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Cassava and Vietnam - Now and Then (9)

Prof. Dr. Kazuo Kawano


Throughout my many years of association with Vietnam, I have gotten to know many people, whom I seem to be able to categorize in retrospect. I got my first impression of the Vietnamese from the several Vietnamese trainees staying at the International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines in 1963 and it was not particularly a favorable one. They appeared rather uncaring, cynical and apathetic, if not selfish, contemptuous, and corrupt. I may be too harsh and judgmental on them; nevertheless, Halberstam wrote about this type of people belonging to the upper strata of the South Vietnamese society during the same period so vividly and critically in 「The Making of a Quagmire」that my judgment might not have been too far away from the reality.

My ten years of close collaboration with my cassava breeding colleagues in the 1990s and the reunion with them in this trip completely changed my assessment of the Vietnamese. As evidenced by the series of my reporting here, they are industrious, insightful, considerate and indefatigable, as if to emulate General Vo Nguyen Giap. I might be a little too positively partial to those friends of mine. Nevertheless, I have a similar feeling toward some of my colleagues in Rayong, Thailand and Nanning, China to count a few. During the two decades of post-war Japan, we seem to have many Japanese of this category as well.

Then comes the mass of the population who just want tomorrow to be better than today. In this trip, I was deeply impressed and touched in meeting many people who seemed never to doubt tomorrow is better than today. This reminds me of the Japanese during the next two decades of post-war where the majority of the population was seeing a rosy future. Now in Japan, more than 30,000 people commit suicide annually and the main reason for this act is believed to be hopelessness to the present and future. Needless to say, Vietnam is not without problems such as the incompleteness of juridical system or rampant corruption to name some. Yet, the proportion of people feeling happy seems to be far higher in Vietnam than in Japan now. It is fascinating to imagine where these former colleagues of mine would further lead this society to.

People at a cassava open market near Hanoi in 1989.

People on a boat in Saigon river in 1988.

People on a ferry near Hanoi in 1989.

Boys on a Hanoi street in 1991.

Girls on a Hanoi street in 1991.

Two daughters at a village starch plant in Tay Ninh in 1992.

People harvesting rice in Tay Ninh in 2009.

Hyper-energetic people in Ho Chi Minh city in 2009.

People relaxing at Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi in 2009.