite a long interview. Thank you very much.
TSL: if you need more info text me. she has a lot of memories. But could not remember in short time.