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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Vietnamese in Germany

As published at OpEd News, Smirking Chimp, Unz Review, CounterCurrents, Intrepid Report and LewRockwell, 12/12/15:







There are about 140,000 Vietnamese in Germany. In Berlin, there’s a large shopping center, Dong Xuan, and a Halong Hotel. In Munich, there’s a hip restaurant, Jack Glockenbach, in a gay neighborhood. In Hanover, there’s a temple with a pagoda and ornate gate. In Dresden, there’s a Buddhist cemetery that refrains from displaying the swastika. In Leipzig, where I’m living, just about every East Asian restaurant is run by Vietnamese, although it may be named Peking Palast, Hong Kong, Shanghai or China White.

Vietnamese aren’t just in cities. Last week, I took a train to Wurzen, population 16,327. Near Jacobsplatz, one of its two main squares, I counted four Vietnamese businesses: three discount clothing stores and a nail salon. Though the last wasn’t open, I could tell it was Vietnamese-owned thanks to a little Buddha in its window. On Karl Marx Street, there’s a huge restaurant, Goldene Krone. As I stood outside perusing the menu, a large group of middle-aged German ladies filed out, all smiling after their happy meals. “Kính chào!“ one chirped. Once in Leipzig, a black bicyclist also greeted me in this formal manner.

Germany is already a very mixed society. In my graduate seminar class at the University of Leipzig, half of the students were born in Russia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Brazil or Qatar. One is Turkish and can speak and write the language. At a Wurzen flea market, most of the merchants were foreign. I saw Middle Easterners, Eastern Europeans, a turbaned Sikh and other South Asians. They were selling handbags, clothing, household goods and Christmas ornaments. A plastic Santa Claus bounced one basketball while twirling another.

A German woman seemed embarrassed since no one was buying her roast chicken. You should go home, lady! You don’t belong here! Oh wait, the lady’s family have probably been toiling within a ten-mile radius since the Stone Age, or since a tiktaalik first thought it over long and hard before deciding, “Screw it! I’m emigrating onto dry land!” He did at that exact spot right there by the Mulde River, next to the döner takeout. Her family have probably gone to the same church, St. Marien, since 1114 A.D. Nine hundred years ain’t nothing. Fingering my Euros, I contemplated buying half a chicken to make this stoic and forlorn native daughter feel slightly better, but decided against it. I still had miles to walk that day.

Suddenly I spotted a familiar, German face. In Leipzig, I had bought sausages, liverwurst and minced rabbit from Jürgen, and there he was, in his truck. The first two times he talked to me, Jürgen even tried to speak Vietnamese, and he knew quite a few phrases too. None was intelligible, however. Selling quality stuff, Jürgen has a loyal clientele.

In West Germany, Turkish laborers were brought in. In the East, 60,000 Vietnamese were signed up on five-year contracts to work in factories. In Leipzig, I met such a Vietnamese. Now middle-aged, Quan owns a small restaurant and beer store.

“When the Berlin Wall fell, we lost both our job and our housing. The German government offered our people nearly three years’ worth of wages to go home. With that kind of money, you could be set up for life if you bought land or started a business, but many of us decided to stay. We had never experienced Capitalism. We wanted to see what it was like.”

Like many other Vietnamese, Quan turned to selling cigarettes. “We didn’t even know it was illegal. You have to understand, everything was chaotic back then. Even the Germans didn’t know what was going on. One day, you’re living under Communism. The next day, it’s Capitalism. There were Czechs selling cigarettes outside the train station, so we bought from them to resell. All of that gang stuff came later. Hearing about the easy money, many Vietnamese who had gone home then tried to return to Germany. It wasn’t easy. They had to go to Russia first, then cross several borders. Sometimes, people had to walk backward in the snow to throw off the cops.”

An enterprising peddler of black market cigarettes could make up to $300 a day. In mid-1994, 23-year-old Le Duy Bao showed up in Berlin, having arrived by way of Prague and Moscow. A career criminal, he made his living stealing motorbikes in his native Vinh, in central Vietnam. In Germany, Bao soon formed a gang called Ngoc Thien, Benevolent Pearl, and within a year they managed to control 70% of the cigarette black market in Berlin. Bao’s crew raked in USD 500,000 a month. Convicted of ordering eight murders in 1996, Bao is now serving a life sentence in Tegel Prison. During the turf war among Vietnamese cigarette gangs in Berlin, more than 40 Vietnamese were murdered.

