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The tale of two generations

Vietnamese living in the United States might have exceeded one million, the majority of them having migrated since 1975.

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The Memorandum of the 2000 Congress of Former Students of the Nam Dinh - Yen Mo lyceum - published in America gives a glimpse of the state of mind of two generations across the Pacific.

Author Nguyen Quoc Suy stresses from the beginning the difference of motivations between the old and younger generations.

“Do you think that our souls vibrate on the same pitch? The aged have seen the native land through subjective realities where so many old memories are revived,” he queries.

“I left Ha Noi at 18, the age when people begin to love. My trips took me from An Giang to Thach Han river, my passing fancies echoed the strikes of the oar in Can Tho and the songs of boatwomen on the Perfume River, the ocean waves and the alluring music of the dance floors in Sai Gon and Ha Noi.

“It seemed to me that the River of Penitence could not wash off my Karma.”

“While I was looking for the past, my children carefully read a guide to Viet Nam compiled by foreign authors. Little wonder we did bewitching landscapes.”

“Picture for yourself a small motorboat threading its way through amaze of rivulets. Our children had known through the Discoveries show images of the Nile milling with crocodiles, water buffaloes and other beasts which tear one another off brutally.

“The small canals of An Giang flow peacefully in the autumnal breeze. I and my kids had gone on a taxiboat in Venice. But we agreed that the canals with their concrete embankments are far from arousing our emotion.

“If you had gone on a tourist trip in Thailand you would have the occasion to glide on canals with blackened waters of the Mekong in Bangkok...In Viet Nam the beaches around the islands or along the coast parallel to the National Highway 1 such as in Phan Ri, Cam Ranh, Dai Lanh, Sa Huynh Lang Co, Canh Duong, on the Transversal Pass, in Sam Son or Do Son enchant us with their sand and dunes of a great variety.”

Every now and then the kids exclaimed “Amazing!” Have you ever thought possible to swim in a tiny strait. Yet, there is one such place in Ha Long Bay.”

The young pay almost no attention to historical vestiges or the religious sites which captivate the aged. The most unexpected discovery for them is the Vietnamese character through their daily contacts.

“Wherever they go my Americanised kids are welcomed by sweet smiles.

They have received unexpected lessons of a land denuded but full of humanism. At a modest restaurant in Nha Trang, a crippled young man, probably a war invalid, moved on a wheelchair inviting clients to buy lottery tickets. My son declines the offer saying dryly “No thanks, I don’t.” I know that he said this not out of insolence or despise but because of his poor vocabulary. He pulled out of his pocket a VND5,000 note and offered it to the invalid but the latter rolled on his chair without turning his head. My son, very astonished, asked me why is that. I knew well that the man wanted to let it be known that he never accepts alms.”

To what extent will the second generation be linked to Viet Nam and its culture? Nguyễn Quốc Suy confides: “Following my return to California an old woman friend professor of literature told me in a tone both admiring and sarcastic “Well, you have taken your brood back to the fold!” I ask myself if that is true. From a tourist travel to the native country I have convinced my children to come back and serve the country. A far-flown myth?

In America the generation of our children have undergone a complete specialisation. Each specialist considers himself to be master of his domain, he neglects questions of synthesis though his specialised knowledge are only a flickering light in the immense universe. This excessive specialisation leads to the idolatry of his own speciality, hence the extremism in his work and argumentation and finally in metaphysics and religion. Would this concept of life fit in with the underdeveloped economy of Viet Nam? I would leave that to your judgement. The result of East-West acculturation may be illustrated by the example of the two children of the author, a son and a daughter.

When his son was at the 10th grade the boy put to him questions of a metaphysical character. Embarrassed he took his son to a church to listen to sermons. He recommended the boy to study Oriental philosophy and Buddhism. Although she does not visit the pagoda she lives according to her own ideas, seeking to understand metaphysical questions by herself. She likes to discuss the philosophy of both the East and West, the present and the past.”

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Update : 30-03-2018

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