Interview with Mr Khan

Mr Khan recalls his teenage years in an agricultural commune; as well as his conscription for the Vietnam War.

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Mr Khan recalls his teenage years in an agricultural commune; as well as his conscription for the Vietnam War. He remembers how scarce food was tightly managed by the state through a rationing system, and that the system prioritized the needs of soldiers. When he was conscripted, he trained as a communications officer and worked at an airport. After the war, he worked for the government. His recollections also include his experience of seeing American air raids, and he discusses the different coping strategies he and other Vietnamese used for managing the psychological toll of war.

Mr Khan begins his recount from his growing years in an agricultural commune in the Thanh Tri District of Hanoi. As there were no daughters in his family, he and his three brothers had to help with household chores. He explains how the state operated a food stamp system within the commune, under which citizens were hierarchically entitled to rice and meat commensurate to the importance of their work. Civilians were given 13kg of rice per head while soldiers received 17kg. He did not view the farming life as hardship, as he did not experience the famine, and was always able to have food. However, he reveals some discomfort with the collectivized agriculture model, as his family did not own the land they worked, and did so at the state’s direction; sharing that he preferred if farmers could grow their own products voluntarily.

Reflecting on his education, he discusses how his grandparents emphasized the need to learn agricultural skills. He also observes that his family did not have to provide much civic education at home as it was strongly emphasized in school. He studied science and humanities subjects, and learnt about historical figures from precolonial Vietnam. The teachers also inculcated traditional Vietnamese values of prioritizing the greater good of society and the need to serve the country in their students. Growing up, he heard of American attacks on Vietnam, which seeded anger against America amongst the populace. He developed strong relations with his teachers, sending small gifts even during the war. However, his education was disrupted when he was conscripted for the war at age 17, before he could take his graduation exam.

In the military, he was trained as a communications officer and deployed to an airport to manage telecommunications. He did not find this job fulfilling and resented that he was forced to join the army because of war. It also separated him from family and friends, making him homesick. During his service, he witnessed American forces bombing streets and a hospital. He reflected that the Communist forces of the North were more capable soldiers than those of the South, as they had to improvise using scarce resources without the American support that their Southern counterparts had. After the war, he worked for the government, but this removed him from the veterans’ pension roll. He notes that veterans until recently only received meagre support from the state.

Finally, he discusses the coping strategies used to face the psychological strain of the war experience. Many Vietnamese relied on their faith and continued to practice religions such as Buddhism or Christianity. He however, used his position as a communications officer to make phone calls to friends and family to overcome homesickness, and played Chinese chess. By reimagining his war experience as a chess game, he would calculate the most logical next move to make to survive each day. The war remains a symbol of disruption for him, and he continues trying to “catch up” with his peers. Mr Khan’s experiences of becoming a reluctant soldier challenges traditional narratives of a zealous Vietnamese populace that responded enthusiastically to defend their land.

Transcript Interview No 4:Mr. Khan

The interview took place on the 24th of December, 2020 at a café in Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. After this first interview with him, I was told about the rule that applies to other former soldiers of his kind that they are not supposed to express opinion regarding war or government which is contradicting to the state’s interests. Hence, for the sake of the interviewees and my project, I was advised to eliminate questions related to politics. Anyway, after all the introduction of what the purpose of the interview, his rights to pass any questions he does no feel comfortable to answer and to not reveal his identity, the interview begins as follow. 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 as “TSL”, the interview as “K” and myself as “TN”.

TN: Alright. So, what time is it now?

TSL: So, 9.42

TN: 9.42, Okay. Can you give me your father’s name here.

TSL: full name?

TN: Yea. May be just last name.  Thank you. 

TSL: [writing down his name. Tran Tuan Khan]. So, in the end is his first name. 

TN: okay. alright. 

TN: Well, are you originally from Ha Noi?

K: yes 

TN: born here?

K: yes

TN: Okay. which city?

TSL: Do you want to ask about the province, district?

TN: May be province is okay.. if we get details, that would be better.

TSL: Thanh Trì district. 

TN: can you spell it

TSL: T-h-a-n-h  space T-r-I 

TN: Thanh………Tri. Thanh Tri . okay. well, I will get it from you later. 

