Boycott Aunty Oh (formerly Uncle Ho) in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane for offensive cultural appropriation

April 26, 2016

26/04/16 - Update on the Uncle Ho to Uncle Bia Hoi to Aunty Oh issue 

[Edit 11/05/16 - The restaurant set their Facebook to private so you can't see my review. It was 1-star and said something along the lines of: "Cultural appropriation served with a side of casual racism. Recommend heading to Red Lotus in Fortitude Valley if you want a tasteful and tasty Vietnamese dining experience."]

I held out until now, hoping this update would be about the business offering an apology for causing offense, and working with the local Vietnamese Community moving forward with their rebrand. Instead, these are my updates:




1. No public or private apology
The business doesn't need to understand why we're offended, but it's obvious that offense was taken. The empathetic and responsible thing (or simply the smart PR thing) to do would be to apologise for causing any offense, and express that it was not intended. Instead they refuse to acknowledge the issue at all except for one petty Facebook reply to a bad review:



2. Unsubstantiated claims of death and arson threats
No evidence has been provided to date, and no public retraction made.

This was their official statement. The Instagram post has since been deleted but here are screenshots:


Death threat claims - Vietnamese Community legal counsel requested evidence of the death threats, since the claims implied it was protestors from the Vietnamese Community that threatened them forcing them to close during the protest in the official statement above. No evidence has been provided. I'm waiting for a public retraction.

If threats were made by anyone, that's deplorable and also illegal so should be reported to police. Though, more likely the restaurant closed during the protest because they didn't want to face the people they had hurt in front of cameras. It's not good for business to have customers dining while elderly people and their families cry outside - especially if it's caught on camera.

Arson claims - Residents in the building weren't notified of or made aware of threats to the building or their safety. The Uncle Ho Instagram statement quoted in news outlets was the only place they heard of this.

3. Peaceful protest
The protest on 10/4/16 was completely peaceful and respectful. A lot of the 100+ protesters were our elders that lived in and survived war-torn Vietnam. The protest was held on the corner of East Street and Ann Street, not directly in front of the business, except for one brief march along East Street. Protestors told stories, chanted and sang songs. No signs of threatening behaviour. Residents in the building said they didn't even know a protest was happening downstairs, and only learned about it reading the news later.

4. Media Coverage forced the name change, not the protest
Make no mistake, if media hadn't covered this story Uncle Ho would still be standing as it was. The business has maintained its silence and mostly ignored the public. They changed the name because media covered the story and they couldn't ignore, delete or block the national news outlets broadcasting their offensive branding.
The story also made its way onto ABC, SBS, Channel 9, The Feed, Complex, Pedestrian TV, Broadsheet and more.

5. New 'Aunty Oh' branding

Better than Uncle Ho, but something's not quite right.

First, 'Oh' isn't a Vietnamese name. They're trying to be clever in flipping Uncle to Aunty and Ho to Oh, while continuing to be culturally ignorant and slightly racist.

Second, the new logo of a Vietnamese woman smoking a cigarette depicts a war-era madame in the red light district. The realist in me thinks it's meant to further insult the Vietnamese community by highlighting the prostitution in our history. The optimist in me thinks the business is sex-positive and stands for sex worker rights. There's no shame in sex work if the women and men are empowered and choose their career, and not forced or trafficked into it.

Third, those Vietnamese conical hats they hand out to patrons? Please, stop now. Those aren't associated with sex-workers who normally work indoors. The hats are worn by people who do manual labour all day in the sun, and traditionally linked to farmers in rice fields and boat men and women. If they''re going with a new red light district theme, keep it consistent.

Fourth, the Vietnamese alphabet has different vowels and different accents that completely change meanings of words that look similar in romanised lettering. Their spelling of 'bia hoi' translates to 'stinky beer' - I kid you not. Bia hơi is their intended meaning, which translates to 'beer air/gas.' Seriously, a little consultation with the Vietnamese Community would avoid hiccups like this. Actually, a little consultation with the local community could have prevented the public protest and backlash and I would be watching Beyonce's Lemonade right now instead of updating this post.

