Tuan Khanh: Amidst the torrent of violence (P1 & P2) - Dân Làm Báo

Tuan Khanh: Amidst the torrent of violence (P1 & P2)

Composer Tuan Khanh/Translate by Jasmine Tran (Danlambao) Uncle, are those rioters the factory workers?” I ask the old safeguard. “No, not at all. It seems they might be hired professionals!” he replied, anxious. “Do you think they live locally or are they from elsewhere?” The guard was reluctant to answer. I turned to the female safeguard, who was about 30, “Why didn’t you call the police to help?". The girl fearfully responded, almost shouting: “What’s the point? They won’t come to help, or else they would only arrive when people don't need them anymore!


Part 1

At 10am, on 14 May, Thien Van, Pham Thy, and I left for the Go Vap area near Lai Thieu, as we learned that the factory workers in Tan Thoi Hiep would begin their strike there. Fear of vandals and violence meant we did not carry many things with us, aside from our courage. We tried to find an explanation for the vandalism and robbery spreading through the area, as described on so many social websites.

We had planned this journey the night before, when we received pictures of armoured tanks approaching Saigon, and pictures of protestor vehicles led by a mysterious Matiz. The crowd was well prepared with hammer and sickle flags, and with star flags; they caused a real disturbance in many streets. At night, writer Nguyen Dinh Bon texted me: “I am very upset, they took advantage of the workers, and there will be casualties.” Journalist Manh Kim rang, worried: “I am very anxious, so I am wandering around to see how things are going, please keep in touch.” At that moment I was on the way to the Chinese Consulate. The city was silent, but our hearts were weighted down with concern about the country’s well being. 

On the way to Tan Thoi Hiep we met Huy Doan, a friend that lived locally. Huy informed us that the place was deserted. Companies were letting their workers leave, and putting up notices saying they were not Chinese-owned companies. They were all frightened. 

As it was near midday, the weather in May was extremely hot and irritating, making people hurry about to reach shade. Surprisingly, after a short ride, we found lots of motorbikes ahead, engines roaring and horns blearing, carrying men and women with flags. Occasionally they shouted: “Long live Vietnam" and “Down with China” to keep the troupe together. Guessing that they would go to the industrial parks of Song Than, Binh Duong, we followed. 

It seemed to me that nobody was taking charge of the area. I saw no traffic police standing on the streets where they used to be stationed everyday; this was an inexplicable absence. I felt lost and very confused as we joined the crowd. We saw that these protestors had apparently taken control of the town without any obstructing force. The only small effort we could see were the quiet but brave attempts of the civil society activists, trying to cool down the intensity of the crowd. These young activists, on their own motorbikes, were riding side by side with the protestors, giving them copies of a plea. It contained an urgent call for the “fellow workers in Binh Duong and of the nation to remain calm, and not to vandalize or damage company possessions, as such behaviour would only create hardship for Vietnam”. Of course, whilst some people read them, others threw them away.

The efforts to cool down the crowd’s rage were really admirable. Right in the heart of the Song Than Industrial Park fire, amidst the rage of the rowdy riot, stood a group of youths bravely holding the banner: “Protest the right way. Do not vandalize others' possessions. Do not take others' possessions” My heart tightened. I wondered if there would be any situation in which the feverish mood of the crowd would turn against them; did these courageous young people risk becoming sacrificial victims? 

It was getting hotter, and the madness seemed to be increasing.

On the way back to Thuan An commune, we couldn’t believe what we saw. Numerous companies were set ablaze and destroyed… the scene was no different from the aftermath of a battlefield. Nearly 100% of the factories were closed. When we arrived there, it was already the third day into the ongoing riot, yet there were no signs of security, traffic police or mobile police along the dozen kilometre long roads. Fear could be felt everywhere. ATMs did not operate, cash had been emptied. Many banks had increased security measures, and the branches in areas where incidents had occurred were ordered not to keep large amounts of money

The Song Tain Company was one of the most damaged places. The whole factory had been set afire. The fire, which had spread to the street, melted and burnt large areas of the asphalt. Fences collapsed. Vandalism and office papers could be seen everywhere. The rubble was still smoking. The place appeared to have been vandalised more than once. The assault and robbery caused the owner to ask for help. On the afternoon of 14 May, a group of 5 or 6 mobile police had been sent there and stood guard in the shade, behind the company’s wall. But it was now evident that there was little left for them to protect.

