I enjoyed working on the character of Huong. Among other things, it allowed me to explore the enmity between the majority Vietnamese population and the minority Chinese, who suffered what was frankly racial prejudice.
Huong is a composite of the female Chinese servants I knew over my years in Vietnam. Unlike most of the native Vietnamese I met, the Chinese had a knack for picking up American slang and using it not quite right. That made me laugh, and they seemed to enjoy my amusement.
Huong is the major bread winner of her family. Her husband is in the military, assigned to a combat unit in the highlands. As a Chinese, his chances or promotion are poor, and low-ranking enlisted men in the army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) were poorly paid. Huong has found a way to work for Americans living in Molly’s apartment building, and her bosses pay her well by Vietnamese standards. So she leaves her children in the care of her mother and works long hours, taking no days off.
Her use of American slang is so pervasive because before the withdrawal of American servicemen in 1973, she worked for U.S. Special Forces soldiers and picked up English from them. That means that her speech is strewn with off-color expressions, but she has learned not to use that terminology with her civilian employers, especially women. Even so, her language is a long way from the King’s English.
To me, Huong is distinctly Chinese. She lacks the delicacy and demureness of the majority of Vietnamese that I knew. She’s down-to-earth and earthy and finds it natural to call a spade a spade. She speaks in a loud voice rather than the quiet tone favored by the Vietnamese. Sex is as normal to her as food; she speaks of both with nonchalance.
Huong’s end is sad, like that of most of the characters in Last of the Annamese. To me she is a symbol of what happens to people in war, no matter what their ethnic origin.