Home, work and the city: between Vietnam and East London

Urban homes exist within complex global networks and are continually being reshaped by the mobility of people, ideas, objects and practices. For some authors, this transformation reaches beyond the idea that cities are no longer bounded territories, provoking them to question what ‘counts’ as a city (Amin and Thrift 2002, cited in Jacobs 2012: 413). McFarlane (2011b) proposes a dialogue between theories of dwelling and assemblage in order to theorise the relations between people, objects, sites and processes through which cities are made and inhabited. This book builds upon these perspectives through a focus on connections between home, work and the city for Vietnamese people in East London, hi this chapter, I examine the multi-scalar connections between Vietnamese homes, cities and worlds beyond. The chapter begins with participants’ descriptions and memories of their homes in Vietnam, noting the multiple ways in which different forms of work are interwoven with ideas of home. The empirical material is situated within an examination of Vietnamese concepts of home (nha) as a site of connection to other places and persons, including living relatives, ancestors and the spirit world (McAllister 2012: 120, Bayly 2013). The chapter then explores the ways in which ideas and practices of home and work are reconfigured in the context of migration. Through the circulation of objects, practices, communication technologies and online networks, the chapter explores the ways in which connections between homes and cities in London and Vietnam are made and re-made.

Connecting domesticity, work and the city in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City

Relationships between home, work and city in Vietnam are highly visible in the structure of the urban house, which often takes the form of a small busmess on the ground floor with living and sleeping accommodation above. Several participants discussed how their parents undertook paid work from their homes, including in the form of restaurants and cafes, running their own businesses or sub-letting part of the gr ound floor to other entrepreneurs. Ty lived with his mother, gr andparents and two siblings in Ho Chi Minh City before coming to London to begin his studies. In Ty’s description of his family house it is clear that home, work and the wider world are closely interwoven:

My house has got two doors. The front door [area], my mum rents out to a travel agent to Cambodia, and by the back door she runs an internet cafe, and normally I have to help her to be a shopkeeper. We live on the mezzanine, on the middle floor.


When asked to describe houses in Vietnam, several participants begin with a description of houses as they would appear from above. Recalling return visits to the country' that he left as a refugee, Son described his view over the city as the plane came into land:

The houses in Vietnam are a little bit funny, because I remember every time we go back to Vietnam, when the aeroplane goes down and you look, the houses always look like boxes, the way it’s built. So the more money you have, you build another level - so we started with one and we only have two, but it’s quite tall as well.


Sori’s narrative moved on to describe his childhood home in minute detail. He recalled the layout of the interior of the house, noting spaces which were used for work-related activities such as raising animals and running a business, parts of the house which were designated as living and sleeping areas, and the dedication of the top floor to worshipping the ancestors:

When we come to the front entrance we have the business, the cafe in front and at the back, there’s a well in the middle of the house, and at the back we have a big backyard, that’s where we have the pigs . . . the bedrooms upstairs, like over here, we have probably one bedroom downstairs and one upstairs, and we have a flat roof. The top floor they always tend to use for altars, for praying, because of the incense, the fire starts and they just bum [it] on the top floor, and the middle part is just used for sleeping and for doing busmess, or everyday activities, on the ground floor.


Uyen left her home in Vietnam at the age of 5 but vividly remembered her grandmother’s house hi Saigon, which she described as ‘beautiful’. This home was also a place of work, as her grandmother ran a restaurant on the gr ound floor:

Well, there was about five or six storeys, and my Grandmother had a restaurant downstairs where she would make a noodle soup for breakfast, so people would come there. My Uncle, he got up every morning at three to prepare everything and she would sell it.


Home and work were intertwined in Uyen's memories of this house. Her grandmother’s noodle sottp was made from a recipe originating in her hometown of

Rooftops of Hanoi. Photograph taken by Hien

Figure 4.1 Rooftops of Hanoi. Photograph taken by Hien

Hu6, in central Vietnam. As she described the house, Uyen noted her grandmother’s resourcefulness in offering a dish that was popular and difficult to obtain in the city, and which enabled her family to survive during the harsh conditions of the war.