Though Vietnamese cigarette gangs in Germany no longer generate such frightful headlines, they’re still active. All over Europe, you can buy Jin Ling, an industrial chemical and asbestos-laced cigarette that burns so ardently, even when not puffed, it has caused several house fires. A pack of 19 costs but 3 Euros, however, half of the legal stuff. Though with a Chinese name, it’s actually made in Kaliningrad, that Russian city on the Baltic Sea. Multinational in scope, this lucrative trade involves criminal gangs from more than a dozen countries. In this racket, Vietnamese are but foot soldiers.

More positively, the Vietnamese community in Germany can boast of Philipp Rösler. A war orphan from Nha Trang, Rösler was adopted by a German family and became the country’s Minister of Health in 2009, then Minister of Economics and Technology in 2011. Rösler’s ascendance caused Vietnamese worldwide to reflect that had he stayed in Vietnam, Rösler’s abilities would have been wasted. Not only that, he would have been arrested because of his politics. “Totalitarianism thwarts everything,” a commentator bitterly pointed out.

There is also gymnast Marcel Nguyen. Born of a Vietnamese father and German mother, Nguyen won two silver medals for Germany at the London Olympics. When his dad was asked if Nguyen’s “Vietnamese blood” contributed to his success, the old man answered rather amusingly that it made him smaller than your typical German.

In the end, it’s not the extremes that define any community, but your average schmuck, and the Vietnamese in Germany have mostly settled in as law abiding shopkeepers and restaurant owners. Their kids have assimilated well and are outperforming even German classmates. On my way home from work, I’d sometimes stop by a very modest takeout run by Tron, a lady from Hai Hung, about an hour from Hanoi. In Germany for a decade, she speaks the language well enough to banter with her customers. Her food is very good and cheap, and I’ve seen every type buy from her: school kids, college students, skateboard punks, old pensioners…

Once a guy showed up with only 60 cents, but wanted a 1 Euro bag of shrimp chips. Tron sold it anyway. “Sometimes, they just stick their hand in and grab it,” she laughed, “but it doesn't happen very often. At least they don't snatch things from your body like they do in Vietnam!” In spite of its wealthy image, Germany has plenty of poor citizens. Every now and then, I’d see an elderly person dig through a trash can for recyclable bottles.

An old woman ordered chicken lo mein, but couldn’t come up with the cash, so she offered to leave two bottles of wine as collateral. Tron said not to worry, just pay her the next time. “She’s a regular customer. She probably misplaced her purse.”

With Vietnamese-run eateries so numerous in Leipzig, the competition among them is fierce. To gain an edge, several sell sushi or even döner kebab. I walked by a takeout that advertised Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Turkish and German specialties. Its Deutsch menu consisted of just knockwurst, bratwurst—both served with French fries or pita bread [!]—pork schnitzel and chicken nuggets.

Tron’s business is just a steel box plopped on a small lot in front of an unpopular supermarket. Down the street is St. Peter. Built in 1882, it’s brand new by European standards. A few blocks away, a 13th century church, Pauline, was blown up by the Communists in 1968 just for the hell of it. Mendelssohn and Bach performed there, and it was also the site for Mendelssohn’s funeral mass. Who cares, sneered the comrades. Citizens who protested the destruction were arrested. The Communists also considered dynamiting the massive, 299-foot-tall Monument to the Battle of Nations because it was a symbol of nationalism instead of internationalism. Since German and Russian troops had fought side by side to defeat Napoleon, however, they let it stand.

In its classical form, Communism is a control freak religion that punishes every unorthodox thought or act. It is sickeningly ironic that many of the most unruly people in Capitalist societies are drawn to unforgiving Communism, for if it was in effect, they would be among the first to be locked up or executed.

Tron and her husband have two little kids in elementary school.

“Do they get teased?” I asked. “Is there any discrimination against them?”

“None!”

“They never go home and complain about anything?”

“Never! There are only five Vietnamese kids in the entire school. They don’t even play with each other. They play with the German kids. There is never a problem.”

When they’re ten or so, Tron will have them learn Vietnamese also, but she won’t press if they resist. “My kids have been back to Vietnam once, but they didn’t like it very much. They’re German now. At home, they speak to us in German and Vietnamese. If you don’t have close relatives back in Vietnam, as in your parents or siblings, I don’t even see a reason to go back.”

Vietnamese who came to Germany as boat people are rightly considered refugees, but those who arrived from the North, from the winning side in the Vietnam War, are also refugees if they’re escaping Communism. Some, though, are only economic immigrants. In Leipzig, there’s a Vietnamese restaurant called Onkel Ho and, each year, there’s a well-attended gathering to celebrate the founding of the People’s Army of Vietnam. Though rejecting their Communist homeland to live in the Capitalist West, they still cling to the red flag, for many have fought and bled under it. With an opposing political nod, others have named their businesses after places in the South: Mekong, Ben Thanh or Saigon, etc.

Most immigrants and all refugees are forced to leave everything they’ve known because they can no longer tolerate their native land. If the world is swarming with refugees and desperate immigrants, it just means that life has become impossible for so many, in so many places. Count yourself lucky if you’re not among them, but don’t dismiss the distinct possibility.

In 1914, there were 2,416,290 Germans in the Russian Empire. Now, there are only a million in Russia and all of the republics of the former Soviet Union. In 1939, there were 786,000 Germans in Romania. By 2011, there were only 36,884. Though assimilating, establishing deep roots and contributing much to one’s host society, one can be chased out in a bloody flash. One can also be bombed from one’s ancestral homeland. Count yourself lucky if you’re not among them.




.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wonder who those unruly people are who would be locked up or executed in a Communist America. That is some angry stuff right there Linh.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Anonymous,

You're wrongly attributing anger to the messenger. How Communist governments treated their fellow travelers is well known. How they turned on their own is also well known. Of course, they also imprisoned and killed millions of innocents just to make sure they stayed in power, and to intimidate and terrorize the rest.

Linh

Anonymous said...

Hi Linh,

Sorry for the misattribution. The US has gulags, executions, evictions, means testing, and hostility aimed at the usual targets. Not a happy country. But a generalization of communist or capitalist doesn't really mean much. The USSR was still a bit of both. The Stasi has nothing on the US today. 'Murica created their own economic crisis, set up their own opposition online and then monitored, NSA/Google and social media-managed everything better than Stalin could ever dream of doing. Less suicides and riots, people just drop dead at a higher rate.

I don't know of any Americans who are calling for the worst of the Soviet Era, kids are always hell raisers though, and will wear the clothes and spout the slogans just to..raise hell.

Ideas like universal housing, no cost health care, 3 square and clean underwear seem like reasonable basic provisions, but not in today's police state. Thanks Linh.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Anonymous,

Here in the former East Germany, I see many kids evoking Communism because it's cool. They're too idiotic and narcissistic to remember or care that the Communists made life hell for so many Germans and literally wrecked their cities. There was nothing proletariat or working class about it. It was thinly disguised Russian imperialism. Communism was nothing but a total police state. It was state power at its worst. It squashed the common man.


Linh

Linh Dinh said...

P.S. I'm for people and communities controlling their destinies. I'm against any global system or overbearing, centralized state power.

x larry said...

linh,
i don't at all get the point of your harangues against communism. it is an idealist phenomenon. it is something that about 200 years ago people dared to dream up. some--only some--people are sick when they look around them. human life is absurd. all of this needless suffering--for what? why should these suffering dreamers be condemned by all the hordes of 'realists'? communism was such hell--but have you looked at capitalism? as a commenter above mentioned, what's wrong with wanting universal health care and housing? that's basically what communism, or socialism, is. now what's wrong with that? is it just the reality of politicos--and not just so many but ALL i would say are sick fucks, take a good look at bill clinton--greedy for omnipotence at any price, any price at all? there have been some who have been sickened by these people, by people in general--by goons! they say no! no to fucking goons--but that's just dreaming, that's not 'reality' in all its lovely and loving incarnations.

