All four of my grandparents are all healthy and alive (THANK GOD). They were born in the 1920s in Vietnam when lives weren’t like any that we millennials know and love.
During this time, Vietnam was under the French colonial period where they justified it as mission civilisatrice (or ‘civilising mission’), to introduce modern political ideas, social reforms, industrial methods and new technologies. While the colonisation resulted in some beautiful buildings (that still remains until today like the Hanoi Opera House, with classic French architecture) and delicious culinary fusion heritage (Vietnamese coffee or ‘Banh Mi’), it was concluded by my paternal Grandparents as “a hell hole for 90% of the population”. It was notable that my paternal Grandparents came from poor central region of Vietnam where they can only grow chili as crop. So their daily food included rice sprinkle with some chili flakes to taste. On the other hand, My maternal Grandparents were from a wealthier lineage, so they benefited from French education system, learning from literature, foreign language to science which later on propelled them in the prestigious academic field at the time.
In 1946 when the Viet Minh resistants started the First Indochina War, my Grandparents defaulted into a new kind of life. A life of wars.
My paternal Grandparents joined the force when they were teenagers. At the time, they did’t even know their official birthday (my grandma was like “I think my birthday was when the crops start to ripe” ?!?!) but they knew they have a country to protect, so they became party members at 16. Whoever of us now have this kind of clear determination would definitely become billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk in 2 years time. My maternal Grandparents continued on with their study but at the same time, contributing their knowledge to help building a new shape of a country after the French colonisation.
From 1955 onwards, when they thought life of colonisation was over, the Americans came in and fucked it all up like they normally do. I think when we watch Marvel franchise to see Captain America being super ripped, running left and right saving one distressed lady for what’s called “liberty and American’s ideal”, we never care what he left behind. In real life, my Grandparents had to live through endless bombing, hazardous Agent Orange and life being uprooted upside down. My mom once told me as a child, she can’t remember how many times, she was playing in the playground and heard public siren signalling incoming bombs. People left their place, pots left cooking, children left running, all to race under a bomb shelter. That life trained the Vietnamese on following orders without questions, or you die.
My maternal Grandpa’s family had to destroy their home in the city before move into hiding in the village. Why you may ask? It is to not let the enemy use any resource when they moved in. But at that time, nobody had the time to explain in long detailed form or vote whether it was private properties to protect. You do it for your country, your family safety and deter the enemy.
My paternal Grandpa became a prolific spy in the war and he had to see so much suffering and blood during this time. There was a time, American troops ransacked his home to find his brother, a Viet Cong, who was injured in hiding. His brother jumped under a pond, held his breath for 10 minutes without prior training, to hide from the enemy. Many of his family died during the war because they believed in an ideology that may or may not succeed.
With so much crazy things happened during their lives and still survived, they are the least worried when the virus hit. Vietnam has been dealing with the virus like having a war in our soil. Subconciously, Vietnamese all follow the government instruction with the belief that “this too shall pass”. When the street microphones are again used in every corner of Vietnam, my Grandparents have a sense of melancholy just like war time. The west calls it instrument of propaganda, they call it instruction to follow. Your neighbours gossip, tell on you to the police if they see you walking outside unmasked. It’s nothing personal, it’s only for public safety. When many foreigners refuse to wear mask at the beginning of it all and party hard like nothing happened, they claimed being suffered from discrimination. I think the Vietnamese are the least likely to discriminate against anybody. After so many wars with so many countries, Vietnam open arms for anybody. Even my Grandparents who saw an American or French shot dead his family members, they still tell me to go learn new language, make new friends cause thats what you need to do. These foreigners need to respect the country they live in and do the basic things of wearing a mask. It is like going to somebody’s house who ask you to take your shoes off, you take it off instead of wearing those in. You wouldn’t call it discrimination of shoes wearer, it is basic courtesy.
My Grandparents trusted the system before. Now, they continue to have faith in a new era of war time. They told me that this is the easiest war that they have ever been in. There is food delivered to your door. There is lots of free entertainment. No bloodshed. All you need to do is listen to instruction and this will all soon be over.