Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

Kiab makes her bed in the centre she now lives in.

Kiab makes her bed in the centre she now lives in.


When Kiab turned just 16, her brother promised to take her to a party in a tourist town in northern Vietnam. Instead, he sold her to a Chinese family as a bride.

The ethnic Hmong teenager spent nearly a month in China until she was able to escape her new husband, seek help from local police and return to Vietnam.

“My brother is no longer a human being in my eyes – he sold his own sister to China,” Kiab, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, told AFP at a shelter for trafficking victims in the Vietnamese border town Lao Cai. The emotional impact on children and women thus betrayed must be almost as bad as the experiences they then suffer.

Vulnerable women in countries close to China – not only Vietnam but also North Korea, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar – are being forced into marriages in the land of the one-child policy, experts say. As we noted in our recent article on prostitution in China, the most horrific fact is that Korean girls who are traded, kidnapped, and then escape and return home, can find themselves imprisoned or even executed.

China suffers from one of the worst gender imbalances in the world as families prefer male children. As a result millions of men now cannot find Chinese brides – a key driver of trafficking, according to rights groups.


women sitting


The Lao Cai shelter currently houses a dozen girls from various ethnic minority groups. All say they were tricked by relatives, friends or boyfriends and sold to Chinese men as brides.

“I had heard a lot about trafficking. But I couldn’t imagine it would happen to me,” Kiab said.

As trafficking is run by illegal gangs and the communities involved are poor and remote, official data is patchy and likely underestimates the scale of the problem, experts say.

But rights workers across Southeast Asia say they are witnessing “systematic” trafficking of women into China for forced marriages.

“This problem has largely been swept under the rug by the Chinese authorities,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Vietnamese girls are sold for up to $5,000 as brides or to brothels, said Michael Brosowski, founder and CEO of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which has rescued 71 trafficked women from China since 2007.

“The girls are tricked by people posing as boyfriends, or offering jobs. Those people do this very deliberately, and for nothing other than greed and a lack of human empathy,” he added.

It is likely that many of the girls end up working in brothels, but due to the stigma of being a sex worker they will usually report they were forced into marriage.

Communist neighbours Vietnam and China share a mountainous, remote border stretching 1,350 kilometres, marked primarily by the Nam Thi river and rife with smuggling of goods of all kinds: fruit, live poultry and women.

“It is mostly women who live in isolated and mountainous areas who are being trafficked across the border, because there is no information for us,” said 18-year-old Lang, from the Tay ethnic minority, who walked across the frontier illegally and was sold to a Chinese family by a friend.

In northern Vietnam, trafficking has become so acute that communities say they are living in fear.

“I worry so much about it, as do all the mothers in the villages, but it has happened to a lot of girls already,” said Phan Pa May, a community elder from the Red Dao ethnic minority group.

“I have one daughter. She’s already married, but I’m worried about my granddaughter. We always ask where she is going, and tell her not to talk on the phone or trust anyone.”

Activists working to combat trafficking in Vietnam said police and authorities take the problem “very seriously”.

The shelter in Lao Cai opened in 2010 and has helped scores of female victims.

“There is nothing at home for these girls, not even enough food to eat,” said director Nguyen Tuong Long, referring to the dire poverty that is another key driver.

‘Painful experience’

May Na, from the Hmong ethnic minority, was 13 when her uncle took her across the border and forced her to marry a Chinese man.

“I could not accept it. They left me at home alone and I climbed over the wall and ran away. I was wandering for more than a day, lost, sleeping in the streets, crying,” she said.

Eventually, Na ended up at a police station, but because she spoke neither Chinese nor Vietnamese – only her native Hmong – it took police a month to figure out what had happened and return her to Vietnam.

Now 16, Na – the eldest of five children – is learning Vietnamese at the Lao Cai centre. Her uncle has been arrested, she said, but she has chosen not to return to her own family.

“I was so sad when I was in China. It was a painful experience for me,” she said.


Trafficking young women into prostitution is a worldwide problem, but especially so in Asia.

Trafficking young women into prostitution is a worldwide problem, but especially so in Asia.