Linh Dinh said...

x larry,

The poseurs I see are not dreamers but indulgent fools who spit on real suffering. They are some of the most intolerant people I know. By evoking such evil, they distract from and discredit real critics of what's wrong now. The American left is bankrupt and impotent thanks to such clowns.

Linh

Linh Dinh said...

Plymouth Colony's Governor Bradford on their failed experiment in communism:

"The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it."

x larry said...

linh,
who are you talking about exactly? who are these poseurs and indulgent fools you speak of? who are these people who spit on real suffering? by evoking what evil? by distracting and discrediting what real critics of what's wrong now? forget the american left, for the most part. it died with martin luther king. our great capitalists just murder anyone who stands in their way--as if they don't have enough already, as if they haven't made so many millions miserable enough, they can't be satisfied till every human on earth is implanted with a microchip and fully controlled.
and governor bradford just sounds to me like any old hard english 'realist'. well, perhaps not. this man lived 400 years ago, in a deeply christian--at least protestant--era. he compares the primitive communist to someone who thinks he's wiser than god. i don't know much of that time and place, but i'm pretty sure the people with a communal bent in his community had read thomas moore's 'utopia'. and what's wrong with that? and what's his point?--that anyone who goes against the 'natural' order--the hierarchy which sets the king at the top, followed by aristocrats forever and all time--is evil and against god. whatever. who believes in god now? (i shouldn't say that, i know personally many who do. i will only say then that i do not) this quote comes from the time of the great witch hunts and the inquisitions. PLEASE! are we supposed to respect this hateful guy just because he speaks archaic english? 'the strong, the man of parts', blah blah.

Linh Dinh said...

x larry,

I'm talking about the people who look at the Soviet era with nostalgia and admiration, people who are glossing over and rewriting the horrific history of that time. Are we so lacking in imagination and historically blind that we must make excuses for the worst abuses of state power in order to move forward?

Linh

Linh Dinh said...

Also, the far left and far right have much in common. All the sins of the state, the "dictatorship of the proletariat" had to the utmost degree. Whatever you hate in state power, you'd have to endure even worse under state Communism. Again, I'm talking about abuses of the state. Under an egalitarian smoke screen, they created hell on earth, and they were as hierarchical as any.

State Communism was a form of madness that came straight out of the West's linear, progressive concept of history. It treated men as cogs, not thinking, feeling individuals.

In the Far East, balance is the aim. One does not think of moving forward, but discovering or rediscovering equilibrium.


Linh

x larry said...

linh,
i see no need to gloss over anything at all. what happened happened. but the west's propaganda machine is truly fearsome and reaches not just into all media but the schools too. we're only ever told one thing--the horrors of communism. we're never told, for example, what england and america did to help franco beat the spanish republicans, who were around 90-95% of the whole population. we're only ever given a steady diet of evil communists, even now with putin and kim in n. korea, and of course castro. i agree with you as far as vltchek goes, but even then not totally. i think that when he makes sense he makes sense. i have only ever met a couple of people from the old east germany, but it was in december 1998, just a few years after the fall of the berlin wall, and they lamented the old comeraderie and unselfishness of the old east. they virulently hated the west germans, who behaved like pigs. lowlife capitalist humans. what's to admire? ok, there can be some--i don't condemn anyone for their ideology. i am not sure about anything, but have always, admittedly very idealistically, felt that our selfish system is all wrong. i couldn't agree less with the governor you quote. i can very well imagine the animals he governed. i will only say once more that people who dare to dream big--because they are so sickened by the endless lies, thuggery, idiocy, etc etc of our 'society'--these people, the very very few that there are, should not in any way be condemned, but admired and listened to. the lowest common denominator rules--this should not remain true. will this ever change? if so, i believe it will take at a bare minimum several hundred years, but with the intense regressions of the past 30-odd years and the evil capabilities of cutting edge technology and the great limitations of the dumb human animal, i must say i am very pessimistic.

