Mon, May 02, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Vietnam welcomes its second generation of returnees



These days, it is not just tourists and billions of dollars that flows back into Vietnam from the country's estimated 2.7 million-strong global diaspora.

As the communist country opens and its economy heats up at a frenetic pace, increasing numbers of the sons and daughters of those who left or were stranded abroad are coming back to live.

In the final days before the first soviet-built tank crashed through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon on April 30, 1975, South Vietnamese, particularly those with close links to the US, tried to get out, any way they could. The US airlifted thousands, as others made runs to the open sea along the Saigon river in cramped sampans and river craft.

In the austere years following the war, hundreds of thousands more "boat people" left illegally. If they managed to get off land without being caught by Vietnamese troops, they faced huge dangers on the open sea from pirates, the elements, and lack of supplies.

Thirty years after the end of the war, its an entirely different story. Ho Chi Minh City is booming. Luxurious high-rise hotels dot the skyline, and the city centre is packed with fancy cafes, restaurants and shops.

In the stylish Q Bar, underneath Saigon's wedding-cake Opera house, 25-year-old Anne Nguyen greets the well-heeled customers in English and Vietnamese.

She was two when her father, who had served in the South Vietnamese navy, managed to get himself, his pregnant wife and Anne's two elder sisters onto a boat. Having served three years in harsh reeducation camps, her father thought the risks of fleeing were worth taking.

Born and raised in Canada, Anne was keen to find out more about her parents' homeland, and came on a six-month visit last year.

"I wasn't exposed to much Asian culture other than my parents, being in a suburban area of Canada, it was mostly Western people," she said recently.

Her parents were not that happy about Anne returning to a country they had fled in desperation nearly three decades ago.

"It was hard for them to accept. I had to talk to them a lot about it," she said. "I am basically looking for an experience, to look into my Vietnamese heritage. I am learning stuff every day. Every day I go out and learn something new, which is something I can't do in Canada."

Nguyen Nhan has a different story. He was born in the US in 1970 while his father was studying in Washington DC. and, like Anne, is trying to find out more about his Vietnamese roots.

"My parents' visas ran out in August on 1975, and of course the war ended here in April of 1975 so we ended up kind of stranded in the States," he said recently on the immaculate campus of the university where he has been teaching internet business and marketing principles for the last two years.

As a result of staying on in the states, as opposed to being forced to flee, Nhan's father had a different perspective than many of those who felt forced to leave.

"My father really likens Ho Chi Minh to George Washington. He did not leave the country under a situation where he was a boat person who struggled, stayed in refugee camps so I think he has a much more objective opinion of what was going on over here," he said.

Married now to a Vietnamese woman, and with a small baby, Nhan is here for the long run, he said. From feeling almost totally American since the age of five, living here has changed him.

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