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Vietnam

Bożena Siekierska

 
Basic information

People and their culture

Holidays and customs

Everyday life

Cuisine

Associations with Poland

Integration in Poland – successes and difficulties

 

Basic information


Vietnam is located in South-East Asia. This country borders China from the north, Laos and Cambodia from the west and its coast stretches from the Gulf of Tonkin in the north to the Gulf of Thailand in the south. This is a narrow and long country resembling the letter S. However, the Vietnamese often compare this shape to a dragon with its head in the north and an eye, namely the capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi. We may also say that this country is like two baskets of rice combined with a bamboo pole. They are used every day by street vendors to carry all types of food. This is an accurate observation because the most important regions, rich in valuable natural resources, two great river deltas and the two most important cities in the country are located at two distant ends. The coast line is incredibly long (3,444 km) as compared to the entire area of Vietnam (332,000 km2). It stretches along one of the meridians and the topography contributes to the climate diversity of Vietnam.


People and their culture

 

Although Vietnam is slightly larger than Poland, it is inhabited by twice as many people (approx. 88 million). This country is inhabited by as many as 54 variousethnic groups with their own languages, systems of writing. Despite such great diversity, Vietnam is relatively homogeneous because the Ao dai mvast majority (approx. 85.6%) are the Vietic people (Việt or Kinh ). They mainly occupy flatland areas as well as regions of the deltas of the Red River and the Mekong River. The remaining groups in most cases inhabit mountain-upland regions fit for agriculture to a small degree. The most numerous of them are the Tay (1.9% of the population - 1.6 million people), Thai, Muong, Khmer Krom (Khmer people) and Hoa (the Chinese). The smallest groups have only several hundred people. All 54 ethnic groups come from five different language families: Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Tai-Kadai, Hmong-Mien and Sino-Tibetan. Their location within today's Vietnam is largely related to the stages of development of the Vietnamese state and three characteristic geographical regions conquered by it systematically. The north is inhabited by peoples of Austroasiatic origin. The Central Highlands are inhabited by peoples from two language families: Austronesian and Austroasiatic. On the other hand, the Mekong River delta is inhabited by people of Khmer and Chinese origin (Austroasiatic and Sino-Tibetan families). Basic difficulties faced by ethnic minorities in Vietnam include land, religion and difficult living conditions strongly differing from the living conditions of the remaining part of the society and poor access to health care. All this is intensified by the general approach prevalent in the Vietnamese society that these are underdeveloped peoples, not able to properly use the possessed resources.  Vietnam, due to its rich history and related strong cultural impacts, created a variety of unique music and drama forms entered in the majority on the list of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. These include: quan họ folk songs, the space of gong culture (Không gian văn hóa Cồng Chiêng Tây Nguyên), Nhã nhạc, the Vietnamese court music.  The richness of Vietnamese culture is not only artistic forms but also numerous monuments proving the past magnificence of Vietnam. Some of them, like the Imperial City in Huế and the sanctuary in Mỹ Sơn were almost completely destroyed during the wars. All sites listed here are entered in the UNESCO list of world heritage.


