This is Vietnam’s Renovation Generation. Sonic portraits of young minds re-shaping the country’s future.
For episode 16 we invited four young women in their late teens for a chat over coffee and cake. We wanted to find out what they think about privilege, not being taken seriously by the generation before them and their hopes for the future.
Mia: I am Mia Nguyen and I was born in 1997
Mai: My name is Mai Pham and I was born in 1998
Giang: Giang Khuat and I was born in 1998
Boba: Boba and I’m 18 this September.
Mia, Mai, Boba and Giang all come from families who have benefited from the possibilities that Đổi Mới brought for some people in Vietnam. Access to international education, social opportunities and financial stability have shaped their young lives. They are studying abroad already or are preparing to do so and we had some questions for them…
What are your work aspirations?
Boba: I want to open an organisation for aiming at teaching kids, educate them through skating or sport or especially children from poverty or street kids
Mai: I like in the future one of my dreams is to open a gallery there is a huge underappriciation for art here in this country and that’s definitely something I want to work on.
Giang: I have no idea want I want to do with my life sometimes. Like with all my heart I want to be a lawyer, but like it’s stupid when you go to America to study law and come back to Vietnam to practice law right, cause it’s different law, but now I am still trying to figure it out how to study in America and practice law in Vietnam.
Where is home for you?
Do you guys all want to come back here though after your studies?
Mai: I do
Giang: I do
Mai: As a kid, ever since I was five, I’ve gone to international schools and a lot of people tell me I like mất gốc which means I don’t have like the Vietnamese roots with me, and I think as I grow up and now that I am boarding in America, like there is like this feeling that I get when I come home and I know when I walk around the streets of Hanoi, I know the streets well and I know that this is home.
Mia: Now that I am away, somehow I have become more Vietnamese. In terms of like I embrace my culture a lot more when I am abroad. For example I guess my connection between me and Buddhism has grown a lot stronger. When I’m in Canada then I don’t have any relatives there and so I guess religion was sort of like a home to me when I am away. Like I want a part of me to be really religious but just a part of me, because I just think it’s really healthy in a sense. So yeah.
Giang: That’s interesting.
Do you think of yourself as privileged?
Mai: I think about it sometimes, like when I walk around the streets of Vietnam, I’m like wow I have been given so much more than that person for example and like, what like did I do to deserve this, but then at the same time if I am given all these opportunities than I might as well use it.
Mia: Or a lot of times I will look at my friends from local schools and I will think wow they are doing so much compared to what I am doing and I have been given a lot more resources and opportunities then they did, but I am not using it as efficiently or as much as they are. So a lot of the times I am just feeling man I am useless or that I am like guilty for all of these privileges that I am getting right now.
Giang: Ciputra, is such a rich community, and then next to it is a very kind of like, poor people have to live and they kind of …
Boba: I think that people should go out into urban just have an urban exploration and just have different opinions about people living around them.
Mai: Like I think we all want poverty to go away and to like less very poor people living in that condition, but ever since like I don’t know the French colonisation there has been like huge French villas for rich people and then everyone else just in tiny houses it’s been like that for a while I think.
If you could change one thing and keep another what would those things be?
Mia: to change some things… sexism is a huge problem. Racism is also a huge problem. Or like the ageism so, if you are older you have all the rights to tell the younger people what to do, even though you may be less, you are more incompetent than they are, because they embrace the new technologies and the open mind, the more open minded mindsets
Mai: There is just so much sexism here. Like the men are always expected to be the breadwinners of the family, or like girls are only expected to go to like a certain education, expected to marry before certain age, expected to have kids before a certain age or else they are just like a ticking time bomb or at least that is what people say. Family gatherings, like the women are always in the kitchen cooking. So I like to cooks so I don’t mind that, but then afterwards I always have to wash the dishes, like why doesn’t my brother have to do it? I don’t get it.
Mai: Yes my brother never does it.
Mia: What to keep…? Also a lot of the ideologies. Like how you should embrace your family, religion, whatever it is. Or the family oriented culture that we have that you know family always should be prioritised over career and everything else. The family oriented culture is really like, I love it.
