Sư Đoàn 18 Bộ Binh
Nguyễn Văn Phú
Translated by Minh Châu
Some may say that the Vietnamese Communists did implement some change with the “đổi mới” or modernization program. Know that whatever modest change there was, it was the consequence of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, of the fight against oppression by the Vietnamese people inside the country and abroad, and of international pressure. It was the threat of the disintegration of the Party which drove the Communists to institute economic modernization (with no modernization whatsoever on the political level). Even though we do not “do politics”, we must nevertheless adopt a political attitude; we must continue to support the effort to bring about effective democracy and freedom to our country.
The Secretary General of the Communist Party recognized that the Vietnamese Communists “committed several serious errors.” The question that begs to be asked is this: if errors have been made, then why not correct them? Why not offer to the people a public apology? Why not return the wrongfully taken land and properties to their individual owners and religious institutions? Why not compensate the victims of the land reform, of the repression against the intellectuals and artists in the Nhaân Vaên Giai Phaåm period, and of the waves of reforms in the industry and commerce sectors? Why not redress the harm done to those sent to the so-called “reeducation camps” and beg their forgiveness? In truth, everyone wishes to put aside hatred and resentments, but it is up to the Communists to demonstrate some constructive behavior that would convince the people of their good-will. It is utterly useless to simply say “let us erase hatred and resentments, let us forget the past and look towards the future” without doing anything concrete to turn the idea into policy and practice. To call for Ñaïi Ñoaøn Keát or Great Union on the one hand, and to place the proposed reconciliation under the stewardship of a unique, all controlling Party (Constitution, article 4) on the other hand - how would you expect anyone to trust such empty words?
Our family — Let’s now talk about our family. Your mother and I belong to an older generation. We raised you in accordance with the standards of our generation, just like your grandparents raised us according to the standards of their time.
You must have at times found us too strict. We simply followed the norm of our times. We hope that you will forget any unhappiness that, unaware, we may have inflicted upon you. Know that we did not seek an extravagant lifestyle, that we were never wasteful and that we lived well within the ethical and moral guidelines of our culture. We worked hard and saved every penny to provide for our family so that you could have a relatively comfortable life, a good education and a warm and happy home.
Because we had been despoiled of all our assets by the Communists, we experienced a rather difficult beginning on arrival in this country. Your mother and I had to accept very harsh working conditions. And you also, you had to work hard and diligently during your holidays in order to complete your studies. Today, everything seems to have fallen in place quite nicely. You should try never to be self-satisfied or to think of yourself as the best. Remember this: “When you look up, you will find that everyone is better, when you look down, you will see that everyone is worse.” Your personal talent, if any, counts only to some extent, the remainder results from the combination of favorable circumstances and the intangible benefits inherited from your ancestors and from your own actions in former lives and in this life. Always cultivate a virtuous life in order to improve your karma, in the same manner as a motorist must recharge the battery of his car. One reaps what one sows. Such is the universal law of cause and effect which leaves no one untouched!
Regarding your small family unit, here is our advice: between husband and wife, it is important to respect one another, to share and to compromise. Frictions are inevitable; resolve problems with patience, calm and wisdom. Anger is bad council, avoid it at all cost.
With respect to your children, love them without spoiling them. Be sure to keep an eye on their social circles. Establish contacts with the parents of their friends in order to obtain a fuller and deeper understanding of who they are. In our society today, bad peer influence is such a widespread phenomenon! The time spent watching television, playing video games or “chatting” on the Internet should be limited. On the other hand, it is important to encourage the practice of some physical activities and sports. This also applies to you personally. Be sure to include physical exercise in your routine in order to balance your activities. Let your father’s health condition be an inspiration to you. In my youth, I spent countless hours tied to my work. As a consequence, today, in my old age, my body “demands justice”, and I am frequently ill.
In your daily life, be thrifty (but not miserly). Make an effort to protect the environment because the resources of the world are limited; we must think of the future generations of our descendants. Do not waste anything, not even the Kleenex that you use to clean your hands. From time to time, let your children view the photographs and the films showing little children who are suffering terribly from hunger and cold; this will help them learn that in this world, a great many still live in misery.
Between brothers and sisters, keep in mind the following Vietnamese proverbs: “Brothers and sisters should be linked like hands and feet”; “when an elder sister falls, the little sister must help her up”; “a drop of blood is more valuable than a pond of water”; “when a horse is sick, the whole stable stops feeding”. The secret to maintaining good relationships between brothers and sisters may be found in one word: “forgiveness”. Do not hold rigor with your brothers and sisters for their defects. Any discord between you would be extremely painful to us.