A local told us that a few companies had asked the mobile police to protect some of their possessions (such as storage, trucks etc), which had survived the ruins. He said “Apparently the companies may have to pay for them to work outside regular hours.” On our way, we witnessed dozens of factories that had been damaged, burnt and robbed, whilst the amount of the police present were barely a handful. But there was something relaxed in the manner of the police, showing they were not really stressed.

Our impressions were affirmed once again when we arrived at another Taiwan owned company. Marked by a mass of black smoke rising into the sky, the smoke could be seen from two or three kilometres away. Here, the company’s name was unknown as all the signs had been smashed. The concrete letters were scattered here and there, still alight. A squad of mobile police sat in the shade, eating their meals. There were no signs of a coming fire engine. A beverage vendor nearby told us that the fire had started in the riot from around 5 - 6 in the morning, nobody had put it down, and all the managers had escaped. Most remarkably however, amidst the general crowd, there were one or two people dressed differently to the workers, could not hide their irritated faces as we talked and took pictures. We may even have gotten into trouble if we hadn’t quickly departed the place.

It was over midday, but the heat of the weather did not match the intensity of the situation. The troupes carrying red flags, batons, and slogans roared and rushed towards the companies in Binh Duong industrial parks. Of course, we did not see any police. We passed a few smashed security guard booths, though nobody was on duty there. The town was stirring and devastated.

Walking further, we found ourselves surrounded by a nasty group, with about 20 to 30 main principle leaders. They always led the troupe, carrying dangerous weapons and shouting at people to keep them in with the group. As they passed, the faces of safeguards from the security companies were misshapen in fear. In front of the companies, banners were hung up: “We support Vietnam”, “Protest against China”, “I love Vietnam”… whilst everyone knew these could be lies, in this case the lies could have had saved the lives and possessions of many people. However, in front of overturned fences, banners saying “Glory to the Vietnamese Communist Party”, “Long live Vietnam”…had been thrown all over the ground. This last attempt had ultimately been useless in some areas.

At another Vietnam-Taiwan company, along the road leading to the company gates, we saw displayed many posters saying “Hoang Sa – Truong Sa –VN” as a means of protection. It was a very strange feeling. Not long ago, many people had been arrested for wearing T-shirts with such words. Now they had become death pardoning slogans for many Taiwanese or Chinese companies.

Away from the shouting crowd, we visited a Taiwanese company. The logo board of the company had been vandalized; we could only make out words something like “Seui Yang”. Three security personnel, two women and a man, were sitting in a dazed shock at the rubble. They were frightened upon seeing us arrive. The security man, around age 50, anxiously walked out to see us, and even after having found out we were not from the rioting crowd, still remained cautious.

“Uncle, are those rioters the factory workers?” I ask the old safeguard. “No, not at all. It seems they might be hired professionals!” he replied, anxious. “Do you think they live locally or are they from elsewhere?” The guard was reluctant to answer. I turned to the female safeguard, who was about 30, “Why didn’t you call the police to help?". The girl fearfully responded, almost shouting: “What’s the point? They won’t come to help, or else they would only arrive when people don't need them anymore!”

When I looked in the direction of the door, a rowdy crowd was approaching. The group at the front contained about 30 people, but the following group was about over a hundred. All three security personnel were terrified. One of the two security women phoned police, after a few seconds she put down the phone and sighed heavily. The call had been suddenly terminated.

The rioting crowd entered the company’s yard. I stood close to the wall of the security office and looked out. These unusual youngsters, who did not look like workers, looked unfamiliar and were armed with wooden or metal sticks and flags. They flooded into the yard like an invading army. Swearing, shouts, motorbike engine rumbles etc. transformed the quiet yard into chaos.

Immediately I heard sounds of crashing objects. Someone behind me had thrown a large rock at the glass door. I just managed to avoid it by intuition, and heard the sounds of broken glass. I ran inside to record the vandalism. Inside was an even worse scene. Everything had been shattered to pieces. Broken glass was everywhere. Two young men rushed into a room which might have once been an office, continuously opening drawers to check if there was anything to filch. Each time they found nothing worth taking, they would punch the drawer. I was surprised that these people, that held the red flags outside, would pull down a red flag found inside the room. Who were they?

The vandalism occurred in the reception area as if it were a festival. The sounds of breaking and falling objects were all around. In front of me was a young man wearing a safety helmet, holding a metal stick, hitting everything within reach. He almost hit a woman who was crouching to pick up a computer keyboard on the floor. Unexpectedly he turned to me and stared at my camera. Knowing I was not safe, I quickly left the place. “Where is this guy from?” he asked someone. I walked faster, to my front a crowd was yelling, raising their batons, and waving their flags.

