Earlier this month, the Mercury News published an article about Vietnamese American women worrying about their husbands returning to Vietnam to philander. This article explores equally pressing concerns of flamboyant motives between male relatives.
Uncovered photo from a Vietnamese American’s cell phone
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — The trouble for Richie Hoang begins every time he prepares to return to his homeland.
The required visa from the Vietnamese embassy is never an issue. The “second visa” can be problematic, especially if the relationship is already on shaky ground, but it’s that “third visa” – from his older brother, worried, that he will stray over there – that required the most diplomatic of skills.
“My older brother, Anh, is always lecturey every time I go,” said Richie, a store clerk at a local San Jose liquor store, who visits Vietnam twice a year to check up on his small outsourced e-commerce staff. “In reality, we buy and sell FarmVille seeds, but I tell Anh my small team photoshops MMA promotional materials. It’s a second stream of revenue and pre-emptive macho-pout reduction.”
Ever since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, it took a while but the Communist government officials welcomed back Vietnamese-Americans and all Vietnamese living abroad, even those who had opposed it.
But another Civil War has risen, this one thrusting Vietnamese-American older brothers against their younger brothers who want to return to the Southeast Asian country to do business.
“Business?!” postulates Anh, an older brother. “Man, my little Richie thinks I’m stupid, huh? I know all the MMA promotional materials are being outsourced to Thailand and Indonesia – their graphic designers had a head-start and are leagues above the current Vietnamese wave of talent.”
“I know the real reason Richie goes to Vietnam,” leads Anh.
“He wants to be a Vietnamese Teenie Bopper.”
The 70s Babies are worried
“All the teenagers in Vietnam are aggressive. They street sashay!” said Vinh Truong, 39, who owns a food truck serving primarily Banh Mi in San Jose. He said he lost his younger brother to, what he calls, the Saigon River of hormones.
The tension over this issue has reached epic proportions in the Bay Area Vietnamese community and elsewhere–so much so, that a coalition has been formed: Viet B4B – Viet Bros 4 Bros. “No, you have to use the number 4!” says Anh.
“I just came home, ending my day at the food trunk, bringing home some left over banh mi for my baby brother. His room’s door is ajar and what do I see, little Mark sashaying to the Wonder Girls. Who the fuck are the Wonder Girls and what the fuck have they done to my baby brother?!” Vinh’s eyes begin tearing.
The issue is so prevalent, Vietnamese pop performers are starting to address it. “Yeah, I’m writing a rap about it, it’ll be a remix to an old song of mine” proclaims Suboi, a reknowned Rap artist based in Ho Chi Minh City. “It’s about when you know, you go out, and you get wet when you don’t have an umbrella – you know – that umbrella is your bigger brother. It’s called ‘Rainbro.”
Overheard at the last coalition meeting: “Any time our younger brothers, our ems, travel back alone, Anh added, it’s assumed he’s not just going to visit Uncle Toan or Cousin Tien but to play in a country with an abundance of faux-Korean pseudo-mullets and Doraemon posters.”
“There is not a Vietnamese family in the world that doesn’t know a young man who has gone through this behind-closed-doors transformation,” Anh said.
Hao Tran, who owns the Goat Bar in the central part of electric Ho Chi Minh City, said that Vietnamese-American older brothers are just as much responsible for the quietly loud epidemic and do have reason to fret.
It’s a hip thing
“The problem is, Vietnamese Teenie Boppers are getting hipper and hipper,” said Hao, composed on a sturdy wooden stool at his warm dig which serves all the sin you could wish for, along with Korean food. “Look, the Teenie Boppers in America have out-ironied themselves, alright? But here, the Teenie Boppers are ironically un-ironic. Plus, they wear higher-quality cosmetics like Shiseido, they eat better, they’re better educated, and they even exercise more. Most importantly, they are fearless when it comes to having a good time. They just want to be themselves, unapologetically. Teenie Boppers in America get bored, but Teenie Boppers in Vietnam get fun.”
“Look, I just want to be me, alright?” said Richie as he moves his bang over his left eye, gelling his orange hair into the right amount of spikiness. “My older brother Anh likes to listen to Drake and watch Official World Series of Poker, good for him. “I just want to see and be seen. I got my Vans on but they look like sneakers. Let me get some air, can I get some air in this world dammit?”
Those who get a third visa often have strict limits placed on them, said San Diego’s Hai “Beezy” Phan, who until recently was Teenie Bopping it up in Ho Chi Minh City. “Not long ago, a buddy of his overstayed a two-week third visa issued by his older brother. When he came back, he tossed all his stuff out onto the street,” he said. “There was a Backstreet Boys concert!” exclaimed the younger brother in self defense.
“He was having so much fun,” Hai added. “He just doesn’t know the feeling yet, when he’s my age, looking back at old photographs of himself on Instagram. I mean, oh dear god.”
A friskiness permeates the culture in Vietnam that many men visiting from other countries find irresistible.
“There’s a certain charm here that you don’t see in Singapore or China,” let alone the United States, said Chung Hoang Chuong, a faculty member in the Asian American Studies department at City College of San Francisco, who spends about half his time in Vietnam. “If you have the right colored frame eyeglasses, you will become one with the movement.”
Still, some men say the suspicion that a lot of Vietnamese-American males come here just to Teenie Bop is overblown — plenty of Viet Kieu come back only for business or family visits.
“We love fun, but we are not stupid,” said Ted Le, a retired Vietnamese Teenie Bopper who lives in Los Angeles and works at an online furniture retailer. “I am still healthy, but I am not going to (misbehave in Vietnam) at the expense of my job and my professional reputation. My LinkedIn profile is at stake.”
Nonetheless, his older brother, taking no chances, refuses to issue the former Vietnamese Teenie Bopper “a third visa.” “Between you and me, I would love to go back,” Ted says whispering wistfully.
Viet Kieu younger brothers receive little sympathy from Viet Kieu older brothers for their dalliances, whether they lead to fun or hipness. “We blame our younger brothers for their weakness, for not being responsible,” said Christian Ngo, a 31-year-old Houston resident.
Returning to Vietnam holds little appeal for older brothers like him: “There’s a saying, ‘If a younger bro goes back to Vietnam, “he’ll see nothing but rainbros.”