Dr Morice's Voyage
Hien V. Ho
         For people living in the 21st century, "globalization," "diversity," and "tolerance" are daily "keywords" not to be missed. However, it took waves of traders, mercenaries, missionaries, conquerors, adventurers and explorers to link the world together as it appears today. And the impassioned traveler does not leave behind what he is familiar with just to find in new and far away places things that don't arouse strong, even hostile reactions and emotions in him. It takes time to familiarize oneself with a new place and perhaps to like it, and to do that well, one has to take a critical look at first.

         Between 1859 and 1883, France conquered Cochinchina that became a colony, and then established a protectorate over Central and Northern Vietnam (Annam and Tonkin, respectively). Dr. Morice, a French naturalist, visited Cochinchina in 1872; only thirteen years after French colonial regime started in Vietnam, and published his long report in French about his journey in 1875 in the journal "Tour du Monde." His report is available in the public domain on the Internet, and also in the form of a book available from old book dealers. In the 18th century, of course, people from Europe like Dr. Morice who for the first time came in contact with Vietnam, must be shocked by an ethnicity and a living environment that were totally new to them. Though he candidly confessed initial "disgust" toward the new found ethnicity, Dr. Morice was smart enough, despite strong prejudice, to see the people's physical strength and endurance (capacity to row the boats for hours, resistance to sunburn and heat stress), to recognize their cheerfulness mixed with a dose of sarcasm (probably a mechanism of defense against the powerful colonists) and their ability for quick learning, i.e. their innate intelligence. He also acknowledged that the foreigner's aversion toward the Cochinchinese would dissipate more or less with time. He was a big fan of Chinese theaters, in particular of the puppets that he found much better made than the French ones. He noticed the qualities of the native horses, smaller but better adapted to the local environment than those brought from Europe, and even took exception to the then popular belief among tourists that crocodile meat, "well received on the natives' tables", was too tough and smelled musk. Also, there is a shade of sympathy regarding their lack of freedom as a cause of the people's deplorable plight, harsh conditions under French dominion, following a similar rule by the mandarins in Hue. Therefore the disparaging observations were restricted to the poor populace of South Vietnam (Cochin-China) rather than an across the board assessment of the Vietnamese people or culture in general. More than that, the author found it worthwhile to document and report what he saw on an international magazine, and that gives us now a unique, detailed and candid look into what South Vietnam was at the end of the nineteenth-century. What he wrote about Vietnam has to be read now in its proper context and can be used only as points of reference in our endeavor to understand the place where we Vietnamese came from and the long journey we have since made. Extensive footnotes will help the reader get some additional historical, cultural and linguistic insights.

        Please read the rest of the story in THE WOMEN OF VIETNAM.
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