National holidays and customs

Vietnam is a country of numerous religions. There are 6 (although, in fact, much more) religious groups officially recognized by the state: Sangha Buddhism (50% of the population), Vietnamese Catholicism (10%), Cao Dai (1.5 %), Hòa Hảo Buddhism (1.5 %), Protestantism (1.2%) and Vietnamese Islam (0.1%). The Buddhists are spread more or less evenly all over the country. The vast majority of Catholics lives in the south of the country, mainly around Saigon. Protestants may also be found in Saigon as well as in the Central Highlands. The Muslims mostly live in areas previously occupied by the Champa kingdom (central-southern coast of Vietnam, particularly around Nha Trang). On the other hand, Hòa Hảo and Cao Đài inhabit the Mekong River delta, mainly in the Tây Ninh province.  The Vietnamese mentality was formed under the influence of eastern philosophical-religious systems, such as: Chinese and Indian Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. Their common penetration throughout history created a certain system of beliefs, often referred to as three teachings (Tam Giáo). Their influence is visible in the worship of ancestors, caring for harmony and good relations. Confucianism as such was additionally rooted in the Vietnamese mentality in the form of respect for science and educated people, respect for the elderly and subordination to the hierarchical structure. It may be strange how the world of the living and the world of the dead intertwine. The worship of ancestors in Vietnam was introduced by the Chinese during the thousand-year occupation of this country starting ca. 100 years BC and since then was firmly rooted in the Vietnamese mentality and everyday life. This is something more than religion or a custom which is difficult to grasp for people from other cultural circles. The worship of ancestors (thờ cúng tổ tiên) is present in Buddhist, Christian families and those not recognizing any religion and it results from the devotion to parents, grandparents and great grandparents expressed by the Vietnamese. It is part of the Vietnamese identity, a way to show gratitude towards parents for their effort, repay the debt (ơn) towards them. It is also a way to cherish the memory about one's own roots. Thus, each house has a smaller or a larger altar. The followers of religions also erect a different altar for that religion. In the case of Buddhists this is, e.g. an altar devoted to Buddha. Ancestors are regularly worshipped, among others, during new moon and full moon, namely on the 1st and 15th day of each calendar month or on the anniversary of their death (ngày giỗ), as well as during various holidays. Various events, such as the birth of a baby, moving to a new place, opening a new business or exams are an opportunity to obtain advice and guardianship from the ancestors. The animistic belief in the wandering of souls, life after death or the ghosts of places, e.g. stones, trees, mountains or rivers, is still strongly rooted both in cities and in rural areas, apart from the significant worship of ancestors. These ghosts can support man's life and work. They may also harm him causing various damage, diseases or even death. Ghosts should be cared for because negligence may have negative consequences, and bad ghosts should be avoided.  One of the most important, if not the most important Vietnamese holiday is the Vietnamese New Year, Tết Nguyên Đán, commonly simply referred to as Tết. This holiday used to celebrated throughout the entire month but currently it lasts only 3 days. This is a time to meet relatives and deepen family bonds. Relatives from various places in the country and the world gather on those days to meet one another, bow to the ghosts of their ancestors.


Everyday life


The thing which draws one's attention during the first contact with the Vietnamese is their friendliness, diligence, persistence, sense of humor and love of their country. The Vietnamese are proud of their tradition and culture. The long and often undesired presence of the French, Americans, and particularly Chinese in Vietnam, even though it had a huge impact on the culture and way of thinking of the Vietnamese, strengthened the sense of national identity or affiliation to the region, the place of origin. It greatly affected the Vietnamese mentality, their pragmatism and flexibility as well.  What distinguishes the Vietnamese are strong family bonds, a large network of relations with people more or less related and the worship of ancestors. From the point of view of the wider society, attention is drawn to respect paid to teachers, science and educated persons. They have a great sense of humor and their smile does not always mean joy. Sometimes it may hide embarrassment, shame or the lack of acceptance. The Vietnamese in everyday life use both the Gregorian and the moon calendar which was introduced in Vietnam in 2,637 BC. The Gregorian calendar is used for events related with work, birthdays or global ceremonies, while the moon calendar is related to religious ceremonies but, first of all, to events close to the heart of an average Vietnamese. Important days in a man's life, such as wedding, erecting a house or establishing a company are counted according to the moon calendar. Traditional national clothes are used in some situations until this day. Áo dài, a long tight-fitting tunic worn over wide loose pants is the national Vietnamese costume nowadays worn only by women and girls for various important occasions, e.g. the wedding or the funeral or for formal celebrations. Girls in high schools in Saigon and Huế wear white áo dàis as school uniforms. Bank representatives, flight attendants in Vietnamese airlines or employees of higher-class hotels are obliged to wear áo dài. Áo dài for men did not change its look at all. However, it is nowadays worn mainly by older men. This costume is still worn by men performing certain culturally important roles and they wear this traditional costume to emphasize their function. Men wear a loose tunic to the middle of the calf and long pants in dark colors, as well as a special headdress resembling a headband.  Nón lá, the traditional Vietnamese hat, is another element of clothing still common in Vietnam. It resembles a perfect cone and is supported under the chin by means of a band of material. It is made from palm leaves on bamboo frames shaped like a perfect cone. Used by farmers working on rice fields not only as protection against the sun and rain. Depending on the invention and the holdings of its owner, it may also be vessel for drinking and eating rice, carrying water. It is currently treated as the traditional national Vietnamese costume, along with áo dài.


