Vietnam's New Generation

An Interview with 24-year old photographer, Pham Ba Hung
On the exciting changes in Vietnam today
On music
On going out
On the Generation Gap
On weddings
Ambassador Peterson on Vietnam's youth

Members of Vietnam's "New Generation" can be described by one word: driven. They sport the latest fashions, cruise the streets (QuickTime 1.33Mb) on motorbikes and chat on mobile phones. And, for better or worse, "MTV" now has faithful viewers in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. But this "New Generation" is faced with many dilemmas along the way. How do its members balance family traditions and duties with the pursuit of their own dreams and goals?

Pham Ba Hung - click to enlargePham Ba Hung, a 24 year-old photographer and one of the "New Generation," grew up in the 1980's when scarce food supplies were rationed. Now, foreign investment and relaxed governmental control have brought new opportunities. Hung's views are indicative of those held by many his age.

On the exciting changes:
"(In the 80's) people just talked about how to get enough food to eat and clothes to wear. But now people are talking about how to do business, how to build a nice house and things like that. Everything changed very fast."

Goods weren't the only thing to pour into Vietnam. Modern western culture was devoured right along with the bread, meat and milk that were suddenly so available. "Nguoi Dep" (meaning "Beautiful Person") is one of Vietnam's many fashion magazines that young women study like a textbook. And rock 'n roll has staked its claim on yet another population, as young men in karaoke bars sing along with anyone from John Lennon to Puff Daddy.

On music:
"We like rock, pop, even jazz and blues. After '86, the 'modern' western music came and everything changed. I love the Beatles. That's the best band ever! And the music of Vietnam has also changed. In the past few years Vietnamese singers have become very good. Now people talk about a musical industry in Vietnam."

click to enlargeYoung people also enjoy more free time than their parents did. Cafes aren't just a hangout, they're a way of life. There are even a few discos in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City that attract the more daring crowd.

On going out:
"Almost every night we'll call each other on our mobile phones and arrange to meet at a cafe or karaoke bar for a drink. I like to go to discos but not everyone feels comfortable with them or can afford them as they're quite expensive. In the South they already know about the nightclub culture. In Hanoi it's still fairly new and people are just starting to go to discos."

The Generation Gap
Unlike their parents who fear change, the youth demand it. They're savvy and aggressive, handing out business cards like flyers. It's a huge change from the past, when being an entrepreneur was frowned upon by the government. With 80% of the population under 40, it's clear that "change" is not a question of if, but when.

On the Generation Gap:
"Power is slowly changing hands because my generation understands things that my parents' generation didn't have the chance to. Before, there was no choice for information and no one had a chance to be different or change. Now we have magazines, television and the Internet and we can choose what information we want. We're allowed to be different from each other and we're more open."

But despite all the rapid change, tradition is still a powerful force in every family.

"At every meal, my parents set out a bowl of rice for my uncle who is an MIA of the American war. They also make offerings to him and other deceased relatives at our family altar. When my parents die, I'll take over and do the same for them as well."

No wedding is planned without a fortune teller's advice. Hung's sister and her fiancé met with one to find out the best date and time to ensure a successful marriage.

On weddings:
"'When should we get married?' they asked. The fortune teller asked them for their birthdates including the exact day and time of birth. Using very complicated calculations he told her the wedding cannot happen before 3 p.m. but the parents of the groom could only stay at our house for one hour. If they stayed past 5p.m it would bring bad fortune."

The bride and groom kneal before the Hung family alter to ask for the blessing of the family ancestors. - click to enlargeSome traditions are being mixed with western practices as young people accept Western views of beauty, fashion and what's "cool."

"Western bridal gowns are very expensive in Vietnam. Usually, people just rent them. I told my sister I would buy her a beautiful traditional Vietnamese dress (ao dai) that she could keep for all her life. But her friends told her, 'no, you need to wear a western wedding gown. That's what everybody does now. It's normal."

Above all, the most profound change is the New Generation's awareness of new opportunities and its drive to seize them. The older generations know that for better or worse, the New Generation will be leading Vietnam in the coming years. Many, including those in the international community, see this generation as a beacon of hope that will lead Vietnam to more prosperous times.

Ambassador Peterson on Vietnam's youth:
"When you ride a bike around Vietnam you can't be struck by anything more than the fact that the youth is just so fantastic.They're hungry to learn what's going on in the world and what their opportunities are.They want a better quality of life, they want to have some fun, they want to make money, they want to have a great education and they want to have kids that have a great future. It's very inspiring."

QuickTime Movie: Night street (1.33Mb)

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