TN: Then skip no.2 because he is from the North. 

TN : When the war started you were 2 years old, right?

TSL: So, when the war started…So, he said that when the war starts he was 19. 

TN: 19?

TSL: 19. He remember…

TN: he was born in 1957, he  was born..and then the war started in 1955?

TSL: So, he said that …….after the war with France in the 1954, there was like 2 years time transition then we….ehmmm…Gen..

TN: Geneva 

TSL: Geneva treaty. But there is no……like the big election. So, they are still struggle between the war with France. And then in the Southern there is  the Ngô Đình Diệm government..

TN: backed by the US?

TSL: Backed by the US. The war in the North did not start until 1968.

TN: Ahh… Okay. This one..that started in 1968 was against the US, in the North?

TSL: yes

TN: Okay. I see. So, at that time he was 19?

TSL: yes

TN: hhmm,..and he was not married at that time?

TSL: no. He is in the army at that time

TN: the army 

TSL: yes

TN: voluntarily, or sort of obligatory he had to?

TSL: Compulsory

TN: Compulsory. Okay.

TSL: He start at somewhere 17 or 18

TN: 17?

TSL: 17 or 18

TN: like the training?

TSL: he had a training 

TN: by 17?

TSL: So, it depends on your birthday..ehhmmm…. if you …ehmmm…normally…they will call you by birthday.

TN: According to Vietnamese lunar year, or like western calendar?

TSL: western calendar

TN: okay.. depend on the birthday.

TSL: Birthday. So, it will range on 17 and 18.

TN: okay. 17 is the youngest?

TSL: it is the youngest

TN: Okay. before ….before you join the war…war training, what was your life like as son?

TSL: So, you want to ask about the training life?

TN: NO. Before the training, before 17. What was his life look like…you know what I mean?

TSL: So, when he was at home..he said  he doing household chores, cleaning, studying and the like. 

TN: Yea. Do you have brother or sister?

K: Yes. Three

TN: 3 brothers? No sister?

K: no sister 

TN: ahh..okay. the reason I asked is, usually it is women who do the cleaning, that kind of thing. But..

TSL: Because there are just brothers in the house. so, no sister. 

TN: But also…before joining the war, before 17, did you work already? to earn money I mean.

TSL: before 17?

TN: yea. Before 17.

TSL: No 

TN: not at all. Not even farming? Selling something?

TSL: no

TN: okay, then skip no.. 6 because that does not apply to him. No.7. 

TN: Do you know anybody in your area at that time who are, may be rich, may be they are head of the village, that kind of thing and how that person behave? Was he supporting people, or you know, with the enemy, that kind of thing?

TSL: So, you want to ask about the rich people?

TN: Yea. How do they behave …you know what I mean?

TSL: Do they side with you, or with the enemy?

TN: yea

TSL: So, they are pretty rich and they supported the community.

TN: Okay. By? how? by giving money, or by protecting them when the enemy come, cooking for them, sharing their food? 

TSL: So, at that time ..the war is ………..happens very fierce …. like did not ..

TN: Here and there?

TSL: here and there . it was very peaceful. So, there is cooperative……….a kind of agriculture model and people in the village join in and the head of the village, they supervise the procedure.

TN: aa..okay. what is it?like planting something with one system you mean? Agriculture model..what do you mean by agriculture model?

TSL: in…yeah..model.. the villager will do farming. They raise pigs, something like that and the product will be ….goverment …will be managed by the government.

TN: okay. So, it is for all, they will share it?

 TSL: Yea. So..ehmm…this is like a mass production…of products and the production will be govern by government and you do not get to keep them on your own although you raise them. but, the government will keep all and they will give you a stamp. 

TN: like food stamp?

TSL: Yea… if you are an……education……educator or you are official government…you will get 5 stamps, for example. 

TN: 5 stamps?

TSL: Just an example. If you do something less important then you will get less food stamp

TN: OO..So, there is a sort of hierarchy, A, B, C, D..?

TSL: Yea. AB, B, C, D. 

TN: And, okay. what kind of stamp did you have?

