It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's So Your Character is from Singapore ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!
Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.
(None of the Images are Mine)
So hi! I’m Liliana, a 24-year-old Russian-Vietnamese-English translator currently residing in Ho Chi Minh city in the Southern part of Vietnam. I’m actually Vietnamese born and raised in Russia, but I still hold Vietnamese citizenship. When I’m not working, I’m probably: a) reading; b) reading even more; c) reviewing a book I’ve just read on my blog; d) craft bookish merchandises for myself. Apart from being a book blogger/bookstagrammer, I’m a huge k-pop fan, and there’s almost no time when I don’t listen to it!
What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
I’d say culture overall. As a person who lived in two completely different kinds of societies, I still find it hard to adapt to Vietnamese culture. Some stuff you can accept, some you can’t even understand, not even talking about accepting. For example, in Vietnam, you can see locals driving on motorbikes on a pedestrian sidewalk in order to overtake the traffic. It’s normal here for outsiders to poke their noses into any disputes going on the streets, and it’s normal if there’s a massive audience gathering on the bridge where a teenage girl just committed suicide as if it’s some kind of TV show.
There’s almost no such thing as privacy here in Vietnam. Everything you do will be discussed behind your back, including that mole on your boyfriend’s cheek that, according to Feng Shui, brings misfortune. It’s really hard to be patient when your relatives keep asking questions they shouldn’t be at all.
I won’t be hiding a fact that I dislike a lot of things here in Vietnam. Still, there are some cities that I cherish a lot, as they bring me that peace I sometimes crave so much, for instance, Dalat city, Vungtau city, Danang city. In Ho Chi Minh city, where I currently live, I particularly love bridges, especially the Thu Thiem bridge, since it brings you a perfect horizontal view of city center across the Saigon River.
|Ho Chi Minh City|
|Thu Thiem Bridge|
We have a wide diversity of national food, to the point that it’s even separated by territorial regions. So when you go to any area of Vietnam, you will get the chance to try authentic dishes that came from that specific area, and nowhere else in the rest of the country will serve it as delicious as the “native” does. There are too many different unique dishes in Vietnam, it would take me hours to talk about each of them, but I can definitely assure you that you will be able to find your new favorite if you’re brave enough to try all we have, from rice’s side dishes to most exotic things like frog’s meat or different kinds of shellfish. My absolute favorite is Bun Bo Hue, Hue city’s style beef noodle soup. When you might think rice noodle are pretty plain in terms of taste, Bun Bo Hue strikes you with both light spice and subtle sourness.
Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
We have one state language that is, obviously, Vietnamese, but by the way someone speaks it, you can figure out from which part of the country the speaker comes: North, Central, or South Vietnam. I’m not really familiar with local slang because I don’t really hang out with youngsters to figure that out. Also, we have slight differences in some words we use for the same item, depending on the region.
Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
People wake up at times between 4 and 6 am, depending on what they make for a living, with 4 am usually being farmers and market sellers, and 6 am being ordinary office workers. Around 6:30 to 8:30 am a massive amount of motorbikes and cars are moving from one side of the city to the other as people are getting to their workplaces, dropping their kids to schools on the way to work. Stick at work for first 4 hours, then we have from 1 to 2-hour lunch break, which actually also include a short day nap that is essential for such climate we’re living in.
Then another 4 working hours until another traffic peak hours come at around 4:30 to 6:30 pm, with also a huge amount of vehicles gathering around school entrances as parents are picking up their children from classes. The evening time is different for each Saigoneer, some may spend it at home, some try to hang out, so it gives you a feeling that our city never sleeps, which is actually very true.
How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Okay, right now I might sound very rude, because, to be honest, I’m not happy with the current state of Vietnam in all listed aspects. Maybe because my brain is programmed so I can only notice the negative part, and skip all the positives about my country. Since our country went through a very sudden change from imperial country to socialist, lots of our habits might seem odd or uncultured to foreigners (even I see it so), and it’s really hard to educate the nation about it.
Politically? Right now our country is making their attempts to change things Vietnamese used to do, in order to have more appeal to tourists, but still, there’s a long way to go. For instance, the government is currently carrying a campaign on reclaiming pedestrian roads from parking lots and bikers driving over there in order to overcome the traffic jams. Also, subways throughout the biggest cities, Hanoi and Hochiminh, are currently being built, and the progress is already halfway through (estimated launch year is 2020).
Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
- August revolution in 1945 against French colonial rule that ended imperial era of Vietnamese history;
- Declaration of Vietnamese independence by Ho Chi Minh on September 2nd of the same year;
- Vietnam War in 1955-1975, that ended on April 30th, 1975 with Liberation of Saigon (old name for Ho Chi Minh city), and Reunification of Vietnam.
What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
I think mostly it is the stereotype of us still living on the verge of poverty, which is partially true, but that stereotype arose from what Westerners know about Vietnam, and usually, they know us only for the Vietnam War.
Second stereotype that irk me so much is that Westerners assume we eat dogs, which was true long time ago, but not anymore. There are still some individuals practicing it, but overall Vietnamese nation changed their opinion on dogs, and now see them as pets.
What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
I can’t pick any book that would describe modern Vietnam, but if you’re interested to read about the insights of Vietnam War with a few sentimental elements, try Last Night I Dreamed of Peace by Dang Thuy Tram.
Thank you, Liliana, for this very informative post! I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. Come back next week for So Your Character is from Brunei ...!
Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com. I'm especially looking for Spain, Denmark, Kenya, Argentina, Iraq, and Egypt.
Do you have any characters from Vietnam? Did this inspire you to write a Vietnamese character or set a book in Vietnam? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Liliana? Be sure to thank her!
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