Since her first visit to Viet Nam in 1993, Australian author Pam Scott has considered Viet Nam her second home. She has lived and worked in the country and has written many books on the nation and its people. She talks with Minh Thu
about her love for Viet Nam and passion for writing.
Inner Sanctum: How did you first come to Viet Nam?
I was born in Sydney and trained as a pharmacist at Sydney University. Later I undertook further studies while raising my two sons, finally graduating with a PhD in science and technology policy in 1986.
I then worked at Wollongong University for a number of years before moving to live in Viet Nam in early 1994.
At first I worked as a consultant in the telecommunications industry in Ha Noi. In 1997 I was invited to teach at the Business School at the Ha Noi National Economics University for two years. Next I worked as a project manager in an aid organisation for a further two years, and finally I opened a book shop in Ha Noi.
Inner Sanctum: Can you talk more about yourself and your remarkable books?
I returned to Australia in 2002 for 18 months. That's when I wrote Ha Noi Stories about my first eight years in Ha Noi. But when I received another job offer in 2003, this time as a consultant to the Norwegian Embassy in Ha Noi, I headed back to Viet Nam and stayed until 2005. Then I researched and wrote Life in Ha Noi, a collection of stories about other expats who, like me, had fallen in love with Ha Noi and built new lives there.
When I was offered another job in 2007 with a management consultancy, which meant spending a year in HCM City, I couldn't resist the temptation. It was during that year that I became fascinated with the history of Sai Gon, especially the architectural heritage left by the French colonialists. The result of that research is available as a DVD or a book entitled: In Search of the Pearl of the Far East: A Walk around Sai Gon.
In 2009 I was awarded an Asialink Literature Residency in Viet Nam. This provided me with the opportunity to complete some research I had begun in Australia about Vietnamese women. The result was a DVD, More Than Boat People: The Vietnamese Migration Experience Through Women's Eyes, and a book, Stories of Vietnamese Women at Home and Abroad.
Returning to Viet Nam in 2009 also gave me the opportunity to reflect on the incredible changes I had seen since my first visit in 1993. The result is my latest book, Viet Nam Revisited, looking back over the changes I have seen all over this country and reflecting on its history and the shaping of its character.
Inner Sanctum: What do you like most in Viet Nam?
Is it possible to fall in love with a city? I wouldn't have thought so once, but that was before I had been to Ha Noi. I suppose I love my home city of Sydney, but that is more like the way you love your parents. It's where you come from, it's always there, and you usually don't have to think about it. But Ha Noi was more like a passionate affair.
What I discovered was a more interesting, challenging and wonderful way of life: an intriguing blend of East and West – mixed together in a uniquely Vietnamese way, like a spring roll filled with various fruits and vegetables and meat.
I feel safe and unrestricted. I see no coldness towards the West by Hanoians – only warmth, friendship, curiosity and openness. I think once you've been to Ha Noi, it will always be part of you.
Inner Sanctum: Do you face any challenges when writing books?
I write what I experience, so I don't have any trouble finding material. I'm not forced to write - I choose to do it because I enjoy it.
I have the advantage of having lived and worked in Viet Nam for a long time. I've experienced many fields such as economy, literature, education and society through my work.
Inner Sanctum: As your books are written for English speaking readers, do you want to send a message to them?
Yes, I want to address a prejudice I once heard before visiting Viet Nam that this is a country of war and Communism. I want foreigners to know that this is a peaceful country where people sing and dance together in karaoke, and they are hard-working and warm.
I love the way Vietnamese people leave the past behind and forgive those who come from countries that once provoked war with Viet Nam.
Inner Sanctum: Would you share your plans for the future? Will you continue writing about Viet Nam?
I feel so lucky to have lived in Viet Nam during this remarkable time, a period of peace and incredible change. I still have many things to tell about Viet Nam but in the near future I want to run some master classes and mentoring programmes for Vietnamese writers to help them understand how to write the sort of non-fiction books that Westerners want to read.
Viet Nam has millions of stories to tell the world and I want Vietnamese writers to do this work.
I have returned to Australia. I still remember saying my tearful good-byes yet again in late 2009, when I told my friends that this time it really was farewell. "Wait and see", they told me knowingly. "You've said that before. We think you'll be back." They were right. This time I hope they will be, too. — VNS