TSL: So, there is a standard stamp. It will be given to you by annual, and there is a standard …food standard for everyone. Each will get…ehhmm….each person will get 13 kg of rice/ month.

TN: this is the same for everybody? Per head?

TSL: yes 

TN: So, if you have 5 people in your house, then you will need 5 stamps?

TSL: yes 

TN: Okay.. and you get other things like meat, vegetable..?

TSL: yes 

TN: milk?

TSL: yes. But, it is not much. 

TN: Right. Let’s say, if you are in the military then you will get better food? You get more because you are doing something important? 

TSL: yes. So, in the army 17.

TN: 17?

TSL: 17 kg of rice

TN: Okay. plus something else, something luxurious like meat or may be…

TSL: yes.. So, 200 gr/ person per month. 

TN: Meat?

TSL: meat. 

TN: Okay.

TSL: three… 300 gr 

TN: 300. Okay 

TSL: gram 

TN: okay. alright. Ehhmmm.. no. 8. Did you ever give any special gift for your teacher during that difficult time, during the war?

TSL: He said…..he…gave his teacher notebook, postcard, or fruits like orange, one kg.

TN: and these things at that time was not something luxurious? 

TSL: Something what? Serious?

TN: luxurious…expensive. 

TSL: no. quite cheap that he can afford it. 

TN: Going back to the education, ehhhmm…what kind of school did you attend? Was it village school, government school at that time?

TSL: So, it is…………he attend an old system of education. Ehhmmm….because the modern system is 12 grade, the old system is only 10 grade.

TN: Was it set up by France? The old one

TSL: No. it is not by France 

TN: and it was free?

TSL: We have to pay fee but the fee is very cheap

TN: Right..and what did you study there? Math, Geography. History?

TSL: So,…….studied basic subjects like literature, Vietnamese, math, physics, chemistry, history, geography, biology, and when you attend like….the high school…you ..eee….you get to study technology and then geography.

TN: Oh..okay. what’s technology at that time?what kind of thing that….

TSL: So, he learn typical….he have to draw based on the model…like draw structure…

TN: It is not for building houses?

TSL: No. just for……..

TN: like cubical stuff?

TSL: yea. Like cubical stuff

TN: Okay. .okay. ehhmm..about literature, ehmm…did you, what did you study, like poem, ehhmm…stories…you know, song?

TSL: So, at that time…he study like the tale of Kiều. it is a very….

TN: A Tale of Kiều

TSL: it is very famous

TN: Oh..I see. Is he a poet?

TSL:  He was a poet..very famous poem. Even now we still study that

TN: oh..really

TSL: yes

TN: Do you think I can see it on google?

TSL: Yes, definitely. It is very famous.

TN: Do you remember other poem? In this Kiều, does he remember of the poems that I can look up?

TSL: yes. He remembers like ..and also ..he said that he learns by Tố Hữu..poems by the Tố Hữu 

TN: Okay. I need to get your note later.

TSL: Tố Hữu he wrote poems about war and then a story about the life before the war.. how the farmers are bullied by the rich and then the life turns for…evil. 

TN: what do you mean by before the war?

TSL: during the war, and then Tắt đèn 

TN: okay

TSL: It is a story. ..

TN: can I have your notes later? 

TSL: Okay

TN: Okay.  Tắt đèn 

TSL: Tắt đèn, also a story 

TN:oh..a story title?

TSL: a title…about women…..she has to pay the tax…tax….during the war. Although her household is very poor and her husband get sick or something. Anyway, her family is very poor and can’t afford to pay tax. But, the soldier come to her house and they urge her to pay and eventually she can’t stand u and she fight back. 

TN: this one is the Tắt đèn, from French time…I mean to pay tax to the French?

TSL: Yes

TN: okay. ehmm..what about song?

TSL: So, he did not study any song. But, he heard it around very much.

TN: So, it is like popular songs that everybody sings it?

TSL: popular song and the loud speaker at the commune, they play hat songs like a lot.

TN: does he remember what songs are they?

TSL: here [showing me the note] by Tình ca, Làng tôi

TN: Do you know any of these? Do you still hear it..? You, your generation 

TSL: I don’t know 

TN: ah..okay. Văn Cao

TSL: So, he also remember the author.  Tình ca is by Hoàng Việt 

TN: Hoàng Việt

TSL: and then Làng tôi by….there are two songs by this… these two  authors  Hồ Bắc and Văn Cao. 

TN: That’s interesting. Okay. I need to go back to the village life. No. 10. He already answered no. 9. Do you ever have any fight with someone from the village? Someone…

TSL: So, there was no fighting at that time. They just order you and you have to do it. 

TN:  Ah..okay. Okay

TSL: he asked, why don’t you asked about history because…

TN: I will. This is not for him…not for him…no…Okay. No. 3. I need to revise it. It is for women, but I will make it for men. Do you..think…the life there was difficult… do you think it was just life, normal life, or it was sort of a result of karma, some kind of evil thing?

TSL So, he said that by …..the farmer’s life is a life by many generations. He did not feel any hardship by that. The only hardship he felt that ……because of..there is no land for family to grow, it was all managed by the government, and you have to participate in the cooperative model to have……they choose to do the farming. And if you have the….land….land management….and you get to own your product that you grow and then it will be better. 

TN: I see. Okay. Ehhmmm…do you remember any famine at all at that time?

TSL: Famine?

TN: yes, in this time

TSL: He said that at that time he was not born. So, he just heard the story…heard about it. The famine in 1945. He heard that there are 2 millions of people die and in ..even in Hanoi, there are a lot of people  dying and their bodies lying around in the street and ……….many of them. 

TN: But, during his time he never have any lack of food? He can eat all the time during his time? Even though it was difficult, he never lacked of food?

TSL: When he lives, there is no famine. He have something to eat even though it is small. 

TSL:  just little but everyday 

TN: okay. well, skip it to no.19

TSL: 19

TN: Do you know any newspaper, or journal or books from war time?

TSL: He remember 2 newspapers. One is the Army of the People, and then the newspaper People’s Newspaper

TN: People’s Newspaper. Do you still have it? these two things

TSL:  You mean copy?

TN:No. in our time, they are still circulating?


TN: what about book? Oh..wait ..this one is book [looking at the note].. The  Kiều

TSL: Tắt đèn and Tale of Kiều

TN:  it is a book?

TSL: yea. Short story 

TN: So, I’m interested now in his life history, not history in biggest scale, but I’m interested in his story, you know what I mean? 

TSL: Okay

TN: Do you remember what your parents taught you about being hard--worker, that kind of thing? You know.. no. 20.

TSL: So, he said that our grandparents have said that to study hard, learn about work skills.

TN: Okay. what kind of work skill? Or, certain skill?

TSL: So, by work skill he means agriculture, how to rice… to plant rice.

TN: Agricultural skill. Okay.

TN: what about …did your parents also tell you about, you know “it is important to sacrifice yourself for others, for the country, that kind of thing?

TSL: So, he was learnt that in school. and it was not necessary because the school tell you about that. Teachers 

TN: That is why he had to join the fight?  He had no choice 

TSL: yea. No choice 

TN: Did you also encourage your brother, sister to join the fight at that time?

TSL: he did not encourage. But, it is compulsory for them.

TN: So, they have to

TSL: So they have to 

TN: alright. No. 10. This is from French’s time. But, let’s see. Have you heard of the term Tam tòng, tứ đức?

TSL: He said that Tam tòng, tứ đức ….it is a ….ethics ..the ethic stuff women had to learn

TN: Right. So, this thing still exist ..still going on?

TSL: He said that there is still Tam tòng, tứ đức in his time. This is Confucianism thing the woman has to follow husband’s decision, and if the husband die, then he..she has to follow her son’s decision and ehm….yea. this is very traditional things that you have to follow.

TN: No. 26. Do you…at that time, does your mother or father has a special place in the house, or may be outside, to pray?

TSL: yes. Altar for the ancestor 

TN: Okay. inside the house?

TSL: Inside the house. it is called Bàn thờ

TN: Okay. Do you ever pray, may be to feel safer, for protection, that kind of thing?


TN: Do you remember seeing any ritual at home, may be your mother doing the ritual, giving the offering, that kind of thing?

TSL: Ehmm..he said ..he remember the village festival or some. They are like celebration for an occupation, for example, like the weaving or, the ceremony to honor the gods if the village. In those days they host the traditional games, all games and there is wrestling. 

TN: Okay. no. 28. We can combine it together. No. 28 is more religious history. 

TSL: Okay

TN: let me use this one [taking the English version]. wrote it ..

TN: Do you know any of these, what do you call it, like religious organizations……

TSL: DO you want to ask about your drink [my order that has been taking more than 30 minutes. So I went for a few seconds]

TSL: Not ready?

TN: It’s alright

TSL: Wow.. a big minus point

TN: What?

TSL: for this store 

TN: aa.. it’s okay. do not worry. It is not a big deal 

TSL: He said, cao đài and  Hòa Hảo is two religions famous in South Vietnam. It’s… is Buddhism..

TN: Buddhism. Buddhism in general?

TSL: Yea 

TN: Did you know any other religious movement at that time?

TSL: during his time?

TN: During his time. Was it any other religious organization that I don’t know that is in support of the war…I mean ..helping.. the war

TSL: Christianity

TN: Okay. But, they were motivating people to join the war?

TSL: Motivating? What do you mean?

TN: motivating people to join the war 

TSL: Ooo…encouraging people?

TN: yea

TSL: No. there was no any religion that encourages people to join the war 

TN: Okay. no. 28 is more about the leaders ..

TSL: okay . So, he knows Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm because he learns about him through history subject at school. He remembers that….So…..he said he know him because him ………for poet…with two big series of poem and he lives around 15 CE and he died in 1585. He is very good and he is very ………….in learning he…..he…place in the first place in …ehmm………there is a competition to choose the most three ….ehm…. three persons with the highest scores who will replace ..3  fighters. He place at the first place

TN: So, he was smart ?

TSL: He was smart 

[ Interrupted by the barista who delivered my drink and a talk about the sound of the fan on the wall]

TN: Okay…he knows Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm

TSL: Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm , he was a poet 

TN: Okay. what about An Ninh? No?

TSL: he did not remember much

TN: this one [pointing at Sun Yat-sen] is from china. No? 

TSL: Tôn Trung Sơn 

TN: How do you say it in Vietnamese?

TSL: Tôn Trung Sơn

TN: he has different name in Vietnamese?

TSL: Yes

TN: So, you studied it in history class?

TSL: he learn history, he remembers that Tôn Trung Sơn is a leader of the…..eee…. Chinese revolution before 1946 

TN: Okay. So, only this one, Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm and Sun Yat Sen

TN: No. 30. I guess it was..So , about the joining the army, I just want to know the process. Did he get recruited, or how?

TSL: So, he said that…ehhhmm.. there is a leader in charge of an area of the household …and he just give my dad a letter calling for the army. And then stated that place and time, and that when place and time come, and he just go there, get together with other youngster that has to be called for the army. 

TN: How did your parents react?

TSL: So, our grandparents are sad, very sad because he did not get to finish the graduation test and he has to join the army.

TN: Yea. Okay. it was in the last grade, 10th grade and he just need to do the graduation test?

Tsl: yes, 10th grade ..last year ..10th grade 

TN: and after he joined the army, and then he got training from 17?

TSL: yes

TN: yes.. ehhmmm,…what kind of training…how to shoot, or any kind of other training?

TSL: So, he was trained how to throw grenade, shooting, aiming, techniques to use different weapons, how to fold and organize your belonging, to pack in backpack only … have to be very organized and neat and he has to learn how to fold mosquito net.

TN: okay 

TSL: a very neat way and eventually the net will be so small and very square. 

TN: right..ehmm.. was it in the village, or in the different city? The training…

TSL: So, there was a …like army unit……like is army school and if anyone is assigned for the corresponding army school…then they will train you at that school. It depends on where you get the assignment.

TN: And was he part of any of these things? [pointing to question no. 32]

TSL: no

TN: Okay. So, he was just got recruited from school?

TSL: yes. Only training from school

TN: What kind of stories about the enemies that you heard at that time before joining the force?

TSL: So, he said that he witness that the US army, they bombing..they bombed and then also, there are also stories that people they lost the friends, husband and wife and they told him those stories like..ehhmm…put anger in the…

TN: people?

TSL: Yea. Vietnamese people

TN: there is no communal radio?

TSL: So, he said that in the 1972, there is a bomb in Kham Thien Street. a lot of people die and also the US army bombed the Bach Mai hospital and he witness that. 

TN: He witness that?

TSL: he witness that

TN: Okay. So, it was not from the radio?

TSL: No. it was not from the radio

TN: Right. He witnessed it. ehhmm…this is already done. He was not… No. 40, sort of common thing, so he must know this. 

TSL: Which one

TN: No.40. Is it just normal terms that everybody will know?

TSL: I think so

TSL: So, he heard of about Việt Minh in the war …anti--France. They stand up as a force to fight back France and later on Việt Minh becomes a term that is used to call the French

TN: Okay. it is used during France’s time?

TSL: yes 

TN: and then Viet Cong is..

TSL: So, Viet Cong is about the northern Vietnamese people, they go to South and then they fight against the US army

TN: So, it is used during the VN-US war?

TSL: Yea. 

TN: Does he like it? does it come from the Vietnamese itself, or from the US? This term..

TSL: He said that he see this term used a lots by Southern Vietnamese people . But, he don’t know the original of it.

TN: Okay. I’m trying to sort of combine 43,44, okay? So, did you …did you see joining the army at that time as a duty to your family, or to your country, or combination of them? or to your fellow Vietnamese, you know, or mix of them? 

TSL: So, he said that joining the army is his responsibility and also compulsory. So, he can’t do anything about that.

TN: Okay. Okay. ehhmmm…when you are in the army….

TSL: His duty 

TN: hhmm. is his duty

TN: When he was in the army, did he also still try to protect his mother, father? How did he do it, if he did?

TSL: So, he said that…ehhmmmm….joining the army….to fulfil his duty and if he did not join the army, then he will be put into some kind of prisoner…..prison that they will……’s called …….training camp, and they will…ee… the training camp, they will talk about your duty, and you have to protect your country, and stuff like that.

TN: like civic education?

TSL: yes

TN: So, when he joined the army, he completely ..sort of…did not ..when he joined the army, e was not at home and so, at that time his dad and mom were the responsibility of the brothers, or did he still try to keep them safe somehow?

TSL: No. He said that when he joined the army, he was away from home and there is no way to protect them

TN: and the brothers?

TSL: the brothers and grandparents

TN: ehmm..but, what specific duty he had in the army, like you being  you know..being informant, shooting, driving, actual fighting?

TSL: where?

TN: 56

TSL: 56. Okay 

TSL: So, he said that he in charge of eee…..communication. ehhmm……officer. Like..there is a line, a net of …internal information within the army connect by a line

TN: Like telephone?

TSL: like the old ways ..but you have to dial..and then you have to pick up the phone and dial the numbers ..rotating them

TN: What he liked the most about it? any interesting experience? 

TSL: HE di not find anything interesting because it was a compulsory job

TN: yea. Was it any like… the most interesting experience to know something that he remembers until today?

TSL: So, he said that he can use the phone to call his friends in the army, to talk and to relieve his homesick. Yea..something like that

TN: Okay.okay

TSL: he can use the telephone to call others… soldier 

 TN: Okay..was it in the national level?the place where he worked? The station, was it in the national level, provincial?

TSL: he said he works in an airport

TN: so, it was national level?

TSL: National level

TN: what did …what did you think about the army in the South who, Ngô Đình Diệm, who got backed up by the US?

TSL: 6. No. 6?

TN: yea

TSL: He said that…ehhmm..he don’t think that ..he does not think that the army is smarter than the Northern…than US army.. it is just circumstance that put them in that grade. They [the Northern] have to …they have to improvise, finding ways to survive

TN: Right. I need to repeat the question no. 9.. no. 9. Did he ever see special events organized to pray for the safety of the soldiers, that kind of thing?

TSL: It’s… happened in the village..

TN: In the village 

TSL: So, he said that there was no any ritual like that in the army. They don’t..

TN: They don’t do it?

TSL: They don’t do it. and in the village, this time was hard, so there was no any condition to do the ritual.

