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Thursday, 26 April 2007

University and draft dodging. Saigon. Vietnam

The Vietnamese have always had a great respect for education. Teachers were always held in high esteem. The war of course disturbed everything and the schools in Saigon were overcrowded. University was the only way that a boy could put off military service. It was perhaps an aspect that slightly irritated me that one of their aims, perhaps the only aim for some was to get a degree, go abroad to continue their education and then not to come back again. This was not true of everyone of course. KC had a cousin who was born in France, had French nationality, came back to serve in the army, became a colonel and in 1975 refused to abandon his men and then spent five years in a re-education camp. That of course was an excellent example of what should be done. Sadly there were many families whose aim was to get there sons abroad and keep them there. Whilst one might understand the sentiment behind these moves it was no way to build up a loyal following amongst the peasant classes who had no way of escaping their military service.
Draft dodging was endemic. I knew a fellow, a teacher and biologist. To have at least two jobs was quite normal. He worked as a biologist for the government but of course could not live on his salary. His family were reasonably well off. He had been to New Zealand to continue his studies. In fact they owned a second house that they had rented. Such was the way of life in Saigon that the person who rented their second house had built an extra floor on it which he sub let without their authority. When taken to court the case was thrown out as the party that had rented the house knew a more powerful judge. Anyway this young fellow had caught TB and had lost a lung. As such he was exempt from military service. However every year he had to have a medical exmination to prove he was still unfit for military service. Perhaps the authorities thought lungs could grow again or something.
The Faculty of Law was the only faculty that did not require any entrance qualifications and the first year was terribly overcrowded. The exams at the end of this year were almost impossible to pass though. So far as I can remember Saigon was the only university in the country. The old imperial city of Hue had had the most prestigious one but it had long since been closed.
When I had arrived in Vietnam most of the educated older generation spoke French. It was a language also understood in a limited degree in some some areas of commerce etc. There was now a desire to learn English as that opened up the possibility of going to The United States, Australia and New Zealand.

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