6. New name, same bad attitude
I still call for people to boycott this business. Aunty Oh appropriates Vietnamese Culture for profit and shows no respect for the people that originally brought Vietnamese cuisine to Australia. This whole situation has left a bad taste in my mouth.

7. More poor form
This isn't part of our protest but it's another reason I don't want to support the business. I've since learned through a news report that staff are jerked around and not paid fairly.


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WHY DID I GET INVOLVED IN THE FIRST PLACE?
I didn't intend to be one of the public voices for Brisbane's Vietnamese Community when I first wrote calling for a boycott of Aunty Oh / Uncle Ho / Uncle Bia Hoi restaurant. My post (below) went viral simply because I was one of the first to tell the story in English. I wrote the original post in frustration. I thought a boycott would convince the owners to acknowledge the issue.

What isn't widely reported in media is that the Vietnamese Community Leaders reached out to Uncle Ho and tried to resolve the matter privately in March. Mediation didn't work so in April a formal protest was planned and the business was notified (so they were able to prepare that odd Instagram statement and shut up shop for the day). I had seen the protest announcement in my Facebook feed throughout the week, but it was in Vietnamese-language and I have to concentrate to read Vietnamese so I didn't pay it attention.

I was made aware of the issue when my cousin told me the Uncle Ho branding had brought my Aunty and Uncle to tears when they recalled horrific memories from the war. I love my Phamly (in case you couldn't tell from my blog name) so I couldn't sit by and let an arrogant business stomp all over our history and bring back trauma for my Phamly and our community.

I then read the Vietnamese-language Facebook post announcing the protest. It explained what had been done to date and why private mediation with council and the business hadn't worked. I googled the business and found only spin articles on food magazine sites (no mention of their war branding - guess they know not to touch religion, politics or war in their feel-good pieces). Only a small handful of bad reviews on Facebook showed that people were appalled by the brand, but others' comments showed they didn't understand how a name could be offensive. It wasn't just the name - it was all of the war-era, communist branding in the restaurant, on their website, social media and poster advertising on streets.

At first, I left a negative Facebook review (original embedded at bottom of this post), which I've never, ever done to a business before. I would have left it at that because in my line of work (retail) a negative review means customer service reaches out ASAP to resolve the issue and win the customer back. I had expected a response of some kind but instead Uncle Ho immediately blocked me, which made me angrier. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, then the Internet hath no keyboard-rage like a blogger blocked. I put on my old PR hat and contacted any and all media I could think of explaining why the restaurant branding was so offensive to Vietnamese refugees in Australia, and requested they cover the protest. I sent Uncle Ho an email (see bottom of post), which they never replied to. Then I did something I never wanted to do when I started this blog: I posted something negative....

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Original post published on 09/04/16 @ 5.49pm QLD time:

Dear Brisbane residents and visitors,

I would like to draw your attention to a "Vietnam-inspired" restaurant called Uncle Ho that has opened in Fortitude Valley/New Farm in Brisbane and is upsetting the local Vietnamese community. The Swedish-Australian owner has named it after a dictator whose communist regime is what Australia fought against during the Vietnam War. The same dictator that sent Vietnamese refugees fleeing the country to escape his rule.

The Vietnamese community in Brisbane has reached out to the owner and she ignored us. She's happy to appropriate our culture for her business and doesn't care that her appropriation is offensive to Vietnamese people living in Australia.

The self-proclaimed "Uncle Ho" was a communist dictator who effected the lives of thousands in Australia both Vietnamese refugees and Australian War Veterans. I, personally, am angered by the name because Ho Chi Minh and his people put my father in prison camp for fighting in the VNN alongside Americans and Australians against their belligerent regime. My father was tortured and mentally scarred for life from his experience during the war and in the prison camp. He suffered PTSD and has lived with schizophrenia ever since he was released from prison camp and fled his home country. My uncles and aunties on both sides of my family have experienced or witnessed torture and inhumanity under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. Every Vietnamese refugee in Australia has a story.

