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Thanh Vu


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Audio interview with Thanh Vu

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Vu, Thanh (Subject of)


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Collection Number: HHH - 004
Speaker: Thanh Vu
Recordist: Ellie Schling and Myk Zeitlin
Length of Recording (s): 01:25:34 and 00:11:22
Purpose of recording: Hackney Housing History Project
Recording Dates: 12.05.2011
Recording location: An Viet Community Centre
Access restrictions: None
Recording equipment: Zoom H4N, internal microphone
Recording notes: There are two tracks of the recording, and the second recording has had the beginning cut off. There is an explanation in the transcript.
Associated archive material:
Transcribed by: Myk Zeitlin
Subject: personal housing history, journey from Vietnam to Hackney, community work, views on housing, immigration, place of Vietnamese community, change in the area, relationship to home.

Interview summary
Time - Notes / Quote
00.00 – 03.54 - Talks about growing up in Vietnam, moving to the south without his parents, achieving a Master’s degree, becoming the youngest Councillor in Vietnam, making four escape attempts, one of which was successful, Being picked up by the British out of the ocean, being taken to Singapore and arriving in Britain in October 1979. The British Government allowed Vietnamese refugees who had been picked up from the ships to enter and 20,000 from Hong Kong. He got a job for the Refugee Council resettling the refugees.
“At that time they were not concentrate in one place, because in 1991 or 90 happen a riot, in Brixton, the government didn’t want the Vietnamese in one area, they split up, all around the country, so, after two years, they felt very alone, and they moved to London.”

04.01 – 05.28 - Talks about Vietnamese refugees squatting in Hackney and how the resettlement policy failed:
“And then the, um, this person, policies totally failed because they don’t want to live in the countryside, or the, er, very far away from London the reason is they felt alone and also no Chinese or Vietnamese food, they moved to London to, easy to get, er to get in Chinatown. So that’s why they moved back to London, and from the beginning they came to Hackney to pick up on the empty flat, to get in, and later on the er Hackney agreed to give them the tenancy agreement. I also did a lot of work for them, to talk to Hackney Council, to do interpreter, for officer to agree for them to do, er, to be, to have a tenancy agreement.”

06.18 – 08.07 - Talks about the difficulties faced by the refugees in their new country.
“I know many difficulties faced to Vietnamese, because almost of them live in the countryside, they have illiterate, even in their own language, so very difficult for them to study English here, so the most difficulty with them they couldn’t learn English, and also, um, integrate with new societies very difficult, so, some very simple things like er, to sit in the loo, in the centre, it’s not very, don’t know how to, quite a lot of toilet seat broken, they don’t know, and later on they know that they sit with two feet in there [laughs], so that is simple because in Vietnam or in China they don’t have such a kind of toilet, and to come here they sit on it so that’s why it’s broken a lot. Simple thing like this very difficult for them to interfere, to to um inter... to integrate, in a new society, and also there’s habit to, um, make a queue, that’s not something in Vietnam, and they jump up and then to get into the bus, make the local people very upset, something like that, or simple thing, saying thank you or sorry, not with them always so that’s why they have a lot of things to learn”

08.28 – 09.05 - There were support groups in the countryside to help the refugees.
“British people are very supportive, of Vietnamese refugees to settle down here”

10.05 – 11.48 - Explains the progression of his community work:
“And then, um apart from help them to settle down and with get on well with daily life, to get benefit, housing, blah - blah - blah, and we also, um, open the er Matang school, at that time in Clapton Girls’ School, for many years and at that time Hackney still have money to ask the school keeper to open Saturdays for us, but after five, ten, seven years it closed, so we have no chance to organize the Matang school for children, but also we are lucky, after the Greater London Council close down I also received £100,000 from Ken Livingstone to buy the VLC centre, so that is our first community centre, and at the same time I set up An Viet, because An Viet I set up in 1982 already and VLC in 1990, something like that, and now we use the VLC a lot for the Matang school, and some other activity, with An Viet here we hope we can have a long lease so we can create some more activity and more useful thing for the local people”

15.00 - Talks about Vietnamese people working in garment making, first for Jewish people and Kurdish people, then for themselves. In a similar way, from the mid-1980s, Vietnamese people learnt from working in the Chinatown restaurants how to open their own restaurants.
18.00 - Vietnamese people move into nail shops after the fall of the Berlin wall means the clothing business becomes less profitable due to competition from the former Eastern Bloc.
20.00 - Talks about how being hard working and having a strong family leads to success.
23.49 - His children are all professionals working in housing; his daughter is successful in the housing industry.
25.00 – 28.00 - Talks about the housing situations of the second generation Vietnamese people, they are often buying houses and he doesn't think there is a big housing need because the children have been so successful. However there are also divorced families and more new immigrants who have problems accessing housing, until they get permission to stay when they will need housing. Thinks there will not be enough housing with so many new immigrants.
29.45 - When he first lived in the UK he lived in Manor House. In 1992 he bought his flat, which was later demolished for regeneration.
30.57 - Talks about Vietnamese peoples' first ideas of Hackney. They came here because of the empty flats but now like it. Another reason to stay was: “Hackney have very common market, very suitable for Vietnamese to find out some vegetable or some other thing for them to shop, to do shopping or, to prepare their own meals, in the south with Brixton, in the north with Hackney”
32.18 - Vietnamese people fix things themselves rather than asking the council: “Waiting for the council sometimes very long”
35.00 - People helped each other out to fix the empty flats. Was asked whether people were evicted from the squats, he said not many. Talks about the political pressure they put on the council to get council tenancies for the squatters.
39.26 - Finding out about corruption in Hackney Housing Office in 1985. People were given tenancies, after negotiation with the Council and the help of a Reverend. There was a second move back to London from the countryside 1982 – 1990.
42.15 - Personal feelings about settling in Britain:
“I’m very shock when British ship pick me up out of the sea and when to come to the UK I feel the, like a paradise, it mean people have a benefit, people have housing, everything free like go to school, go to the hospital, blah – blah - blah. So that’s why I feel I have a debt to British people, so I only claim benefit few months and then I work at cleaner for two year to get the money to survive and also to study my Master degree at SOAS and then I never claimed benefit”.

46.39 - Cultural differences, making it difficult to integrate.
49.23 - Easy to get on well with neighbours, Vietnamese people like to be friendly with their neighbours.

52.00 - Differences with housing in Vietnam. There are no different rooms in Vietnamese houses; the UK is very comfortable in comparison. People are often frightened if living high up in high rises.

57.00 - Vietnamese people are happy with the life in the UK:
“With the Vietnamese in general they feel very comfortable, they feel enough and they very grateful for the help of the government and they don’t have any complaint; I don’t think they have any complaint. They quite happy to, to be settled here, and they feel it’s good for them, because the basic thing in life, the society or the government give to them, like you have nowhere to live, you have a council flat, you have benefit, to, to, to survive, or maybe they spend less than the, the benefit they receive, take example they don’t want to buy the good food in the store they go to Dalston to buy the chicken wing or the pork leg or something like that, it’s a very cheap one too, to save money, and quite a lot of them receive benefit, they still have money to send to their families in Vietnam”

60.00 - 2002 – 2006 was a Hackney Councillor. That was enough for him, there were too many meetings. He advocated for peoples housing cases and says that it’s best if you can present a case to the officer, otherwise letters have little effect.

63.00 - There are less Vietnamese community centres now, there are less grants. It is hard to keep going

65.00 - He spent the first grant on an 'English man' to help with further fundraising while he himself was volunteering. He talks about how he supported himself, and never claimed benefits.
“I always thinking that, in Vietnam we have nothing at all from the government, how we can survive? Million people have nothing from the government, they have to go by themselves, how they survive? Why live in this country there’s plenty of opportunity to get a job or to get some money, why we have to rely on benefit?”

67.00 - Meaning of home: “Home is very important, and your happiness or unhappiness is your home. Home is being the, umm the house or flat, to live and home is where we live in harmony in the family...To make you happiness, otherwise, losing home, home is mean broken family, or very bad quality or where make you very uncomfortable, you cannot concentrate to do the other thing, or after work hard in the office to back home and lot of unorganized things in your home and also food no good, or not good relation with your children, how you can feel happy to do your work? And also with, the neighbours as well, if your neighbours always complain to you, how you can feel happy to live there?”? Thoughts on the general neighbourhood situation in Hackney: “ In general, the neighbourhood, they have committee, and they discuss with their officer, to try to improve the environment, and also the neighbourhood in general is a very good way to support each other and also to understand between the staff and local community. It’s a good thing the neighbourhood always have a meeting, themselves and meeting with the officer to try to improve the environment….” and “ Um, from my experience, the housing of the estates now much much better than 10 or 20 or 30 years before. You can see the streets very clean, also the um the estates also very clean, and very big improvement, um compare with in the past.” Also there are less empty houses.
72.00 - Thoughts for what we need for the future: “ a lot of people still in housing waiting list, and also, some areas, the people live in not to be good enough to keep their environment clean. They rely on staff, obviously not good at all. And how we can have staff every day to clean for you and when you have something spread around like this with dirty thing, with the fly over there. So we need every area they have some people to remind the other or to set up their own estate committee or block committee, try to encourage the other to keep clean for before the… Because the officer, or the staff in Hackney or anywhere, never have enough if each of the people, each tenant, cannot do the proper way to keep their environment clean or better.”
74.00 - The new government cuts may make things harder. His solutions are not to ask the government to do everything for you but to work to contribute to society and make money yourself. “Only when the people to, to recognize that, each people have to contribute something to the society, the society will, to improve for themselves and for the next generation, otherwise the people all rely on the government, like this country I don’t feel that is good enough.”
Recording 2:
00.00 – 00.31 - Explains how he came to be housed on Woodberry down when the Refugee Council (his employer) asked Hackney Council to provide him with a flat. When his family came over he changed his one bedroom to a three bedroom “at that time it was very easy to get accommodation”.
Recording 2:
02.31 – 03.20

Talks about his neighbours helping him out:
“It’s very good, very friendly, yeah, and also if I have something I ask them to help, they really to help me, especially later on when I have children to live there, to ask them to, something I have to go out and I ask my neighbour to keep an eye on my flat next to them and they’re very pleased because it’s only the children inside the flat and my wife goes to college to study, or I have to work and only three children in the hand they very friendly, they very helpful to help.”

04.37 – 04.48 The estate has got better:
“The outside there’s no change but the environment, cleaning, the security much much better, yeah.”

06.32 – 07.28 The redevelopment has been slowed down because of lack of money and he is dubious about the quality of the new flats:
“In the past they intend to demolish quite large area but now only one part have been demolished and the way is now to, I don’t like this very much too, very high block, to cover a lot of space, the light, and also the ceiling is very low, like in Dalston, that’s where you can have a look at the flat to compare with previous one – it’s very high very convenient, but to live in the flat in Dalston it’s very small, very small, very low ceiling, and you feel like in a box, not in a flat or apartment.”

08.57 – 11.12 On being a homeowner and what he would like his children to do with his estate:
“The home owner is much, much better, to have your own property and also in the future you can give it to your children, or to sell it, but I feel in the future I will make a will to my children to manage it, not allow to sell and to give the profit to, give to charity. And I always said to them that I give you two big thing, firstly to give you a chance to live in this country, secondly to give you a good education and now you have a good degree so you have to live by yourself, and then I don’t give you any, I will give to charity… In Vietnam or, and in this country as well a lot of people still need your help. Don’t use your money to have a super life, like to travel by first class or visitors class or holiday what is therefore money for, to help the other”