Audio Recording of Interview
Su Co, a Vietnamese Buddhist nun, recounts how the Vietnam War disrupted her first year in a temple, which she had joined at the age of fifteen. Her resilience, bravery and determination were phenomenal then and are still evidently so throughout this interview.In this first part of her interview, she discusses the impact the war had on her pursuit of monastic life.
Other interviews of this person can be found below:
Narrator: Su Co
Content Warning: Descriptions of war violence
Summary: Su Co, a Vietnamese Buddhist nun, recounts how the Vietnam War disrupted her first year in a temple, which she had joined at the age of fifteen. Her resilience, bravery and determination were phenomenal then and are still evidently so throughout this interview. In this first part of her interview, she discusses the impact the war had on her pursuit of monastic life.
Topics: Cultural adjustment, Commentary on age, Education, Employment/service, Family, Food, Historical Context, Identity, Politics, Religion, War
Section 1: 0:02 - 09: 55
Religion - Ms. Su Co reveals that she knew that she wanted to live in a Buddhist temple since she was about thirteen or fourteen years old. She would always pray to the sky god to help her achieve her dream.
Commentary on age - Upon finishing eighth grade in 1968, Ms. Su Co went to live in the temple with the help of a friend. She hadn’t asked for her mother’s permission and so the master soon sent her home to obtain it.
Family - Ms. Su Co’s mother, to Su Co’s disappointment, did not want her to drop out of school in order to pursue her dream of living in a Buddhist temple. She told her that she would at least have to finish high school.
Education - Not too long after Ms. Su Co disappeared from her home to go live in the temple, her mother accepted her desire and wish. However, she asked Ms. Su Co’s master to allow Su Co to continue her studies; as a result, Su Co was academically ahead of most of her other peers who had ended their education much earlier.
Employment/service - In addition to studying with other aspiring nuns in the temple, Ms. Su Co continued with the regular education in order to appease her mother. This lessened the amount of house work she had to do in the monastery.
Food - The diet at the temple was mostly vegetarian. Sometimes, Ms. Su Co and the other nuns would sell some of their vegetables to people in the surrounding village.
Section 2: 09: 55 - 16:31
Commentary on age - Ms. Su Co’s temple housed children who were even as young as ten years old as long as it was consented by their parents.
Family - Ms. Su Co’s father died in an accident before she was born
Food - Some of the foods Ms. Su Co and company enjoyed at the temple included vegetables, beans and tofu.
Religion - The newcomers at the temple were not allowed to learn meditation; they could only chant. Ms. Su Co started practicing meditation after she entered a monastery in Saigon.
War - In 1972, Ms. Su Co’s village started to feel the effects of the Vietnam war directly. She specifically remembers encountering an inundation of people on February 15 as she was leaving a class; they were refugees, displaced by bombs that had destroyed their villages. These refugees resettled in cities like Da Nang and Hue; meanwhile, Ms. Su Co, with the permission of her master, relocated to Saigon to continue her studies.
Section 3: 16:31 - 25:43
War - As everyone around Ms. Su Co was seeking refuge, she asked her master to stay and guard the Buddha’s statue in the temple. Her request was granted and she ultimately remained in the temple for nearly a month, with some boys whose poor parents had brought them to the temple for better care.
Religion - Even as the Vietnam war continued outside of the temple Ms. Su Co was in, she and her companions continued to engage in practices such as chanting.
War - Ms. Su Co reveals that during the Vietnam war, a common measure of protection against things like rockets was to hide, during the night, in holes that were dug in the ground.
Section 4: 25:43 - 35:57
Politics - Ms. Su Co suggests that Vietnamese would move between the opposing parties, the VietCong and Vietnam, during the war out of sheer need to survive.
Conditions back home - Ms. Su Co shares that the quality of life in the temple depended on where one was. For example, her master who was from a rich family was involved in a temple in Hội An where life was far more comfortable in comparison to other places.
Politics - Ms. Su Co reveals that some monasteries were more hierarchical than others.
War - Because of the Vietnam war, Ms. Su Co and her fellow novice were displaced and would often move between places, not staying in one for too long.
Section 5: 35:57 - 45:09
War - Ms. Su Co and the boys she remained with at the temple parted ways after an entire month together. Ms. Su Co then went to Hue to join her master; thereafter, she boarded an American ship that was headed for Da Nang but got separated from everyone else.
Food - In Da Nang, there was a camp that was under the government’s care and a Buddha hall. The government provided food; additionally, Ms. Su Co forged a friendship with a Buddhist family which took care of her until she left the camp to join her master and other nuns at a temple in Da Nang.
Religion - While in the camp in Da Nang, Ms. Su Co continued with chanting and praying to the Buddha.
Section 6: 45:09 - 52:49
Identity - While in Da Nang, Ms. Su Co felt like a refugee because she, like many others fleeing the war, was entirely dependent on governmental support.
Politics - Ms. Su Co explains that after 1975, the communist regime in Vietnam turned people against each other: everyone spied on their neighbor; there was no sense of trust.
Education - Although the war had disrupted Ms. Su Co’s studies, she did not stop seeking knowledge. While living with her master in the temple in Da Nang, she studied for and passed the twelfth grade examination, becoming a high school graduate.
Food - Ms. Su Co’s mother who continued to live in the camp in Da Nang accompanied her to the city of Hue, where the twelfth grade examination was going to be administered; the testing lasted three days. During each of these three days, Ms. Su Co’s mother brought her tofu and beans, which she believed would guarantee her success on the examination.
Section 7: 52:49 - 1:00:18
Education - After living in the temple in Da Nang for two months, Ms. Su Co’s master and the other nuns went to live in the refugee camp that was set up by the government. Meanwhile, Ms. Su Co applied for and was accepted into university.
Religion - Through a certain lady’s generosity, Ms. Su Cos’s master secured land within the refugee camp to build a temple. Using metal, they built a temple that they then opened to the refugees.
Service - Ms. Su Co explains that her master decided to build the temple in the refugee camp because they wanted to be closer to the refugees so that they could better help them. Previously, the Buddhist nuns had lived in a temple in Da Nang while other refugees lived in the government camp.
Section 8: 1:00:18 - 1:05: 47
Politics - Starting in 1975, the communists began to fully take over Vietnam; in Ms. Su Co’s camp, some people decided to move North because they believed that the previous government had abandoned them and that is what the communists who had been supporting them all along.
Politics - Ms. Su Co shares that even though people confided their troubles into the buddhist monks and nuns, the latter did not engage in any political discourse. They only listened and offered prayers.
Section 9: 1:05: 47 - 1:14:06
Education - With permission, Ms. Su Co studied at a university in Saigon while also attending to her duties in a monastery with about one hundred other nuns. She learned English with an American professor.
Cultural adjustment - Ms. Su Co describes life in Saigon as “easier.” She remembers feeling overwhelmed by all the activity she encountered on her first day in Vietnam’s largest city, which was renamed “Ho Chi Minh City” after the cessation of the Vietnam war.
Religion - The nuns in Saigon were less strict than those Ms. Su Co had interacted in central Vietnam. However, even though she was experiencing greater freedom, she still had to help out in the monastery.