Cultural Divide

Author: Ancy Lee
Translator: Pius Lee

Born in Vietnam, my siblings of six including myself, lived in a Chinese town called “Cholon”. Cantonese was the business dialect that even the native Vietnamese learned to speak. Many of the Vietnamese natives sent their children to Chinese schools. Vietnamese and Chinese have many cultural similarities, there remain oddities between them that deny intermingling. It was not unusual for Vietnameses to be jealous of the Chinese. They hurled name-callings such as “you bullies” to their Chinese neighbors, meaning that the Chinese occupied their jobs, land, and economy. In the 1970’s 60% plus of the Vietnamese economy was controlled by the Chinese.  A Chinese person’s impression about his Vietnamese neighbors was usually a lack of courtesy and honesty. He tended to think that they were poor money managers and often outspent their income and were tangled in debts and poverty. For instance, they would feast over all their savings over a banquet but lived on two catties of rice and a small cup of soya sauce the next day. They would send their children for groceries with their last remaining coins. This shortsighted and impulsive spending enslaved them in perpetual debts. Similarly people nowadays with endless credit card debts were held captive by the same impulses and enslavements.

Hard-Working and Generous

I respect my parents’ business practice. They allowed no interest loans to our neighbors when they could not pay our textile products in full. Although my mother had zero formal education, her quick mind mastered the basic arithmetics of multiplications and divisions. She served also as the de facto accountant of our family textile retail business. My parents diligently opened their shop in the morning and closed it for inventory work in the afternoons. In the evening, my mom would carry along the account books to visit our neighbors to collect outstanding balances. I remembered once that my mom was in a nearby alley to collect debts from a soft drink shop owner. The conversation between our neighbor and mom escalated due to miscommunications. When dad heard the elevated yells and complaints, he thought that a quarrel might break out. Dad immediately ran to mediate the situation, while still holding our 2 years old baby sister in his arms and I followed along. Our neighbor thought dad was coming to fight and raised up a glass bottle to throw at dad. Dad fled with mom in front of him, and I was the last. Dad was fleeing so desperately that he lost one of his slippers. I fled closely behind dad. In that panicky split second, a glass bottle was flung forcefully and shattered between dad and me. Fortunately, it missed hitting either of us.

Racial Conflict

A Chinese gangster-ring roamed about an alley opposite to our alley. Our neighboring alley had a Vietnamese gangster-ring. The two groups gang-fought each other frequently. I witnessed once, the Vietnamese group chased the Chinese group carrying wooden clubs, monkey bars, and meat cleavers. It only ended after the Chinese group fled into their alley and latched shut the alley gate. Our alley’s Vietnamese neighbors came out and yelled at the cowardice fugitives. The Chinese neighbors were quiet. They turned off their lights, closed their windows and doors fearing that they would be implicated. No wonder, we Chinese were mocked as a dis-united mess. The Vietnamese people had an united will and extended helping hands for one another.

Fearing God is True Blessing

The Bible reminds the peoples of the world to fear Jehovah as God and Lord. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do” (Psalm 33:12-15); and “Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 33:18).

Author: Mrs. Thuyen-Anh (Ancy) Lee was born in Vietnam. She immigrated and was educated in Sweden as a teenager. Her profession was social work until she married Pius in 1994. The couple responded to the calling to be ministers and relocated to NY in 2023.

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