Hien, who left Vietnam to study in London, also noted the distinctiveness of Vietnamese houses from above. During our interview, Hien shared a photograph of Hanoi that she took shortly before she left the city to study in London (Figure 4.1). This image was taken from the roof terrace of a cafe, and shows a view over the rooftops of Hanoi. Hien’s photogr aph captures the distinctiveness of Hanoi’s cityscape: buildings of different heights, historical periods, colours and styles are layered densely together, creating a unique urban landscape that stretches out towards the horizon. The image highlights the contrast between Hanoi’s architecture and the tall buildings of glass and steel that are so often associated with contemporary cities. Only the edge of one such building is visible on the left of the picture. As Hidi described her photogr aph, she highlighted the diversity and vertically of architecture in contemporary Hanoi, noting how the city had changed over time:

Well, you see really old houses with the old style roof, and here you see a little more modem, and this is kind of like a real concrete, modem bitilding, so, you know, I think it is developing, but something about the Old Quarter in Hanoi is that people don't destroy a house and build a new one. They just try to keep it like that, and then build it up, so if you see houses in Hanoi, you see this ‘pipe house’ - like, it’s very narrow, and [goes] up, so each floor is sometimes just the size of this room, and they build it like, sometimes five, six, seven, nine floors, yeah . ..


Hanoi is a capital city with a history of trade, colonisation and conflict that stretches back over a thousand years (Yip and Tran 2016). Hanoi’s Old Quarter was founded upon a guild (phirang) or village system, in which each street was named for the product that was made and sold on it (Phuong and Groves 2011: 133). Whilst many of the products have since changed, the streets are still known by their original names and are of significant cultural value to the city. The narrow streets of the Old Quarter are characterised by the ‘pipe’ or ‘tube houses’ (nhd ong) that HiSn describes in her narrative: buildings which contain workshops or busmesses as well as living accommodation. The different types of shop-house reflect Hanoi’s histories of trade and colonial influence. One is named after a particular roof style known as chong diem, and dates from the nineteenth century, while a second type became popular at the beginning of the French colonial period. Shop owners extended then- houses vertically and added French-inspired features such as louvre windows (Phuong and Groves 2011: 134). As Hien described her photogr aph, she compared her view of Hanoi with cities that she had visited outside Vietnam. She referred to the multiplicity of different forms of architecture in Hanoi and its connection with the city’s identity:

I think it’s so Vietnamese! Like, in the West, when I stay in a rooftop place for a coffee and I look down, the view is not like this, yort know, here yort see roofs are so different. Different colours, different styles, and different heights .. . and something very special about Vietnam is that because of the time of the French and Americans, different cormtries influence the architecture of this country.


HiSn’s narrative expressed her enthusiasm for the unique architecture of the Old Quarter and the cultural influences that are represented within the buildings. She regarded it is an important aspect of Hanoi’s history, one that people who are unfamiliar with the city would be interested to discover. Her description of the rooftop view also linked the urban fabric with Vietnamese culture and identity, all of which are entwined with broader political processes. Prior to Vietnam’s transition from state-led to ‘late-socialist' economy known as doi men (Renovation), Hanoi consisted of three main areas: the Old Quarter, considered to be the commercial centre of the city, the French Quarter, which was an administrative district, and residential areas built for state employees, which are known as Khu tap the (KTT) or ‘Soviet-style’ apartments (Yip and Tran 2016). While the Old and French Quarters remain popular because of then historical and cultural value, the

KTT apartments are considered to be less desirable among contemporary city planners. Whilst this is partly due to the damage and neglect that these apartments suffered during the war, it also reflects criticisms of the ways in which residents have added then own extensions to the buildings - alterations that have been described as illegal and dangerous by the authorities (Yip and Tran 2016).