Linh Dinh said...

x larry,

Let me just say that whatever solutions people will come up with should be local. Each community and each country will have its own way of moving forward. People's lives shouldn't be deformed by an alien ideology. Your average Vietnamese cares nothing about Marx or, for that matter, Thomas More. Leave him alone to worship his idols.

Linh

x larry said...

linh,
i think it would be very interesting to interview as many people as possible who remember the old east germany well, and to see what they think and remember. i agree about foreign idols and systems, and i agree about non-'progress' and constantly searching for an equilibrium--which is the opposite of what the west has, or the east historically with its emperors. we have no equilibrium at all now. in america states should by rights begin to assert their old powers again, and eventually perhaps split off. but who stays in one state? many don't and have no strong roots. people working for corporations are often moved all over the world. england's an interesting case. we're always told of the great austerity that's upon us. yet there's so much money out there that the dole system still very much exists--i couldn't begin to fathom how much the state pays in rents and money for basics every year. i suspect it is only because so few own all the real estate here, and they WILL get paid. but there's no self-determination for most. they must be a cog in the system, they must either go into business or work for one. people who sincerely want to fundamentally change the world simply cannot. but, again, the horrors seen in the early years of communism--it has only been 100 years--should not make us automatically dismiss the spirit of it as it was originally intended. it is a spirit of generosity, not greed, and fairness, not gross injustice--what is more unjust than a few people inheriting ALL the wealth, property, power and priviledge? and again, look at the endless, relentless sabotaging our very own dear leaders are constantly doing, whether to communist countries or elsewhere, and always to the detriment of truth. they can only lie and lie and lie--it's the only way to keep up the great charade, otherwise known (by a lone truthful man) as 'all for us and nothing for anyone else'. thank you

destroytheuniverse said...

It seems to me the main difference between the capitalist police state and the communist police state is that the road to the gulag in capitalist countries is lined with flowers and in communist states lined with soldiers ready to deploy cudgels and guns.
I predict capitalist states will turn more and more to the cudgels and guns.

Anonymous said...

I still have hope that humanity will evolve beyond capitalism and we will be free from money, property and wage slavery. I would prefer to live in a society where health care access, free university or vocational training, and freedom from poverty are viewed as rights--not privileges. That's communism in the ideal sense. If I had to choose living under capitalism or communism--I lean toward communism.

But I am not comfortable living in a world where people cannot voice their dissent in the streets or in the press. I would not appreciate a state intelligence apparatus bugging my phones, monitoring my mail or sending goons to follow my every move in public. I cannot support a government that shoots unarmed people looking to escape the country at the border wall. This was East Germany in a nutshell: cradle-to-grave state welfare coverage at the price of no freedom of expression. That's a helluva hard bargain for people to accept.

Why can't we live in a world where our material needs are satisfied without capitalism but our individuality and freedoms must be respected? My socialist utopia is out there some where.

I love your work, Linh. Keep 'em coming.

Craig

x larry said...

craig,
i am basically in full agreement with you. as i said, the only east germans i've ever met really missed the communist east. but as for 'not appreciating a state intelligence apparatus bugging my phone, monitoring my mail' etc, no communist state had anything on the worldwide intelligence apparatus now fully in place. nothing you say on the phone or write or look up on your computer escapes them and their extremely advanced technology--i've been told they're about 70 years ahead of what's on the market.
my own admittedly very simple belief is that people should demand free housing and food. i also very strongly believe that people would not only work but actually do useful, enjoyable work were they just left alone. no one--no one--wants to be told what to do. yet everyone--everyone--is just that, told what to do. this is unhealthy, our human world is very sick. i like to mention this quote from bertrand russell, renowned philosopher, from time to time: they could literally create paradise on earth tomorrow, but they never will. he knew, he was one of them. cheers

Linh Dinh said...

Hi all,

This article is about Vietnamese in Germany. Most of them self-identify as refugees from Communism. They know it firsthand and have no illusions about it. Those who have never experienced Communism can wish for it all they want, but this article is about Vietnamese who reject that evil system.

Linh

Anonymous said...

Schade..no photos. Was there nothing tacky, sad and decreipt to train your masterful lense on in Germany?

acht und siebzig C

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About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.