Mai: I love Tết, I haven’t experienced Tết in three years and I miss it a lot to be honest. It’s the thing I miss the most when I am in America.
Mia: I think something that we should really keep and I feel like we are losing it, is the languages itself. Vietnamese youth are not using Vietnamese as eloquently as they used to be. The literature is losing its readers. Embrace your language you know. It is your mother tongue after all, so…
Giang: I wanna keep the avant-garde.
Boba: I’m sorry?
Giang: that avant-garde, it’s music. Ca Trù.
Boba: ah yeah. The thing I want to keep is stories of Hanoi, Hanoians, about the people in Vietnam. I want to be a Hanoi storyteller.
What do you think about your own generation?
Mai: We are the lost generation.
Mia: like social media. we consume, we have the highest rates in Southeast Asia, guys what? Get out there, you know do things.
Boba: They have sources, they have the Internet, they have everything now. But they don’t take that advantages you know. That’s the problem of our generation
Mai: I wish there was more individuality and more creativity amongst at least the youth.
Boba: Yeah I want to see people take pride, especially young people take pride in culture and living style or just take pride in their country.
Mia: I want the country to take youth more seriously. Right now, they’re just treating us like a bunch of little kids. Which is why even if we have good ideas on how to change certain things, issues, ideologies we don’t have the capital for it, the resources.
Are you hopeful for the future?
All: yeah, mmhm.
Mia: I think right now, our generation is the one that. we are the changes. We are making changes right now. If we fight hard enough in this generation than the upcoming one will benefit a lot.
What do you have that your parents did not?
Giang: I’m more ready to say what I think.
Are there things from the past that you miss?
Mia: All the traditional games and the way that kids lived their childhood. My parents’ childhood was a lot cooler than mine was. Just because they didn’t have the technology I guess. I am not saying, I mean technology is a good thing, I am just saying the dependency for it should be lessened.
Mai: I think we are losing a lot of what I like about Vietnam and one of it is like the fables and the myths behind everything. Like when I was young I remember like eating every food, there would be like a story behind it and I think back then people talked a lot more, told like these cute little stories and I like those. I wish there were more of those.
Mia: They don’t explain things anymore.
Giang: I feel like love at that time is more romantic and actually effort. I feel like you don’t have phones or Internet at that time, so if you want to meet someone you go to meet them or you write letters or you actually try and this time if you wan to say you love someone you text them, you break up you call them ‘hey, bye’, done. The thing is just funny, but my point is, I feel like that my parents’ time they are more like patient. Like when something broke, they are more ready to like fix it, not get rid of it.
Boba: we were all poor back then so we were living this collective living style, but there was genuine care and attention toward each other, not materialism. They have no money back then, but they share with each other everything they have. And it’s a lovely living style and I really love that.
What will be the difference between you and the kids that come after you?
Boba: If we still keep living this style I think our history, culture will dead, just vanish somehow or just distort the history and people no longer access to facts anymore.
Mai: I think independence.
So more independence?
Mai: Less independence. I think people, like in some ways more independence, because they have less boundaries and more ways to explore, but at the same time very dependent on the social media, very dependent on what they are given.
Giang: Yeah I agree with Mai. I feel like the new generation can be more like Americanised. Like in America, you want to cook something you can, everything is automatic, you go to the supermarket and you get it done. Just go back home and put it in the you know…
Giang: ….the microwave or like the oven. Even though you have more things like technology with you, but you are actually more dependent on it.
Mai: I think we become lazy.
Mia: we’re just going to be overly pampered by resources.
[sounds of Giang, Mai, Mia and Boba having their photo taken and eating cake]
It is produced by Eliza Lomas and Fabiola Buchele, our production assistants are Trang Nghiem and Trang Ngo.
Jacques Smit is our photographer and the narration was done by myself, Bill Nguyen.
An & Of Other Things production.
In episode 17 we travel to Hue to speak to office operations manager Trần Văn Nhật about growing up without parents, how to love the countryside and why he fears for the future.
Be sure to listen!