Hang’s memories of growing up in Hanoi highlight multiple connections between the built form of the home, household structures, livelihoods and family relationships. Hang spent her childhood in a relatively poor district of Hanoi located near to the flea market area. Her mother worked in a factory and later made money from selling street food outside then home. Hang's father had many different jobs, including as a motorcycle mechanic, but struggled to find enough work to support the family. Hang’s childhood home began as a small two-floor building in which her grandmother and uncle lived on the ground floor, while Hang and her mother shared a room on the mezzanine floor. When Hang was very young, the house had no bathroom facility and the family had no choice but to go to the toilet in plastic bags and dispose of the waste outside. Hang seemed shocked at this recollection, exclaiming ‘wow, yeah - we were really poor! ’ as she described her first home. Several years later and with financial help from Hang’s uncle, the family added extensions to the house, eventually building internal bathroom facilities. As Hang grew older, her parents’ relationship deteriorated, but Hang’s father could not afford to move into a house of his own. Hang’s parents continued to live together for years after their divorce, resulting in a tense, difficult atmosphere within the family home.

As part of its post-ifd; nidi drive for success within the global marketplace, the Vietnamese government has undertaken multiple redevelopment projects in different areas of Hanoi. However, much of Hanoi’s redevelopment has taken the form of individual alterations undertaken by residents and business-owners themselves, such as the conversion of shop-houses into hotels, restaurants and shops, particularly those that appeal to international tourists (Yip and Tran 2016). Son pointed out the commercial benefits of extending a property vertically:

I think they go up, some of them - they’ve got more than ten floors and they turn that into a hotel. If they want to go really high, they can profit and turn it into a hotel, but I think for residents, four floors would be enough.


The renovation of housing for commercial purposes has an impact on who can afford to live in the city, and may threaten the heritage valued by residents, tourists and investors. However, in contrast to the displacement so frequently associated with gentrification in European and American contexts, scholars note that redevelopments taking place in Hanoi are often associated with upward social mobility:

As the inner city becomes more attractive, households who own properties [who also often run then own business there] in the inner city have [a] good opportunity to start or expand their family business. Those who decided to move out make handsome gains, either from selling their hugely appreciated properties or renting to proprietors with good rental returns.

Yip and Tran 2016: 497

In contrast to these economic justifications for redevelopment. Ніби emphasised the aesthetic aspects of individual building and reconstruction:

The personal houses of people [are] just built in the way they like it to be, it doesn’t have to look the same, or they don’t look at each other to say, ‘well, I have to do the same house, same style’. And the government has no principle or regulation to decide what style they want [it] to be. They discuss that sometimes, like, many people criticise how mixed the styles are for houses in Vietnam, but I think for me, it doesn’t matter. I like the way it is, you know - that makes it different from other countries.


Ніби viewed the individuality of house building and reconstruction as an asset to Hanoi and to Vietnam as a whole. She noted that though reconstructing their houses, people could express their style preferences rather than conforming to designs imposed from above. Her narrative also refers to the complex attitudes towards redevelopment in Vietnam. Scholars argue that, although planning regulations do exist, they are difficult to enforce at a local level, and are particularly vulnerable to corruption (Yip and Tran 2016: 495).

Vietnamese urban architecture reveals wider connections with home, work and the city. In Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the design of the traditional ‘tube houses’ limited opportunities for privacy, and families frequently needed to pass through each other’s rooms when moving around the house. The huge increase in migration from the coimtryside during and after the war caused the city’s population to rise dramatically, leading aspects of domestic life to ‘spill out’ on to the streets (Hayton 2011: 50). In contemporary Vietnam, the city streets are filled with activity from shops, outdoor restaurants and food stalls to bicycle repair, recycling and hairdressing enterprises. However, the Vietnamese government's campaigns promoting ‘beautiful’ and ‘civilised’ cities have led to traders being ordered away from the streets, as public space is increasingly annexed by the authorities (Hanns 2011). In consequence, the activities of cooking, eating and socialising are returning into the home, as city streets are re-defined as places for consumption and officially supported events (Hayton 2011: 51). However, Vietnamese city streets remain dynamic, contested spaces. Moving around the city on motorbikes is integral to urban youth culture, and is associated with a sense of adventure and freedom. In another photogr aph that she shared with me, Hien discussed the significance of the motorbike and street life in urban Vietnam (Figure 4.2). She explained:

This was taken in one of the streets in Hai Phong, where I’m from, and these are my friends, just after dinner, and I was driving my motorbike after them.

