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It’s a Living

Work & Life in Vietnam Today

Gerard Sasges

Publication Year: 2013

Through 67 interviews and 59 photographs, It’s a Living reveals the energy and struggle of the world of work in Vietnam today. A goldfish peddler installing aquariums, a business school graduate selling shoes on the sidewalk, a college student running an extensive multi-level sales network, and a promotion girl intent on moving into management are just a few of the people profiled. Based on frank and freewheeling interviews conducted by students, the book engages a broad range of Vietnamese on their feelings about work, life and getting ahead. By providing a ground-level view of the texture of daily working life in the midst of rapid and unsettling change, the book reveals Vietnam today as a place where ordinary people are leveraging whatever assets they have, not just to survive, but to make a better life for themselves, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-9

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pp. x-xii

Fourteen years ago, I met a young man at a UC Berkeley social event for visiting academics from Vietnam. I can’t recall the academics, the other guests, or the many animated discussions, but I remember very clearly one intent young man named Gerard Sasges...

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pp. xiii-xvi

The interviews in this book were conducted as part of a class I taught while directing the University of California’s Education Abroad Program in Vietnam. I’d come to Vietnam in 2000 to begin research for a PhD in History at the University of California at Berkeley. Two years later, I was appointed the local director of the...


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pp. xvii-xviii


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pp. xix-xxi


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pp. xxii-22

Note to the Reader

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

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pp. 1-13

One of my favorite taxi rides in Vietnam took place in late 2008. Once the driver and I had gone through the usual details of age, family status and the like, I steered the conversation in the direction of work: how long he’d been driving a cab, working hours, income...

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Chapter 1: Growing

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pp. 14-35

How long have I been a farmer? I’ve been working in the fields since I was 18; I’m 48 now so I guess that’s 30 years. I learned the skills from my family, from listening to the village’s community loudspeaker system and from personal experience. Farming is passed down through generations, so I suppose a farmer is meant...

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Chapter 2: Feeding

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pp. 36-59

I‘ve been making rice liquor since 1985. Even back when I was still working in construction, I was making rice liquor. I learned it from others, simply by following their instructions. It wasn’t a job that got passed down in my family or anything like that. I was...

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Chapter 3: Building

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pp. 60-73

My name’s Quang and I’m 42 years old. I grew up in Hưng Yên, and I’ve been doing this job for five years. My first job was working as a xe ôm [motorbike taxi] driver in Hanoi, but I changed to construction because there were too many xe ôm drivers by then...

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Chapter 4: Moving

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pp. 74-101

My name is Hùng. I’m 31 years old and I work as a bus fee collector on Bus Number 39 for the Hanoi Bus Company. My work? It’s just like any other job: it has its ups and downs. Every day is the same … all I do is help the bus driver and sell bus tickets to passengers. I also check the passes of passengers who..

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Chapter 5: Making

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pp. 102-129

My name is Trần Khương and I’m from Xuân Bắc Commune in Nam Định Province. Carving is a tradition in my family. When I was a child, I’d often watch my father while he was working. Little by little, I just taught myself how to make things out of wood. In all, it’s a tradition that has spanned five generations: from my...

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Chapter 6: Selling

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pp. 130-149

My name is Yến. I’m 40 years old, and I work as a flower seller at Mơ market. This is my third job and I’ve been doing this for 10 years. Before this, I worked for a construction company for 16 years until it went bankrupt. At first, I went back to farming in the countryside. Then, after awhile, I started selling flowers in Hanoi...

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Chapter 7: Managing

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pp. 150-173

Hello everyone, my name is Thúy and I’m 45 years old. Right now, I’m living happily with my husband and two kids. I’m very lucky to have a boy and a girl. My boy is 13 and in eighth grade, and my youngest is 8 and in third grade. Now I’m working a job...

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Chapter 8: Investing

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pp. 174-195

My name is Hiền, and I work for the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation in Hanoi. Back when I was a student, I never thought I’d end up working in a bank. I graduated from the Foreign Trade University with a degree in International Economics. I always dreamed of being able to work or teach in a field related to my...

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Chapter 9: Protecting

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pp. 196-213

I don’t remember when I started doing this. It’s just something I’ve done since childhood, you know, feeding the buffaloes, planting, harvesting, and catching rats in my spare time. It’s the way of life that’s been handed down to us by our ancestors...

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Chapter 10: Repairing

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pp. 214-229

Hi everyone, I’m Thiền. I’m 62 years old, and I’m a knife sharpener. My main “office” is the corner of a market in Hanoi, but my hometown is in Xuân Thành, in Nam Định province. These days I live by myself in Trung Kính. I rent a small room for 500,000 đồng [$25] a month. The room is small, sure, but it...

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Chapter 11: Cleaning

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pp. 230-243

My name is Quý, and I’m from Xuân Vinh in Nam Định Province. Everyone calls me Auntie Xuân, after my husband. I moved to Hanoi from the countryside more than 10 years ago; exactly 15 years ago, now that I think about it. When I was still living in the countryside, I did farm work, but the most you could earn was the...

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Chapter 12: Grooming

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pp. 244-257

My dad was a barber and he passed the profession down to me. I’m 35 years old. My hometown is in Hà Nam province, but I’ve been living and earning a living in Hanoi for a while now. I just got married recently, which is actually pretty late. My wife works at a state-owned shoe factory; it’s a good, stable job to have...

Chapter 13: Playing

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pp. 258-279

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Chapter 14: Teaching and Learning

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pp. 280-297

My name is Trang. I’m 24 years old, and I work as a kindergarten teacher and an at-home tutor. I’m also a part-time university student specializing in preschool education.
I’m always busy because I have lesson plans to prepare and errands to run. I have to wake up at 6 a.m. just to fit everything...

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Chapter 15: Caring

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pp. 298-314

My name is Hiền and I was brought up in Vân La village in Hà Tây province [part of the Hanoi metropolitan area since 2008]. I’m 65 years old and I come from a family of ten siblings. I decided go into medicine because I liked the idea of being able to help people...

E-ISBN-13: 9789971697617
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971696986

Page Count: 340
Illustrations: 59 images
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: New