“The [Taiwanese] government provides support for new immigrants, but it is very superficial. It’s just for show. I try to use the camera to tell people our stories, how we feel and what happens to us after we return home,” the director told the Taipei Times.
FROM VIETNAM TO TAIWAN
Born and raised in a poor farming family with 10 children, Nguyen didn’t complete elementary school and started to work in the field at a young age. Soon, she grew into a young woman who yearned for a family of her own, like “the girl in the village who went to Taiwan and came back a happily married woman.”
Despite the objections of her parents, who believed that marrying daughters off to foreigners was tantamount to “selling” them, the 21-year-old Nguyen made an arrangement with a marriage agency in Ho Chi Minh City in 2000. Young and pretty, she was quickly “chosen,” meeting her Taiwanese husband two days before their wedding.
“The plane landed in the evening. There were lights everywhere. I had never seen such a beautiful sight in my life. And I remember thinking to myself: this is a place where I can find happiness,” Nguyen recalls.
Her married life in Changhua City, however, turned out to be a nightmare.
Pregnant soon after she arrived, Nguyen was left home alone during the day, the daily monotony interrupted by phone calls from banks and loan sharks inquiring about her husband’s gambling debts. When other family members returned, Nguyen felt she was an outsider whose presence was rarely acknowledged. Her life revolved around her room.
“I wasn’t allowed to go out … Or they would ask where I was going and when I’d be coming back, and check if I was actually there. They were very distrustful,” Nguyen says.
In 2008, Nguyen divorced her husband, but her problems didn’t end there. Working two manual jobs to support her young daughter and herself, the single mother had to endure harassment from her divorced husband and his family who often made scenes where she worked, or made threatening phone calls to her family in Vietnam.
Meanwhile, Nguyen says that others were prejudiced against her, believing the stereotype that “foreign brides” come to Taiwan “only for the money.”
“A divorced woman with a child? I couldn’t go near men. People would get ideas, fearing that I was up to no good, to steal other women’s husbands,” she says.
Nguyen pulled through the dark periods because of her child. Then she met her current husband, Tsai Tsung-lung (蔡崇隆), a documentary filmmaker and assistant professor at National Chung Cheng University‘s Department of Communication.
“When my friends congratulated me on marrying a director, I was like ‘what is a director?’ And I had absolutely no idea what a documentary film was,” the happily married Nguyen says.
As it turns out, when it comes to documentary filmmaking, Nguyen is an earnest, inquisitive student and Tsai an “encouraging, patient” teacher. It wasn’t long before the housewife focused the camera on other women from Southeast Asia with similar experiences. The stories of immigrant women often depict the hardship of living with abusive husbands in hostile surroundings. One of the film’s most heart-wrenching scenes involves a little girl who is sent back to live with her grandparents in Vietnam, while the mother struggles to make a living in Taiwan. Wanting to see her mother, the girl shows one of her drawings in front of the camera and explains: “daddy got drunk, pushed mommy to the ground and kicked her in the stomach. And I cried.”