A trip to Vietnam reveals a nation still divided more than four decades after the end of its civil war. But it also beams with humanity and joy.
(Photos by Emma Bapt)
By Emma Bapt
My impulse to share images of a trip to Vietnam drives this photo gallery. I don’t want to leave these pictures sleeping on my hard disk. I want them to travel, to be seen.
The portraits capture my encounters with children, men and women of all ages in hidden towns and villages of Vietnam: Nghia Lo, Mu Cang Chai, Quang Ngan, Caú Ke, to name a few.
My mother and I spent our first night in a family’s home in Nghia Lo, a small village about 200 km west of Hanoi. The family is Thái, one of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups.
At dinner, no one spoke any more than a few words of English. We communicated through smiles, gestures and facial expressions. The family’s eldest, a 71-year-old grandmother who wore Thái traditional clothes, prodded us to finish our bowl of rice.
Community life and hard work are big elements of Vietnamese life.
Villages like Nghia Loin revolve around manual labor.
Families live off the land, cultivating rice, vegetables and raising cattle. Everyone is hard-working — women especially. They work more than 10 hours a day in rice fields, weaving bamboo stalks into handy objects, making clothes.
In Quang Ngan, a fisherman’s village 30 km north of Hué, our host, Mrs Bit, leaves at 9 o’clock every night to go fish in a nearby lagoon. At 5 am, she sells the night’s catch to villagers to make a living.
Community life is a central part of Vietnamese culture. Once married, a young woman generally leaves her family to live with her husband and parents. Some are married at the age of 15. It is common for three or four generations to live under the same roof.
Reconciliation between North and South Vietnam is difficult.
Despite formal unity, Vietnam is still deeply divided between North and South in both mentalities and development.
More than four decades have passed since the end of the Vietnam War pitting the communist North against the capitalist South. Only over the past 15 years have people from North and South started to mix.
Propaganda posters line the streets in the North and the South. Portraits of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s communist revolutionary leader who died in 1969, hang in people’s homes, especially in villages where lifestyles have remained largely unchanged and traditions preserved.
While our travel guide in the North spoke of patriotic values and the “Vietnamese people,” echoing communist rhetoric, our guide in the South was more critical of Vietnam’s current communist system, proclaiming at one point: “Vietnam is extremely corrupted.”
But criticism of government can be dangerous. “The government controls everything, even certain Internet websites,” said one woman named Phuong who does not dare post comments on Facebook criticizing the regime.
Vietnam has a long way to go, yet beams with humanness, generosity and beauty. I hope these photographs honor that humanness and convey Vietnam’s unique diversity.
Emma Bapt is an undergraduate student at King’s College London, studying History and War Studies. She has lived in London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Milan and Paris. She is interested in learning about the dynamics of conflict and looking at peace-building around the world. She was News-Decoder’s summer intern in 2016 and founded the News-Decoder club at university this past year.