The government says it has launched education programmes in rural areas, near the border, warning young girls not to trust outsiders.

Long, the centre director, says he believes the number of cases is falling.

In neighboring Cambodia, there have been some prosecutions, but An Sam Ath of rights group Licadho said the scourge is still happening, adding: “I am worried the problem will spread.”

Anti-trafficking groups in Vietnam say it is hard to warn girls of the risks when it is often a family member or friend carrying out the deception.

Instead, they say there should be harsher penalties for traffickers — including, for example, prosecutions at local level to raise awareness in villages of potential punishments to deter people from trying.

Child bride trafficking is also an internal problem inside China.

Main article copyright (2014) AFP. All rights reserved.

I would not want you to worry, Dear Reader, that your country-hopping correspondent had fallen foul of some mishap or tropical nasty, so I felt it appropriate to send you a small missive to assure you that all goes well with the Wellthisiswhatithink clan and to give you a brief and impressionistic report on Vietnam in 2014.

Not that, of course, one really has the faintest idea what the “real” Vietnam is like by swanning around from one five star resort to another, plunging into cool, soothing swimming pools and the occasional sweaty hour or two wandering from one bespoke tailor to the next to listen to their tales of woe about how if they reduce the price by just one more Dong for you Dear Sir then their twenty four children will not eat that night.

Nevertheless, your eagle-eyed reporter can share a few insights with you about this most recent Asian country to open up to the West and our holiday dollars.


They start young, and just seem to never stop.

They start young, and just seem to never stop.


It would be reprehensible if the first observation was not how exquisitely kindly and charming the Vietnamese are, and seemingly universally, too. They smile instantly your gaze alights on them, and the smiles are perfectly unforced and genuine. It hardly seems to matter whether one is begging for a free bottle of ice cold water (the tap stuff being somewhat dodgy by all accounts) or opening a conversation about buying their hotel for 10 bazillion trillion Dong or so. The smiles are immediate and delighted. Approximately 20% of the population is Buddhist, and to our eyes their karma is looking pretty good, right now.

Flying into Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon, and still so, bizarrely, in its airport moniker of Sgn and in the masthead of the daily English language sheet The Saigon News) and thence into Da Nang on the east coast, a few glances out of the window reveal a nation rapidly becoming industrialised, but apparently not with the same levels of attendant smog, thank the Good Lord, as one finds everywhere in China.

Vast new manufacturing facilities sit cheek-by-jowl with fields of rice and other vegetables that look, presumably, much as they have for centuries. One delicious local crop is called “Morning Glory”, and is definitely an addition to next year’s veggie patch at home. Huge rivers snake lazily by, curiously absent the leisure craft that would fill them back home, and presumably will here in years to come, when the miracles of free market economics married to strict central government combine to create yet one more Asian tiger with the baying of its attendant and hungrily consumerist middle-class.

The newspaper proudly proclaims that a local satrap has reassured a visiting dignitary from Byelorussia or somesuch that Vietnam is now a totally free economy. This is instantly contradicted by the fact that the casino in our hotel is for the use of foreign passport holders only, but this seems a quibbling observation compared to the wild-east boom clearly going on down every street and around every corner. No pair of hands appear to lie idle, anywhere. Everyone is hammering, stitching, painting, building, driving, selling, hawking, writing, or phoning.


Walk. Don't walk. Er ... yes.

Walk. Don’t walk. Er … yes.


Crossing the road is a famously risky experience as one navigates an unbroken horde of scooters and mopeds hurtling towards you, seemingly unrestrained by anything resembling road rules, and all blowing their horns in a pneumatic symphony of breathtaking and ear-pounding proportions that seems to go on unbroken by night and day. There is simply no break in the traffic, so one has to consign oneself to staying permanently rooted and tooted to the spot on the tatty pavement outside the tiny cafe with the enchanting old couple and the wonderful iced coffee unless one is prepared to wager life and limb and simply start strolling slowly but with steely determination across the road, as the locals do. In the end, inspiration strikes, and one starts walking across about half a pace behind a pair of Vietnamese ladies burdened by their shopping and two children each. This is a stroke of genius, and one can now just see, from the centre of the road, how the onrushing traffic adjusts slightly if almost imperceptibly to flow around one like a stream around a rock. We reach the other side, accompanied by the giggles of our guides, and more smiles. It is, nevertheless, not a game for the faint of heart.


