by Ha Nguyen
The wife of Nguyen Hong Minh, 63, in HCM City's Tan Binh Ward, divorced him for his alcoholism.
Minh, a former teacher at the city's Military University, studied in Hungary in the 1970s. He said that while studying there he was often invited to drink wine and beer with his foreign friends.
"First I thought drinking wine when meeting friends or at a party was a very good tradition," Minh said. "Through a cup of wine we can talk openly with each others."
Upon returning to Viet Nam, he lived in an environment where many of his friends and students drank often. They often invited him to join after work.
"During the 1970s and 1980s, we were very poor, so we often drank wine without finger food, but only with chillis and salt," he said. "Despite this, we felt very happy talking together and sharing stories about our problems and hardships we had to deal with.
"I had drink after class every day, particularly during weekends and holidays. I often came home late and many times I made myself as drunk as a lord, and had to sleep on the ground or outside my house."
Minh said his parents and his wife grew very upset, asking him to drink less to protect his health.
Despite all this, he continued to drink until recently he found himself facing liver cancer.
According to Nham Hung, a former director of Tay Do Theatre in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta province of Can Tho, who is writing a book on the culture of drinking alcohol in the south, wine itself is a sacred thing - it cannot cause a man to become a heavy drinker. People become alcoholics when they are unable to control themselves or manage their drinking.
"Our ancestors produced wine a thousand of years ago to worship God, deities, ancestors, grandparents and parents," Hung said. "There would be no celebration or party without wine. And wine connects affection and gratitude. So wine itself isn't a bad thing."
In the south, drinking wine strikes up friendship and trade partnership.
"Drinking wine in the right way helps to increase resistance for men and fishermen in such a tropical land like the south," Hung said.
Like other places in the country, southerners often perform ceremonies with wine before going fishing or breaking ground. Wine is always present at worship, engagements and wedding ceremonies, according to Hung, adding that bridegroom's family must present a tray of things including a bottle of wine to offer on the altar of the bride's family and a cup of wine to invite the bride's relatives.
According to tradition, at a party the elderly should be invited to drink wine first. People can talk and joke, but no one should harm anyone else.
In addition, in the south there would be no don ca tai tu (amateur singing) without wine. The art is very scholarly and folksy, so the singer must practise very hard in order to do it correctly. So, without a cup of wine, he might not dare to fully express himself in front of an audience.
Regardless, drinking wine is a beautiful tradition. "But becoming an alcoholic is harmful to one's health, so people should avoid drinking in excess," Hung said, adding that young people are more likely these days to become addicted to drinking.
The World Health Organisation (WHO)'s International Classification Disease's Tenth Revision or ICD-10 said alcohol is a poison that changes one's state of mind and can cause addiction.
The WHO's ICD-10 said alcoholism causes deadly health problems such as liver cancer, hypertension, heart attacks and many others - as well as non-health related problems like traffic collisions, violence and assault.
It also can affect people's jobs, finances, marriages and family members. — VNS