Phan, my dearest son,
I had not intended to carry you to the demonstration today. My short-legged man is just 3.5 years old, and I just wanted to take you to places like Unity Park, where you would enjoy ferris wheels and hobby-horse. Or I would like to take you to Yoyogi Park, where I could find you pick up petals of cherry blossoms, applying them on your cheeks rosy and softer than the blossoms themselves. So far I have kept trying to protect your sensitive soul from all things related to violence, even though it might be just a gun shown in a cartoon image.
Demonstration in Vietnam, however peaceful it is, is in many senses still a dangerous thing to do. And even if nothing serious enough may happen, I still don’t want you to see your mum and other protestors surrounded, pushed, hustled, chased away by bunches of policemen and quick reaction officers equipped with guns and clubs. All of them, with their murderous and vigilant look, have no bearing with the policemen you used to see on street posters.
When we lived in Japan, you once asked, “What does a policeman do on streets, mum?” I replied that his duty is to protect people, including you and me, and to control wicked guys. You then said, “Mum, I love policemen,” as innocently as when you said you love your grandparents, mum and dad, trees, birds and lions. If I took you to the demonstration today, I would have to make it clear to you that it’s not that anybody or anything suppressed by policemen is bad. In fact I’d like to tell you this later, when your pure and loving soul is capable of realising it is not true that everybody around you loves you back, and that there are often unjustifiable exceptions.
Moreover, I don’t want to carry you with me today because demonstration is when you voice your opinion, and you should not join it just because others (your mummy included) do.
That’s why I told you yesterday evening, “Tomorrow you’ll be with grandparents, for I’ll join the demonstration against Chinese invaders.” Though you were eager to visit grandparents’ where you can play geometric puzzles, painting pictures with sister Din and brother Tom, you asked, “What is demonstat, mom? Why do you demonstat against China, mom?”
So I took a map, showing you our country of Vietnam, and I said, “Chinese bullies invaded our land, hurting our Vietnamese people. China is bigger than us, but we have to raise our voice once China commits wrongdoings. Your uncles, your aunties, and I will demonstrate to speak this out.”
You said, “China is so bad, so ugly, mum. We won’t be their friend any more. We’ll make the sharks eat China.” “Oh, no, don’t be so aggressive, son. We’ll just demonstrate peacefully, we don’t use force.” You thought in a while, and you said, “I want to go demonstat with you, mum.” “Don’t you want to visit sister Din and brother Tom? Joining a demonstration gets you tired, and it is so dangerous as when you touch a knife or electrictity.” “Is it, mum? But I want to go demonstat with you.”
You woke me up this morning, and you declined to take breakfast because you wanted to go “demonstat” immediately. No, son. Before fufilling a citizen’s obligation, we would have to fulfill our personal duties. I should feed you, and you should eat up as a good child always does.
Going to demonstration today was more tiring than I had expected. The temperature reached up to 36-37 Celsius degrees and it was a sweltering, deadly hot day. At first you and I went around just to find a place to put our motorbike, and finally we found one which was quite far from the demonstration site, then we joined with the protestors, and meandered through tens of streets. I wondered why policemen loved to hustle protestors into the most parching streets so that they themselves had to perspire following them. The weather was too hot, streets too crowded, and I had to carry you in my arms, then on my back, for your safety. My casual shoes broke down last night, so I must take high-heel shoes this morning. I went bareheaded under the sun, you did not carry a flag or a banner. We both did not look professional, did us? But we succeeded in covering a three-hour walk under parching sun with “professional protestors.”
We should thank uncle Dino, who had to keep his hand off the beloved camera to carry you on his back on a long road. Thank miss Codet, who helped me take care of you. Thanks to a couple on Phung Hung Street who did not join the protest but gave you a bottle of cool water. Thanks to aunties and uncles whose names were unknown to us and who gave you drink when you were thirsty, handed you paper fan when you got hot, and smiled at us. Thanks to nearly one thousand people in Hanoi and around two thousand ones in Saigon, who went to the streets today for demonstration, holding aloft banners, slogans and the national flag, singing out loud the national anthem, shouting slogans, etc., despite potential trouble and danger they would have to face. Thanks also to the policeman who pushed us back with his club as part of his duty, and then acted on his instinct when he held my arm back to keep us from falling.
Uncle Tie Suc said today, “In 2007 you went for demonstration alone. This year, you have a boy with you.” When I joined the 2007 protest, you were less than one month old. This time, you are a man of 1.05 metre, a man aware that it is bad of a big country to bully smaller nations. And you yourself decided to go with me in the demonstration. Although you must have been very tired, you were one of the last people to leave the protest, rather than crying, insisting on going home halfway. That was what I often told you, “Once you do something, you must do it to the end. If it’s hard, you must try until you can’t do anymore try.” I respect you, and I’m so proud of you, my short-legged man!
During the demonstration you spoke very little. It seemed you were tired. Perhaps the crowd, the fists, the clubs and the guns… all such things were new to you and they shocked you. Or perhaps your naïve 3.5 year-old mind did not absorb today’s happenings, so you just wanted to be an “observer.”
But after the nap, you suddenly said, “Mum, I’ll never let China bully my brother Tom and you.”
My dear, still I don’t want you to go demonstrating. I hope when you grow up, no matter where you are living – Vietnam or any other country in this world – you are free to voice your opinions, your wishes, and you don’t have to launch street protests under severe weather, among suppressors equipped with guns and clubs. You’ll never have to hesitantly confront all kinds of pressures, never have to consider your security every time you decide to voice your opinions, as my generation always did. Because I hope that when that day comes, the society we’re now living in will evolve to the point that the human right to expression will be taken for granted, although the ideas expressed may differ from those of a community or a group.
I love you and respect you even when you don’t obey me. So, if what you really wish for is innocuous to your life and does not intrude into others’ legitimate rights, then you can do that even when I don’t want you to.
Will you, my dear?
Hanoi, June 5th, 2011
Your mum Phuong