“Tell the people outside to stop him!” I heard him say before I stepped out to the yard. The walk through the yard to the gate could not have felt longer, but I couldn’t have run at that moment.

I suddenly saw Thy and Van, leaving their motorbikes outside, to come meet me. The message had reached the crowd outside. Seeing around 70- 80 people armed and waiting for me at the door with vicious glares, Thy and Van had rushed inside to escort me out. It seemed to be too late. A young man with bleached blonde hair, who did not resemble a worker, looked and yelled at me with a Thanh Hoa accent: “Hey, that guy!”

From the noise of the crowd, I heard someone shouting: “He is Chinese, kill him!” People cheered when he shouted so. I kept my features cold, turned to the blond boy, and loudly answered so everyone could hear my Vietnamese: “Is anything the matter?”

It seemed as if everything froze for a moment. A more brutal man asked “You! What are you recording here for?” “To look!” I answered, and stepped fast outside. I glanced at my friends who had begun turning and starting the motorbikes. “Are you a journalist?” I also heard, “F***, he’s a fake. Beat him!” I had to pretend to stay calm as I turned around smiling, saying loudly “I’m not a damn journalist – shit no!” I had a glimpse of the three petrified security personnel staring at me. I didn’t know whether they were anxious for my situation or for their own. I quickly got onto Thy’s bike. The bike hustled off. The crowd watched us; luckily they were not wild enough to chase after us.

On the way back, Van said the crowd outside had been spreading the word that I was Chinese (as I do have some Chinese features) and had to be beaten to death. It was very lucky I can speak Vietnamese! About an hour later, I heard some news in the industrial area My Xuan 2 near Ba Ria. A Chinese man had been taken to a hospital emergency room after being beaten in a riot. He did not have the time to explain whether he was a tourist or a business’ owner here; the crowd had been too crazed to listen to any explanations. I shivered and thought that if the crowd had not listened to my explanation earlier, maybe I too would be lying in an ambulance.

Part 2

Please keep the same title – Part 2 – as it is a continuation of the same article. I thought at first, the subtitle of this second part must be – “conspiracy suspected in Binh Duong, Long Binh riots”. From my observation, I see that violence was plotted and directed by many unidentified rioters.

Crowd gathering in front of a company, ready for action

All 3 of us were totally perspired when we finally escaped from those furious rioters; the weather at the time was only about 37 degree-C. Safe, I thought! From now on, we all need to wear facial mask.

From all of the streets, appeared larger and larger crowds. They apparently wanted to explode, looking for anything to destroy and show their power. We rode around, restating all seen facts: Van said “those who appeared to be leaders in the riot, all had scooters with license plate #36 -from Thanh Hoa province. I remembered a message from a friend, a resident of Binh Duong, mentioning his own observation: “residents of Binh Duong would not conduct such violence; the majority of rioters had scooters with license plate #36 – from Thanh Hoa. So, now, it was an observed fact. Those who had scooters with license plates #36 were equipped with steel pipes, crowbars, and flags… as they had very well planned.

We decided to swing by all guarded spots to take another look. There was no resistance against the rioters. All the guard-posts around the factories were completely destroyed; there were no guards at their posts. Rioters in squads were riding their scooters or running across the empty lots. We stopped in front of a factory entrance door. The guards, employees of the factory were frightened and retreated inside the factory. A guard, so frightened when seeing us, hastily ran away from the room with all window glass broken (this factory was raided not too long ago). The factory had pro-Viet Nam banners– as a pledge for discrepancy.

We decided to join a different score of riots, threatening in front a different factory. The company sign was already destroyed; from the broken sign, I could only recognize the word “Viet Nam”. Suddenly, someone yelled in Nghe An accent, “Let’s go beat them up”. Scores of rioters on noisy scooters invaded the factory front yard. They drummed on empty metal cans; the factory guard yielded to the back. He did not even dare to glance at the riot leads, perhaps he was scared that himself could be the beating target.

I quietly signaled Thy; we decided to tail a few furious rioters who appeared to be leaders. They rode around the factory, looking for anything to destroy or to burn. When they did not see anything, they kicked over the big planters. I was the camera man, continuously pointing my camera at these guys who were always ordering, yelling at the hesitant rioters.

Unfortunately, one the guys leading the riot seemed to recognize us. He had a facial mask on; a big red flag stucked in his back belt; he was holding a long steel pipe. He stared at us, lowered the steel pipe to drag it along the cemented yard making a long line of sparks as to warn us. We sensed danger; Thy turned around and we disappeared across a dense smoke from the broken fire extinguishers. That guy also turned around to follow us, but he was stopped by the dense smoke; he angrily beat the steel pipe against an aluminum ladder gazing to our back.

