A Vietnamese speaking American who recently had the rare opportunity to visit relatives in southern Vietnam says that two years after the Communist victory people are accepting their new situation and "while the adjustment is painful, it is being made."
He describes his relatives as" a family that stood to lose a lot" from the disappearance of the American-supported-system" - A father who was principal of a primary school, a brother highly placed in the Education Ministry, a brother who worked as a teacher, a brother who graduated from Dalat Military Academy, a brother being trained in the air force officer cadet school and a sister working in South Vietnamese customs.
He said, however, that they have managed to hold onto quite a lot of what they had.
Their rice-growing land in the Mekong Delta, once rented out to tenants, has been confiscated, but a house in Saigon and a house and farm land in the Delata are intact.
Members of the family have had varied experiences of "re-education" by the Communists. The sister spent three days in a course he describes as 'pure nationalism." The Education Ministry brother spent six months, the teacher brother did not undergo any re-education, the air force cadet brother spent 10 days, and the Dalat undergoing re-education after two years.
Like many other middle-class families, the American says, his relatives are suffering the economic hardships resulting from the slower pace of the southern economy. "The biggestproblem is unemployment," he said. "And it's not limited to those who worked for the Americans or other foreign concerns.
"Former army officers are driving pedi-cabs. Many people are doing work they would never have dreamed of, but they're doing it out of economic necessity and not compulsion. Authorities acknowledge mistakes made in the new economic zones established in the country - not enough houses, irrigation systems, hospitals, medicines, schools or land preparation."
Stories that filtered back of some people's experiences in the economic zones outside Saigon did not help already-unenthusiastic Saigonese look forward to going to the zones, the American said.
The Education Ministry brother, however, has left to try his luck in a new economic zone in the delta. The teacher brother is working in a small town near the Cambodian border.
"The remarkable thing is that a family with every reason to resent the new national leadership actually praised them. They felt that the leadership was working in the best interests of the country. They said lowlevel cadres sometimes didn't seem to be implementing national policy, rather they were enriching themselves. They recognize that things will be tougher than before, but think that with the sources they have they'll be able to make it."
One brother has begun reading Marxist-Leninist literature from choice "to try and understand what the revolution is about."
"There is hardship, but no starvation. There is discrimination in jobs against supporters of the old regime, but that's only to be expected. But the gaps between superiors and inferiors have been closed. High officials do menial chores and cadres have earned respect because they don't just order you to do something, they join in."
The American visitor who asked that his name not be used, said he came away with the impression that economic shortage was a major source of antagonism between the old and the new. "But as economic problems are solved, relations will improve," he said.
"I was walking down Tu Do Street from the Majestic Hotel, and saw a girl I'd known for many years. She was a north Vietnamese Catholic whose family went south in 1954. She had worked with the Americans an was obviously very surprised to see me. She asked in Vietnamese what I was doing there, but before I could answer she was gone. I don't think it was fear. She was obviously in good health and free to come and go as she chose. I think what had happened was that like many people, she has come to terms with the new situation. It was practicality and realism. Why compromise the present by re-injecting the past?
"For all the refugees who have come out there are many many more who've stayed and are prepared to slug it out. It's not paradise on earth and they don't expect jobs of the same status. But they believe they can likely live without being harassed, and are prepared to give it a try."