​Now seeing "Uncle Ho" so lightly thrown around is like a slap in the face, adding insult to injury.​ My dad risked his life fleeing by fishing boat to get away from this man. I get that the business owner was inspired by Vietnam when she traveled there and got caught up in the biased communist propaganda she learned there, but this does not make it acceptable.

I am outraged by the lack of respect for history and the people it affects​ in Australia​ to this day. ​I find this especially abhorrent to open the restaurant in the lead up to Anzac Day. The owner's defense is that 'there are two sides to every story.' She has since deleted the business Facebook page so I don't have a screenshot of this condescending comment. I'm assuming she deleted it because she realised you can delete negative comments but you cannot delete 1-star reviews.

So, in case they delete their Instagram account, here are some screenshots of their promotional artwork. Oh, look, there's the tyrant my parents fled from having a nice, communist star beer:


Oh even better, now they're calling the troops to come kill my Dad and his crew - and any Australian or American soldiers too:

Ho Chi Minh was a dictator and murderer. Would this business owner have considered opening a Nazi-themed restaurant called "Uncle Hitler"? I don't think so. I don't believe she meant to insult the Vietnamese community in Australia but that's what she has done.

The restaurant's details are here if you'd like to contact them and let them know your thoughts: 

weare@uncleho.com.au
07 3161 4688 and 0403 283 770

With respect,
Jade Pham


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UPDATE 11/04/16:

They seem to have edited their about page, but to confirm they deliberately named and themed the restaurant after Ho Chi Minh and his propaganda because they thought he was cool:


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FULL DISCLOSURE: My Digital Rampage on 9/04/16 (compiled from FB and Instagram to this post on 26/04/16)

Uncle Ho Facebook Review, their response was to block me which sparked my online rampage:

[Edit 11/05/16 - The restaurant set their Facebook to private so you can't see my review. But I have a screenshot]





Uncle Ho email:




Uncle Ho Instagram Comments (comments made after no email reply): 


Related note - Uncle Ho implies I made death threats in a reply to my Instagram comments. Guess they weren't too pleased that my blog post was being shared online, and 7 news had taken a screenshot of my negative Facebook review before they'd disabled their Facebook page.

I have my doubts about the death threat claims because the business insinuated that I personally threatened them. They couldn't accuse me outright since I haven't made any threats so they implied it instead. This is what they said:


Uncle Ho / Aunty Oh thought linking me to alleged death threats would weaken my very public opinion about their business. Public being the operative word here. If you've read the 'Full Disclosure' section of this post, you've seen everything I said to them. No threats were made unless you count my Facebook review where I state "I'm never setting foot in your culturally insensitive establishment." But that's not a threat, that's a fact.

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If you want to keep up to date with this issue, follow this Facebook post by Jas Mercer. She breaks down the issue in a concise way and continues to follow progress in comments below the original post:



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5 comments

  1. lets put some pictures of uncle hitler, uncle Sadam, uncle Ponpot, uncle terrorists beside the picture of uncle ho whose killed so many women and his people, also brought ideology of communist to vietnam.
    https://scontent.fudi1-1.fna.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpa1/v/t1.0-0/s261x260/12993562_10208001677814321_3747119273692917806_n.jpg?oh=b93d856cba50fce814c15458fa75e77c&oe=5783FB8A

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well said Jade
    Thank you
    Peaceful protest today at 10:30-1:30 East st Fortitude Valley - Phuong

    ReplyDelete
  3. I thought the same thing when a place called Ho Chi Mama opened in Melbourne.


    Its opened by some ignorant 2nd generation south vietnamese kids.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ho Chi Minh was also a pedophile having raped so many young girls who visited him. some of the few things he did back then is just like what isis is doing today.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete

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