Riding motorbikes in Hanoi. Photograph taken by Hien

Figure 4.2 Riding motorbikes in Hanoi. Photograph taken by Hien

and then I saw that and just took it with my cell phone. I wasn’t thinking that I would use it again, it’s just so normal scenes of, you know, people talking to each other from motorbikes, and you see motorbikes everywhere. Yeah, so I flick over my photos and I saw this and said, yeah, I didn’t see that’s so special before, but now when I'm not at home and I look at that, I think, oh yeah, that’s something very special. Everyone who visits the country would know that life on the motorbikes is very unique for this country. Because people go to work on them, people go to parties, I mean ... as soon as they are out of the house, they barely walk, but, you know, take the bikes. Yeah, it’s very important for people’s daily lives.


An examination of participants’ memories of homes and cities highlights the multiple connections between home, work and the city in the context of Vietnam, and the ways in which urban dwellings are inseparable from wider relations of power but are also negotiated and re-shaped by individual inhabitants. The next part of this chapter focuses on the space and practices within the Vietnamese home, going on to address the ways in which they are transmitted and transformed in the context of migration.

House, home and family in Vietnam

The materiality of housing in Vietnam is not only related to commercial and aesthetic considerations, but is intertwined with Vietnamese concepts of the family, which includes both living and deceased relatives. Practices of remembering and honouring the ancestors are common across different religions in Vietnam, including among followers of Buddhism and Catholicism, and among people who would not otherwise define themselves as religious (McAllister 2012, Jellema 2007a). Practices of ancestor worship are not only embedded in Vietnamese cultural tradition, but are also apparent in the architecture and material culture of the Vietnamese home. Among more affluent families, the highest part of the house is dedicated to the ancestral altar, which often consists of pictures of one’s deceased relatives, candles, incense and offerings of fruit and flowers. However, most residents of Vietnamese cities live in densely populated conditions. Spatial limitations mean that rooms must have multiple functions, and living space must be shared. Ty pointed out a contrast between Vietnamese living space and that of houses that he had encountered in the West, as he described how he slept alongside both living relatives and ancestors:

We don’t really have the idea of bedrooms, only my mum’s got her own room, which happens to have a bed inside that, bitt we don’t call it a ‘bedroom’, we say ‘mum’s room’. I don’t have a room. I sleep in the living room - actually, I sleep under the altar.


Several participants described sharing then- sleeping space with siblings, parents or grandparents. Sang, a computer science postgraduate, grew up with his parents, gr andparents and sister in a large town located near to Ho Chi Minh City. He noted that even for people living in less densely populated conditions than those of the major cities, ‘it is difficult to have a separate room’ for members of many families in Vietnam. As a child. Sang shared a room with his parents, and later, with his gr andparents. These forms of sharing were not only regarded a spatial necessity, but as closely linked with the care of family members, as Sang explains:

Yes, so actually we do not have separate rooms, like, there are only two separate rooms in my house. So there is an area in a comer - when I was bom I sleep with my parents, and when I was a little bit grown up I sleep with my grandparents so that my parents can take care of my sister - so I didn’t have a private room.


Ty’s narrative also linked the interior of Vietnamese homes with the kinship structure of the family, in which three generations live together under one roof. He described how this extended family model enables relatives to share the care of younger and older members:

It’s quite common because we’ve got a close family relationship, like, your mum can be with you until after you’re eighteen . . . when I came here, a lot of people, their kid is just after eighteen, they become an independent one, but in my country they say that we grow a baby until eighteen years old - that reflects the strong bond between family members . . . We don’t have the idea of a nursing home like here, that’s why we say the family in Vietnam is really [more] like a three generation family than a nuclear family - grandfather, mum, dad and the kids. When mum and dad go to work, the grandfather can stay home to get the kids and things like that. We call it self-support each other, that’s why the family bond is. I'd say, closer than the one in the West, I think so.


Ngoc frequently referred to the idea of the ‘collectivist’ family, a system of values that emphasises a close bond between family members, respect for parents and ancestors. Ngoc’s understanding of the collectivist family echoes Ty’s description, and connects the material structure of the Vietnamese house with the ideal of the family:

It’s about the state of mind that wants families to stay together, like, it explains why that there’s multi generation in the household, rather than just independent. Yeah, from what I’ve learned, it’s that a Westerner, when they are sixteen or eighteen, they want to move out of the house, but for Asians in general and for Vietnamese, we tend to stay together, and don’t try to be separate as much, even when we meet someone and want to settle down, we’ll tend to stay in the city or a neighbouring city, so not spreading too far away.


