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Vietnam as if…

Vietnam as if…: Tales of youth, love and destiny OPEN ACCESS

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: ANU Press
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    Vietnam as if…
    Book Description:

    Vietnam as if… follows five young people who have moved from the countryside to the city. Their dramatic everyday lives illuminate some of the most pressing issues in Vietnam today: ‘The Sticky Rice Seller’ explores gender roles; ‘The Ball Boy’ is all about the struggles of sexual and ethnic minorities; ‘The Professional’ examines relations between rich and poor; ‘The Goalkeeper’ delves into politics and ideology; and ‘The Student’ reflects upon family and faith. The stories also reboot several classics of Vietnamese literature for the twenty-first century, including ‘Floating Dumplings’ by feminist poet Ho Xuan Huong, Vu Trong Phung’s satire of French colonialism Dumb Luck, Nguyen Du’s epic account of fate and sacrifice ‘The Tale of Kieu’, and the proclamations of Ho Chi Minh. These novellas reveal the deepest sentiments of Vietnamese youth as they – like youth everywhere – come of age, fall in love and contest their destiny. In 2011 Kim Huynh returned to Vietnam, having left more than three decades earlier. He had few plans other than to experience as much of his birthplace as possible. That year he came into contact with a wide range of people and took on many trades. Kim drank and dined with government officials, went on pilgrimages with corporate tycoons and marched in the streets against foreign aggression. He sold sticky rice, was a tennis player and also a ball boy, attended all manner of rituals and celebrations, eavesdropped on people in cafés and restaurants, and went back to the classroom as both a student and a teacher. Rich in detail and broad in scope, these tales capture Kim’s experiences and imaginings of Vietnam as if….

    eISBN: 978-1-925022-31-5
    Subjects: Sociology, History
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  1. Sometimes it feels as if one thousand years goes by in a single day. Perhaps it’s just me, slowing down in my old age. But from what I can tell, everyone else is also moving faster, trying to squeeze more into every second, eager to get from one point to the next without ever wondering what might be in between or beyond.

    Often I watch people go by with their ears pressed up against their phones or staring into those shiny little screens. I gather that they are liking, messaging, tweeting, posting, following and tagging. I don’t pretend to know...

  2. ‘Take a seat! Take a seat! Don’t stand there thinking about it. Make a choice. Trust me. Everything is tasty and cheap. Only seven sickles a serve. Ten clams if you’re hungry or five twigs if you’re on a diet. But you’re already so slim, you don’t need to worry about that. In fact, why don’t you buy a jumbo serving with extra dripping for 15 Uncle Hos? It’s enough for your breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I bet you’ll be back tomorrow for more.

    ‘Take a seat! Here’s a serving with pummelled mung beans. Eat first, pay later, you...

  3. There are, and I am sure of this, only two types of people in this world. The vast majority are zeros: nothings, spaces to be filled. You can find them cowering in corners, protecting their weaknesses. Zeros are rarely on the front foot or in control of the tempo; they are reactionaries in every sense of the word. For them, the game of life is carefully marked out by rules and routines according to which feats of strutting self-expression are repressed, with violence if need be.

    ‘Fetch me that ball, boy. Quickly!’

    I swagger across the court and, feigning clumsiness,...

  4. Thao’s always running late. Obviously out of her depth. Was never cut out for big business. Too sweet. Too homely. Unprofessional.

    ‘Waiter! Boy! Bring me a cappuccino and a glass of mineral water.’

    ‘Yes madam. Straight away.’

    ‘Hold on. Don’t go running off just yet. Listen carefully. Last time I was here I didn’t get what I asked for. There are four things you need to remember.

    One, I need skim milk, not full cream and certainly not UHT. Two, it must be a weak coffee, half strength. Three, I want extra chocolate sprinkled on the top. And four, I...

  5. Usually I fall asleep in an instant and wake up just as quickly without an alarm. I see no good reason to be restless and don’t care to dream.

    But tonight I’m not myself. And this was no ordinary day. Today I suffered three grave disappointments, the memory of which traumatises me. So that, as much as I crave slumber, I find myself lying awake, hypersensitive to my surroundings.

    The night air sits wet and heavy on my neck. Grime from this afternoon’s soccer match clings to my chest and legs. I stare up into a void.

    Although I pledged...

  6. With every glance at my watch time seems to slow down. I tell myself this is because I am bored, frustrated and cold. I remember from a textbook on quantum physics that time is radically variable but flows evenly as long as we remain relatively still. In my mind, however, it’s the stillness that’s the problem; that sense of being fixed in one spot forever.

    Finally, after over an hour of digging, my grandmother’s coffin is ready to be raised. My father and my two uncles heave it out and place it before the small crowd of family and friends...

  7. While writing this book, I often turned to a Vietnamese friend and colleague for advice. After reading ‘The Professional’, he hazarded: ‘You’re Maria Pham, aren’t you?’ My friend was convinced that I had made myself a character in the book in the same way a film director might take on a cameo role. As he saw it, Maria Pham revealed the true me as an expatriate who had reluctantly returned to his birthplace only to find himself adopting the culture and loving the country. My friend was right. I am Maria Pham. But there’s more to my relationship with this...