Reportedly every hundredth person living in Warsaw is Vietnamese.
Certainly, the exact number of Warsaw residents of Vietnamese origin remains unknown, (after all DNA testing on a large scale is not practiced!) but it is a significant number. The beginnings were very humble; a bunch of Vietnamese students married Polish women (and Polish men obviously). They established Towarzystwo Społeczno-Kulturalne Wietnamczyków w Polsce (Vietnamese Socio-cultural Association in Poland), which had its office in Bong Sen restaurant at 12 Poznańska Street for a certain time. It is the first restaurant in Warsaw with Vietnamese cuisine. A taste of the Far East in the centre of Warsaw, in the late eighties of the last hundred years, how exotic! There might have been a complaint book in that restaurant, I’m not sure, but if you were not there read it. Those are the 21st century internet reviews: Rather poor interior design, the man working in the cloakroom and the waitresses evoke associations with PRL (People’s Republic of Poland), apart of that, it is very nice. Delicious food, I personally recommend Vietnamese-style chicken – very well seasoned; excellent service. Fantastic shrimps and steak Henry IV. Watch out for one of the cooks because he likes to cook spicy.
Thus, the first Vietnamese restaurant was opened in Warsaw in the past century. Bong Sen is the oldest Vietnamese restaurant in Poland, while the oldest Vietnamese organization in Poland is the above mentioned Vietnamese Socio-cultural Association in Poland, established in 1986. Its longstanding chairman (has been and still is) Tran Anh Tuan, who graduated from the University of Warsaw in 1983. Married to Pole, stayed in Poland after his studies, worked here and there, till he opened up his own restaurant, Dong Nam, not far from the Constitution Square. 45 Marszałkowska Street became a place for Vietnamese weddings, social meetings, Vietnamese New Year’s Eve ball and…an art gallery!
Since one of the rooms was allotted by Mr Tuan, for painting exhibition, photography , and the works of art made by Vietnamese artists and other countries of the Far East. Thanks to those ‘secondary’ actions Mr Truong Anh Tuan was honoured with the Zasłużony Działacz Kultury (Distinguished Cultural Service Award) from the Minister of Culture and National Heritage. Leave some space for culture, that is the motto of consumption era! So, days and years passed piously, until Mr Tuan brought beautiful Thai women cooks to Warsaw. He fell in love with one of them and Dong Nam became the Thai Centre of Arts…not only the culinary one! Let’s be multicultural cosmopolitans; Global Village is coming to Warsaw in fast steps!
Same as Truong Anh Tuan, Bui Ngoc Hai was a Vietnamese student at a Polish university. Not only did he study, but also gave classes as one of the first instructors of… Chinese martial arts in Poland. He wasn’t awarded a medal, instead Vietnamese government banned him from further studies and ordered to return to the country. He found shelter among Polish democratic opposition members. One of the ‘Solidarity’ activists hid him so effectively that finally she gave…no! not him, but her daughter…as his wife. More than 20 people witnessed their wedding because he didn't have passport nor any other documents. In this way they legalized their marriage…As a young couple they emigrated to France in 1982. Bui Ngoc Hai opened a Wu Shu school there, and won one by one French Championship and European Championship in Wu Shu and Tai Chi Chuan. Together with his wife and two daughters he permanently returned to Poland in 1996. Since then, he successfully promotes, coaches national Viet Vo Dao. It results in the fact that Vietnamese martial arts are represented and spread in Poland only by native Poles!
But Nam, the name under which Bui Ngoc Hai is known to a wider crowd of enthusiasts, lives not only from coaching martial arts. He plays in the theatre and soap operas. Hung, played by him in ‘Królowie Śródmieścia’ (Kings of the Downtown), is a funny cook and a Vietnamese bar owner, “painfully living the fate of the Far East emigrants.” Both Nam and Hung from the soap, adore practicing Tai Chi and giving martial arts lessons to chavs (blokersi)! He works in the bar from the break of the day until night, he didn’t earn much of a living. It is You, dear saloon, club, bar and restaurant goers who can help him! Vote for ‘Kings of the Downtown’ and Hung, in the future episodes ,will have the opportunity to open his own Wu Shu school. The task will be easier, because Thinh, his soap cousin, played by the one who is writing these words, is an ingenious businessman, owing his own ‘cleaning' firm. So what, somebody has to clean, so that somebody else can have a clean conscience!
We are only talking about male Vietnamese students, but what about the female ones? As soon as the fifties (of the last century of course) the first female Vietnamese students begun to study in Poland and started to marry Polish men. The percentage of female Vietnamese students who married Polish and stayed in Poland was so high, that the Vietnamese government stopped sending female students to Poland. Throughout a long period of time there were only male Vietnamese students (I stress – only men). That is why, among the others Le Hoa, publisher of the Polish version of ’Progresiff’ monthly magazine, during the years 2003-2004 – reportedly not only for students – studied in Bulgary. There she got married, yes indeed, to a Pole who was then working in Bulgary. Oh, our nations are really falling in love. And those Vietnamese girls – students, they always achieve what they want! You'd like to say that Polish boys are the most desirable.
Unfortunately not all Vietnamese marriages have to be Polish–Vietnamese! The situation has dramatically changed after 1989. Vietnamese community in Warsaw and in Poland is growing bigger and bigger, it has mushroomed. It can be said, that our enterprising countrymen were given a fishing rod instead of fish. Do not wonder, that there’s Vietnamese Football League in Warsaw, consisted of 8 teams (years of plenty), now only 5. Vietnamese League of Tennis, which organizes numerous tournaments at the Mary’s Hall, awarding cups right and left and centre. The question of Vietnamese Association in Poland “Solidarity and Friendship” or Cultural Centre “Thang Long” coming into being is just a matter of time (respectively 1999 and 2003). Thang Long Cultural Centre is a private enterprise, situated at 4 Zamoyskiego Street, near the 10th Anniversary Stadium. Under field conditions, strictly speaking provisional, internet coffee, table tennis, billiard, wedding and folk dress rental, miniature puppet doll theatre for one animator and first of all karaoke parlour was created. Every afternoon, Vietnamese who finish work on a nearby market, come, passionately sing Vietnamese and world hits. Film director Maciej Migas who was shooting in a closed bar at the Centre couldn't stop to wonder and said that it's a national entertainment! Let him make jokes and judge on his own! While the actors from ‘Artery Foundation’ have discovered that every Vietnamese man is a poet. And me myself, judging from the performances my fellow countrymen give on weddings – their own or somebody else’s, I can say that every Vietnamese woman is a singer.
Text by Ngô Văn Tưởng, December 2009
Translated by Kamil Tylutki