HCMC Dining Guide

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"We'll make your life terrible"

My Vietnamese teacher, a lovely woman who for anonymity's sake I will simply refer to as Mrs. N, relayed a disconcerting story to me yesterday. During one session last week I had asked how her weekend was, and she said it was awful; something involving the police, but I didn't inquire any further since most people here are reticent to go into much detail about their dealings with the authorities. She mentioned it again during yesterday's session though, so I decided to probe a bit.

It turns out that the government is improving the road running in front of her family's home in the countryside of a neighboring province. (It is common for people to have an apartment or small home in the city, where they stay during the work week, and a larger residence in a rural area where they spend the weekend.) Authorities have been ordering the people living along the new road to help pay for the construction, and they asked N to pay a full third of the proposed amount. She balked at the demand, wondering why she should have to pay such a large share for something that will benefit the whole community.

The authorities responded that they were making her pay more because her house is big, and all of the other people around it are farmers, so they don't have much money. Then they started using the community against her, saying all of the neighbors had agreed that she should pay the most. She still refused, and the police eventually told her that if she didn't agree to pay the amount, they would "make her life terrible."

The issue remains unresolved, and Mrs. N has taken the smart, but potentially dangerous, step of recording all of the conversations between her and the police. In her words, "if they do something to me, I'll send the tape to a newspaper". The first question I had was: where is the money from taxes going? There is income tax here, and a tax on many goods. Shouldn't that pay for roadwork? In the U.S. the government doesn't come knocking on your door asking for money out-of-pocket when they want to re-pave a road. I don't understand why the people of this neighborhood should have to pay again for a government project.

The even bigger issue is: where is this country going if authorities are threatening people like that? The government's job is to protect and serve, not make it's citizens' lives terrible. Once you look beyond the state-sponsored upbeat headlines, one has to wonder what direction Vietnam is really moving in.

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