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Sunday, April 12, 2015

cambodian people are native southeast asian and vietnamese came from china originally

“I hate Vietnamese people”

I am an authentic Vietnamese. Hearing those words was one of the most memorable moments during my 2 years working for a peace building organization.
I want to write my story to share my real experience working in peace building. Among hundreds of other blog entries, I hope my story will be read and impacted some. I want to change people perception because I think there are a lot of people unaware of conflicts and nationalism like I used to be.
I work for a peace building program called Sarus Exchange Program. Sarus Crane is a bird that flies between Vietnam and Cambodia. The name has a special meaning imply the two target countries of the program: Vietnam and Cambodia. I has been responsible for facilitate the program in Vietnam. When I first started this work, I did not have a hug expectation over what I would learn about conflicts between the two countries. I knew the history between the two countries but I had never been aware of things beyond what written in the history books. Since I learnt the conflicts that exist in daily life, it changed my understanding and changed the way I perceive everything else in life.
It happened in the interview in Cambodia to recruit students to join the exchange program. To test the knowledge of the candidates towards the other country, we had a question like “What do you know about Cambodia/Cambodian?” for Vietnamese candidates and “What do you know about Vietnam/Vietnamese?” for Cambodian candidates. Even knowing that I was Vietnamese and I was sitting next to him, one Cambodian candidate said to all interviewers “I hate Vietnamese. I don’t know why but I just hate them”. I had knowledge before that a lot of Cambodian dislike Vietnamese. But I could never image the hatred is so much that a young person cannot hold himself from saying it out loud. It was like a slap on my face. Sadly, base on the answer of Vietnamese candidates to this question, no one seems to know about the conflict or ever ask themselves whether there has been a conflict. All they could think of was Angkor Wat and Apsara.
Ironically, also in that interview, something happened that I became the candidate that told us he hate Vietnamese. Later interview, another boy came in and my colleagues asked him the same question: “What do you know about Vietnam and Vietnamese people?”.  He smiled happily and answered: “I know that Vietnamese are originally from China”. Since I heard that, he got on my nerve. I waited until he finished his answer (at least I was still patient enough to wait for him to finish), and told him: “Let me tell you this. Vietnamese were not coming from China. We are 2 separate countries. In fact, China invaded Vietnam for more than a thousand years”. When I stopped, I suddenly realized how angry I was and how much I must have frightened the candidate. But my knowledge, what I have been taught about China, could not let myself hold off on speaking it out.  Was it my knowledge, or it a hatred, prejudgment or nationalism?
I would be endless to describe my growth during the time I worked in Sarus. But I guessed, the biggest lesson started from that moment, the moment someone told me the ugly truth he hated my nation and my people so much. From that time, I started to compare the conflicts between Cambodia – Vietnam and Vietnam – China. I reflected on questions from foreigners friends asked me why Vietnamese hate Chinese so much. I witnessed violence happen in Cambodia because political parties direct concern to the conflicts against Vietnamese rather than the internal resources of the country. I saw my own people cause violence to innocent Chinese who working in Vietnam because the territory dispute between Vietnam – China. Then I start telling my friends: stop hating Chinese. Along with that, I tell them: stop hating people over what you were told about them. It kill trust before knowing anyone well enough. If trust can be killed such easy in daily life, how can trust and peace be built as a much complicated scale between nations?
My organization is small. We select only 10 – 12 young leaders in each country every year. Sometimes I feel like the work that I am doing is like a grain of sand in the big ocean. But I believe the effects will grow beyond our leaders. We bring them to face with conflicts between 2 nations so that they can go back and build peace in their home community.
In the photo: a Vietnamese and a Cambodian participant were cooking together during our exchange program.

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