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Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Late Year Incognito Travel


Translated from the original Vietnamese short story named "Chuyến Du Hành Cuối Năm"by Đỗ Ngọc Thạch, a famous writer in vietnam)

(Lê Th Vuôn dch t nguyên bn tiếng Vit truyn ngn CHUYN VI HÀNH CUI NĂM ca nhà văn Đ Ngc Thch)

It was the last two days of the year 2009. Having to say goodbye to this year was a reluctance because it was the year conveying many interesting things to me. However we had to say goodbye to it whether we wanted or not. That was why I was sitting there reminisce about all interesting things in the year.

The telephone interfered my returning memories. It turned out that the man calling me was a former friend of mine who was, at that time, a top officer of a province in the North. He wanted to have an incognito travel to the South. And on this occasion, he would make a reunion with his friends in which I would be his guide. When I asked him why he wouldn’t make the travel in the North but to the strange land, the South, he gave me a non-committal answer, something means “postponing the evil hour!”

It was a two-day-travel plan, 29 and 30 of December. We played the parts of two tickets vendors, adopting the name of VI for my friend, and HANH for me. Merely we thought that selling tickets was an easy job. Besides, the set of tools was the lightest. For the sake of “justice”- a highly used term in life, each of us could freely choose 3 destinations in shifts.

The first place we reached was a market, Tan Huong market, which was Vi’s choice. According to Vi, not only could we meet various kinds of people but also it was in the market that the cultural features of a region would expose most. But I myself thought that those we would meet most in a market would be thieves and cheaters. It didn’t take long, but only after 10 minutes making our own way through market stalls,

- “Pickpockets have stolen the purse from my back pants pocket! There was no money but important personal papers including the Identiy papers!” Vi whispered to me.

- “It doesn’t matter. Such kinds of things would easily be got again” and “While travelling incognito, we shouldn’t reveal ourselves and we have to be insiders if we want to know what is outside there completely”, I told him.

He sad nothing but I knew he was feeling a great regret about his purse because he continually touched the back pants pocket.

Going around for a while, half the number of the tickets was sold and we witnessed different injustice lives, as well. The saddest thing was that people had rows just only for little money. They even offered a life-and-death resistance to each other for money! The evedence was a fight in front of our eyes. In fact, we could not see anything about the fight because of the crowd until people slowly went away leaving 2 females, one old and the other young, lying still on the ground. Without hesitation, Vi called 2 cyclos. Then we, each led one victim by hands onto the cyclos and took them to hospital…

It was a convenience because hospital was also the place I had chosen to visit. A coincidence. We took them to the imergency room and filled in all the bureaucracy for them to be admitted. It turned out that the 2 victims were Mum and daughter!, both were fruit sellers. The injury was not so serious but they must have the skin cracks stitched, hands and legs bones connected….

Fulfilling the duty with the fruit sellers, we made a tour round the hospital, visiting all wards. It was the scene of bedragged people – patients’ relatives – that left the strongest impression on us. They had made the hospital sidewalk their living quarters during the time when their family members were here. Looking at them reminded me of the Middle East refugees and the victims of natural desasters we often see on TV. Their faces shriveled from sorrow and worry. Vi was usually inquisitive to ask them such questions like; “What disease is your husband/ sister/ brother suffering?”, “How long has he been in in hospital?”… . Except for few people who carelessly answered him, all that he got from them was the surprise and watchfullness. Some even angrily shouted at us; “Damne it! What are you asking this for? Go away, cheaters!”. Vi tried to explain to them, but I hurriedly pulled him out. “Getting away is the best”, I told him, and “this is not the conference hall of the People’s Committee of a province for you to give explanation!”. But when coming to another ward, he immediately forgot just being driven away due to his questions of exssesive care. He rushed in to inquire as if he were a government officer. Again and again, he was shouted and driven away!

Born and grown up in a family that both my parents were in medical profession and then my wife is a nurse, too, I myself have witnessed various scenes in different hospitals yet many things were branch-new to me.

Restaurant was the third place chosen although we both thought that it was unnecessary to visit such place because we already knew it inside out. However, while we - the two guys, ticket sellers- were wandering along Ngo Thi Nham Street, we were enticed into the inner charm without notice by some girls…! The first day ended.

