By Iain Finlay and Trish Clark
At the entrance to the Voice of Vietnam’s radio headquarters, the administration offices in Quan Su Street, sits a gigantic old loudspeaker, the mouth of which is close to two meters in diameter.
We saw it as we were being shown across the courtyard and up a flight of stairs to a reception room where we would meet our new employers.
We learnt later that it was one of the actual speakers that were set up along the northern bank of the Ben Hai River, in what was then known to foreigners as the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone.
Every day these big speakers and others like it, capable of broadcasting to a distance of 10km, directed their programming over to the southern bank, urging the opposing South Vietnamese soldiers there to lay down their guns and join the forces in the north.
The big speaker sits in VOV’s courtyard now as an historical piece, a reminder of those distant and difficult days.
‘And this is Madame Nguyet, Hoang Minh Nguyet, the director of the International Relations Department of Radio the Voice of Vietnam.’ We shook hands with a slim, attractive woman in her early forties.
We were standing in the reception room, as a half-dozen or so people filed in. Our first contact with the people we would be working with for the next fourteen months.
The introductions continued around the room: Madame Nguyen Thi Hue, a slightly taller and well-built woman, in her forties, director of the Overseas Service; then a slim, balding man, probably in his forties, with strands of dark hair combed across his head: Nguyen Tien Long, deputy director of the Overseas Service and executive producer of VOV5, the English language service; Madame Nguyen Thi Loc, also slim, with a slightly sad look about her, even when she smiled a polite ‘hello’, probably fifty-plus, director of the AM English language service.
‘We’re very happy to have you both here’ Madame Hue said in perfect English. ‘Has everything been satisfactory for you over at the Institute?’
‘Absolutely,’ Trish responded. ‘They’ve been very helpful and the students have given us a great introduction to Hanoi.’
Cups of green tea were being served as we all sat down on ornately carved chairs, decorated, in mother of pearl, with dragons and phoenixes, both potent symbols from Vietnam’s ancient legends and culture of which we would learn more during our stay.
‘You know, we’ve all lived in Australia at one time or another’, Long said with a smile.
‘Really?’ We were both genuinely surprised.
In Good Morning Hanoi, Iain Finlay and Trish Clark, two of the founders and producers of the international television program Beyond 2000, return to a country from which they reported during the Vietnam War.
They find an extraordinarily friendly people whose resilience and irrepressible good nature enable them to put the past behind them and move into the future with confidence.
Coming to Vietnam as volunteers for an Australian aid agency, their intended role is to coach and instruct, or at least to share their knowledge with a small group of reporters. But they find that they learn more than they teach.
Published in 2006 by Simon & Schuster Australia, Good Morning Hanoi is a great read for everyone interested in how a government controlled radio network in one of the last communist states is changing to meet the demands of a new era of transparency in a new Vietnam.
[Excerpt and images appear with permission of Simon & Schuster Australia].