Chi-Linh Đinh: 2016 was an eventful year for Việt Nam, and Loa was proudly there to report on many of the hot button topics. One of the biggest stories we covered was the mass fish deaths along the shores of the country. Quyên Ngô, one of our resident editors, followed the news every step of the way and covered it for us.
“Local fishermen started noticing masses of dead fish blanketing local beaches in Hà Tĩnh province in early April. Soon more of these sightings emerged and media reports estimate that more than 70 tons of dead fish have now washed ashore the coasts of four provinces in central Việt Nam. Carcasses of marine life, such as clams and even the occasional whale, are strewn across 125 miles of beaches.”
Make sure to check out the segment included in episode 48 of our show. It has been about half a year since the first incidence of the fish deaths happened in Việt Nam. I had a chance to touch base with Quyên about doing that story.
Chi-Linh Đinh: I just wanted to reach out to you and talk to you about the story that you did, about the fish deaths back in May. And I just wanted to see if we can update it because if I recall, it was one of our more popular segments.
Quyên Ngô: Yeah, I think that there were a lot of people looking for information at that time so naturally, it ended up being very highly listened to and also our web story ended up getting a lot of eyes on it as well.
Chi-Linh Đinh: So would you say that the environment was kind of confusing so that’s why people were so interested?
Quyên Ngô: Yeah, I think in general, the fish crisis, on the whole Formosa issue has been one of the largest, if not the largest hot button topic from Việt Nam this year. And especially when it just broke out there were so many -- you know, citizens were using social media. Because the government wasn’t really saying anything about it, there were no official releases from the government and so people just started speculating.
And actually, for me, doing the story I had to consult our editorial team. When doing a story like this, there are no official statements because people probably don’t want that information to be available to the public. What do we do? And how much, what do we make of the speculation?
I remember that week that we released the Five Things to Know about the Fish Crisis and you know we were knee-deep in finishing other stories but because this was so important to get covered, I had to push a bunch of stuff on the side and just focus on this on that week.
Chi-Linh Đinh: And this is part of the reason why it’s important for Loa to cover these particular segments, right, and issues. Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I appreciate it.
Another big event this year in Việt Nam was the 14th National Assembly election. Despite the fact that a communist front controls the election, our reporter Giang Nguyễn (I call her big boss) covered the underlying story of independent candidates that were determined to run for office.
“Election-related events are organized by the Fatherland Front, an entity under the Communist Party. It works to mobilize, but more often to control, the people’s political activities.The National Assembly election takes place every five years, and the Fatherland Front holds the essential role of approving the candidate roster and organizing election procedures like this consultation.”
“It does take a certain courage to run, in any election, anywhere in the world: to put your name out there, to expose your life’s deeds (and misdeeds) for everyone to scrutinize, and to persist against odds. In Việt Nam, it’s a feat of bravery.”
Chi-Linh Đinh: I managed to call [Giang] up in Tokyo to ask her about what happened to the candidates after the election.
Chi-Linh Đinh: Hi Giang!
Giang Nguyễn: Hi Chi-Linh!
Chi-Linh Đinh: How’s everything in Tokyo?
Giang Nguyễn: It’s great. Everything is going well. Thank you!
Chi-Linh Đinh: I just wanted to get an update from your segment you did about the independent candidates. It happened earlier in the year, and you covered it. I just wanted to know if you kept in touch with the candidates?
Giang Nguyễn: Two candidates, yeah. One is Hoàng Dũng. He is a 36-year-old activist of the Việt Nam Pathway Movement. All of these independent candidates ran for office because they wanted to see change in Việt Nam.
The other candidate I interviewed was Nguyễn Thúy Hạnh. When I checked in with her, she said she is still posting on Facebook, writing on issues that are important, holding up signs at the West Lake in Hà Nội. For those things, she has been summoned by the police. Since her candidacy, she’s been targeted even more.
Chi-Linh Đinh: So she’s continuing to fight the good fight. It seems to me, none of the candidates have stopped fighting for what they believe in.