A close exammation of participants’ memories and ideas of home emphasises the multiple relationships between home, family and broader cultural values. According to Thu (1990), the Vietnamese home prioritises the integrity of the family over the separate identity of the individual:

When talking about a house they rarely use the word ‘bedroom’, because, firstly, bedrooms are not the most important part of a Vietnamese house, and, secondly, the ‘bedroom’ implies an unacceptable ‘individualism’ which is strange to Vietnamese people because internal walls of the house contradict family wholeness and group feeling.

Nguyen Xuan Thu 1990, cited in Thomas 1999: 55

Although the collectivist, multi-generational family is still widely regarded as a central aspect of Vietnamese culture, it has been reconfigured by internal and international mobility and socio-economic change. Following the economic reforms of doi mod, some families are now able to afford larger houses with separate bedroom space. Participants who live in suburban and rural areas had homes that could more easily accommodate an extended family. Phuong, who came to London to study for a Masters in Banking Finance, lived in Tien Giang province in South Vietnam with her mother, who is a doctor, and her father, who works in engineering. When she began her undergraduate degree, her parents bought her an apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, where she lived whilst completing her studies. Ngoc lived in Hai Phong in Northern Vietnam with her mother and father, who is a company director. She described their home as ‘relatively big’, with four bedrooms, including a separate bedroom for Ngoc, one for her grandparents and a guest room.

However, other students preferred to share a room with their siblings even when then' house allowed them to have their own bedroom. Minh, whose parents are university professors, lived in a relatively affluent house in Ho Chi Midi City. Minh had always shared a room with her sister, and laughed as she described having ‘nightmares’ whenever she had to sleep alone. Minh also shares a room with her sister in their current home in East London. In addition to noting the financial advantages of sharing a room in London’s expensive rental market, she valued the companionship of sharing with her siblings. Participants’ descriptions generally emphasise the centrality of family (gia dinh) in Vietnamese cultural identity. Shared living space is associated with the care and well-being of the family as a whole, and is not only viewed as a result of the economic and spatial constraints of Vietnamese urban life.

Connecting inside and outside, urban and rural

Considering the effects of rural-urban migration upon cities, Jacobs (2012: 412) argues that ‘where cities end and mrality begins is unclear, and city effects pulse outwards drawing in rural-based lives and spaces, creating hybrid urbanisms and new types of con-joined city regions'. Relationships between urbanism and mrality are particularly important within Vietnamese contexts, and this book highlights the ways in which participants are embedded within processes of internal migration and political change. During and after the Vietnam conflict, millions of Vietnamese moved from the impoverished. Communist-ruled North and Central regions to the wealthier South of the country. Many participants whose families live in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City are originally from rural Northern or Central parts of Vietnam. Despite having been born in a city and visiting their ancestral village only once or twice a year, several participants refer to then- ‘home town’ (cjue Inrang) as the place where their grandparents were born. Moreover, internal migration is a prominent factor in the contemporary Vietnamese economy. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people travel from the countryside to work in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, whilst others migrate to Laos, Thailand, Taiwan and Singapore in patterns of migration that include seasonal agriculture and domestic labour. These movements are part of how Vietnam is constructed as a nation, and also influence ideas of home. Son discussed the multiple perceptions of home for those who have experienced forced migration:

Maybe if you’re local Vietnamese, if you live in the country, let’s say where I’m from in the middle of the country and I go down South to Ho Chi Minh to work, and I go home for Lunar New Year, then yes, that would be considered as home, to visit my parents, my ancestors, whatever, you would call it that. But because us boat people, we’ve been away so long, we don’t say that is home any more. We say we go home to visit family, but we call the UK home now. We settle, we feel safer coming back to the UK than we say we go back home, back to Vietnam.


