Interview With Mrs. Duzungda

Mrs Duzungda recalls a diverse range of her wartime experiences in North Vietnam. She briefly mentions her family having owned land in her early childhood in her rural hometown, before they moved to Hanoi.

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Mrs Duzungda recalls a diverse range of her wartime experiences in North Vietnam. She briefly mentions her family having owned land in her early childhood in her rural hometown, before they moved to Hanoi. On life in Hanoi, she recounts living under a food stamp system, and her education up to secondary school. Mrs Duzungda also elaborates in great depth the moral education she received from her parents on traditional gender roles and values, which were reinforced in school. She then began working in a food factory, where she was trained to make noodles and bread. Workers often had to hide in underground air raid shelters. Her brother was conscripted, and she remembers viewing it as an important contribution to national freedom. However, her family was not very religious, and did not perform any rituals for his safe return. She views the postwar era as a time of vast opportunities for women, which were only beginning to emerge during the war.

A native of Hưng Yên Province, she was born in 1955, and her family moved to Hanoi when she was 7. Originally a farming family, they gave up agriculture as there was no available land in the city. While she did not experience the famine a decade prior to her birth, she recalls how rice was scarce, and had to be mixed or substituted with other starches. The government also operated a color-coded food stamp program which entitled urban dwellers to different quantities of rice and meat, according to their occupation. 

As a daughter, Mrs Duzungda was taught to cook, clean and perform caregiving tasks at home. While she was not familiar with the terminology of tam tòng, tứ đức, traditional gender norms and values were strongly instilled in her by her parents. She was taught to obey her elders, sacrifice for the wellbeing of her family (particularly, in prioritizing the needs of younger siblings), and to become a useful citizen to the country. By emphasizing these qualities, Mrs Duzungda and her female peers were raised to value inner beauty over physical appearance. 

These teachings were reinforced at school by her teachers. Students were sent to more peaceful and stable regions to continue their education even during the war. She attended public school until seventh grade, as she did not pass the entrance examination to advance to high school. At school, she studied a curriculum that was largely limited to science subjects. Her limited exposure to the humanities, such as war history and gender-based ethics was through public library books, as she could not buy them. Mrs Duzungda also developed strong relationships with her teachers, gifting them with fruits on Teachers’ Day, which was all she could afford.

After leaving school, she found work in a food factory in the Banh Mi section, where she and her colleagues worked in three eight-hour shifts. She finds the intricate mechanization of the food production line memorable to this day. The job provided her both a salary and access to food stamps. While she was not exposed to direct combat, factory workers had to hide in air raid shelters for up to an hour, at times thrice a day, when suspected enemy aircraft were detected. The stress of war prevented the factory staff from socializing at work.

Mrs Duzungda’s brother, on the other hand, was conscripted into the military. While her family wished for his safe return, they were not religious and did not even keep an altar to conduct prayers for his wellbeing. The family understood that this was an important part of his contributions to the nation. However, she does recall seeing wealthier families helping hide soldiers from enemy forces, and communal prayers for the restoration of peace in Vietnam, more than for the return of soldiers. Her recollections illustrate the important role women played in supporting the war effort from non-combat vocations.

Transcript 9: Mrs. Dzungda

The interview took place in her daughter's house in Ha Dong on the 30th of December, 2020. After the introduction of what the purpose of the interview is, her rights to pass any questions she doesn't feel comfortable to answer and to not reveal her identity, the interview begins as follows and other small chats. 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 and the answer the interview gives. In this transcript I refer to the translator as “TSL” and myself as “TN”. The interviewee is given the pseudonym Mrs Duzungda

TN: 10 a.m. yea?

TSL: Yea 

TN: Alright. Are you originally from Ha Noi?

TSL: No. She is from Hưng Yên 

TN: Is it I the North or South?

TSL: In the North 

TN: Is it a province?

TSL: Yes 

TN: When did you move to Ha Noi?

TSL: She moved here when she was 7 years old.

TN: Okay. 7 years old. And when were you born?

TSL: 1955

TN: 1955. Okay. What do you remember about your life as a daughter back then before working at the factory?

TSL: Study and helping parents cook the rice, cleaning, household chores. 

TN: You did not work on the farm?

TSL: When she was so young, there are land for them. But, when she moved to Ha Noi, it’s all city and no land for farming.

TN: And what did you study back then? Is it from high school, university….

TSL: So, she studies primary school, secondary school and then she failed the examination to go to high school.

TN: hahaha…. Okay, so she stopped at the secondary school?

TSL: hahaha…yes 

TN: Remind me again, what grade is this?

TSL: 7 grade. Primary is 1 to 3 and secondary is 4 to 7. 

TN: What did you study? Was it math, or if there is any difference, what makes it different, subject wise?

TSL: So, in…. she study in primary school, math, Vietnamese language where they learn basic skills of spelling. Quốc Ngữ alphabets, writing, hand-writing and in primary school, they learn to recognize the sound and the vowel. Practice to make simple paragraph about house, and they learn Latin characters like now. 

TN: Okay. and there is no difference? 

TSL: In secondary school they learn also more typical subjects like physics, chemistry, PE. She said there is no language, geography, history, literature. 

TN: Do you remember what kind of teachings, in literature subject? Was it about short story, song, poem?

TSL: Nam Cao. Writer. Nguyen Phi..poem.Truyện Kiều [tale of kieu]

TN: Is it about war?

TSL: No. it is not about war. Kiều is poem about woman. She has to sell herself. Doing prostitution to feed her family.

TN: During the war? French war?

TSL: So, this family…the story about in 16 CE. This family has 3 siblings. The family has …like incident. Like it was accused by other family that they steal alcohol. Although they did not do it. Kiều’s brother did not steal it and yea Kiều has to save her brother from punishment by selling herself to the men in general. 

TN: Okay. one more question about the study thing. Ehhmm… was there any book on how to be woman, ethics on how to behave in family, society, that kind of thing?

TSL: She said…at that time there are books about that subject as well. She did not read much. They are very poor at that time. Buying book is not an option they can make. They have to prioritize money to buy food. So, she learn from her parents firstly. 

TN: I see. At school basically. During primary and secondary, the book was only for teachers usually? Students did not have the books?

TSL: They have books because they got support from the government…so cheap price. 

TN: Okay. But, this book on ethic was not part of the text book?


TN: Okay. Then, do you remember what your parents taught you about being woman?

TSL: So, they told her to be …. respecting older people, be polite, have to study hard and work hard, continually improving herself, have to have good ethics, and she must know how to cook, how to weave, knitting and like sewing to fix torn clothes because they don’t have money to buy clothes. So, they have to fix clothes, doing household chores in general and, to help parents and to become useful person for the society. 

TN: ehhmm. So this one, what do you mean by good ethics?

TSL: So, she ….by good ethics she man that she need to help disadvantaged people, handi-capped people, poor people and if you find anything that is not yours, you need to return it. be honest, honesty. 

TN: Okay. about this one, being useful, does it also include putting your need before others like before your country, your brothers, that kind of thing?

TSL: by sacrifice?

TN: yea, sacrifice 

TSL: So, she has to respect older and care for younger siblings like if there is food that they have, they have to save the best part for their siblings.

TN: Okay. What about the teaching of Tam tòng, tứ đức in relation to men, to fatherland?

TSL: she knows the terms, but does not know the meaning of it.

TN: Okay. Let me rephrase it. How did you, do you relate to son, father and country as fatherland?

TSL: In general, she does not understand the terms, but she practiced it. The term refers to the duty of women to the men when she got married she has to follow the husband’s decision. And when the husband died, she has to follow the son’s decision. In general, they…. she has to take care of the husband, the son, devoted for them wholeheartedly. It is traditional concept of Vietnamese women. tứ đức is the 4 traits of women, good women…beautiful women because beauty is inner. They are household chore, speak calmly, take care of the beauty, physical beauty. Dress neatly and also respect. They need to respect older people, inner beauty. 

TN: Well, we need to jump to women questions in the back. Page 3. Number 40. What the characters of women in your time look like? I mean, were they also exhibiting Tam tòng, tứ đức characters? Or...

TSL: Yes. She said that it is the thing they focus in the society. They teach about it in the house, in the society.

TN: Not in school though?

TSL: The teacher will remind them. But they remind them with words.

TN: Okay. Do you think women in your time were strong? Smart?

TSL: She said she did not think that back then they are stupid...haha…haha...

TN: Stupid? In what way?

TSL: Because in the society back then they are still practicing Confucianism ideology that women just need to do the household chores, take care of the family, the husband, the children. They don’t need to have a career. They don’t have to go to school. They just need to do the household chores and decorating. The money will be earned by men. Women can’t access to college, teaching, schooling. 

TN: Okay. But, do you recall every woman at that time knows how to take care of you know how to cook, clean their houses.

TSL: Mostly 

TN: Do you know how women in your time view beauty?

TSL: So, back then, they value inner beauty. There is a saying that she just told us is “the inner beauty beats outer beauty”. You just need to have good ethics and honesty and good traits rather than beauty face.

TN: Right. Okay. So, do you remember any tips women use to keep themselves beautiful? From the past...

TSL: They wash their hair with special leaves like Pomelo leaves or like Flea tree, herbs in general. And in Lunar New Year they will wash with the special herb which is very different, pleasant aroma so that they will have good aroma for the new year. My mom still practice that. 

TN: Okay. There is nothing religious about it, yea?


TN: Okay. At that time do you also believe in that kind of idea of beauty?

TSL: Yes

TN: Do you still believe it?

TSL: yes 

TN: and women in your time, they speak calmly, softly?

TSL: Yes

TN: Okay. Do you remember giving any gift, maybe cake, to your teacher? Maybe during Tet

TSL: Yes. They bought certain food. Oranges and bananas and they did not have money to buy expensive things

TN: Yea...I want to ask if she ever read journal, newspaper or books? Number 17.

TSL: Yes. Books. Short story. She read story about war. Famous. Generally, in Vietnam history. The South tranh Nguyên Mông. Vietnamese invaders Lịch sử, Ho Chi Minh, Nguyễn Văn Giáp. 

TN: From school?

TSL: Not in the school. Outside. Books about war. 

TN: Was it in library or something because book was expensive for them?

TSL: Yes. There is. where she went to work, factory work, they have to wear strawberry hat, straw hat to avoid fragment of bomb. And they also have to go to tunnel if there is alarm. There is different signals to announce that they are safe now and can come out.

TN: a... right. We will get to that again later. Did you read or write poem? Or maybe sing?


TN: Okay. number 25

TSL: She knows only Nguyen Bien Khiem 

TN: Does she remember any other poets that I do not put here?


TN: Alright. Do you remember in your time were there any groups of rich people in your surrounding and how they behave? Were they on your side or not helpful at all?

TSL: Yes. They did help hide soldier from the enemy.

TN: Okay. Now we can go to the war story. Do you ever lack of food? Not having any food to eat all?

TSL: No. The famine is in 1945 and she was not born at that time. They did not have rice much at that time. So, they have to eat Cassava, Potatoes, Noodles. There are food, not always rice.

TN: But, did you get food stamp?

TSL: Yes 

TN: What the food stamp category you had?

TSL: They have different colors, the stamp

TN: What color she got?

TSL: For example, she just give us example because she does not remember the color. For the farmer, worker, green. For the official, may be red and they will regulate how much food you will get per month like for the factory worker. They get 100 gram of meat per month and official worker will get 200 gram of meat. like that. 

TN: Okay. Besides that, they get rice?

TSL: Yes. So, if they use food stamp they can buy food for incentive price like discount price. But they have limit. 

TN: Okay. So, it is not like free?

TSL: No. If they buy with normal price, it is expensive and they can’t afford. 

TN: Right. Right. Okay. Remind me again when did you start joining the factory? Working in the factory. What year and what age?

TSL: 1972. 16 

TN: 1972. At the age of 16. And you graduated already from school at that time?

TSL: Yes. Finished secondary school.

TN: Ad this factory in Ha Noi or in Hưng Yên?

TSL: Ha Noi 

TN: Ha Noi. What factory is this?

TSL: Making noodles and bread.

TN: They called it noodle factory or food factory?

TSL: Yes. Food factory. Food making factory.

TN: Right. How did you join this? Did you need to apply?

TSL: So, they have an office in Hai Bà Trưng and you will register and then like putting application to the office. The working office in Hai Bà Trưng. 

TN: Okay. and they will need to wait for a while? Or, they will be called on the same day?

TSL: So, after putting the application in the working office. They will call you after a few days. they are going to send letter to your home that has the time and location that you need to be present. For example, the factory and you will go there. 

TN: Did they have a lot of factories or only one place in Hai Bà Trưng.?

TSL: it is only one factory.

TN: in Hai Bà Trưng.?

TSL: No. it’s the office, like the Human Resources office and they will tell you to go to the factory for example and you will get there with all other applicants and they will tell you which department you will be working at. 

TN: was she in the noodle department or banh mi department?

TSL: banh mi department.

TN: banh mi department and I suppose they have working hours?

TSL: So, they have like three working hours that hey assign you; from 6 a.m. – 2p.m, slot two is from 2pm – 10 pm, and then 10pm – 6am. 

TN: Right. And you told us that you have to wear straw hat?

TSL: Straw hat only when they have to leave their house to factory.

TN: Oh. From their houses to factory and the they take it off to avoid the remnants of the bomb?

TSL: Yes, and then all of this small bomb 

TN: Okay. Remind me again, this factory, where is it? in Ha Noi? Do you remember?

TSL: Cua Bac 

TN: Okay. How much did you get paid per month?

TSL: 44 thousand VND. Beginning salary is 36 thousand VND. Then they pay you more. 

TN: 44 thousand, plus food stamp?

TSL: This and the food stamp. But you will still need to pay with real money. It is just discount.

TN: Okay. What was the most interesting thing from working in the factory?

TSL: So, when she worked at the factory, the war is still going on and when there is signal that say bomb is coming. The worker all stop and go to the tunnel inside the factory and she felt scared. But, after the independence of our country, she did not have to hide anymore and she also feel…also remember the break times between shifts. She can talk with the friends in the factory. They sig, they laugh and make a joke. 

TN: Okay. I want to know more about the tunnel. Did you help digging the tunnels?

TSL: No. The factory hired somebody to dig it.

TN: Inside the building, yea?

TSL: Yea

TN: Okay. was it big?

TSL: It’s very big. It is for all the workers.

TN: How many? Like 100 people?

TSL: Like ...they have 500 people in total. But divide into 3 so more than 100 people. Fit 100.

TN: and what was the longest hiding you have to do?

TSL: 50 minutes to one hour

TN: Did it include having to eat inside the tunnel?

TSL: No. 60 minutes’ top. So, when they go to tunnels, they go quickly so they don’t have time to take anything. Plus, it is just one hour. 

TN: Did it happen often? How many times during her time working there, how many time she had to hide?

TSL: daily basis may be 3 times per day.

TN: Okay.  3 times per day

TSL: It depends on the plane. If the plane bombs that area, it would be longer. If the plane turns to the other direction, so it’s okay. They can come up. 

TN: Do you remember what year was that? Was it right away after she is working which is around 1972? Or a year after?

TSL: She said she used tunnels when she is in school already. There are tunnels in school, outside the road. There are tunnels everywhere. It’s tunnel in school because she went to school in another province and the US army only bomb Ha Noi capital and she said only workers, those who work, employees, they go to Ha Noi to work and they have to hide and other people who do not have anything to do with the war like students, they went to different province to learn and in war it was okay for her to learn in that area because no bombing. 

TN: Okay. did you join the fight or just working at that time?

TSL: No. only worker

TN: Okay. But, do you have brothers?

TSL: Yes

TN: Did he join the war?

TSL: Yes

TN: did you have to encourage him? 

TSL: No. She does not have to. . because there is letter already and it is compulsory. He got to go.

TN: Okay. But, did you really want him to join?

TSL: Yes. It is for our independence 

TN: Okay. How did your parents react to him joining the fight? Sad?

TSL: Not sad. It is compulsory duty and every man who is enough age will go.

TN: Right. Okay. Go back to factory story. Did you get any training when you get to the factory for the first time?

TSL: Yes

TN: was it only how to make bread or something else too? Maybe self-defense?

TSL: No. only how to make bread.

TN: I remember she told us about having break times, yea? Do you remember having chats about maybe Vietnamese army died, or maybe story about the enemies died. That kind of thing? During the break, chatting with friends.

TSL: No because they are tired from working so they do not tell stories. 

TN: Okay. What do you remember the most from your training? Maybe funny story? 

TSL: So, she said most of the process done by the machine, production machine and there is a guy in charge of technical guidance like how much you need to fermented the flour, like how many hours. They will go to check the bread. The workers will get the product from machine and put it in the box and they package and send to the customer and she works in storage and in charge of loading the boxes, send to customers.

TN: Okay. that is the one that she remembers the most?

TSL: Yes, like all process done by the machine.

TN: okay. that is interesting.

TSL: She said, she is not sure if they need to use money and food stamp as well. She said maybe the food stamp has the value of money already. it is not just discount but they can buy with the stamp. 

TN: Okay.  She is correcting the data?

TSL: Yes. She is not sure. 

TN: Okay. I was wondering if she knows any vanguard groups and if she was part of any groups in her community?

TSL: No. There is no group, she said. 

TN: There is no group. Okay. number 35. What do you think about this saying that being good individual like by doing your duty to your family is the foundation of good society?

TSL: Yes. Of course. It is the foundation of good country.

TN: Do you think being soldier or getting involved in the war is a way to express your duty to your family or maybe to your country, to fellow Vietnamese or simply to free yourself from suffering?

TSL: which number?

TN: 36-37

TSL: Yes. Because…basically if you are involved in the war you are contribute to the winning. All of the Vietnamese go to the war and they are united and they created strong power to win the enemy in the war and it will bring happiness to all of people. 

TN: Okay. ...okay. Were you married by the time of the war?

TSL: She got married by 1978. So, 3 years after the unification of Viet Nam.

TN: Okay. Then not. Did you have any special way to keep your family safe? Number 38.

TSL: She said evacuating is a way to keep herself safe because only workers and soldiers stayed in Ha Noi

TN: Okay. Alright. Looking back do you think your life was a woman was difficult at that time?

TSL: Generally, she just felt that life condition is better now with modern utilities like hot tub, warm clothes. They don’t have warm clothes in the war time. They only have …. like they put straws in the mattress to keep warm and they use paper to put it in your shoes, to keep warmer. 

TN: A... okay. So, what was, other than weather, what was the most challenging part as a woman and worker at that time?

TSL: In general, when she was small, the society is still value men more. But, when she is 16 and she got job in the factory, the society has changed and she, the women are now …equal...they have more rights. 

TN: Okay. Do you ever pray for the safety of your brother, or your parents did that at home?

TSL: Okay. She prayed for the brother so that he will come home safely. 

TN: Okay. So, your parents did the same?

TSL: Yes

TN: And they did it in the ancestor altar or ...?

TSL: it is just…they did not have altar in the house. it is just internal wishes.

TN: Okay. Did you ever go to temples to pray?

TSL: She did not do it because her family has no strong belief in religion. she just practice it a few years recently.

TN: At that time in her area, do you ever see, maybe in the village, rituals like Tet? maybe there is kind of celebration which involves any local ritual of praying? Or anything that has religious element in it?

TSL: No. It is just like general thing for the peace for the country.

TN: But, there is general praying, yea? In the village

TSL: Yea. But not for the safety of the soldier.

TN: Okay. communal prayer?

TSL: No. Temple pray.

TN: This one is every day or once in a while? 

TSL: once in a year

TN: question number 10. Do you know or have you heard of religious groups which helped the soldiers in any way? These groups or other groups?


TN: Okay. Did you see somebody getting bombed or killed?

TSL: She did not see anyone because her family is safe and her neighborhood as well. 

TN: But, did you see any farmers helping, soldier in anyway? Maybe giving food, hiding them

TSL: She said she did not know. It has to be years before that. When she was not born or fighting in that area.

TN: Right. So, ow looking back, I will combine two questions, looking back to the past, what do you see of Viet Nam war and then do you think the fact that Vietnam won the fight has anything to do with the blessing from the divine being like ancestor or Buddha?

TSL: 5 and 6?

TN: 5 and 6 

TSL: ah...she said Viet Nam war is the war that shows the independent fight of our people ad it is the war that is just war. If you are Vietnamese, then you have to fight for country. To protect yourself from the enemy, to protect country.  for question 6, it is just purely the effort of Vietnamese because we unite and we endure the hardship. 

TN: Okay. this one does not apply to her because she did not join the force.

TSL: Yea. But her brother get…not like certificate but got prioritized like when he apply for job or training. He got prioritized.

 TN: Okay. Did you ever tell your war time stories to your kids or grandkids?

TSL: Yes.

TN: Have you ever visit Hoa Lo?

TSL: No. just from outside. 

TN: How is your life now? do you still working?

TSL: It’s okay. she lives with her daughter and her daughter takes care of her. She is retired now. 

TN: That’s it. But, if there is anything you would like to share, I am here. 

Interviewer: Tini

Interviewee: Mrs. Duzungda

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Transcript Notes

  1. Tam tòng, tứ đức is the Vietnamese localization of the Three Obediences and Four Virtues for women in Confucian thought. A woman is expected to remain obedient to her father, husband after marriage, and then sons after his passing, in order of seniority in age. She is also expected to uphold feminine virtue in Ethics (moral behavior), Speech, Visage (keeping up modest appearance) and Works (bearing sons and chaste daughters, remaining committed in a chaste monogamous marriage arranged by the clan etc.)

Mrs Duzungda is not familiar with this exact terminology but still exemplifies many of the norms prescribed in this code.

  1. How does Mrs Duzungda’s recollections highlight the importance of family and social networks in shaping one’s experiences of the war?

  2. How did the non-religiosity of Mrs Duzungda’s family shape their war experience?

  3. Consider, in light of Mrs Duzungda’s account, how different geographical locales experienced the Vietnam War differently. What novel perspectives do such local histories raise about the Cold War in Vietnam and Asia?

  4. To what extent did cultural or ideological concerns shape Mrs Duzungda’s views of the war? How does her interpretation of the war destabilize traditional notions of an ideologically driven North Vietnamese populace mobilizing against the US and South Vietnam?