On Jan. 26, 2015, dissident Vietnamese journalist and blogger Doan Trang returned to Vietnam after visiting the United States, but was detained by security forces for 15 hours at the Tan Son Nhut airport in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Following her release, RFA reporter Chan Nhu interviewed her at a friend’s house in the city, where she was waiting to take another flight to Hanoi.
Q: Congratulations on your return unscathed to Vietnam! Many people are surprised that you have decided to return home at this time, however.
A: Thank you! I went to the U.S. on a scholarship granted by the University of Southern California. This scholarship lasted until the end of 2014, so I returned when it ended. Of course, I could have remained in the U.S. for a longer time, but I missed Vietnam very much, and I prefer to live in Vietnam.
I think, as a journalist and a writer, that Vietnam is the country where I have my strongest bond … In fact, one has more things to write about in a society that has so many issues. I always tell my writer and journalist friends in the U.S. that if they are a writer, they should be in Vietnam. I tell them, “If you want to see a society in a dark era—‘in turmoil,’ as people say—and if you want to witness people’s lives and many other stories, you should go to Vietnam to live and write.’
Maybe that is the reason I came back to Vietnam.
Q: We heard that there was an incident at the airport when you arrived. Can you tell us about it?
A: My flight was to Hanoi, but I had a stopover in Saigon. When I got off at Tan Son Nhut airport at 8:30 a.m. to follow some procedures to continue on to Hanoi, security forces detained me to ask me some questions related to “national security.” They let me complete my procedures only after everything was clear. They kept me from 9:00 a.m. to midnight on Jan. 26. In general, this was nothing much, nothing serious. Of course, I hadn’t planned for it, but I wasn’t worried.
Q: Do you hope that what you learned in the U.S. can help you in your work?
A: My studies were in public policies, and I learned a lot. Of course, we can never learn enough. The more we know, the more we want to know.
[What I learned] has helped my writing, because I understand more now and am confident that I can form better arguments, and can more effectively persuade my readers … [But] writing about public policies in the U.S. cannot necessarily be applied to Vietnam. I am in the position where what I write might sound too scholastic, and Vietnamese readers will not be interested in that. I think this is what writers in Vietnam should pay attention to. I can’t give people advice. But for myself, I will pay close attention, trying not to detach myself too much from life or indulge myself in theory.
Q: Many people are wondering why, when you had the opportunity to stay in the U.S., you gave that up. Can you tell us?
A: As I said before, being a writer, I have strong ties with Vietnam, and I missed Vietnam. Every writer should have a strong connection to his or her own culture. To be able to write, one needs to understand his own country, to have his own readers and his own culture. Someone once told me when I was in the U.S. that I held an opportunity in my hand but did not take advantage of it—that I was holding a gold piece and just let it go, and that this was unwise.
I think that each person has his own ideas about opportunities. As a writer myself, I think that a writer’s best opportunity is to have good topics to write about, and to witness. If we want something further, maybe the U.S. would provide good opportunities—especially for young people who want to see more. I myself want to go and come back.
There is something else I want to talk about, though I don’t know whether or not it is too sensitive. It is time for us to build our society, our economy, and not abandon it. There are issues in Vietnam, in our own conditions, that we should solve rather than running away. Nobody thinks that trying to find a better life is a bad thing. However, many people think that for their children to have a better life, they should send them overseas to study, and that they should then remain there.
If everybody felt like that, Vietnam would remain forever as it is today. Maybe this is part of the reason why I wanted to return, and would always want to return.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service.