The structuring of urban and rur al life is intertwined with experiences and meanings of home, work, family and identity. Ideas of inside and outside are profoundly important within social relationships. Vietnam has a dual kinship system, in which a patrilineal ‘male-oriented’ model exists alongside a bilateral model, in which women are considered to have greater power in social and legal matters (Jellerna 2007a, Hanns 2011). Within the patrilineal model, the family lineage is traced through the male line, and is described as being ‘inside’ (Ьёп not). A wife is regarded as marrying into the family, and joins the patrilocal residence from outside (ben ngoai) (Hanns 2011: 52). The patrilineal kinship model presents a contradiction when compared with traditional gender roles in Vietnamese society. Whilst the wife is described in terms of the ‘outside’, she is also expected to take charge of the ‘inner realm’ of the family home (Hanns 2011: 53, Thomas 1999). Despite taking a central role in the reproduction of the household, financial management and decision-making, the wife is defined as an ‘outsider’, a label which can translate into degrading treatment by older female relatives (Hanns 2011: 53). Describing his early childhood. Son remembered how his mother was treated by liis paternal grandmother, particularly after his father died:

Daughter-in-laws in Vietnam didn’t have a very good ride, so it was quite tough for my mum at that time, being a daughter-in-law without a husband nearby. She got bullied a lot. My grandparents worked, they could afford to hue some servants to help around the house, so as children we got passed around from one servant to another . . . my mum, she was treated more like a servant than a daughter-in-law, so she had to do everything as well. Gradually the business went down, so we had to let [the] servants go, and my mum basically did everything in the house and looked after us as well.


Material and symbolic aspects of home are intertwined with gender relations in Vietnamese society, particularly those of loyalty, hierarchy and female sacrifice (Hoang and Yeoh 2011: 720). Scholars have revealed the ways in which ideals of masculinity and femininity are contained within popular proverbs, including the patriarch as ‘pillar of the household’ and builder of the family dwelling, whilst women are associated with home and domesticity (Hoang and Yeoh 2011, Brickell 2012c). Women’s participation in Vietnam’s labour force has increased as a result of various factors, including a shortage of men in agricultural production dining and after the war, increased economic uncertainty following the dôi men reforms, and socialist policies that promoted women’s participation in the labour force (Hoang and Yeoh 2011: 721). However, while women have often been involved in street trading and small busmesses, men have traditionally retained control of property and the political sphere (Thomas 1999: 61). Images of women as guardians of ‘traditional’ culture continue to associate women with the domestic. Hang described her mother’s world as being centred on the home. She remembered her mother washing their clothes in a metal tub on the ground floor of the house, where she enjoyed talking to neighbours as they passed by. Later, Haug’s mother made extra money by selling home-made food on the street outside the house. Hang’s narrative emphasised the ways in which gendered roles were transmitted through multiple generations of her family:

It’s the traditional thing - so my mum cooks, she washes the dishes, I mean, she didn’t want me to help because she wants me to study and that’s it. My grandmother lives in the countryside, and yeah, I think she was still doing all the housework and my grandfather was doing some commercial work in another province. Also now my uncle, who’s my mum’s younger brother, he doesn’t do housework either, it’s more his wife.


Hang also pointed out the multiple socio-economic changes that had taken place in Vietnam since the 1980s and the economic and political change of the dôi mod period. Many more women are now active in work outside the home, and Vietnam's move towards a capitalist economy has resulted in wealthy families employing workers to undertake childcare, cleaning and other domestic tasks, often women from rural areas of Vietnam who migrate to the cities for work. Contemporary scholars note that while socio-economic changes have enabled some women to afford to hire domestic workers, this is frequently associated with the exploitation of migrant women from rural areas of Vietnam, many of whom have little choice but to work in the growing domestic employment sector (Bélanger and Oudin 2007). Domestic employees are often subject to low wages and jobs that rarely enable social mobility, exacerbating inequality between women in Vietnam (Bélanger and Oudin 2007). Haug noted that Vietnam’s economic growth has not affected everyone equally:

My friends whose families are doing better, they often have a housemaid, or at least someone who comes once a week to clean everything, and they have a washing machine for the clothes, so it’s not too bad. But my mum didn’t get a washing machine until recently, so she still did all of that.