In this society, as everyone seems to be short of time and can barely take care of his own immediate family, the extended family is somewhat neglected, much to our regret. Please make an effort to emphasize the tight relationship and unity in the extended family. To our daughters and daughters-in-law, we have a special request: help your husbands to maintain good relations between your brothers and sisters, as well as with all relatives on both the paternal and the maternal sides of the family.
Speaking Vietnamese — Some points need to be mentioned here. Your children have grown up as citizens of our host country with all the related rights and duties. Their daily life at school and in society forces them to speak and to write English and/or French impeccably, or they would run the risk of not being able to fully integrate in their social environment, of being insulated and missing out on opportunities for success and growth. They communicate with each other quite fluently in the two languages. Even though you do encourage them to speak Vietnamese at home, we feel their command of our language is rather weak. Their conversation skills are lacking, and their writing skills are even worse. This is understandable because they never dedicated enough time practicing reading and writing in Vietnamese! To help your children acquire any meaningful command of our language, it is simply not enough to spend a few hours each weekend at the language school with a teacher, as dedicated as she may be. Just think: in Vietnamese, the nomenclature, the hierarchy and the forms of address for various members of the family are one of the most complicated in the world!
Our fellow expatriates often point out the need for maintaining the use of the Vietnamese language. We agree with them. But to really think about it, a child cannot be the fusion of two children (Vietnamese and Canadian, or Vietnamese and American.) If too much pressure is exerted, the children will not bear it. In addition, we have to make time for their other interests such as sports, music, etc. Therefore we must make intelligent choices and establish a proper balance to avoid transforming your children into “studying machines”. Your children will be making progressive achievements in this country. Help them be prepared and adapted to their environment in order to ensure a satisfactory quality of life.
The Western society — We live in a society of excessive consumption. Don’t let yourself be caught by skilful marketing techniques which encourage you to consume without control. Surrounded by wants and needs, we become the easy preys of publicity; at the same time we are being conditioned and influenced by the banks and the insurance companies. Practice this motto: “Minimize your wants, be content with little.” Buy only what you need. This rule is also applicable to the houses and cars you buy; these should be well within your means and should provide the security and the basic functionality needed in your daily life. That’s enough. Avoid too much debt. This will lead to a much better worry-free life. Please understand that our advice is not mere theory. Today’s society is slipping lower and lower in many moral and spiritual aspects. The reason, in our opinion, is that when people are so focused on the appearances, they become egoistic, attached to material possessions, and cannot find happiness anywhere. To be truly happy, one needs to be less selfish. One must think of fellow human beings and learn to share with others.
Your old parents — With old age comes illness, and then one day, the old and the sick must depart… for good! That’s the universal law of life! When this day arrives for us, please make sure that our funerals are solemn but simple. Burying us in a cemetery may pose some problems for you, should you be required in the future to move away for your work. It would be difficult and impractical to take care of our tombs in this city. We prefer the cremation solution, which is more practical and does not require our bodies to be entombed. We believe future generations will need the land more than us. You could disperse our ashes on the mountain, in a river, or even in the ocean. We will return to dust, that’s all! Instead of spending on a funeral reception, please save the money to contribute to some worthy causes of collective interest. Do not be concerned that you would be criticized for this untraditional funeral. In time, people will understand and will approve.
One more important point: if, by misfortune, we should be sick and require life support in a vegetative state, please have the courage to remove our artificial life support system. Why prolong such a state which can only be a major burden to everyone?
The family shrine — Given today’s limited living space, it is not very easy to install a family shrine at home. To keep the memory of your ancestors, of your grandparents, both paternal and maternal, and of your parents, you may display photographs in the most suitable place of your house to show your respect and to reaffirm your commitment to never dishonor your ancestral tradition. On the anniversary of our death, prepare a small table on which you will lay out a cup of pure water, some scented flowers, fresh fruits and an incense rod (an electric rod would do as well). This would be sufficient. It is the expression of your love and that of your children that would be most meaningful and valuable to us on that day. We did mention “your children” to point out the need to make sure they understand the significance that we, Vietnamese, ascribe to the celebration of the anniversary of death of members of the family. During these special days, concentrate on good thoughts, do a few more acts of kindness compared to other regular days, give charity to the poor, donate clothes or food to charitable organizations. On these occasions, it would be wonderful if all brothers and sisters get together to renew and strengthen our family bonds. Please make an effort to organize such family reunions.
We hope that you will read this letter carefully, that you will meditate on it and that you will try to carry out our recommendations. We thank you all for having always taken good care of us for so many years, and to have done all that’s required so that we can enjoy our old age in serenity.
With much love to you all, our beloved children and grandchildren, and a thousand kisses.
Father and Mother