The idea for The March of the Dragons came to me in 2011/12 while I was living in Vietnam. China had dropped an oil rig inside Vietnam's EEZ and Chinese coastguard vessels were actively harassing Vietnamese fishing boats, including ramming and sinking them. Although the Vietnamese government did little, there was outrage among the populace. Chinese factories in Binh Duong province were burned, Chinese corporations were attacked and even Chinese-made vehicles were vandalized. Several people were killed.
There was a certain amount of fear among some of the Vietnamese - no doubt memories of the 'American War' and the Chinese invasion of 1979 were still in the minds of some. I even had someone ask me that if the fireworks started, could I help get their family out of the country. I laughed it off, but I realised that for some people it was a real concern - even if there was little risk of it happening.
People were in no doubt that if an invasion happened it would be over quickly. Vientam's army is outdated, and although there are compulsory military training days for college and university students, I was told that there is little stomach for the sacrifice 'the old guys' made during the American War. It made me think - the Vietnamese definitely have a fighting spirit: you don't want to mess with them. The fights I witnessed over someone criticising karaoke singing showed me that the Vietnamese aren't going to allow themselves to be walked over. I wondered what might happen if the PLA did invade. I knew for certain the western powers wouldn't lend any aid, which is why I included a western photographer as an observing bystander.
I didn't start writing the book until 2014/15, and it's not a story I could write now, but the tale is based on my experiences of the character of the Vietnamese people in Ho Chi Minh city.
Born in District 3 of Ho Chi Minh city, Tuấn is a final-year student at the University of Economics. After his mother's death Tuấn fell out with his father and now lives with his Grandmother. Tuấn was expected to do very well in his final exams which were due just before the Chinese invasion. He quickly takes the lead in forming a resistance cell against the Chinese invaders. Highly intelligent, he is also idealistic, arrogant and stubborn yet commands the respect of his peers.
Phượng has a close friendship with Tuấn, but not as close as she'd like. She is atheletic, smart and independent; her immediate family emigrated to Canada, where she is expected to join them after graduating. Phượng strives to impress Tuấn. She is near fluent in English and Mandarin. Despite her acadameic excellence she is plagued by self-doubt when facing big decisions.
Huy is cool. He is tough. That's how he sees himself, and the most important thing for him is that others see him the same way. He works hard at the gym but sleeps in class- only attending University in order to continue receiving the generous allowance his parents pay him. Girls fall for his good-looks and ephemeral charm, but his ego and overwhemling personality soon put them off.
Lâm never knew his parents; leaving an orphanage at age 14 he was apprenticed to a backstreet mechanic in District 3 of Saigon, which he know runs by himself. Lâm has earned a reputation as a skilled and reasonably priced tinker, but is sometimes mocked for his height, appetite and perceived oafish appearance.
Best friends with Phượng. Vân is the girl all the guys at the University wish they could be with; Vân is very much aware of it. She takes a great pride in her appearance; tries to keep her skin pale and her make-up perfect, but fellow students daring to approach her are likely to receive a frosty reception and one her acerbic rebukes.
All Artwork courtesy of 'Fully Custom'