Trinh Huu Long, Editor-in-Chief of Luat Khoa magazine
How did you come to be based in Taiwan?
I became a democracy activist and journalist in Vietnam in 2011, and left Vietnam in 2013 to work for a human rights NGO in the Philippines called VOICE. I guess since then I have become an activist living in exile. During my time at VOICE (2013–2016), I cofounded a small independent magazine called Luat Khoa to promote legal and political knowledge to the Vietnamese audience. This is still considered very sensitive in Vietnam. In 2016, I decided to quit my job at VOICE to dedicate my time to the magazine.
If you think of Vietnam as a smaller version of authoritarian China, you’ll know what kind of trouble I'd end up in if I returned. I considered [being based in] the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore because they were visa-free for Vietnamese citizens. But then Taiwan became an option when they relaxed the visa rules, so I moved to Taiwan on Christmas night in 2016.
What would you say is the biggest challenge of running a publication about Vietnam outside of the country?
No journalist wants to be living away from the places they cover. It is the last resort. It affects everything and makes almost everything harder to do, but it surely increases the chance of survival for the organisation.
Is there good Vietnamese food to be found in Taipei?
My Vietnamese friends will laugh out loud if they hear that someone asked me about food, because they truly think I'm the last person on Earth anyone should consult on this topic.
But yes, Taipei definitely has some good Vietnamese food (according to me), including restaurants and street vendors. I would recommend Madam Gill’s in Taipei, which is quite well-established, and if I may, Papa Phở in Taichung, which is a new and very nice restaurant opened just before the pandemic.
I also want to say that there are a hundred ways of making a Vietnamese dish, and they are very different from each other. I have no authority to judge. And be careful, we sometimes use the same name for different dishes, and different names for one kind of food, depending on location.
Is there a book about Vietnam that you think more people should read?
I would love to recommend The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai. It is a novel that depicts Vietnam’s modern history through a family’s struggle and from a feminist perspective. You will not only know more about Vietnam but also feel more about the country reading this book.
How can people support Luat Khoa?
Please spread the word that independent media exists in Vietnam and Luat Khoa as well as its sister outlet — The Vietnamese Magazine — are willing to work with journalists, scholars, activists and others to produce quality content on politics and human rights.
If you can, please consider becoming a member of Luat Khoa. We are trying very hard to become a reader-funded media organisation.