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A British visitor to Hanoi described how it must have looked to Le Xuan in 1932: “The villas are pure French, making no concessions to climate, and were it not for palms, bougainvillea . . ”2 Le Xuan would have seen how most urban Vietnamese lived only when she was driven through town—either from behind the windows of a chauffeured Mercedes or from the perch of a cyclo-pousse, a narrow, open-topped carriage pushed by a servant pedaling a bicycle. The jumble of thirty-six streets to the northwest of the Chuong home known as the Old Quarter was far easier to navigate by pousse.

Talking back would have broken the most sacred Confucian value: filial piety. A child should always respect her parents. ” It was one of Madame Nhu’s favorite lines—she used it against her parents, the international press, and even American president John F. Kennedy. But its meaning in English was not exactly what she intended. Intoxicated in French means poisoned. She meant to suggest that the Communists had poisoned the well of public opinion against her. She was trying to suggest that a desperate Communist tactic was at work—one intended to alienate her family from the Americans.

They settled into life in the remote province of Bac Lieu. Madame Chuong, not even twenty-years old, presided over a large home with servants and an out-sized tract of land. 14 Free of her mother-in-law and her oppressive judgments, Madame Chuong managed the homestead, as she had been raised to do. Still, after a taste of city life in Hanoi, with all its Westernized pleasures, the quiet of the countryside and the traditional duties she assumed must have seemed tediously old-fashioned. Madame Chuong had left behind the chance to participate in the new opportunities emerging for women in cosmopolitan society.

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