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Vietnamese in Vientiane

Mrs. Bế Thị Đạt, manager of an antique shop in Vientiane, “I remember the name of every Vietnamese soccer player .”

VietNamNet Bridge - While enjoying a bowl of fried noodles, my friend, a Vietnamese immigrant in Laos with a funny name, Bui Viet Kieu (Viet Kieu means a Vietnamese living abroad), suddenly looked up and stared at a TV screen broadcasting news in Thai.

After a few moments of silence, he asked whether I understood what the TV said. Not waiting for my answer, he told me the news was about Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s visit to Vietnam’s neighboring countries.

“Tomorrow, the minister will fly from Cambodia to Laos,” he said, sitting inside a restaurant situated right in the centre of Vientiane. I looked up myself while he said eagerly, “now they’re talking about the American President’s visit to Vietnam to attend the APEC summit.”

My friend was born to Vietnamese parents in Laos in 1966. He is now a hairdresser.

Big buildings in Vientiane hang flags and banners to welcome the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng

I asked him, “You seem to care about political news a lot, eh?” He lowered his voice and answered me in Vietnamese that had a mixture of southern and northern Vietnamese accents, “yeah, I watch it to soothe my homesickness. My older brother watches TV much more often than me. He is now 55 years old. Last year, he came back to Vietnam, traveled through Vinh and brought back 3 scarily thick books on Vietnamese history as presents for my son. He told the boy that at the end of this year, he would come back and quiz him on these books. If he was satisfied, he would reward the boy. My brother Cuong has a restaurant in Paris, but his life is harder than mine. I also went to France, Canada and Japan with intentions to settle in these places. But I came back home, shaking my head before my wife. There you earn a lot of money only after it beats you black and blue. Trying to catch up with life in Paris, my brother has been working himself away from day to night. Every month he spends tens of euros to call his brothers in Vientiane. These phone calls cost him 300 euros a year. He says he makes money for only 2 reasons: giving his children good education and calling relatives. My hairdresser’s shop costs me only 400 euros/year in rent.”

Kieu’s wife, Mrs. Phan Thanh Hŕ, from Hung Nguyen (Nghe An Province), immigrated to Vientiane as a bride 14 years ago. She proudly told me that they would soon move to a new place costing 2,500 -3,000 USD/year to open a hairdresser’s shop.

“We have just bought a piece of land for 20,000 USD on the highway to Thailand, but it’s far from the centre,” she said. “We have to get a head start, because in just a few years, that area will be good for business.”

Only one week after setting foot in Vientiane, Mrs. Ha had to work as a seller of miscellaneous things at a market. She used her savings to hire a local resident knowing Vietnamese to teach her the Laos language. Ha now sells fruit at Co Dinh Market just a few kilometers from home. She closes the shop at 6 P.M sharp everyday. Ha and her husband invited me to eat out at a restaurant to introduce Laos cuisine to me. While the wife was busy putting on her party clothes, the husband turned on the TV to treat me to some Vietnamese television.

I asked him why at the restaurant where I lived there were no Vietnamese channels on TV. Kieu said he had cable at home. The installation fee per household is 1.2 million kip (about 2 million VND). The monthly fee used to be 18,000 kip. “Now, many households have registered, so the monthly fee has gone down to only 15,000,” he said.

“After 3 P.M, they broadcast VTV3,” he added. Kieu told me he used Vietnamese channels to teach his children Vietnamese: “They don’t speak it outside, but at home, they have to speak Vietnamese.”

Kieu wondered why for the last few months, as soon as some soccer matches were on, and no matter where the teams came from, the broadcasting of VTV3 was stopped. “I love VTV3 because I can watch interesting programmes as well as learn Vietnamese. My parents are both dead, but I still keep the Vietnamese citizenship.”

Mrs. Bế Thị Đạt of the Tay ethnic minority from Quảng Hŕ Town (Quảng Ninh Province) has lived in Vientiane for almost 20 years. She retains her Vietnamese citizenship also. Running an antique shop for a Tay woman who married a Western man during the French rule, she partnered with another Vietnamese immigrant to open a restaurant on the bank of the Mekong River with a total investment of 100,000 USD on 12/19, when the Vietnamese Prime Minister officially visited Laos.

“I’ll have to go home eventually. I miss it so much,” she said while telling me about her addiction to Vietnamese channels. From morning till night, she both runs the shop and watches VTV4 and VTV3, “I remember the name of every Vietnamese soccer player,” said she.

With the weather in Vientiane, which many people said was warmer than usual at this time of year, I sat with the couple Kiều-Hŕ in a 3-wheel truck driving with a deadening noise into the city centre. Ha pointed out a part of Xi Muong Road where Vietnamese immigrants lived. This road has the same name as the famous Xi Muong temple.

She told stories about Vietnam in a ringing and happy voice. When the truck passed a shop owned by Ms. Dat, a Tay woman, Kieu answered a cell phone call asking him to teach an old Vietnamese pre- war song Mo Hoa (Flower Dream). A Vietnamese friend of his who works at a local bank will organise a wedding for her son on 12/23. She wanted to sing a duet with him as a wedding gift. “My husband’s a famous singer here in Vientiane,” Ha said, contentedly.

(Source: Tien Phong)

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