We passed by the front of the factory another time. The rioters were already invading offices to ravage everything. A guy standing up on his scooter with license plate #36 and with Thanh Hoa accent, was directing: “clocks, glass message boards, break them all!” Then, we heard the sound of breaking glass. We could confirm from our observation that scores of rioters aimed at destruction of anything to mark their passing. Following them were unorganized scavengers. Perhaps, scavenging was not these latters’ intention, because many vehicles and containers, properties of the factories were destroyed or burnt, not stolen. “Ravaging everything” was a clear order; not many other Vietnamese participants in the riots followed this order of violence.

Van waved to me when he turned away to leave, as he signaled to me that the rioters who previously yelled “He is Chinese, kill him!” ” already arrived. One mistake after the others; I had a yellow shirt on, standing out to call for attention. Alarmed of danger, we quickly snicked out the factory and left this riot site. They might not recognize us just because they were completely pre-occupied in their own destructive rage, I thought.

It was by 2PM. The 3 of us decided to go by other riots happening in other industrial areas in Binh Long, Bien Hoa 2 … just to see how ravaging it was. It might no longer be safe for us to stay; so we went to Long Binh.

Approaching Long Binh, we already saw signs of the occurring riots: flags and banners written with slogans were sold along the roads to the city. Vehicles stopping by to pick up flags – are threats of occurrence. There were less Taiwanese and Chinese companies in Long Binh; so security of the factories here seemed better guarded. We saw appearance of few police; but their presence was likely a display rather than having a guard-duty because the rioters, with their flags and drums, were roaming in and out this industrial area.

We made a tour around the industrial area and noticed that factories already had their banners up, showing that they were non-chinese properties. Some factories, even with their slogans “Viet Nam forever” had their entrance already broken – a sign of the recent invasion of the rioters. Only some Japanese companies were still open; all the others were temporarily closed. 

A crowd of rioters were heading towards the industrial area in Bien Hoa 2. We followed them. The streets to this industrial area were quiet because it was not yet the end of the first shift; besides only a few factories were open. Security here was not guaranteed. Two guys riding on the same vehicle came from the opposite direction; the rider at the back was holding a long steel water pipe, threatening. This vehicle entered the gated area as they were riding on public highway; normally, they would be stopped by the factory CSGT.

We noticed another vehicle with 2 guys in military uniform riding around and around the industrial area. They were equipped with weapons. We observed these 2 guys; their vehicle license plate showed that they were not residents of Binh Duong province. They had a simple tactic, riding around and around, approaching small crowds of vehicle, yelling, ordering the others to follow. At the 4th or 5th round, they gathered into dozens of rioters. Van explained to me that it was the “rolling ball” tactic – like a small ball of snow rolling down a slope, it gathered more and more snow, making itself a larger and larger ball. In fact, after some 20 minutes, the crowd was over a hundred heads.

Judging that they already made a large enough flock, the 2 guys in military uniform raised their steel pipes and yelled: “Chinese company! Go! In!” The crowd pushed up toward the entrance. But the 2 guys leading the riot realized that this factory was of a Thai ownership; they reluctantly stopped and lead the crowd to somewhere else. I was riding at the back of Thy’s scooter. Thy decided to speed up toward the 2 leading guys. We were at their side; one of the guys pointed his weapon to us and yelled in his Thanh Hoa accent “This way”.

Gradually, we recognized that in the crowds, there were always those who intentionally lead the riots for their own targets; and some other participants who, undecided at first, perhaps lacked of self-discipline and became excited to only follow orders. The riot leaders were always in control of all acts of violence.

We left the crowd to take a short cut toward Bien Hoa 2. Across an intersection, we saw 2 local police men on their scooters, weaponed with batons– the first time we saw the policia after hours following the rioters. Another vehicle arrived and parked next to our side. And a crowd over a hundred rioters also arrived, waving their flags and yelling. We were still watching for the policia’s reactions. One of them turned around and quickly left; the other one also hastily left across the intersection red light toward our direction. A guy parking at our side exclaimed: “Huh, so the police did not stop these rioters?!!” The other guy in sunglasses, looking older, spit out a swear: “F***, stop who?!! Thy heard his swearing, had a small burst laugh.

The flock that just arrived to this site after us later invaded a Korean company. The management of this company seemed to be prepared for the attack. They had their employees carry out 5 or 6 water containers to offer to the rioters. The rioters made noises, waved up their water bottles as spoils of war before riding away. We felt sorry for this Korean company – the management had to give way to this flock of looters.

