Tag Archives: Vietnam

Cheers to fond memories!

26 Jun

7pm. Bar. Melbourne Airport.

I had flown into Melbourne with my team from work to attend a conference we had organised over the preceding few months.

There was half an hour before the flight back to Canberra.

We decided to celebrate the success of the conference with a drink.


Jake said he’d get the first round. Tracy ordered a G&T. When I heard “G&T”, my eyes lit up and I told him that I wanted one too. The weather had been particularly cool for autumn, and a gin and tonic was far from what one should drink in colder weather. However, when Tracy said those words, I was hit with nostalgia.


Back in Hanoi, after a hard day’s work at the NGO, I would come home. And my housemate and fellow volunteer would fix me an ice cold G&T, with a slice of lime. He concocted them so well. We would then sprawl on the couch talking about our respective days, the challenges, the quirks, the triumphs, the small wins, the things we loved. It was great downtime, chatting to someone who knows what I’m going through, despite both of us working in quite different working environments. Also, he was a white male and I’m Viet kieu, so they treated us differently.

Nevertheless, those chats in the cool, tiled house in Hanoi, away from the humidity, heat and dust, with a G&T in our hands, are moments I cherish.

So hearing someone in Australia say “G&T” brought fond memories to my mind.

And when I had it in my hand, sipping on it in Melbourne Airport, I mentioned to my workmates that G&Ts now remind me of Hanoi.

Tracy said it reminded her of her travels through South America.

Bec shared about how the beer she was drinking reminded her of backpacking in London.


All three of us held our drinks – the links to places and unique experiences.


Cheers to fond memories!


* Names have been changed to protect identities.

Stay in school, kids!

26 Jun

LANGUAGE WARNING. Proceed with caution.

One in the air for the people that ain’t here,
Two in the air for the father that’s there,
Three in the air for the kids in the ghetto,
Four for the kids who don’t wanna be there,
None for the n-ggas trying to hold them back,
Five in the air for the teacher not scared,

To tell those kids that living in the ghetto (that the n-ggas holdin back) that the world is theirs’!”

In Vietnam, a large proportion of parents cannot send their children to secondary and tertiary schools – particularly in the rural areas. Males are generally prioritised over females. Thus, not many girls go past Year 9.

My relatives are of that demographic.

They struggle as farmers in land that is sometimes infertile, hardly managing to put their children through school, and girls marry early to gain some level of security.

In Vietnam, many of the university students see the USA as the promised land- for the perfect lifestyle, for the perfect education.

Yet kids in the USA have to fight their own battles to stay in school.

They need positive role models like rapper Lupe Fiasco to encourage them to value their education.

So no matter what you been through,
No matter what you into,
No matter what you see when you look outside your window,
Brown grass or green grass,
Picket fence or barbed wire,

Never ever put them down,
You just lift your arms higher,
Raise em till’ your arms tired,
Let em’ know you’re there,
That you struggling and survivin’ that you gonna persevere.”

Above all, children need a sense of hope – whatever the circumstances they are in.

Live the high life! Be a volunteer!

1 May

On the volunteer program I joined up to, the program’s organisers said quite frankly that the professional experience gained by us will be greater than what we contribute to the organisations we work with overseas. Of course we have valuable skills, a unique perspective and the desire to do good. However, it takes more than that to make a lasting difference.

So the organisers said that for us, the experience will be fantastic and invaluable. Try your best in the circumstances you’re in, and be happy with that. Some of us were on 6 month, 9 month and 12 month assignments. These were considered short-term assignments, as some people work in the development industry for over 10 years.

Two articles were provided as links in one of the recent posts, no brainer, all gut-ter. I agree with most of the points made in both articles. We don’t lose too much by volunteering. It’s fantastic for our careers, sense of self, understanding of others and how the world works, and contributes a lot to the development of us being individual thinkers. Many people go through university being taught how to think inside prescribed frameworks. With overseas volunteering, we can take a step back and think about things through different angles.

It was also definitely a no brainer for me too. I knew I wanted to take this opportunity to work on climate change education with young adults, in an emerging space globally and in the developing world. I was curious as to the young ‘green movements’ that were forming in Vietnam, and I wanted to get in on the action! It was hard convincing my parents that it was a good career move, but in the end, I made my decision regardless and jetted off over the horizon!


Youth setting up their exhibit at the "Hanoi & The Environment" exhibition

“Hi, my name is Huong. I’m a privileged princess and I’m here to do volunteer work. It’s lovely to meet you all.”

30 Apr

Xin chao, minh ten la Huong. Minh la Uc goc Viet. Minh la tinh nguyen vien va minh rat vui de gap moi nguoi hom nay.”

The first quote is what people heard.

The second quote is what I actually said.

Hi, my name is Huong. I am Australian with Vietnamese heritage. I’m a volunteer and it’s lovely to meet you all.

So began my 12 months’ volunteer assignment in Hanoi, Vietnam. I would proceed to introduce myself thus and receive the same reactions in people’s faces: Ahhh…she’s a privileged princess. She’s got so much money that she can come here to do work for free. So she lives in Australia. And her parents are Vietnamese. She is Viet kieu. Her parents are traitors of the motherland. They must have abandoned us during the American War. She is the daughter of traitors.

Viet kieu‘. A pronoun to describe people of Vietnamese heritage who live in another country. Vietnamese expatriates. It originated as a derogatory term and has now entered into common parlance and is socially acceptable. In my knowledge, Vietnamese is one of the few languages that has developed such a term to distinguish and discriminate against their own expatriates. My manager at work sometimes introduced me as Viet kieu in a matter-of-fact way. It offends me, however, due to its derogatory origins. But I lived with it.

Perhaps you may think that I’m being harsh. However, I found increasingly that when people approached me, their lines of questioning headed towards the direction of my parents’ betrayal of Vietnam. I entered a highly charged political space which I could not avoid. I read a quote recently that went along the lines of: The best way around it is through. So I went through.

Let me begin from the beginning (of sorts).

I was volunteering in my hometown of Sydney after completing a double Arts/Law degree. I found out about a volunteer program for young professionals to contribute to capacity-building programs overseas. This one attracted me because it was for young people with particular sets of skills transferring those skills in partnership with others. I applied and after a lengthy process, found myself at the week-long pre-departure training course. Three weeks later, I arrived in Hanoi with seven others.

It was mid-summer. July 2009.

I don’t think I was starry-eyed; nor did I have unrealistic expectations of the wonders of foreign aid and the transformative change I would instigate. I’d learnt about the pitfalls of aid during uni, had done community-based volunteer work for a number of years in Australia, received training on managing my expectations of ‘making a difference’ and had a good group of fellow volunteers in Hanoi who were level-headed and pragmatic. In addition, my mum reminded me that the Vietnamese will resent me for being Viet Kieu.

Despite all this, of course, there were challenges expected and unexpected, simple and complex, resolvable and unresolvable. And I was up for the challenge of meeting those challenges. I went through that challenge (with varying levels of success).

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