As she described her childhood home and the gendered expectations that influenced everyday practices of home and work. Hang also remembered the difficult relationships that existed witliin her family and in the wider conununity. Alongside the challenges of coping with little money and insecure livelihoods, living in densely populated streets where neighbours knew the details of each other’s lives often resulted in tension and conflict. Hang experienced this trauma within her own childhood, and recalled her father being emotionally and sometimes physically violent. Hang’s parents divorced when she was still a child, but continued living together for financial reasons. This led to Hang’s home becoming a place of conflict and insecurity, and Hang remembered that just before she decided to leave, she had started to describe her residence as a ‘house’ rather than a ‘home’. Hang did not see her family’s difficulties as isolated from the wider community, however, and described how domestic violence was effectively normalised. Most people were relatively uneducated about the concept, and the police refused to intervene in what were seen as ‘domestic’ conflicts. Whilst Hang emphasised the expectations upon her mother to take responsibility for most domestic tasks, she also noted that it was her mother who showed most concern about her daughter’s education. Hang said that even when she offered to help with the housework, her mother would insist that she spent her time studying and working towards a successful future. Hang’s mother worked hard to save extra money so that she could pay for extra tuition and ensure that her daughter was accepted into one of Hanoi’s best secondary schools:

In my family my mum is the one who cares about my education - she urged me to study a lot, she [would] even come and sit next to me and check often, when I do the homework, to see if I was really working, things like that.


Haug’s memories of her mother’s dedication evoke the ways in which women are expected to sacrifice then own needs and desires for the good of the family and wider society, but also reveal her mother’s commitment to ensuring that her daughter would have a successful and independent future. In an examination of relationships between home, family and nation in ideals of achievement in late-socialist Vietnam. Bayly (2013) situates Vietnamese women as ‘achievement facilitators’, who are positioned as responsible for the nurturance and success of the household as well as attainment in then workplace:

In addition to their workplace obligations, women must be successful as domestic nurturers . . . There is always more to learn about making homes into mini production sites of what is required for a meritorious modem life: health, educational success, selfless patriotism, the desire to excel in the ‘modem globalised knowledge economy’.

Bayly 2013: 159

Bayly’s argument highlights the ways in which Vietnamese ideals of achievement bring together the realms of the home, the economy, education and the nation, and the pressures that these goals exert upon women in particular. Hang described feeling a sense of indebtedness to her mother for striving so hard on her behalf, particularly because she was not in a discipline or profession that was considered to have significant earning potential or prestige. Young people in Vietnam are highly affected by concepts of filial piety and expectations upon them to care for their parents in then old age; something that is particularly challenging for people who are living and studying far away from then families. Whilst migration has a significant impact upon gender relations inside and outside the home, associations between women and domesticity remain a crucial part of migrants’ experiences of home, work and everyday life. Uyen’s narrative speaks to her memories of growing up in Vietnam and the ways in which gendered expectations are maintained and sometimes reinforced in the context of migration and displacement:

I think generally the woman takes care of everything in the house. She'll cook, look after the kids, even earn money, and I feel that the men, they’ll either earn money or if they don’t they just don’t do anything else. They kind of just sit around. The women hold everything together even if they have to do all the cooking, the shopping, the childcare, they’ll still have to earn money too, and they do. I just feel that women are so much more hardworking. They will bring up their sons to feel the same way. like they won’t let the sons do anything, so I don’t know how it will be in this generation . . . but there is still a sense of‘oh, you're a boy, you can relax’. I can see it’s still the same, the people here who came from the severities and eighties, that generation. And with food you’ll have some households . . . like my uncles - they are the ones who do the cooking, and their wives would work in the shop or do something else. I’m not saying this happens to all, but I can see that in more cases than not, it’s the women that hold everything together.


The gendered roles and expectations that Uyen describes have had a particular impact on Vietnamese refirgee women, many of whom spoke little English when they arrived in then- new destinations. Unfamiliar with then new environment, these women were fearful of going out and many became isolated in their homes (Thomas 1999: 61). Such experiences highlight the multiple and ambiguous meanings of home, particularly for those who have been displaced. Home may thus be experienced as a confining and alienating place rather than as a refuge or sanctuary.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >