Jeannie Parent

Go to content

Main menu

Hung Nguyen

Vietnam Project > Oral Histories

Interview with Hung Nguyen

J: OK. So we’re here in Hi End coffee shop with Hung – what’s your last name, Hung?
H: Nguyen.
J: Of course! Nguyen. How are you, Hung?
H: I’m fine. How are you?
J: I’m great. I’m just going to ask you some questions about your story.
H: OK.
J: Can you tell me your story? Where were you born?
H:  I was born in the Long Xuyen town. Where – it is South Vietnam.
J: In the Mekong Delta.
H: In the Mekong Delta, yes.
J: And what is your favorite childhood memory? Childhood memory.
H: Because …Mekong Delta… have uh two rivers. I really liked jump down from the bridge in the river.
J: In the Mekong river?
H: Mekong Delta?
J: IN the big river?
H: In the small – middle river.
J: Wasn’t that dangerous?
H: Some dangerous, so I really liked to feel the strong – yeah?…
J: Was the current fast? Did the water go fast?
H: No strong, not fast. Quiet. Because I was born there, then I know about was dangerous or not.
J: Was the water muddy or clean?
H: Muddy?
J: Dirty water or clean?
H: Of course clean water – natural.
J: Natural. Were there crocodiles?
H: No, no. Never seen the crocodiles.
J: Fish? Did you fish as a child?
H: The fish. Some fish. Not dangerous for you.
J: Did you catch fish?
H: I catch fish. I don’t like fishing. Because the Mekong delta too much the fish, you can catch fish by hand.  (J laughs) Yeah, that’s the truth! Maybe I show you how to do that.
J: You used to catch fish by hand?
H: Yeah. I can. I can do that because you know what? The fish, and some like this? How do you say this one?
J: Wood. The pole. The post.
H: The fish, and then the water. You can dive, diving, and then you catch the fish around.
J: Ahhh. They swim around the bridge post. Wow. So you didn’t like to catch fish.
H: I can. I can catch the fish by hand. It’s not hard. One by one. And the net – it’s too much. Too many.
J: How about the basket? Did you catch them in a basket?
H: Yeah, you can.
J: How about special celebrations or traditions in the delta?
H: Mekong delta, the summer is the celebration because the summer, the weather is really good and then the fruit is really sweet.
J: Ah. The fruit.
H: Yeah, the fruit is sweet. The fish the best, in the summer, and the fruit is the best in the year.
J: What is your favorite fruit?
H: Mang cut.
J: Mang cut?  Mangosteen.
H: Mangosteen.  And pineapple,
J: Pineapple, yeah..
H:  And I really love coconut.
J: Coconut. Coconut juice.
H: Yeah. That’s special. Coconut.
J: Did you have a special holiday when you were a child? A holiday, a special holiday that you remember?
H: Yeah, it’s um… the holiday, it’s the New Year – New Year - Tet… for the moon.
J: Ahh. Lunar.
H: Everybody – no work.
J: They don’t work for how many days?
H: Three days.
J: When is…Does that day change every year?
H: Not change. And the moon, not the calendar.
J: So what do you do for New Year’s every year?
H: The first day for your parents, for the grandfather, grandmother.. The second day is my culture. It’s really important. The second day for the relatives – the relatives and your grandfather, your grandmother – on the other side. Then the third day, for the teachers, for the professors. That’s really, really important for everyone.
J: That’s why teachers are so important in this culture.
H: Yeah.
J: So what do you do for these people? What …you say the first day is for the family, the second day for the grandparents? What do you do for them?
H: For them, you say the good words, the good words, the wish for long time - long life and happiness.
J: Do you give them presents?
H: The presents? No. For me, for the presents, and the lucky money. For friends, father, and mother. I give, and then I get. From them, lucky money for the I do good business – happy and successful business.
J: Do you give anything to children, or no?
H: Children?
J: Do you give children?
H: Lucky money.
J: Do you eat special food for New Year’s?
H: Yeah. The first, the first day, you eat the vegetarian.
J: “Rien.” Vict-or-ian…
H: Vegetables only.
J:  Vegetables. Vegetarian!
H: Just vegetables and tofu, no meat. So and the second day, the special food, something the culture all the culture, and it’s called, it’s called, “can kho ah.”
J: Is it fish?
H: No the fish and the meat. So and the um… special.
J: Special. Specially, cooked. Vietnamese food.
J: And the third day, the same? Not special.
H: The third day, free. “bun ca yo.” Something like that.
J: Do you eat noodles for longevity – to have a long life? Do you do that?That’s a Chinese custom to eat noodles to have a long life. Do you have that custom?
H: No. You know what? I have the three times –eat for the breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Almost all the people eat for the breakfast, noodles, and for the dinner, the rice. Breakfast, the noodles, something like that.
J: Are there games that children play at New Year’s? Do children play games on New Year’s?
H: In Ho Chi Minh City?
J: No. At Tet?
H: Yes, of course. New Year special games. Like um…the gambling, play cards. Yeah, you can…same like gambling. You play the money. The relatives, my family, and friends. ..yeah.
J: You play cards?
H: Yeah, special game, just three days.
J: What’s that game called?
H: Official…official three days.
J: So you’re allowed to gamble.
H: Yeah… yeah.
J: So what’s the game called in Vietnamese? What’s it called – that card game?
H: Ma Gao. Something like that.
J: Is there anything else you do during Tet that’s special? Oh, do you go to the pagoda? Do you go to the temple? Do you go pray?
H: Yeah. The temple.
J:  The Buddhist temple. The first day?
H: The first day. The first day. After wishing  the parents and relatives.
J: After you visit the parents, the family goes to the temple.
H: Yea…pray, right?
J: So is that the most important holiday to Vietnamese?
H: Number one. Number one important.
J: And how about Independence day? Is that very important? In September?
H: No. A holiday. Just a holiday…when you
J: Just get off work.
H: No work, drink coffee…something like that.
J: Okay. So I’m going to change the subject a little bit.
How is it for you…um…Would you ever want to move back to Vietnam or no?
H: My plan for the future?
J: No, your heart. Would you like to move back, or are you happy to stay in the United States?
H: Oh… That’s a good question. Right now, I wish I finish the college in America, and then after that, I move back.
J: And your wife?
H: Yeah. She move back. She don’t like noisy, something like that. She like the stable. I don’t like stable. Because if you stable, you get a salary. I work for the business, I can commission high, low, dependent on me.
J: It’s exciting.
H: Yeah, exciting! That’s why…
J: I’m like your wife. I like stable
H: Yeah. She likes stable. I don’t like stable.
J: Well, thank you very much for your interview.
H: You’re welcome.

