Considering my life right now, our young generation, we have too much pressure. Sometimes I dream of the lives that my grandparents had.
This is Vietnam’s Renovation Generation in Episode 2 we are talking to Vu Hong Linh.
Vũ Hồng Linh was born in 1986 in Hanoi – the year of ‘Đổi Mới’, and she is now 30 years old. During her career she’s been a journalist for the Communist Party newspaper, a freelance editor and a teacher. Linh’s family portray a touching story of 3 generations in Vietnam: her grandparents group in the countryside in war time, her parents transitioned to the city after the war and she has only ever lived in the city.
PART 1: Generations before Linh
Back then it was really simple because they lived in the countryside, worked on the field, have food, have kids and that is all. Of course they did not have meat to eat, but they can just go to the field and take sweet potatoes or whatever they have and then to just fill their stomachs. Of course they cannot have good education, because of that, they did not have too much pressure.
Her grandparents want their children to have more work and educational opportunities so they encouraged them to move to the city.
At that time, everybody was running away because of the work so there were a lot of land and empty houses. We just had to pick up whatever house we liked.
Her parents were both working for the government. They told Linh stories about how life was quite simple for them back then.
After working, their hard working days, they normally go to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. At the mausoleum, they give bread. At the time bread was really precious.
Things were changing rapidly after the American war. Vietnam and other Communist countries strengthened political ties through workers and student exchange programs. Linh’s father was the one selected to go to Soviet occupied Bulgaria on a workers exchange where he spent 2 years.
The anchorwoman announced the Soviet Union, as a subject of international and geopolitical reality no longer exists.
We had no money at all and they didn’t pay for the plane tickets. My mother had to borrow money from relatives and friends and my father lost his job, my mother worked in a government company so you know that she didn’t get high salary at all.
Her father found a job as a low-wage, long-hour construction worker. For some extra cash on the side, Linh had to make room for others inside her home.
We had a house around 70m2, half of that for chickens and pigs so I had to live and sleep next to the pigs’ cage. A lot of my relatives did not want to go to visit my house because it was too smelly. I was very famous in my area because I was so small. My whole childhood, I was working hard.
PART 2: Life in the Communist Party newspaper
The first time when you go to the organization, they would not ask about which education that you got or your ability, they just asked who you know. I worked there for one month.
Then things took a strange turn at her work one morning.
I went there, parked the motorbike and the guard told me that I could not get in. ‘You don’t work here anymore. The general editor told me so’. They said I was fired, not even my colleague or manager who told me, just a guard.
She called her department’s boss, looking for answers.
He said that I had to pay 200 million VND, around 10000$, to get the job. I don’t have that money, and I would not pay any penny for that kind of thing.
After that she was introduced to the Communist Party newspaper Nhan Dan. There was no bribe this time, but she did have to work there for 10 months without any wages. So Linh had to learn the protocol behind working for the Party newspapers.
We had to be very careful with what we write. We tried not to talk about sensitive countries or sensitive problems. If my colleague says something that was too sensitive, that the Korean or Chinese ambassadors would just call directly to the government and complain then the colleague of course got fired.
Vietnam news is often called propaganda. This is what Linh said.
Newspaper in every country is the same. If they say something that the government doesn’t like, of course they cannot exist. It’s a problem of surviving, For example, about the wars in Iraq and Iran, the Western newspapers normally say like: ‘We’re the good people, we come here for good.’ But it’s just like the war in Vietnam. Okay we had problems but we had to solve it ourselves.
Linh enjoyed working for the newspaper, but something wasn’t right for her there.
I really felt like I was a puppet. I had to act like people expected me to do. I cannot wear dresses because people would say that I am too flirty. Every time there is a meeting or problems or things like that. We cannot say new things. Kind of a passive life for me.
That time I got a chance to go to Denmark, I decided to move there and start a new life.
PART 3: Marriage across the ocean
It got me a lot of effort to get a job in a newspaper. At that period people had to pay like 200 million to get a job there, I got it for free. Of course my parents were really angry and even my colleagues they think that it was a wrong decision.
She wanted to go anyway and found out for herself.
I knew the life in Europe is not easy. I met a lot of Vietnamese women in Denmark and they said… Some of them got depression because they couldn’t like the weather, especially in winter. They couldn’t like the life when you have only your husband and your children, that’s all. A lot of them just wanted to go back to Vietnam.
Linh’s marriage suddenly broke down after 2 years, so she had to make a very difficult decision.
Living alone in Denmark, I don’t think that it’s a good choice. If I go back to Vietnam, I’d have no job and I couldn’t save so much money in Denmark so I just decided to go back to Vietnam and start a new life again.
She now considers that time the most difficult in her life.
When your relationship breaks down and you have nothing in your hand, it’s really like your life has disappeared. I was really depressed. I left everything in Vietnam and I fought with my parents, then I have to come back. Sometimes at that time I even thought about killing myself because it felt like I was a big failure.
I was her parents’ support that helped her through the hard time…
I couldn’t get over that period without them.
… and finding work again in Hanoi.
For me, working is really a key to life. If I don’t work, I’ll die.
In hindsight she offers some wisdom for other women who find themselves in a similar position:.
If they really want to get married with a guy, please sign a contract just to make sure that they will get something to start a life again. Keeping the self-respect is good but taking back what you sacrifice is not wrong.
Aside from the marriage abroad, Linh now has a deeper understanding of the conflict that comes in families when the child decides to live away from home.
Even the old people they don’t know how to raise the kids right now. They really hope that their kid can go abroad and get a good education. But they still want their kids to live like them, to be traditional. They cannot get why their kid can be so free, can speak out what they want and go out a lot.
Nowadays, it’s really too hard to say about the future. At least if we don’t have war, that maybe it will get better.
The Renovation Generation was produced by Fabiola Buchele and Eliza Lomas. An & Of Other Things production.