Young Chinese in Hanoi boost tiesUpdated: 2013-10-16 00:47
Zhao Liping, 22, is one of 29 Chinese students majoring in the Vietnamese language at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi.
The junior-year class is in Hanoi on a yearlong exchange program between the Vietnamese university and Guangxi University for Nationalities in Nanning, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
The program has lasted for decades, but the number of students in previous years was 40.
"Sino-Vietnamese relations were going sour in 2011, the year I was enrolled by the university, and some students dropped this major due to concern about the two countries' future," Zhao said.
Relations deteriorated in May 2011 after a confrontation in the South China Sea, which later triggered sharp statements from both governments and anti-China protests in Vietnam.
But Zhao, who is from a county near the China-Vietnam border in Guangxi, has never harbored any concern, as "the area near the border is almost the same every day — peaceful".
Many Vietnamese like Chinese culture, such as the Chinese TV series Journey to the West, she added. "More than one local person in Hanoi has shouted to me ‘Help!' in Chinese, a word that appears frequently in the TV series."
Unlike Zhao, most of her classmates hesitated to come to Vietnam because of safety concerns before they were scheduled to leave China in September, even though bilateral ties had improved by then.
But after their arrival in Hanoi, life in the Southeast Asian country was full of surprises — in a good way.
Bi Shali from Guangdong province had almost no knowledge of Vietnam's language before entering the same school as Zhao.
"I chose the major because I saw that bilateral economic ties were thriving in my hometown, Guangdong," the 21-year-old said.
"What surprised me later was the closeness of both sides' cultures, especially the large number of words in Vietnamese that sound like Cantonese," said Bi, citing the pronunciation of "bean soy" as an example.
Such similarities have brought the two peoples closer. The Chinese class formed a mutual help group with 30 Vietnamese majoring in Chinese studies at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities.
"Anytime one has difficulties in language learning or even life here, his or her study partner will come to help immediately," Bi said.
The Chinese students also established a "solid friendship" with a 67-year-old Vietnamese vendor who sells water outside their dorms, talking to her often and helping her clean her little stall.
"We like talking to her and taking care of her. She even called some students who had returned to China, saying she missed them," Bi said.
Ivy Pham, a Vietnamese student, said she used to believe that the only thing that Chinese and Vietnamese had in common was their appearance. "But after taking the Chinese class, I found them interesting, kind and trustworthy. I can share a lot of feelings with them," she said.
Thanh Xuyen Pham, a Vietnamese teacher of the Chinese class, said there should be more such exchange programs between the two countries' young generations.
She said most Chinese students in Vietnam now are from the southern part of China, and she hopes more students from other parts of the country participate, which she said would improve the whole generation's understanding of the country.
With graduation near, both Zhao and Bi said they plan to seek jobs related to Sino-Vietnamese trade.
Xu Xiaoxia, another student in the Chinese class, said that Vietnam-related jobs are necessary for Chinese.
"The ties between the two countries can hardly be cut. If their relations are good, students like us are badly needed, while, if relations are bad, people like us should work to improve them," Xu said.