Cuisine

Cooking and eating is an important element of everyday life in Vietnam. Even though the pace of life is greater and greater, shared evening lunches still play an important role in the life of an average Vietnamese. They are one of the most important elements integrating the family. In the morning, many Vietnamese will visit a street bar to have the phở soup or bánh mì, namely sandwiches made from a rice-wheat roll borrowed from the French cuisine in the days of the French colonies. The Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. It is characterized by rich flavors, aromas and colors. It combines the influences of the Chinese, French cuisine as well as the cuisine from other neighboring countries. It is based on balanced, healthy nutrition and on the principle of 5 flavors and the principle of yin and yang. It is exceptional because of the large amount of fresh herbs (coriander, basil, Vietnamese mint or lemon grass), spices. Fish sauce (nước mắm), soya sauce, shrimp paste (mắm tôm) and lime juice are important ingredients of many meals. Many types of soups made on the basis of broths and various stocks give uniqueness to this cuisine. Regional cuisines in Vietnam vary due to the climate and the availability of products. Phở in Hanoi may be prepared in a different manner than in Hue and Saigon. Two types are the most typical - phở bò (with beef) and phở gà (with chicken).


Associations with Poland


It is currently estimated that the Vietnamese population is one of the most numerous immigrant groups in Poland. They are the third group migrating to Poland in terms of numbers, approx. 30,000 people. Its numbers, however, are not fully known because of the group of illegal immigrants or persons with Polish citizenship.  The Vietnamese diaspora began to form in Poland in the 1960s and 70. . Its development was significantly affected by the political situation both in Poland and in Vietnam. Common ideological bonds, as well as the Vietnam War and support from the People's Republic of Poland (PRL) contributed to cooperation in economic-educational terms. A faculty of the Polish language was established at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi, new factories were built with the support of Polish specialists, cultural monuments destroyed during the wars were restored. Young, outstanding Vietnamese students and doctoral students were sent to Poland for scholarships.  The research of K.  Wysieńska (2011) indicates immigrants from the 1980s who came to Poland after the end of their contracts in Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. A bigger mass inflow of the Vietnamese population took place in the 1990s According to T.  Halik (2002), this was typical economic migration the so-called trip in search of "bread with butter". It resulted mostly from changes in the Polish state's economic policy and the attitude of authorities in Vietnam to emigration. It was noted that emigrants, Việt Kiều, sending money to families left in the country, were one of the fundamental sources of foreign currencies in Vietnam. During that time, namely at the turn of the 1990s, Eastern Europe, including Poland, opened its borders and markets which additionally motivated the Vietnamese to leave their country. Poland, as well as other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, were supposed to become a place to improve their existence.