"Balancing baskets" are still seen everywhere in Vietnam. The effect is somewhat ruined, though, when the woman balacing the baskets comes up and asks "Happy photograph? Very cheap!"

“Balancing baskets” are still seen everywhere in Vietnam. The effect is somewhat ruined, though, when the woman balancing the baskets comes up and asks “Happy photograph? Very cheap!”


Many years ago, deep in the last Millennium, when first arriving in Australia to the then sleepy fishing village of Cairns, a newspaper article we penned described how, hopping onto a local skipper’s catamaran for a lazy sail around the islands, it was obvious that the brand new Hilton then being constructed on the waterfront was but the first harbinger of what was to come. The phrase we wrote then, “You cannot disguise a boom when it has decided to happen,” was a lament for the inevitable colonisation and commercialisation of beautiful places. The same crie de coeur could surely be applied to Vietnam today.

The first phase of resort building is done, and the local tourism industry is in about as full a swing as it would be possible to imagine a swinging thing to be. The drinks are becoming more expensive, and tiny, authentic local eateries are gradually being replaced by businesses priced to make the most of the many tourists. My favourite t-shirt thus far simply reads “Good morning, Vietnam!” accompanied by the ubiquitous yellow star, but when you see the same shirt on fifty or so pot-bellied Australian males the joke starts to pall and one feels a tinge of regret that the most popular shirt design sold to eager holidaymakers is a reflection of an American comedy drama and not something more authentically Viet. But such mutterings should not lead you to believe, Dear Reader, that holidaying in Vietnam is just Bognor Regis-by-the-China Sea. The place is still very affordable, the architecture is often unique and charming, (especially the homes and buildings that weren’t flattened by RPGs or B-52s, or which have been re-built in their original style), and we are yet to see the type of crass invasion of McDonald’s and Burger Kings and Starbucks and so on that now make other Asian cities look increasingly like nothing more than more humid versions of Chicago or Berlin.

Something has to pay for all those scooters, I guess. One can only hope the boom is managed a little more gracefully than elsewhere. If so, we will have much to thank what remains of Vietnamese communism for keeping matters held by some sort of rein.


Kham Thien street, in Hanoi, which was levelled at 10:45 pm on December 26 1972 in what became known as "the Christmas raids", otherwise known as Operation Linebacker.

Kham Thien street, in Hanoi, which was leveled at 10:45 pm on December 26 1972 in what became known as “the Christmas raids”, otherwise known as Operation Linebacker. In just one night, more than 2,000 homes were destroyed around Kham Thien, a busy shopping street. About 280 people were killed and at least as many again injured. At least 1600 North Vietnamese civilians died during this one campaign by the Americans.


I read somewhere that the Americans dropped more tonnage of bombs on Hanoi than the Allies and Axis forces managed to lob at each other in the whole of World War II. These uncomfortable factoids pop into one’s head when one notices that there are very few middle-aged people around. Some old people, plenty of young people, and surprisingly few in between.

The instinctive conviction that the West wiped out a generation of Vietnamese is hard to shake. For them now to greet us back with such obvious pleasure – sheer, unadulterated courtesy – is quite a miracle.


Victims of Operation Linebacker are tended to. Today, the faces you see in this photo are indistinguishable from those cheerily serving Mai Tais and Whiskey Sours to the very people who were dropping bombs on them within living memory. What were we thinking?

Victims of Operation Linebacker are tended to. Today, the faces you see in this photo are indistinguishable from those cheerily serving Mai Tais and Whiskey Sours to the very people who were dropping bombs on them within living memory. What were we thinking?


It starkly reveals what an insanity the anti-Communist (read, anti-nationalist) wars of the 50s, 60s and 70s really were, and Vietnam in particular. It is clear these people wanted nothing more nor less than the right to benefit from the wealth of their own land, and to be allowed to make their own decisions.

