“Signing quickly”- that’s how reporter Mai Thuc Long worked

(VOVworld)- Respecting the truth and expressing your true sentiments is the way reporter Mai Thuc Long, whose nickname is Hoang Phuong, wrote his stories.

“Signing quickly”- that’s how reporter Mai Thuc Long worked - ảnh 1
Reporter Mai Thuc Long, former Deputy General Director of VOV

In late July 1987, after graduating from the Nguyen Ai Quoc School of Politics, I returned to work at the radio station. I wanted to come back to the Industry Section but Pham Mai Luan, Deputy Editor in Chief and Head of the Domestic Service said: “No, no. We sent you to study at the Senior Party School in order to assign you a new task. You can choose to work in one of the three Departments: Organization, Office or the Listeners’ Department”. I insisted that I wanted to be a reporter. Luan then said: “OK, then why don’t you come talk to Mr. Long “Fire” after the regular meeting tomorrow”

I knew Mr. Mai Thuc Long by name and by face but this was the first time I had heard his nickname “Long Fire”. Mr. Long “fire” worked in a tiny room at the end of the second floor which could accommodate a few people and was piled high with newspapers, documents, unfinished stories and yet-to-be-signed papers. He was a little bit less than average-sized man wearing a large short-sleeved creased shirt. Seeing me, he immediately asked whether I had thought it over thoroughly and decided on where I wanted to work. I told him pointedly: “Traveling and writing is what I love to do, so if I have to work for the Office or Organization Department, it will mean a life sentence to my job”. Apparently aware of my sincerity, he lowered his voice: “It’s alright. Go back and think about it some more”.

A week later, I received a decision appointing 8 positions signed by General Director Phan Quang. I was appointed Deputy Head of the Listeners’ Department. My colleagues took me out for drinks and cheered the appointment decision. They recited a poem: “Bravo Mr. Phan Quang. You have appointed 8 Deputy Directors upon working for the station”.

A year later, I was moved to the position of Deputy Director of the Editorial Secretariat Department. Mr. Mai Thuc Long was the Deputy Director General in charge of editorial content, so I had a greater chance to work with him. Gradually, I came to know him better. He was very sharp in any discussion to work problems out.  

It’s said that Quang Nam people are argumentative. Mai Thuc Long says that’s not wrong but not completely true. He insists that only those who understand the matter, and are frank, and honest, and dare to argue. They argue for the truth, not for trivia or for their ego. Deep in his heart, Mai Thuc Long says the Quang Nam accent has its own beauty. He wrote: “The Quang Nam accent reflects the Quang Nam people’s honesty, kindness, frankness and simplicity”

I told him “The Quang Nam land is thirsty, and easily absorbs a little rain”. He told me to keep reciting “Hong Dao wine makes you drunk without drinking it” to better understand the poetic character of the thirsty Quang Nam land. He wrote this about his homeland: “I was born and raised in a poor village modestly nestled behind a bamboo range. Some people in my village were lucky enough to have rose mallows and marigolds growing along their fence. The rest in the village was covered with thorny bamboo whose tops lashed the sky and swayed in the wind”. Long’s home village is in Dien Phuoc commune, Dien Ban district.

Mai Thuc Long was born into a scholarly family. His grandfather was a diploma holder. His uncle was a university graduate who participated in the Can Vuong uprising. The uncle was one of the people who drafted the Can Vuong proclamation for King Ham Nghi. His father joined the revolution at a young age. His mother was a master of poems and singing, especially the Kieu story by Nguyen Du. Long’s family clan is known as “stubborn Mai” but he and his brothers Mai Thuc Luan, Mai Thuc Lan, Mai Thuc Lien and Mai Thanh Ban all became successful persons.

During his childhood, Mai Thuc Long was lucky to be a pupil of Pham Phu Thong, the most famous and outstanding teacher in the region. Pham Phu Thong’s uncle was the famous scholar Pham Phu Thu. Growing up in these circumstances helped Mai Thuc Long develop his personality and talent.

The launch of the August Revolution inspired everybody in Dien Phuoc. Mai Thuc Long was 15 years old then. Despite his youth, he wanted to follow his father and brothers to join the revolution. Though he didn’t know exactly what a revolution was, he insisted on participating in the revolution because his mother told him the revolution was the truth. Despite gunfire, he moved forward. Next to him was a man named Bat Quy who shouted “Fight” but then ran backward. Long felt embarrassed at the “Bait and Switch” tactic and told himself he would never live like that in his entire life.

Mai Thuc Long became a Party member in 1949. In 1955, he was the Secretary of a Party cell. When the Geneva Agreement was signed, he left his home village to go to the north. Setting foot on Sam Son beach, Thanh Hoa province, Long felt deeply homesick.

He studied in the first journalism class in the north together with other reporters including Hoang Tung, Dao Tung and Tran Lam. He and 9 of his classmates then went to work for Radio the Voice of Vietnam. He first worked for the “Connecting north and south” program, which hoped to ease the pain of north-south separation with stories about the 17th parallel of latitude, Ben Hai river and Hien Luong bridge. During the 60s and 70s, listeners throughout Vietnam were very interested in VOV’s “Entering the South” program presented by Mai Thuc Long, Vien Kinh and Trung Ngon.

