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A Vietnamese woman married to a Taiwanese man is challenging the widely held perception among Taiwanese that Southeast Asian wives are poor women with poor education who can hardly speak Mandarin.

Date: 2007-06-04

And she did it with style, earning a master's degree from Shih Chien University's Graduate School of Family Studies and Child Development in Taipei. She has vowed to serve as a cultural bridge between Taiwan and her homeland.

The circumstances that led Tran Thi Hoang Phuong to her master's degree began a decade ago when she was a student at the National Law School of Ho Chih Minh City in Vietnam. She worked parttime after school and met a young Taiwanese man surnamed Chen, who had been posted there by a Taiwanese firm.

She married Chen in 1993 and raised two children in Ho Chih Minh City until 2001, when she moved to Taipei with her husband.

As a university graduate with a bachelor's degree in law, Tran Thi had a good command of Mandarin because she studied the similarities between Vietnamese law and Chinese law, which stood her in good stead while trying to adapt to life in Taipei.

However, she was annoyed by local news stories about "foreign brides" -- a term used by local people to refer to Southeast Asian women married to Taiwanese men -- as most of them were negative, portraying the women as being treated by their in-laws as tools for breeding, caring for disabled family members, earning money or working in the sex industry.

To help these foreign brides, Tran Thi began to serve as a voluntary interpreter at the Women and Children's Hospital in Taipei, which opened a clinic exclusively for foreign brides.

Tran Thi's experiences at the hospital offered her a chance to make friends with many Vietnamese women who confided in her about their lives in Taiwan, mainly about their relationships with their husbands and in-laws, raising children, adapting to Taiwanese society and obtaining social support.

From these women's stories, one could get the impression that Taiwanese are unfriendly and cruel, but Tran Thi did not think this was the case as she had seen many Taiwanese volunteers during her time working at the hospital who were generous, considerate and compassionate.

Believing the cause of the problem lies in a lack of understanding between Taiwanese men and their foreign spouses -- especially men who did not get to know their wives before they married them but had simply bought them from marriage brokers -- Tran Thi began to teach Vietnamese language voluntarily to help local people know about her homeland, first in classes opened by the Taipei City Government at the Wanhua Household Registration Office, then at the Chungshan Community College, National Open University and National Chen Chi University.

At the same time she decided to enroll in the Shih Chien University graduate program because she wanted to offer professional counseling to foreign brides who were encountering difficulties with their marriages rather than just giving them a sympathetic ear.

Tran Thi said local people should value the different cultures brought to the nation by these foreign brides and put it to good use in enriching the culture of Taiwan.

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