Integration in Poland – successes and difficulties

Life in Poland has many faces for the Vietnamese. They settled in larger cities, particularly in Warsaw, although many of them also live in Łódź, Kraków or Gdańsk. Some of them also live in smaller towns. Even though some elements of life in the Polish community are similar to people of Vietnamese origin, many of them are different. Life is different for persons with a regulated legal status regardless of whether they are former students and their families, legal representatives of the emigration "for bread with butter" or the second or even the still young third generation of the Vietnamese in Poland. Those who stay in Poland as illegal immigrants experience the reality a bit differently. Former students with the knowledge of Polish established their families here and they started businesses related to trade or gastronomy at the beginning of their economic activities. They built the Vietnamese shopping center (e.g. ASG shopping center) in Wólka Kosowska in the 1990s giving jobs not only for the Vietnamese but also for Poles or Turks. The driving force behind switching trades and finding one's niche on the heavily saturated market was the economic crisis at the end of 2008, as well as closing Stadion Dziesięciolecia in the same year which served as a huge bazaar giving jobs to many immigrants living in Warsaw, including the Vietnamese, for many years.  The basic difficulty for the majority of the Vietnamese coming to Poland in the 1980s and 90. is the lack of good knowledge of Polish. This is a factor which strongly narrows down the type of work undertaken by them. Thanks to an efficiently operating system of "support" offered by Vietnamese and Polish-Vietnamese service offices, many of them live in a Vietnamese environment, speak Vietnamese.  People say that Vietnamese newcomers from the 1990s have no motivation to integrate with the Polish society under conditions other than work. This is quite an accurate observation. The issue of socio-cultural isolation of the Vietnamese due to "the closed nature" of this community is often discussed by the mass media and the broadly understood Polish society, more and more studies are devoted to this phenomenon (Nowicka-Rusek, 2008). It is interesting that the majority of research conducted so far covered the representatives of the first Vietnamese generation, adults who found it difficult to undertake an additional challenge, namely participate in the Polish cultural and social life, taking into account their willingness to keep their families in Poland and in Vietnam, because of the language barriers as well. This activity was additionally hindered by the fact that activities of the Vietnamese was so far in fact focused mainly on activities addressed to their own community aimed at preserving their own identity, building their community. The center of Vietnamese culture (Trung Tâm Văn Lang) has been operating for a long time. The ALMAMER University established the Institute of Vietnamese Education and Culture. There are various clubs (e.g. a dance club) and associations, e.g. the Association of Vietnamese Women, the Association of Vietnamese Entrepreneurs. Young Vietnamese soccer players played a game as part of the soccer league during the World Cup in soccer for children from children's homes. Two new Vietnamese temples were established instead of the former temple near Stadion Dziesięciolecia: Chùa Thiên Phúc in Laszczki near Raszyn as well as Chùa Nhân Hoá near Wólka Kosowska.  Matters related to the legalization of stay are a great problem for the Vietnamese. According to the law, all persons who do not have the Polish citizenship need to have a valid residence card which is prolonged for 1 year, 2 years, 5 or 10 years depending on the status of the stay. Its prolongation, however, involves many difficulties and, in many cases, is related to protracted application examination procedures in offices. The lack of a residence card prolonged in time automatically classifies a given person as an illegal immigrant and involves the possibility of deportation. The Vietnamese also speak about certain problems existing in the community related to: matters regarding the legalization of stay and the related lack of knowledge about the Vietnamese culture among the officials (the issue of surnames, referring to friends as uncles or the customary process of concluding marriages) or obstructed access to education if there are no relevant documents (Wysieńska, 2011).  What is approach of the representatives of the second generation, born in Poland? They often treat this country as their home in which they plan to stay or possibly leave for another place in the world. They sometimes think about returning to their homeland where people educated in the West are offered more and more career opportunities, and thus they have high chances for development with appropriate remuneration. Some young Vietnamese who studied here find work in foreign companies, others leave abroad, and some, not being able to or even not attempting to find work among Poles in their learned profession, begin work in their parents' businesses. The fact that they do not apply for Polish employers often involves lower remuneration offered by Polish companies as compared to salaries in family businesses. Sometimes, however, it involves a misleading belief that the Poles do not want to employ Asians. As is demonstrated by research, Polish entrepreneurs, particularly large companies, pay more attention to the competences of a given person than to their country of origin.   To sum up, the Vietnamese have come quite a long way in Poland from unassisted, independent paving their way by the pioneering generation of students and doctoral students in Poland. They created a base of support for new and present Vietnamese to perform their objectives related to keeping their families and providing for their future. They begin to increasingly open to actions aimed at a wider and more complete integration with the Polish society. They are assisted in these actions by their own children who grew up in Poland and are related to it in many cases.