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Little Saigon Laments Clinton's Move

Over bowls of beef tendon soup, US Vietnamese mull ties with Hanoi

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AT the Hien Vuong Vietnamese Noodle restaurant here this week, you can get beef tendon and chicken tripe ... and an earful about US-Vietnamese relations.

''You Americans have just given respectability to the most corrupt, abusive regime in the world,'' says a 1980 emigre from Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), who offers only his American appellation, Michael. The music of pop singers Khanh Ha and Ngoc Huong echoes through the Asian Garden Mall during interviews with residents of Little Saigon, the largest community of Vietnamese (160,000) outside Asia.

Earlier, on 100 TV sets at the mall, Michael and dozens of others watched as President Clinton announced he was extending full diplomatic recognition to the former US military foe, now a unified communist country of 73 million.

After three hours of interviews along Bolsa Avenue - the Vietnamese slice of northern Orange County - armed with my favorite pen and best ''Gallup'' impression, an informal poll tallied 70 percent ''against'' Clinton's move, 30 percent ''for.''

''You American journalists have not checked any further than the big cities [in Vietnam], where everything looks OK,'' continues Michael, with glaring eyes and flailing hands.

Lamenting television reports he has seen on three major networks depicting a Western-like consumer society reigning in cities such as Hanoi and Saigon, he continues: ''Just go out into the countryside, and you will find that the regime is destroying 95 percent of the country. Of course villagers could never talk freely to you because they would fear for their lives.''

Out of some 16 interviews, half of the respondents identified themselves as ''boat people'' - coming from the waves of refugees who set out in small boats for Thailand, Phillipines, and elsewhere before making it to America over the past two decades. ''Boat people'' in Vietnamese pockets across the states have been some of the most vocal opponents to rapprochement.

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