In fact, this flock was acting under a leader and his assistants. The leader was from the North (of Viet Nam), wearing a military helmet and sunglasses. They were all equipped with weaponry – long batons with curved handle. They were the ones who pushed and furiously ordered others to force through the entrance doors. At a Singapore company, the factory guard was kowtowing with his 2 hands together: “There were no Chinese here”, he said. The answer to this factory guard was the forceful order: “Open or force through”. These unidentified riot leads apparently acted loyally to their duty – pushing and forcing through the factory entrance.
I also observed some few figures as security guards in civil clothes. They watched, and made phone calls. What could be their real duty? I couldn’t tell.

We followed another crowd of different rioters, passing by the Fujitsu – a Japanese company; they spotted a Taiwanese company. Then the similar plot was carried out. The leader just asked if the company was open, and did not wait for any answer, he already ordered the crowd to break the entrance with their crowbars. The guard was alarmed of danger and trying to prevent any further damages, he invited the rioters in for an inspection. One of the company’s employees, having gray hair, displayed a reluctant smile invited: “Please come in, and you may see that there are no Chinese here”. Their employees were in double lines to welcome the rioters, clasping their hands as they were hosting their own president’s visit. The leader of this crowd was a man – we couldn’t identify who he was of course – but he was in worker’s uniform, yelling, ordering the rioters to enter the factory. I had an uneasy feeling of irony watching the impressions on the old employee’s face: he had a reluctant smile; he spelled out invitations; he was hiding his disgusted reflections; his hands clasping together might not really mean any welcome.

Who were these riot leads in the crowds – we could not identify them; and who were their assistants that obviously worked in the plot? Some of the present participants were police in plainclothes; but what were they watching? When I pointed my camera to these guys, a security turned away to hide his face. Clearly, the government did not close their eyes; they were watching; they had some tacted controls of these happenings. The disappearance of the police squads – (CSCD) – did they actually ignore the events or did they follow a tactful policy. The police in Binh Duong province reported that over 150 riot participants were arrested during the past 2 days because these rioters had invaded the police offices. Following this report, it was understood that there were organized plots and well-prepared tactics?!!

Many questions were not answered immediately. The important thing we need at this time was – to be alarmed of all acts of excitement by “the not yet identified stimulants”. We could not allow anyone to abuse our patriotism and transform us into uninformed violent rioters. We need to unify our patriotic sentiments into successful movements against our enemies, those who kowtow to Chinese imperialism. In my personal efforts, my friends and I could only submit in this article what we together had observed, and questioned for everyone else to investigate further. I hope that these truths as exposed and reported with our patriotic love for our country would help in the fight for independence of our people.

As of today, after riding over 100-kilometer course following the rioters in Binh Duong province, I came back home, exhausted. But I couldn’t sit down to relax; I had to write, to continue our own fight, mine, my friends’ and my siblings’: our fight over the years tosearch for truths.

Two men, in military uniform directed the riot and repeatedly pointed out “Chinese owned companies”

The man in the blue shir was a mysterious character, directing others to invade companies

“Open the gates or force through?”

…And force through after the gates open!

The man in blue shirt brazenly commanding his “assistants” to come in

The man in the blue shirt angered when his “assistants” were not quick enough in directing the crowd to come in

These “assistants” attacking the company. Note the uniform white wooden batons they carry

The mysterious leader of another group, wearing army hat and sunglasses, calling the crowd to come in

Seeing the crowd at the back were hesitant, he approached and shouted at the group to hurry.

A company on fire, but no signs of any fire trucks around.

Among those posters showing companies’ “love for Viet Nam” to avoid vandalism, there were poems.

Banners advocating peaceful demonstrations rarely appeared

A crowd vandalising a company.

The main objective is to vandalise, but not to filch.

Despite having displayed a pro-Vietnamese government banner, this company was vandalized.

Other pictures:

The company was set on fire, but everything went on as if nothing had happened
The man in green uniform watched us disapprovingly.

Those rioters that vandalized with purpose were professional “They are not the workers”, safeguards of the companies said.

This young man hit everything, without reason
A few minutes later he almost hit a woman nearby 

A company suspected to be Chinese- owned was set on fire, robbed and vandalized many times in a day.

Main groups of the riots, usually consisting of several dozen people, had clear targets.
They always yelled “Chinese company” to incite crowds to vandalize

Every company displayed “charms”. Even the formerly sensitive slogan
“Hoang Sa Truong – Viet Nam” was used.

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