The second day, 30 of December, started with the plan to visit a university, a high school then an infant school. But after thinking hard, I decided that maybe we attached so much importance to education. “Why don’t we visit a prison instead of a school?”; I wondered. And “We can understand the inner side of education after visiting a university or a high school”. Vi agreed with me despite a bit worry because playing the part of a prisoner is far from easy. “A day in jail seems centuries outside,” he recited. Knowing that he was worying hard, I suggested that we should take the part of some prisoners’ relatives who come to visit them. Then we finally decided that we would come to an infant school in the morning, a university in the afternoon and a prison in the evening.

We reached Chich Choe Infant School by 7 A.M. It was time when parents took their kids to school. The scene at the school gate was so touching. Children attached to their Dads and Mums. Many of them were crying noisily when being given to the teachers. Although teachers gave them tender looks and soft manner, they didn’t stop crying until their parents were out of sight. Generally speaking, the spacious and well-furnished school ensured parents that their children would be offered good education. We had an intention that when the kid-receiving time finished, we would enter the school as newspaper reporters. We were preparing our set of tools such as camera, tape-recorder when a female teacher approached in front of us. Looking at Vi’s face, she asked; “Are you Mai?”. Surprisingly he replied; “Oh, no no. I’m not Mai but a reporter of Tre Tho Newspaper. We want to visit and write a report about your school”. The teacher didn’t stop staring at Vi. “I can’t be wrong. You are exactly Mai, the leader of children dealer group who was imprisoned 5 years ago. You must have been released and return to sinful business!”. To our surprise, Vi was wordless, hurriedly pulling out the official letter of introduction to show her. She even paid no attention but gave it a quick glance. Without getting it from Vi, she said; “Get away with your trickery otherwise I will call the police, guys!”. I myself had never experienced this in life. “Maybe Vi looks like the criminal named Mai that she met 5 years a go in a court”, I thought. Knowing that we couldn’t make ourselves understood to that watchful teacher, we hopped it out of the unjust accusation as quickly as we could.

Not able to enter the infant school of Chich Choe, we decided to go to a university. We were wavering on what university to visit, when a Dream make of motorbike stopped just in front of us. “Hi, brothers”, the man with the impressive face on the motorbike said. It turned out that he was a journalist named Phao Phao, who was in charge of the column “Schools or Battle Fields” in a newspaper. After effusive regards to each other, he said; “If you are having intention to write about university, you are so lucky because I have been writing a sery of reports on the quality of university lecturerers and students. That can show you the way”. We joined him and rushed to a college which had just shifted from a vocational school and was in process of asking for admission of shifting into university.

The man welcoming us was Dr. Hoc Hoc, the vice-director in charge of scientific research and traning of the college. After some talking, my memories turned up. Dr. Hoc Hoc was exactly a neighbour of mine in my childhood. His real name was Cough, He was named Cough just because he had been suffering from whooping cough since birth. Cough was 2 grades behind me. He always got mark 1 (stick) and 2 (goose) at school! How could he become the Dr. Hoc Hoc? What helped him? “He must have been helped by a magical power”, I thought. Hearing my queries, Journalist Phao Phao said; “stop evoking, brother. Closing past, heading future and integrating into international community are nowadays trends”. And “even though he is a false Dr., we must accept it because it is one of the epoch diseases. We are all blind, not only me!”. To my surprise, Phao Phao used to be a self-motivated journalist in the fight against embezzlement, but now he became inconcerned. I reluctantly left the wonder how Cough could get the PhD, following Phao Phao to meet students - the masters of the country.

Talking to sudents, I realised that they had little knowledge about literature, culture, history, geography… . They even got very little knowledge of their major. According to Vi, the outbreak of universities and colleges didn’t reflect the real academic standard of the society but help lower students’ quality because the target of the opening of universities and colleges is to make money, not to train people, not to identify and cultivate the talented for the country. This would result in a catastrophe with much worse consequence than that of genocide!... . Our ancestors used to put importance on the essence and refinement, not on the impurities. What would happen to an Army if it was not a reasoned Army but a medley? Never could it win in a battle!