TN: Okay. we go to the life after war

TSL: Okay

TN: Ehhm…it’s just reflecting back, how do you feel about getting involved in the war at that time, being in the army?

TSL: No. 1?

TN: yea. No. I

TSL: he said that army is …provide you with good environment to train you to become a to man up be tough.

TN: yea. do you see the effects of you fighting for the war for today’s generation?

TSL: You fighting? 

TN: him being involved in the war, being an army. So, the effect is you got the independence, how does he see it for today’s generation?


TN: yea

TSL: I think he’s a little bit misunderstand the question. You want to…do you want me to translate what he just said

TN: Okay

TSL: he said that he feel bad because all of his youth time passed away in army and he involved in life like he had a work later. But, compared to other ..ehhmmm….people..

TN: okay, so he is a bit sad about joining the army?

TSL: yes because …

TN: now he has to work, or okay..explain it again…sorry 

TSL: So, he said that ..when he joined the army, others may go to university and then when the war is over..he came back and they already go ahead before him

TN: okay. so, he is catching up now?

TSL: yes

TN: ehhmm…do you still involved in any veteran activity?

TsL: now?

TN: yes

TSL: yes

TN: Do you, no. 4, do you get any special thank you be it in the form of money, you know may be award that kind of thing, from the government?

TSL: So, he said that he only got one medal …ee,,,for 5 years joining the army like..medal for heroic soldier, like the title it have

TN: Yea. What about financial support from the veteran organization? Is there any?

TSL: No. So, he said that because he…after the war, he don’t…he did not continue to join the army but become a worker and he joined a government agency, so he was not offered any support by the government. For the soldier that continue to work in the army..

TN: as soldier?

TSL: as soldiers..ehhmm..the support from the government is not much and just until recently that they receive a lot of support from the government 

TN: I see. Okay. Do you ever visit Hoa Lo museum?

TSL: I’m sorry..?

TN: Hoa Lo Museum 

TSL: no. 6?

TN: yes. No. 6

TSL: So, he visited it a long time ago when he is still in the army..not in the time as official worker for the government. He remembers that Hoa Lo is a prison for the people who joined the revolution against France and the torture too in that prison is………..eee….kind of disgusting…and how to say,, it is bloody ..very can’t imagine things like that

TN: Okay. do you still tell your war stories to your kids?


TN: No. why not?

TSL: because we did not have our family.

TN: Because you did not ask?

TSL: He said that he has not had the chance to actually told me and he feel that may be if he told me about those stories, maybe I did not have the context to understand them.

TN: what do you think?

TSL: I think so. Because ehhhmm….like war is very faraway experience for my when I was born..we open the economy in 1986 and gradually we accept corporation other than governments and then private sector is gradually goes ehhhmmmm… It was just like combination between companies..not    people fighting people with blood. So , we don’t have to deal with the loss,  like his,…the compulsory duty joining the don’t…you can’t  get to say no.. if you don’t went too, you will be put into prison. So it’s like 100% that you had to go 

TN: Yea. Actually I’m done. But just the last words. SO, maybe he wonders why I don’t ask about the real history of the war coz that kind of history has been written. But, my interest is to know his experience personally, that kind of thing. If there is something that I need to know, or that I haven’t asked, I’m more than happy to listen

TSL: Do you have any aspect…specifically..?

TN:No, anything because he is the one who experienced it, so he may be knows what I should know. 

TN: So, he said that there was a bombing by the B-52 plane in the Kham Thien Street, Hanoi.

TN: the one that he witnessed?

TSL:  the one that he witnessed…he witnessed with his own eyes that the……ehhmmm….the result …the house collapsing ..all of the loss is very large and is very die situation,,,severe situation ..burnt into his eye..he remembers until now

TN: yea. Okay. that is sad story 

TSL: yea… devas…devastating 

TN: it does make him sort of …you know like having trauma, or bad dream because of this memory?

TSL: So…ehhmmm..he said that ..trauma then no for him. But, he feels sad when he look at the people affect by agent Orange …by …..the used ….by the US army. The victims …they ….they give birth to like …defected sons and daughters and he feel very bad when he look at those people. It is the result of the war. 