Once that was established, they have reintegrated with the family of nations at an astonishing rate, and with a good grace – sheer good-naturedness – that should put us to shame. They have embraced our way of doing things, and with a willpower and determination that needs to give us pause for thought. This is a people – a nation – that is busy making something, trying things, innovating and bargaining for all it is worth, and not just people rearranging the deck chairs on a ship of state that looks increasingly like the Titanic, which is what Western capitalism more and more resembles.


"You try spending all day up to your shoulders in muddy water for a while and see which job you'd prefer."

“You try spending all day up to your shoulders in muddy water for a while and see which job you’d prefer.”


We have seen just one massive, majestic water buffalo.

It was not pulling a plough in a paddy field: it was tethered outside a new 6-star gated community of villas, peacefully mowing the lawn while its owners sold river trips to passing visitors.

Somehow, it seemed the perfect symbol of Vietnam today. As we rattled past in our bus, I could have sworn it winked at me.

And smiled, of course.

Minh Duong case: Vietnamese man awaiting medical treatment after neo-Nazi bashing is banned from Australia (ABC)If this is not a case for Ministerial discretion, then nothing is.
Minister Morrison, over to you.
Attacked by Neo Nazis while a guest in our country, but not allowed to stay for treatment.

Attacked by Neo Nazis while a guest in our country, but not allowed to stay for treatment.

A Vietnamese man awaiting medical treatment after being bashed by Melbourne neo-Nazis is in limbo after being banned from Australia for three years.

In 2012, Minh Duong was punched and kicked by two Neo-Nazi sy7mpathisers 70 times, stabbed, and had a brick smashed over his head with such force that the brick broke in two.

His front teeth were smashed out in the racial attack and he is still awaiting $25,000 worth of dental treatment.

Last week Mr Duong was forced to leave the country after immigration officials at Tullamarine airport flagged that his student visa had expired in March last year.

He disputes that, claiming to have written confirmation from the Immigration Department that his visa did not expire until March 2014.

But despite his claims, Mr Duong was forced to leave the country as an “unlawful non-citizen” and is now residing in Ho Chi Minh.

He has also been told by the Immigration Department that he is not allowed to return for three years.

A petition with 67,000 signatures demanding that Mr Duong be allowed back into Australia to receive medical treatment and graduate from university was delivered to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday. But in a statement to the ABC’s 7.30 report, Mr Morrison’s office maintained that Mr Duong departed Australia as an unlawful non-citizen since his last student visa had expired.

The statement said Mr Duong would be supported by the Australian embassy in Vietnam.

The Immigration Department also said that it was investigating the apparent contradiction between its records and Mr Duong’s and that it takes instances of fraud seriously.

Community rallies around victim of horrific bashing

Adrian de Luca, a Melbourne musician fighting Mr Duong’s cause, says Australia has a responsibility to the Vietnamese man.

“We have to take care of this young man,” he said.

“He’s an international guest – he’s not a refugee, he’s not come here illegally, he’s not an illegal immigrant.

“Our citizens damaged him [and] our citizens should fix him.”

Detective Acting Sergeant Kevin Burke, who investigated the bashing, wrote a letter to the Immigration Department outlining Mr Duong’s injuries and asking the department to take the crime into account when making a decision.

“It’s certainly one of the most shocking and serious assaults that I’ve attended in my time as a detective and certainly my time in the police force,” he said.

Australia: rapidly gathering the reputation of being the least charitable, most unpleasant “civilised” country in the world.

Why not write and tell him what you think?

Why not write and tell him what you think?

You might care to tell Scott Morrison what you think of his conduct of the Immigration Portfolio.

If so, here’s how. No matter how angry you may feel, it is worth considering that polite comments or enquiries are more likely to elicit a response, although with this Minister, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Scott Morrison MP
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
PO Box 6022
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Telephone: 02 6277 7860
Fax: 02 6273 4144

Also read: When silence isn’t golden.
                          For shame, Australia, for shame.