Resources on Viet Nam:
Dan Duffy, Yale University Council on Southeast Asia Studies
To Get to Viet Nam to Work
Trained professionals and experienced executives have a very hard time finding work in Viet Nam from the U.S. The ultimate conclusion of every person I know who has tried has been to go to Viet Nam at his or her own expense and look for a position from there. Think of the expense as an investment, probably a pretty good one. If you're bright and energetic and you can deal with the cultural problems involved, Viet Nam and the international community needs you: you'll find something to do. You might think about acquiring some valuable skill before you go, though. Formal training in language instruction is easily acquired in evening classes here, and is a valued skill overseas. If you decide to go prospect for work, one of the best ways to go to Viet Nam and meet people who can help you is to go as a student, sponsored by a U.S. group or a Vietnamese agency who understands your objectives.
The Hanoi Foreign Language College (Thanh Xuan, Dong Da, Ha Noi, Viet Nam, Tel and Fax 84.4.262468) offers individual instruction, room and board for about $300/month (price quoted in September 1992). They will also arrange your visa, sponsor you in Viet Nam, and send you on guided trips with other students. It is the language program I recommend when people ask, but there are a million ways to study language there. You can just go on a tourist visa, stay with relatives, and hire a tutor or enroll at the local university, but there is some value to being affiliated with a program geared to your needs. Two U.S.-based language programs in Viet Nam are offered by the School for International Training (Kipling Road, Brattleboro, VT 05301, 802-257-7751, ext 2110) and the Council for International Educational Exchange (205 East 42nd Street, NY NY 10017, 212-661-1414, ext. 1486). They are pretty expensive. A good way to get started on Vietnamese language and make lots of contacts to help you study on your own in Viet Nam is to attend the 8-week Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI), which will be at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor this next summer, and start Vietnamese language there. Contact: SEASSI, Southeast Asian Studies Office, 4115 Helen C. White Hall, 600 North Park Street, Madison, Wisconsin, tel. 608-263-1755, FAX 608-263-7125; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to teach English overseas, get some official training in teaching English to Speakers of other Languages (ESL). Most people who apply for these jobs do not have this training: you will stand out.
A good place to start looking is Volunteers in Asia. Their address is PO Box 4543, Stanford, CA, 94309, 415-723-3228, FAX 725-1805.
The single best way to find a job working with a humanitarian agency concerned with Viet Nam is to attend two meetings that happen in June. The bigger one is the NGO Forum. All the white (and many of the Viet Kieu) Non Governmental Organizations which work in Viet Nam, Laos, or Cambodia go there each year to do their business, including to look for personnel. The date and place for this year are not yet set, but it will be late in June in NY or Washington, DC. Call the USIRP office at 212-764-3925 and ask to be included in the next mailing. Also ask the USIRP office if you can buy a copy of their Directory of U.S. NGOs Viet Nam Programs (1992--five or ten dollars). This directory was compiled by the awesome Dao Spencer, of PACT (Private Agencies Collaborating Together, 1901 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Suite 1501, Washington, DC 20006, 202-466-5666). Last year Dao Spencer organized a conference for overseas Vietnamese who work in humanitarian aid to Viet Nam. I presume she will do it again. You can contact her at 212-697-6222. Don't waste her time.
As I said, it's hard to get work there from here even with degrees and experience. Go over and hustle or stay here and prepare yourself. One thing to consider is that if you want to work in business related to Viet Nam, it would be well to know something about the East Asian region or the Southeast Asia region or just to have some third language besides English and Vietnamese: Chinese, Japanese, French, German, Thai. The biggest investments in Viet Nam in years to come will be in infrastructure: roads, electric lines, etc., so some basic civil engineering couldn't hurt, if you want to get involved in real productive economic activity, not just buying and selling. Indochina Digest carries weekly listings of foreign business involvement in Viet Nam. Two other sources of information:
Indochina Interchange, published by the U.S.-Indochina Reconciliation Project, 220 West 42nd St., Suite 1801, NY, NY 10036-7202, 212-764-3925, FAX 3896, is the best single source for listings of jobs that might take you to Viet Nam. Subscription is $2/year.
Indochina Digest, a weekly two-sided 8 1/2 by 14 inch sheet of paper with the hardest news available on Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. Published by the Indochina Project of the Viet Nam Veterans of America Foundation, Suite 740, 200 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel. 202-483-9222, FAX 9312, $40/year.
Indochina Chronology (Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, 510-643-7958, FAX 9930), a wide-ranging list of things going on in Viet Nam, appears quarterly or so. The editor, retired civil servant Douglas Pike, has strong ties to Vietnamese-Americans and responds helpfully to individual requests for information.
Viet Nam: Economic Commentary and Analysis: a bi-annual appraisal of the Vietnamese Economy (Adam Forde, ADUKI Pty. Ltd., 32 Drevermann St., Farrer, Canberra ACT 2607, Australia). The only person I know who does not think this is the outstanding information source on its topic is a businessman who is starting a competing publication. All the academics love VECA. An extremely thorough biannual economic essay, written by a British economist using reports from individuals in the Vietnamese government whose judgment he respects. The first year's subscription went for $600, but there is talk of bringing the price down. Find it in a library?
The people at Viet Nam's Mission to the United Nations are helpful. The office is United Nations Room 319, 212-963-7616. Write to them at their residence: 10 Waterside Plaza, Apt. 7A, NY NY 10010, tel 212-689-1153, FAX 213-0652.
If You Go
Viet Nam is a poor country. Don't act like a jerk. On the other hand, don't let anyone give you a hard time for not knowing how to behave like an adult who grew up in Viet Nam. You're born with epicanthic folds, but you have to learn culture. There are aspects of culture in Viet Nam that you don't want to learn, especially if you are a young woman. Be very open about your plans and activities. If you do this, people will help you. If you try to sneak around and do things you haven't said you wanted to do, the cops will notice you. Vietnamese cops aren't any more fun to spend time with than American ones are.
There is a lot available in English. These are all books any helpful bookseller can get for you.
Tale of Kieu, by Nguyen Du, translated by Huynh Sanh Thong, Yale University Press, 1983, 208 pp. A long poem built by a bureaucrat out of peasant proverbs, first written in Vietnamese language in Chinese characters, based on tale from a Chinese novel. Plays the role of Dante's Divine Comedy, in establishing Vietnamese, instead of Chinese, as the literary language of the Vietnamese people (as Dante used Italian and not Latin), and plays the role the Roman Aeneid and Hellenic Iliad play in general European culture: a big long work of art Vietnamese people can point at to show that they are civilized. All that aside, a wonderful thing to read, with the driving plot of Perils of Pauline and the composed wit and endless sorrow of Racine's plays. This edition presents the modern-script version of the Vietnamese text on the left hand page, and a lively verse translation on the right.
The best collection for Vietnamese poetry is out print: The Heritage of Vietnamese Poetry, edited and translated by Huynh Sanh Thong, Yale University Press. Find it in the library for now: a revised edition will appear in the next couple of years. If you want to buy a collection of translations, try Of Quiet Courage: Poems From Viet Nam, compiled and edited by Jacqui Chagnon and Don Luce (Indochina Mobile Education Project, 1974). It is available directly from The Asia Resource Center, P.O. 15275, Washington, DC 20003, 202-547-1114).
Paradise of the Blind, by Duong Thu Huong, translated by Nina McPherson and Phan Huy Duong, William Morrow and Co., New York, 1993. First novel from Viet Nam to appear in English in the United States. The author is well-known in Viet Nam and overseas, perhaps chiefly because her criticism of the Vietnamese government can be interpreted as anticommunism. A sad tale of an export worker in Leningrad, who must spend her scarce energy caring for her uncle, a Party member and black marketeer in Moscow. While she travels she dreams of her childhood in the streets of Ha Noi and in the countryside. Incredible food.
The General Retires and Other Stories, by Nguyen Huy Thiep, translated by Greg Lockhart, Oxford in Asia Paperbacks, Oxford University Press, New York, 1992. Short stories by a fiction writer widely adored and discussed in Viet Nam and elsewhere. Very realistic, very fanciful, very liberating if you have had any form of Vietnamese nationalism foisted upon you, very informative if you haven't.
Vietnamese Short Stories, edited with translation by James Banerian, Sphinx Publishing, 4234 East University, Phoenix, Arizona, 85034, 602-437-0207. Contact the publisher directly. If you want some pleasant reading a quick background in Vietnamese short fiction, here's a start. The editor and translator is an Armenian-American who has made an impressive sublimation of the energies of his own ethnic and historical predicament (the Armenians in California are the remnant of culture that was savaged but not destroyed by the Turks early in this century) to become a figure in Vietnamese-American literature. Get used to that kind of thing from Westerners who know about Viet Nam: we've all made some similar transference. Anyway, Banerian makes a reasonable selection of the writers you should know about if you want to know about what your country has tried to do with fiction in modern times.
When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman's Journey from War to Peace, (Doubleday, New York, 1989), the first of several books by the peasant/Viet Cong/ GI wife/ founder of the East Meets West Foundation head Le Ly Hayslip, appeared as an Oliver Stone movie, Heaven and Earth.
Fallen Leaves, by Nguyen Thi Thu-Lam (Lac Viet, Box 13A Yale Station, New Haven CT 06520, 1989), an account by another Southern woman of her time in Saigon during the war and after leaving Viet Nam.
South Wind Changing: A Memoir, by Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh, (Graywolf Press, Minnesota, 1994), soon to be published to fanfare, is by a 36 year old Vietnamese man who went to university in Saigon, did time in a reeducation camp, came to this country and became a writer.
The Far East Comes Near: Autobiographical Accounts of Southeast Asian Students in America, edited by Lucy Nguyen-Hong-Nhiem and Joel Martin Halpern, the University of Massachusetts Press, 1989. About a dozen essays each by American students from Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia. Lucy Nguyen-Hong-Nhiem, who was a professional educator in Viet Nam and is now a college professor in Massachusetts, is writing her own memoirs for publication in 1994 or 1995.
If you know how to find a dissertation: The Viet Nam War/The American War: Images and Representations in Euro-American and Vietnamese Exile Narratives, by Renny Christopher, for the Literature Board, University of California, Santa Cruz, Ph.D. 1993, is the best sustained piece of literary criticism so far on Vietnamese-American literature in English.
Revolution in the Village: Tradition and Transformation in North Viet Nam, 1925-1988, by Hy V. Luong. University of Hawaii Press, 1992. One thing the Communists got right is that knowing history helps to understand literature. Or you could say that history is a literary art that helps you understand the world. If you've got a stomach for facts, this fine recent study by a relentlessly professional young scholar, who will certainly be one of the Vietnamese-Americans to achieve power in the American academy, will feed you a strong thesis and a lot of facts about what's been going on as the most traditional part of Viet Nam, the Northern countryside, has taken steps toward the wonderful world the rest of us live in.
To step back into the dim past, read Cornell professor Keith Taylor's The Birth of Viet Nam, University of California Press, 1983. A massive and dense work of professional history, by one of the world's kindest men. For the twentieth century, go to the library and find the books of David Marr and Hue Tam Ho-Tai (Ho Hue Tam). Marr and Taylor are U.S. veterans of the American war, and represent the first generation of Western scholars who don't patronize Vietnamese people and don't defer to them, either. Ho-Tai is a Harvard professor. Her Radicalism and The Origins of the Vietnamese Revolution (Harvard University Press, 1992) combines literary criticism, archival research, and family history into the most accessible and authoritative source you could ask for on this subject.
If you read French: Des Femmes, in Paris, publishes more Vietnamese fiction in a Western language than any other commercial press I'm aware of. If you want an overview and references to scholarly work in Western languages, and translations, see Studies on Vietnamese Language and Literature: A Preliminary Bibliography, by Nguyen Dinh Tham, 1992, from Southeast Asia Publications, Southeast Asia Program, 120 Uris Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.
Van Hoc, the established literary magazine of the overseas Vietnamese in the U.S. Vietnamese language. I read about three sentences an hour, I'm no judge, but certainly a place to look for something you might like. Van Hoc, PO Box 3192, Tustin, CA 92680.
Hop Luu, a Vietnamese language literary magazine that split from Van Hoc over the issue of printing the work of writers from Viet Nam today. These are the true American publishers of Viet Nam's most exciting authors. A good way to learn to read Vietnamese, by reading the best new literature: P.O. Box 277, Garden Grove, CA 92642, tel 714-537-2468.
Journal of Vietnamese Studies, published by the Australian Association of Vietnamese Studies, G.P.O. Box 2918DD, Melbourne, Australia, 3001, Australia, a literary and academic journal with a strong social science bent.
Horizons: of Vietnamese Thought and Culture, Huy Thanh Cao editor, 415, S. Park Victoria, Suite 350, Milpitas, CA 95035. Subscription $14/year. The best single magazine for Vietnamese-American young people (age 18-35), as far as I can tell.
Face to Face: The Voice of Vietnamese Lesbians and Gays (PO Box 730305, San Jose, CA 95173, 408-956-9160) a fine new cultural magazine in English and Vietnamese, with lots of photographs. The editors are brave and honest, which means they may have good taste.
Dien Dan, which means Forum, is the name of, oh, about 50 zillion Vietnamese publications. This one is in Prague in the Czech Republic, where they publish in English and have just started publishing books in Vietnamese for possible export to Viet Nam. Contact: Tran Hong Ha, editor in chief, c/o Camille Sweeny, Center for Independent Journalism, Vodickova 36, 2nd Floor, 110 00 Praha 1.
Across the Sea is an outstanding biannual published by undergraduate and graduate students in Berkeley, California. Contact: Vietnamese American Student Publications, 700 Eshleman Hall, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, 510-841-6837.
The journal Viet Nam Forum and the Lac Viet monograph series are published by the Yale Council on Southeast Asia Studies, Box 13A Yale Station, New Haven, CT 06520. Issues of both series appear about once a year, and cost $10 or $15. The English-language literary and academic journal of Vietnamese culture and history. Huynh Sanh Thong started it in 1983, I edit it now. We just published The End of the Vietnamese Monarchy, by Bruce Lockhart, and will publish a Forum issue focusing on contemporary Vietnamese literature this year.
Amerasia Journal. Invaluable essays and indexes on Asian-American, Vietnamese-American, and even plain Vietnamese topics. Editors Russell Leong and Glenn Omatsu bend over backwards to make their enterprise one of the very few "Asian-American" organizations that isn't a Sino-Nipponese front. Contact: Amerasia Journal, Asian American studies Center, 3232 Campbell Hall, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90024.
Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Grant A. Olson, editor, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115. Volume 7, Number 2, 1992 focuses on "Vietnamese Poetry and History," four articles collected and introduced by Keith Taylor.
Viet Nam Generation: A Journal of Recent History and Contemporary Issues publishes a great deal of work from and about Viet Nam and Vietnamese-Americans. Contact: 18 Center Road, Woodbridge, CT 06520, 203-387-6882.
Vietnamese Studies, an English-language publication of the Foreign Languages Publishing House, now called the World Publishing House, in Ha Noi, has been appearing at intervals since 1960. You can buy them through someone in New York and someone in Australia, but I don't have either address just now. Call me and I'll track one down. Most large research university libraries have some copies.
I am not going to give out names and addresses here, because I don't know where this list will end up. As you know, there are Vietnamese people who harass other Vietnamese people who are friendly to Viet Nam or to Western scholars who aren't right-wingers. But it is very important that you know that there are not just one or two but dozens of Vietnamese overseas intellectuals of substantial accomplishment. These people will be delighted to communicate with you if you have real curiosity and something of your own to say.
Older people (40s and 50s): Huynh Sanh Thong, translator of Vietnamese literature, theorist of the origin of human culture; Ngo Vinh Long, historian of Viet Nam; Lucy Nguyen, expert on Vietnamese literature, especially women's narratives.
Middle aged people (30s and 40s): Truong Vu, expert on contemporary Vietnamese literature; Linh Dinh, English-language poet and translator; Hue Tam Ho-Tai (Ho Hue Tam), the John Fairbank Professor of Sino-Vietnamese History at Harvard; Tiana Alexandra, film-maker who of course is not middle-aged in any American sense, and Quan Nguyen, anthropologist and documentary film-maker.
Young people (20s): Vinh Nguyen, omniscient literatus and Internet maven; Andrew Lam, newspaper columnist; Do Tri Dung, newspaper columnist; Huy Thanh Cao, magazine editor and my hero. I'm not mentioning younger women because they are more exposed to harassment than young men and most of the ones I know are not yet public figures accustomed to dealing with rude strangers.
There are also a number of young Western students of Viet Nam who you should know about: Peter Zinoman, a young scholar of Viet Nam who has translated a good deal of recent fiction; Nina McPherson, who cotranslated Paradise of the Blind; Rosemary Kacoroski, a Seattle court interpreter who is famous for singing Vietnamese folk songs on TV in Viet Nam; and Lady Borton, an author and social worker. There are many others. Most of them enjoy hearing from Vietnamese people. If you have a specific need for an expert, give me a call.
There are several bulletin boards and Internet lists for Vietnamese people and Vietnamese topics. I don't do this kind of thing myself. Here are highlights from an article on the topic by John Sutherland from Viet Nam Generation 4:3-4, Summer-Fall 1992, pages 31-2.
Electronic mailing lists come and go, and email addresses change all the time. If you are associated with a university you can often get free electronic mail service and access to the Internet. Go to your school's computer services center and ask. If you are not connected to a university, there are commercial services which provide you with access for a fee. Costs vary wildly, so shop around. Popular providers include CompuServe, MCI, America On-Line, and Delphi, among others. Once you are on line, you might try checking out the following: