Chaotic schools and rampant superstitions
Author: Ancy Lee
Translator: Pius Lee
When the communists took over Vietnam in 1975, my second eldest brother (David), I and my younger brother (Kevin) were studying in the “Same Heart（同心）” middle-and-elementary school in Cholon (堤岸), Vietnam. Originally a private school, it was changed to a public school under the communist government. Dramatic changes were implemented immediately —- both conspicuously and inconspicuously. The former included: all schools were ridden with school uniforms, many teachers took long sick leaves, classes were strictly only taught in Vietnamese and no Chinese instructions, and most schools split from day sessions to morning and afternoon sessions. For the latter: there were many implicit meddling of the government in the educational systems. As a result, Chinese descent born there after 1964 had no chance for formal Chinese lessons in schools and must resort to private tutoring.
There were no longer hired janitors in schools. Students were expected to take over janitorial responsibilities. Each class had to care for its cleanup and raise funds for brooms and dustpans. Each class took turns to clean up the school’s public toilets. These cleaning and garbage collection duties occupied the students. Students even had assignments to take turns to bring the brooms and dustpans home for safe-keeping lest the other classes stole them. Students were more like co-op volunteers than students and did not study.
Sometime later, the school gave urgent orders to the students to each bring in three kilograms of rice to the school storage to be used by the military. Violators would suffer grade deduction. Many kids were not ready to handle heavy rice bags and many of the flimsy rice bags burst and spilled much of the “homework” right in front of the school. Unfortunately, I was one of them. Another time, the school ordered us to each bring to the school-registry four 8”x4”x2” construction bricks to help the government’s construction projects. It reflected the dire poverty of the government due to the years of civil war. Students did not carry books but brooms, dustpans, rice and bricks. Parents were also in utter confusion, worried about the education being imposed on their children.
Dash and dodge
One time while the students were in class, someone suddenly shouted “Vampire!” This news outbreak upended everything. Students dashed to the windows and the doors to escape. The school’s announcement system broadcasted orders to calm us down but nobody listened. I was in my fourth grade elementary classroom with 60 classmates. Our teacher locked the classroom main door. The students rapidly dashed towards the windows to escape. Nobody knew the cause of the drama until several days had passed. It turned out that the school prepared to draw blood from the students and it instigated an uproar and protest. The school tried to collect blood for the injured soldiers. The school did not inform nor sought consent from the parents. The precarious policy of the school could jeopardize the lives of many children. No wonder the students frantically dodged from the forced blood withdrawal. As a result, many parents did not allow their children to return to school.
Political tumults and psychological unrest spurred superstition. There was a season in Saigon (now Ho-Chi-Minh City) with widespread rumors that households should hang a pot of cactus in their doorposts to avert evils and avoid ghosts. Everyone adamantly believed the rumor and scrambled desperately to buy a cactus. What a strange scene to see a cactus in front of every door. Cactus was the cheapest plant in Vietnam, and overnight it became a valuable merchandise in great demand. Can cactus save us from evils and ghosts? The Bible advises us to flee evil, guard our minds and turn to God for forgiveness: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. ”Isaiah 55:6-7. “Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge on the day of disaster” Jeremiah 17:7.
I still vividly remember a festive occasion when I was a pre-teen. I followed Kieu, my oldest sister, to an idol-temple called “Husband Temple”. It was so crowded with a long line of teenage girls eager to reach a man-sized stone statue of a man riding on a horse. Both the man and horse were carved in a gray stone. The cloth costumes they wore were of ancient style. Rumors had it that if a girl bent low to walk underneath the belly of the horse three times, she would marry well. Many (including me) did not understand what they were doing but just did as others did. The idol-temple was so cramped and smoky with incense burning, everyone had watery eyes due to the incense smoke. Nobody could really see far due to the packed crowds and the thickness and irritations of the incense smoke. Despite this, everyone seemed determined to walk underneath the belly of the stone horse three times. The stone rider’s ancient flowing-style gown was soaked wet with tears and mucus of the girls as they wiped their noses and eyes. If it were COVID, an infection explosion would have certainly occurred. “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” Psalm 135:15-18.
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.