During his 40 years working at VOV, Long spent half of the time with the Southern Editorial Board. He wrote thousands of stories which united people in the south liberation and national unification front. Once I asked him what concerned him most during those 20 years. Without hesitation, he said it was the strength of the broadcast signal, which was like a bullet or arrow carrying the national sentiment and will to fight for justice. The strength of the broadcast signal not only awoke the Vietnamese people, who followed the enemy, to return home but also shook the puppet regime.

The Sai Gon administration banned civilians and soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam  from listening to Radio the Voice of Vietnam, especially the “Southern city” and “Talk with Sai Gon soldiers” programs. For a long time, the Sai Gon administration produced its own “Sai Gon city” to fool the public. But the truth won out. VOV programs made the public excited and the enemy frightened. Politburo member Le Duc Tho praised the programs and considered them a weapon against the enemy. For reporter Mai Thuc Long, these were the most memorable times in his life as a journalist.

Mai Thuc Long still remembers his innermost feelings during those years. His mother and younger brother were detained at Con Dao prison for several years. Sorely missing them, Long never gave up hope of a family reunion. The VOV broadcast signal was seen as a river of sound connecting the Vietnamese people living in the two parts of the country. Mai Thuc Long and his colleagues were devoted to working on that river.

In 1964, Mr. Long and Mr. Ngo Thang went to Laos to help their Lao colleagues. There, Long wrote a piece called “The brown color of the homeland” which was later broadcast on VOV’s “My beautiful homeland” program. The story touched the hearts of Vietnamese people, evoking their love for the homeland which was being devastated by bombs and shells.

On a winter day in 2014, Long told me some happy and sad stories about his career and his personal life. Suddenly he quoted a verse by Che Lan Vien: “Feeling the pain of living far from the homeland”. He was recalling 7 years he lived in Cambodia. In 1980, reporter Mai Thuc Long led a delegation of 120 reporters and technicians of the Vietnam Radio and TV Committee to Cambodia to help set up a radio and TV system. Clearly understanding the pain of war, Mai Thuc Long understood the pain and losses being suffered by Cambodian people at that time.

Long said the VOV staff came there not just to help Cambodian people develop local journalism but also to mobilize them and work with them to make them understand and trust Vietnamese people and also to understand them better. Long said training radio and TV broadcasters in Cambodia was his most difficult and also his most memorable assigment. The Cambodian State awarded Mai Thuc Long the Labor Order First Class in recognition of his contribution to and love for his Cambodian friends. Long said friendship with the Cambodians was a challenge through wars, hardships, losses and pain. Returning to Cambodia 30 years later and meeting his old Cambodian friends, Long felt like he was meeting relatives at a family reunion. Some of his friends had become members of the Central Committee or Politburo of the Cambodian People’s Revolutionary Party. Despite differences in position and age, they were all friends who shared a determination to fight for national independence, freedom and peace.

Fighting for justice is a permanent part of reporter Long’s personality. It is reflected in his stories and in his way of working. Long was Secretary of VOV’s Party Committee for several years, then Party Secretary of the Vietnam TV and Radio Commission, and Deputy Party Secretary of the Party Central Committee’s Cultural and Ideological Agencies. He is gentle in mobilizing the public and Party members but resolute in fighting for justice and ensuring transparency. In those matters, he can be argumentative.

He fights against the negatives not only in the work place but also on the radio. During the 90s, listeners were inspired by stories on combating the negatives in the Forestry sector. In charge of the content, Long frankly expressed his viewpoint on fighting the negatives to the Party Central Committee’s Secretariat, which later praised VOV’s contributions to the fight against corruption and subversion.

Respecting the truth and expressing your true feelings is the way reporter Mai Thuc Long wrote his stories. Long told his junior colleagues: “Writing journalistic stories is like participating in politics. You have to understand the meaning of the work. Respecting the truth should be the top priority in your work. To this end, you must be honest and truthful”. Long’s frankness and honesty is reflected in the commentaries he has written over the years.

After more than 20 years writing stories against the enemy and many commentaries that drew on the argumentative and stubborn character of Quang Nam, Long has built up his own critic’s ideology which is very important for a reporter. According to Mai Thuc Long, a radio reporter needs to be as quick as electricity and also sensitive. Moving quickly, reacting quickly, talking quickly, writing quickly, signing quickly- is how reporter Mai Thuc Long works.

Despite retiring, putting away his suits and ties, and having no more regular editorial meetings and no documents to sign, Mai Thuc Long continues to listen, read and write. He writes commentaries, stories and notes. In 2002, the Literature Publishing House published his book “Journalism: Inside and Out”. The 400 pages of his memoirs, essays and notes give readers a new perspective on life and current affairs and a honest way of looking at life. Writer Nguyen Van Luu, Director of the Literature Publishing House, said: “His writing style reflects his personality: enthusiastic, sharp, wise, concise, humorous and emotional”.

Among the thousands of people working at VOV, Mai Thuc Long is second only to Tran Lam in listening to the radio the most, commenting the most and being the most hard-working and devoted to radio. His feedback to radio programs is very quick, either by telephone or letter or by coming to the station to share his critique of the programs.

His life became a bit quieter when he was hospitalized, but even then he didn’t stop listening to the radio. A radio set is always beside him in the hospital because according to Long, through the radio he can be with his friends and colleagues…

“Listening to a song on the radio

I remember the time of quickly writing pieces of news

I really miss my dear colleagues

I wish I could meet them now”

Long slowly recited the poem he wrote when he was hospitalized at the Friendship Hospital.          

December 2014