As a joke, he claims that his convenience store went bankrupt, so he went to work on the railroad. In fact, working for the railroad, which he watched as a child from the window, was his dream. Twenty-five-year-old Phan Anh Tran is probably the only Vietnamese conductor you will meet on Czech Railways connections. “Even when I was little, I told myself that one day I want to show people that I don’t fit their stereotype of a Vietnamese,” he says.
In high school, he majored in social work, but even then he knew he wanted to work on the railroad. That’s why he lasted only a month in the hospital as an orderly and then started to fulfill his dream. He first worked for a private carrier, then joined Czech Railways three years ago. He admits that “like every other boy” he wanted to be a train driver, but in the end he decided to work as a train driver, also known as a conductor.
He realized that the work of a train driver is very demanding both mentally and in terms of traffic. “So being a train conductor is enough for me at the moment,” he says, adding that he is in charge of much more than just checking tickets. “We ensure the safety of passengers, we respond to the driver’s call and give approval for departure, we cooperate with the driver on brake tests or shifts in the station, on tracks where dispatchers do not go, we go to throw switches,” he enumerates.
In addition, sometimes his work is quite adventurous and he has no shortage of funny stories, which he shares on his Instagram profile Večerka na koleích and the tiktok account Phocem. They have to deal with passengers who have a ticket with a QR code in a push-button Nokia or those who are somewhat lost. “I often have confused, disoriented passengers on my neck, those who don’t know where to transfer, some don’t even know where they’re going, they’re drunk or under the influence of narcotics. But I’m a non-confrontational type, so I try to act diplomatically and usually I’ll even deal with drunks,” he says.
He has no shortage of absurd situations, even when he puts away his conductor’s uniform. When he was shopping in a Vietnamese convenience store in his native Turnov a few months ago, the woman he met among the shelves was convinced that the convenience store belonged to him. “She said to me: You must have a hard time, how expensive energy is now. Then she continued to wander around the shop, and when she bumped into me again, she continued: But I still think you have a very hard time, I’m glad to be employed . I smiled at her and explained that I am also employed, that I work on the railway,” he says.
What is the guide?
In turn, some passengers on the trains are not shy about asking Phan about his origins. “They have inquisitive questions. Sometimes they come cautiously asking if they can ask where I’m from, other times they simply ask what I am, but I haven’t encountered any form of aggression or racism,” says the guide, adding that he only knows of other of two Vietnamese who work on the railway, and is thus probably the first Vietnamese train driver in the Czech Republic.
While he doesn’t encounter racism on trains, he admits that he faced stupid comments and taunts during his childhood and adolescence. “Czechs have always had a refined sense of humor: they would dig at me, make inappropriate remarks, or make fun of me. There were times when it really annoyed me, when I was younger I didn’t know what to do with it, I felt helpless. I wasn’t such a cut throat , as I am now. I thought that one day I want to somehow show people that I don’t match their stereotypical image of Vietnamese people. I wanted to break down prejudices and show that Vietnamese people are not just sellers in convenience stores or markets,” reveals one of the other motivations to work on the railroad.
Humor against racism
He sometimes makes cruel fun of himself on his social networks, but he explains that it is more of a defense mechanism for him. “During my teenage years, I developed a sense of humor as a kind of shield against racist slurs and stupid jokes. How many times I share really harsh jokes about myself, I just want to show that people shouldn’t care about what other people say about them , that I don’t make anything out of such comments either. The fun I make of myself can protect me from other people’s stupid insinuations,” he says.
Nevertheless, Phan observes that Czech society has shifted in the last fifteen years, and both hidden and open racism are slowly diminishing. “Sometimes there will be some jokes about the convenience store, the Sapa market or the cultivation of cannabis. But it’s not like before,” he compares.
He admits that he himself feels more Czech than Vietnamese. He prefers Czech food, although he also has some popular Vietnamese dishes, he does not follow some Vietnamese traditions, he does not have an altar in his home and celebrates Christmas rather than the Lunar New Year. Some Vietnamese values are foreign to him, but on the other hand, he appreciates how tight-knit the Vietnamese are. “No matter where I go in the country, if I meet a Vietnamese, I will chat with him as if he were my long-time acquaintance. Czechs are not that close to each other,” he says.
The fact that since the age of fifteen, due to the breakup of his original family, he has lived with his Czech foster mother, who used to be his nanny, probably also contributed to his leaning towards Czech culture. In the Czech family, he encountered greater openness and respect for his desires and wishes. “When the Czechs see that their child wants to do something, they usually let him. The Vietnamese are more strict, they want their children to have prosperous professions – to be doctors, lawyers, businessmen. They want them to have a lot of money,” he says, adding that his biological father did not understand his dream job.
Railway work is generally considered mediocre to menial among the Vietnamese, which may also stem from the poor condition of the railways in their country of origin. “In Vietnam, from what I understand, it is a low-paid and unprestigious job, which is also due to the fact that the infrastructure is very outdated, so the job does not have the same prestige as, for example, in Japan,” says the guide. “However, the foster family always supported me, thanks to them I achieved my goals and I am grateful to them for that,” he appreciates.
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My parents were at the stand, I had to take care of myself. They did not understand why Czech children had so much freedom. In Vietnam you are supposed to be silent, I said no. | Video: DVTV, Daniela Drtinová
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