From Mandarin to Model (Lung Dai-Chan Dai)


My generation have been a betweener one: from Mandarin to Mobile phone system, from French Colonial to Fashion TV (with Asia Next Top Model).

The saying goes like this “Vong Anh di truoc, Vong Nang theo sau” i.e. when a man passed the King’s exam, he went home to the village , with his lady in tow. Now, it’s the Model who get the gusto.

The Mandarin was supposed to quote from literature (like the old Hamlet), his back elongated from years of reading lying down. Now, it’s the Model whose legs stretch out on catwalk. Hence, from Lung Dai to Chan Dai.

Something is happening in Vietnam, very subtle and sensitive. Women assert  and insert themselves into traditionally male arena: homosexuality, clubbing, gang fighting, adultery, cougars, even robbing (as accomplices). Just stop short of having female wrestling.  The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo got translated and sold here.

Conversely, some guys went to Thailand for sex change.

It’s one thing to turn blind eye, in praise of equality. It’s another to acknowledge that with new-found freedom, Vietnamese women have yet figured out what to choose from the menu. The other night, I kept inhaling second-hand smoking from two young gals in an extremely crowded club (thankfully, those trendy cigarettes were slim).

Career? check. Stress? check. Marriage? no.

Kids? impossible (very cramp and tight space in Asia). Cosmopolitan? check.

In trading up their aspiration, they down-grade traditional mores.

Something must give. Tension abides in their climb to the top. Boy friend from the country side? Machismo? Spouse abuse? Out. Sugar daddy? Negotiable. Sugar Mamma? All the better and safer, with less complication.

Those who went abroad acquired sophistication and success (cosmopolitan). Those who stayed behind in the bubble, followed their instinct and insisted to have the cake and eat it too.

Change could go three ways: up and down in class, sideways when country side collides with city life, and speed of adoption ( women adapt more quickly with modernity than men.) With overseas travel, cable TV and internet,  the flat world pronounces mercilessly who the winners are (and the rest can just pack their bags, as in Next Top Model).

Vietnamese women, and counterparts around the world, walk the tight rope between: how to keep up a sense of self (motherhood and womanhood) in face of change (technology enabled and a more tolerant environment).

Don’t blame them for banding together for mutual support. (as of this edit, I am not sure Sandy’s book, Lean In, would soon be translated into Vietnamese).

Knowing this culture shift, one no longer is in shock when seeing women main-dans-la-main on the streets of Saigon. And those manifestations are just the tip of the iceberg.

The funny thing is, Mandarins are slow to catch on to this trend. Lung Dai-Chan Dai shift presents a dilemma. A very painful and irreversible one. Welcome to Mars, our next frontier for men and women. (Moon was mostly men’s discovery).  From here on out, it’s a two-way street for all.

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