After dinner, we were discussing how to infiltrate a prison when appeared “Tai Chem”- a former rascal. In fact, Tai Chem did not at all show great spirit but all was his daring. He willingly risked his life to everyone, at every place if he liked. That a king must give up a rascal is never wrong! Talking to Tai Chem, I knew that he now turned over a new leaf already and became a vice-superintendent of a big prison. How clever the authorities were when using him in this position! They knew how to use “poison to control poison”. Tai Chem was very happy when seeing me again as I used to help publish his articles on his affairs when I was still a newspaper reporter. At that time I thought that he would become a great writer in the Underworld column! Knowing my wonder, he said; “Writing profession is indeed much more complicated than the Underworld’s affairs, so I gave up writing long ago. And I myself see that helping other criminals to turn over a new leaf is meaningful but far from easy!”…

Tai chem took us to the prison he was in charge of. After a while, he stated; “Being incognito travelers, you should get the heart of the matter. It is a waste if you don’t try the part of prisoners!”. Vi neither agreed nor rejected and I myself thought that we would do what Tai Chem arranged. Busy thinking of what would happen next, Vi, another man and I were suddently pushed into a detention room. It was a rather large room. In the middle of the room, I saw a group of people swarming a hairless head man with interlacing healed wounds on his face. An impressive face! He must have been a great rascal. As soon as the door was shut behind us, a boy sprang out of the crowd. Standing in front of us, he shouted; “kneel down to greet brother!”. The boy’s shout was so powerful that we three immediately kneeled down on the floor. The man joining us even didn’t stop kissing the floor again and again until the hailess head man said leisurely; “OK, Ok. You are so lucky today because I’m enjoying myself so much that I exempt you from the entrance thrashing. However, you must show your aptitude for performance. Good show will be awarded, bad- punished!” . Pointing at Vi, he ordered; “You do first!”. I was so threatened, wishing that Vi could overcome this situation.

- “I’m happy to offer all of you a funny story!” Vi leisurely said. Immediately, they clapped their hands and took in every Vi’s word. The story he told was that named “Going for the “long and big beloved organ” competition”.

The story could be summarised as following: There’s someone whose “beloved organ” can reach his knees when erecting most. Every time he gets erection, he feels self-satisfied that no one on earth has such long and big organ as he. He is the world champion!. He goes everywhere to find opponents. And one day, he comes to a village where there is a rumor that many men here have extremely long and big organ. When reaching the village gate, he sees 2 men, each holding a club as if they are on duty of guarding the village. But getting close to them, he realised that both men seem to be reaching orgasm. He asked; “Hi, brothers! Could you…”. Not let him finish the question, they shout in chorus; “Get away! Don’t annoy our jolly time”. Feeling so strange, he can’t help asking more; “But where are your nymphs?”. “Home!” reply the men then they are deep under the spell of climax. He is so surprised and feels so stricken that his cock shrinks to the shape of the little finger!

- “They are merely the 2 guards, but they have such long and big organs! So those of the village authorities must be much longer and bigger!” he thinks and gets away as fast as he can.

The prisoners doubled up with laughters and asked Vi to tell them more. I guessed Vi would encounter the “a thousand and one night” situation. But to my surprise, he changed from laughing story to a crying one! And more surprisingly, the listeners were so touchy that they burst into tears while Vi was telling the story… Then they slowly got deep into sleep…

- “Tell me the truth please. What have you learnt from this trip?” said I when parting Vi.

- “For the past 5 years, I have merely thought of macroscopic matters of strategy. I’ve just focused on the “integrating into international community”, getting lessons from advanced countries, even applying their models to our country. But now I myself learn that I have been wrong. That is because our infrastructure is imperfect. Therefore, we must start again from the beginning which means we have to build a firm basis. No castles in the air or mud can become true!

- “So do you have any plan for this?” asked I.

- Vacillating for a while, he said; “I’ll apply for a position as a district executive, not a Central Government Officer as planed”.

- “Will your ideas be supported? You remember the saying “One swallow does not make a summer, don’t you? I’m afraid you are merely a grain of sand on a desert”, I said to him in worry.

- Vi sighed and said with a decisive tone; “I can’t help trying, my friend.”

We said goodbye to each other. Vi promised me that 5 years later he would have goods news for me when we meet again. Time is passing. The year 2010 is coming. Despite being a sceptic, I can’t help sharing belief with Vi when he has set his mind.

Sai Gon late 2009

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