Giang Nguyễn: Activists in Việt Nam are really not scared. Once they have made the decision to speak up, they know the risk they are facing. A lot of times, people outside of Việt Nam are worried about saying something against the government, that might prevent us from taking a vacation in Việt Nam. But these people, they are on the ground, they know very well the repercussions of their actions. So they know very well and they accept that. So they are continuing to speak out.
Chi-Linh Đinh: Right. I mean who knows what will happen in the next five years?
Giang Nguyễn: Exactly. It’s not just who knows what is going to happen in the next five years. You know basically change is going to happen much much earlier than that because things are happening so much faster now.
Chi-Linh Đinh: So, I’m just a staff reporter but in my humble opinion, what I really like about Loa is that we cover both political news and produce longform narrative pieces. One of my favourite pieces was Saigon Rock ’n’ Roll, produced by my colleague Stella Trần. It chronicles the history of how rock ’n’ roll originated in Việt Nam, and where it went from there.
“[It’s] the whole idea that the sun should be brightness, this beautiful thing in your life. But the fact that we’ve entered into this world, and it was compounded by the case by the fact that the war in the background. I think that informs it,” Gibbs says.
Black Sun came out of Việt Nam’s short-lived rock n’ roll era, and it is one of the tracks on the album Saigon Rock N’ Soul, a compilation of Vietnamese rock from 1968 to 1974. During that time, Vietnamese musicians created what critics consider some of the most interesting rock n’ roll of the time, from instrumentation to lyrics.
Chi-Linh Đinh: Ahh, I love the music. I encourage listeners to pop back to that segment and just enjoy the rock that comes through the speakers. When I checked in with Stella, she told me why that album was such an important catalyst for her.
Stella Trần: I discovered Saigon Rock N’ Soul browsing the internet one day. As someone obsessed with the sounds of psychedelic rock of the 60s and 70s, it was some of the sickest rock n’ roll that I had ever heard. It was the catalyst for me to explore my identity, and started a journey into my own culture and history. It was so powerful for me and soon, I discovered, powerful and transformative for so many others who felt the same dissonance that I did, that I wanted to share that experience with others. And it’s just really, really good music.
Trinh Nguyễn: So I think for Saigon Rock N Roll, I want to talk specially about the segment because that segment received a lot of hits and this just generally from our SoundCloud itself, where a lot of people access. So the majority of people who listened to that specific segment came from the United States. The second country was Việt Nam. And Germany, Japan, and then Australia rounds off the top five.
Chi-Linh Đinh: That’s Trinh, our resident stats whiz and editor, weighing in on how the segment did. We love to track who listens to what! And the results are kind of interesting, if you’re a data junkie. I asked her to give out some key stats on which countries listen to us.
Trinh Nguyễn: In general, we have quite a lot. I mean, we have about 50 if you look at all the countries that logged in. So it is a huge spread. Some of it could be due to people using VPNs, especially if they’re in Việt Nam and they want to be secure. But a lot of the countries that pop up are typically the countries that we would find normal, considering how large the Vietnamese diaspora is around the world. So certainly the top countries come from the United States.
But if you look at the top cities, where the majority of people who are concentrated, listenings to, it’s always consistently Vietnamese cities. So Hà Nội or Sài Gòn. Or Nghệ An that rounds up the top three for consistent listenership, if you look specifically at cities. They beat San Jose. They beat Toronto, Canada; Houston, Texas, the typical Vietnamese-heavy diaspora cities. It’s always Hà Nội or Sài Gòn where you get a lot of listeners from, the most, if you look at just for the stats for the cities. Which is a very pleasant surprise for us but it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
But I don’t want to extrapolate too much and generalize too much from it but just, it’s always like a highlight and a badge of honor for the staff that the top two cities for this podcast are from Việt Nam itself.
Chi-Linh Đinh: I want to assure Loa listeners that although the top two cities in Việt Nam show us love, we love other cities just the same. One of our reporters, Jenny Lý covered the Điện Hòn Chến festival in Huế, Việt Nam’s imperial city. Sit back and immerse yourself in the audio story. There is a reason it is one of my favourite long form pieces.
“It is the second weekend in a sweltering August. Thousands of Vietnamese families from across the country are making their way to the Điện Hòn Chén festival in Huế. The festival is considered one of the largest gatherings to celebrate Đạo Mẫu, a religion indigenous to Việt Nam that centers around the worship of a Mother Goddess.
Some travel by motorbike, while others journey in large groups by boat on the Perfume River to reach their destination. They all have one goal: to pay their respects to the Mother Goddess at her temples and shrines. She is the ultimate deity of the Đạo Mẫu religion, often represented by a doll, golden urn, or mirror at the top of an ornate altar.”
Chi-Linh Đinh: I managed to catch her from Việt Nam as she waxed poetic about just why exposure pieces like this are so important to the narrative.
Jenny Lý: Yeah, the two things I want to convey across are: yes I definitely care about the topic of spirituality and Lên Đồng in Việt Nam and so for our listeners to get an inside look to kind of what it all means, in the context of Việt Nam, and also around misconceptions, things that people may not realize even being Vietnamese themselves. That’s one of the biggest compliments I can get when Vietnamese people say I didn’t know about lên đồng (transcendence) or, yeah and that’s about the native spirituality in Việt Nam.
Chi-Linh Đinh: Is that part of the reason why you decided to do this piece on lên đồng specifically? It’s like an alternative viewpoint of what’s actually coming out of the country about the practice and culture?
Jenny Lý: That’s part of it. The other thing is, lên đồng is also a topic I have been researching and studying for the past ten years as well, on and off. It’s become a topic that’s really important for me, to my own growth and understanding of Vietnamese culture. At the time, I was in Huế and so it was really a perfect opportunity to get some insights from the ground and also the festival came at a really opportune time. I thought it would be a perfect way to bring the listener to the space and to be there in person with all the things that were going on at the time, at the moment, so they could get an inside look literally.
Chi-Linh Đinh: Ahhh, that episode always gets me in the feelings, right in my heart. It makes me feel connected to other Vietnamese people, wherever they are. And as it turns out, Vietnamese people are everywhere, including Slovakia. Early on in the year, reporter Nam-An Đinh traveled to Bratislava to get to know the Vietnamese diaspora there. He had his recorder out the whole time, and that’s how he connected with people.
Nam-An Đinh: Y’know, the entire time I had my recorder out, I was recording sound, I was interviewing people. And, it was a really great experience ‘cause I got to connect with other young Vietnamese people in Europe and I also got to learn about their stories and a brand new community and I made some great friends. So the entire process took about a few days, and I was, y’know, speaking to people in cars, and parking garages, and in phở restaurants, and all over the place, all over the city.
“Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, and just a short one and a half hour bus ride from Vienna, Austria. It’s a small eastern European country with a population of five and a half million, where only one percent are foreign-born. The country itself is home to approximately 5,000 Vietnamese, with the majority residing in the country’s capital.
A short drive through Bratislava and one will arrive at a neighborhood that is home to many of the Vietnamese in the city. A restaurant here, called Hanoi Garden, is considered by many to be the best Vietnamese restaurant in Bratislava.”
Chi-Linh Đinh: It has been quite the year, and I’m hoping Loa listeners are enjoying the trip backwards as much as I am. What you hear in the the background is an interview with Joshua Wong, an On-The Record, with a young Hong Kong activist who made global waves during the umbrella revolution.
And indeed, many of our activists, especially in Việt Nam, are also just as passionate. I want to leave listeners with a quote by the young Trần Minh Nhật, past prisoner of conscience and present activist in Việt Nam. You have heard of him before; he’s one of Loa’s correspondents, giving us insight for past stories, and also doing an eventful AMA with us. He was in our last Loa video, highlighting the floods in Hà Tĩnh, on the grounds.
“People are angry with the government. Their lives are ruined. They need help. They are fishermen and farmers. They don’t have the means to change jobs. The government is not helping. Instead they confiscate the donations that were given to the victims.”
Chi-Linh Đinh: I know, I know, it seems like I ended on a sad note but you know what? I think, having such passionate activists in Việt Nam gives us hope for the future.
Thanks for everything, and see you in 2017! Loa will be back on the second week of January with new eats, beats, and other cool stuff. I’m Chi-Linh Đinh, and this is Loa.