TN: right. Okay. that’s it. thank you so much for sharing this.

[I was about to turn off my recorder when he suddenly say more]

TSL: they still keep their religions during the war. If, for example, they are Christianity, Cao Dai and Hoa Hao, then after the war people with Christianity will continue to go to church. 

TN: I see. So, they are still practicing during the war?

TSL: They are still practicing during the war

TN: So..yea,, that was the question I was trying to ask…like does it help them to know know feeling safer..that kind of thing and to guide them how to behave.?

TSL: he said that he saw the people follow Christianity and still do the mark…

TN: the cross? 

TSL; the cross and they still keep doing it during the war

TN: So, he saw people practicing their religion?

TSL: yes

TN: Okay. But, did he do religion?

TSL: he did not

TN: I see. When he is afraid what did he do at that time? when he is afraid , you know how he calms himself?

TSL: So, he calms himself and he is…is…he has to feel calm in order to find ways ..thinking rationally to overcome that situation

TN: yea.. How? by telling himself that “it’s okay..its okay..”or, how?

TSL: So, he predicts situation like in Chinese chess. You have to calculate the moves..situation. if situation attack, what they will do to..if situation B, and then he find ways for each situation in the worst case scenario ..what will you do. So, he thinks that it is..

TN: So, it’s rational calculation based on data like the situation around him?

TSL: Yes

TN: Chinese 

TSL: Chinese chess

TN: is it a special practice during this time? Do you still do it?

TSL: he is still do it

TN: What kin d of Chinese chess? it is something that he likes so much and he learns from it so much

TSL: Xiangqi

TN: okay 

TSL: It is very famous game and he knows about it in lower secondary school

TN: okay. it helps him to think rationally?

TSL: Yes

TN: since he was young?

TSL: young and until now he still plays it

TN: Okay. that’s very interesting 

TSL: and this game is also famous.  Tam cúc

TN: It is also helping him to think?

TSL: and he also plays this. It helps him with irrational thinking

TN: to get rid off a…

TSL: To get rid of what?

TN: mean rational

TSL: logically 

TN: a..okay 

TSL: and the…like component is quite similar to Xiangqi. It also has general advisor. The component is quite similar. This one is different but..

TN: Is it also played by older generation or younger people also.?

TSL: that time?

TN: is from the North yea?

TSL: from the North..eee…...  Tam cúc is less popular than Xiangqi . it is played by more people, and until now a lot of people.. are….. older people still play Xiangqi

TN: Yea.. but not the young?

TSL: not young 

TN: because it is difficult, or what?

TSL: because Tam cúc is mostly played by women

TN: By women?

TSL: By women mostly.ehhmmm…

TN: Mostly women

TSL: and is less popular than Xiangqi. In Xiangqi they….is like by 2 people and Tam cúc

 Ca be 2,  or 4. But, I think Xiangqi  is more friendly and easy to play because I saw a lot of people, Vietnamese play Xiangqi on the street ad when they play a lot of people gather around them to see how they play. And now that a lot of people don’t play this old game anymore

TN: Okay, is not only that it is difficult ..because…

TSL: the time changed

TN: Yea..techonology. okay

TN: what time is it? I need to end it

TSL: 11.30

TN: can I do the administration with you?

TSL: I am sorry, what?

TN: giving the money to you …you know stay for bit so I can give you the money that I owe you..

TSL: sure 

TN: and I give your father’s money to you. Is it okay?

Interviewer: Tini

Interviewee: Mr Khan

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Transcript Notes

  1. Xiangqi is a form of Chinese Chess.

  2. Tam cúc is a Vietnamese card game in which the 32 card deck fully corresponds to Xiangqi chess pieces. It is more commonly played by women than men, who play a similar game Tổ tôm, which has more cards.

  1. To what extent were the Vietnamese motivated by ideology in the Cold War?

  2.  How does Mr Khan’s experience destabilize traditional understandings about morale in the Communist forces?

  3. What does Mr Khan’s reflections reveal about the extent (and limits) of the reach of Communist ideology amongst the civilian populace of the North?

  4. How do the various coping strategies Mr Khan highlights challenge traditional understandings of North Vietnamese society under Communist rule?