Socialism: A Piece of Me

February 8, 2018

As I was reading 1984 by George Orwell for my English class, my mind lingered on a little scene of the dystopia Orwell created. It was when the telescreen pridefully announced the surge of chocolate ration, forming a subtle film of happiness on top of the members’ supposed neutrality. As a reader, I was informed that, in fact, the chocolate ration remained unchanged, since they had reduced it by the same amount in the last week or so. The scene was the representation of the banal cruelty of the dystopia. Because I have a habit of dissolving myself into the narrative, a slight twitch twisted my eyebrow, disapproving of the government’s authoritarianism and the people’s folly.


A ring of epiphany brought me back to the dimmed lighting of my living room, where my whole family huddled in after a pleasantly warm dinner. The TV screen was emitting the report of the latest State meeting, wrapping up the economy’s development of the year. The monotone, slightly enthusiastic and painfully familiar voice of the reporter poured into one ear and slipped right out through the other, as we all had heard the same speech so many times that even the children in our family knew it by heart. It was like they grew lazy and reused the same speech every time there was a meeting of the High Office.


“We’ve achieved significant development in all perspectives…”


A forgotten corner of myself, an abandoned part of my identity arose. That was the moment when I realized I came from a Socialist country.


My city was the headquarters of the Socialist party during wartime. Here, the core values of the supposedly strong, independent state were transcribed. Here was elucidated the “only” way of freedom, the path of life. Hanoi rises every morning under the sweetness of sunlight, and on every street, there would be lines of dancing flags, red like the blood in our veins still burning like the day we fought in the war. Living still is the spirit of nationalism and patriotism, a tiring dedication to the blood and bones of ancestors sacrificing for our so-called independence.


We are not sure about our leaders. We are uncertain of what they work on or how they lead the country forward. We are even more uncertain about the system and how efficient it is. The only evidence comes from the TV screen with the reporter’s mechanical voice announcing how much we’ve improved. We are, however, lured into firmly believing that we move up in a straight line, “slow but steady” as they often call it. Hard work will pay off, we tell ourselves. But what would justify the hunger in our children’s stomachs and the pitiful eyes of homeless mothers asking for spare change in every corner of the country? We don’t know. Our leaders don’t know. The system cannot answer that question. All we’re accustomed to knowing is how we are growing and industrializing, and that is the ultimate truth.


Our country gives birth to the sneakiest black markets despite the supposedly harsh regulation from the government. I wake up every morning to ladies fighting in the market nearby, one screaming at the lady behind the stall about how she cheated weighing the meat. In and out of the market are trucks of unknown goods, waiting to be resurrected by the magic of chemicals. Mothers’ eyes are worn out by worries because the next thing they know might be the intoxication of one of their family members. Children, with their shoulders burdened by textbooks and expectations, float into classrooms knowing only how to do math. I know they will eventually question why they’re doing what they’re doing, get tired of it and rebel, but their flamboyant force of youth will very often be compressed by the busy society. They will realize that no one has time for their questions and dissolve into conformity, all to survive the spanks of their parents.


I have a hobby of wandering around the majestically ancient city and preserving all of its beauty in my mind. I love picking up random conversations with the most ordinary folks on the streets. It seems inherently difficult for anyone to open up because we are conformed to think our opinions don’t matter. We learn to be wary of strangers because a tilted ideology might result in years in prison for political charges. I’ve witnessed scores of political prisoners strolling into the jailhouse like a factory’s assembly line, their faces beaded with crystal streams of sweat under a hot summer. All that lingered from that moment was a feeling of pity or a sensational hatred of people being against “our” party, I can’t recall clearly. But there was a strong feeling of “I don’t want to be one of them” rising in my chest. I bet that is how all voices are shut down in our country: the peer pressure to conform, by the fear of becoming one of the bad people, the “cruel” people: the outcast.


Fortunately, sometimes I would catch a conversation on the street with a veteran who served for the party during wartime. He made his living by riding a motorbike. His raspy voice reminisced of the victorious battles of Vietnam. Americans are bad, Americans are cruel. His vehement hatred towards the country where I’m currently getting an education made me reluctant and reserved, but the patriotic glimpse of light from his eyes made me want to continue the conversation. Pieces of memories stitched together clumsily supplemented by propaganda became a story so widely distant from real history that I giggled at it. Nevertheless, the joyful catharsis of passing a piece of his truth to the next generation almost made me believe in the story he had to tell.


A woman fell from her motorbike. Her scream cut through the vicious air of the busy capital city, snapping the string of connection between me and the old man. Without a moment of thought, the man sprinted to the middle of a traffic jam, and with all gentleness, he lifted the woman and her motorbike up and helped her to the roadside. He constantly asked if she was alright and tried to buy her a bottle of water with the last penny that he had in his wallet. I offered to buy the woman water and the man his dinner, knowing that he hadn’t had a ride for the whole day.


Maybe that’s what socialism is best at, preserving love and kindness.

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