Interview (2) Cont’d:
J: What do you think defines the Vietnamese character?
H: Define?
J: What makes a Vietnamese person different from a Lao, or Chinese or Korean, Japanese? What makes a Vietnamese person special?
H: Special? Because you know what – the alphabet? The Vietnamese use the only one in East Asia just use the alphabet – the Latin.
J: The what?
H: The Latin? The abc. The Asia.
J: Blood type?
H: No. The words from Vietnamese from  Latin. The alphabet.
J: I don’t know what that is.
H: The writing. The handwriting.
J: Oh, abc, the alphabet.
H: Just only one. The country. So the character, so I can learn something new, fast. Because the culture the same, America uses the alphabet, so you teach me, the language, I can learn fast, because I use I can write easy. The Lao, Cambodia, Thailand, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, all their own alphabet.
J: But what about their personality? How would you describe the Vietnamese personality?
H: Personality… that’s the family.
J: That’s the biggest characteristic?
H: Because my history, the Vietnamese history – before the Chinese, the French, the
J: Americans..
H: Japanese.
J: Right, I forgot the Japanese.
H: That’s why…(laughs)
J: They’re very strong through all those occupations, right? And independent.
H: Independ…
J: Independent. Don’t you think the Vietnamese are very independent?
H: uh huh
J: Don’t you think Vietnamese are very independent people?
H: Uh huh. Independent for work?
J: An independent person. So even though the French were there, and the Japanese, and the Americans, they maintained the Vietnamese character.
H: Independent. And they work hard. That’s really good because the family and the relationship. Work really hard. And hard study. Yeah. Study hard. That’s why uh, the Vietnamese history…and then independent. The cha…
J: They fight back. No one takes over.
H: Fight back. And the big enemy. America, French, Chinese.
J: Um…Okay. I see many Vietnamese working very hard, working two jobs, three jobs. The restaurant manager in Hanoi, she managed the hotel restaurant, and she had  two of her own restaurants.
H: Yeah.
J: However, I see some men lying in hammocks, lie around smoking. So, some men or people don’t work at all.
H: Yeah. For example, me. When I lived in Ho Chi Minh City, I worked for eight, for the twelve hours per day, and then in America, especially in Bakersfield, just work four and five hours. Bakersfield is quiet. So you know what, because some people no work, they have no job because they don’t go to school and then the government no support the something, money and something for them because they don’t have the money pay for to school. In Vietnam or in Ho Chi Minh City you go to school, you pay.
J: So what do you think of a Communist country that makes people pay to go to school?
H: pay?
J: That’s not a Communist, Socialist?
H: Communist?
J: Ho Chi Socialist, right?
H: No, no every school.
J: How can they make you pay to go to school? A Socialist government should take care of everyone, right? Everyone is taken care of, but now you have to pay to go to school.
H: Actually, I don’t have idea. So, I know that private school, international school, you pay. That’s…
J: You have to pay for public school, too.
H: Public school you pay is cheaper than...
J: Not so much. But the government should pay if it is socialist government.
H:Oh… I have no idea. Yeah.
J: Okay.
H: It’s okay. So…
J: Anyway, I shouldn’t say that. Thank you for your answers.
H: You’re welcome.

Back to content | Back to main menu