Lost in Translation / From Tokyo to Saigon and Back
If you take the first letter of every word
in the phrase “never give up”, then combine it,
you’ll get “ngu”, which means “stupid” in Vietnamese.
I’ve been to Vietnam once, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to be exact,
and it’s pretty understandably funny how adults here rarely recognize
it ever, except some punk ass boys, girls, dyed-haired teenagers,
when they came and visited that famous liquor store—
Its sign “Never Give Up” was always lightened,
it really enlightened the moods for the hobos
and drunken idiots, they kept telling themselves
like they understood a thing in it all,
at all, in common look-ups of dead silences before “the battles”,
all of them sequences of colorful lights in meaningful shapes,
bulbs ’round flashing instants in the dark before returning to the voidless…
Oh well, then again, English’s the major thing in life for them,
they probably will never give up the chance to express themselves
at the area of understanding how to booze and boozing professionally.
Horny, raging bastards and whores kept coming in unknowingly,
shouting, and laughing like the place was of the Ninth heaven,
didn’t really care for the trivial fact that was right above
their drowning, sweaty, hot and kinda red foreheads.
Go and visit it if you have the chance, ask ’round,
“Do you know where the ‘Never Give Up’ liquor store is?”,
or “Quán rượu N.G.U?”, the witnesses will all shake their heads smiling,
or pointing their finger at random directions and then keep passing ya…
… eventually you’ll end up in some place mythically similar.
You’ll probably get some chuckles also, along with
the realizations of the languages’ usefulness by the end of the day;
Every 6 o’clock in the morning, traffic cops in yellow hats
with a little red stained on the edges of them all,
yellow(ed) suits and pants, black clubs tightened with black belts,
would stand and sit proudly in their all fresh and white, governed motorbikes,
as observers of the days and lights of the nights to come—
But in fact, their life had been very soft and sweet,
they woke up to the tempting fragrances of awaited angriness,
street dusts, sights of cloudedly blue skies,
the everyday three colors reflecting in their eyes,
then went to sleep on rainy days both technically and metaphorically.
I saw them many times, at three or four-way crossroads,
sometimes whispering cool, poppy,
Vietnamese love ballads that all sounded the same,
chatting with each other about things in newspapers written about them,
and sometimes when it’s hotter, they engage in serious note takings,
taking money and/or imprisoning vehicles and stuffs, no biggy—
The favored victims here were the college guys,
with nice hair and hot girlfriends, always tried to impress them fuckables
with cool air and cool speeds on 50% taxed vehicles—
and they were very intimate with them dudes in yellow,
even offered payments beforehand so that
they could get on their ways much quicker
to catch up with the bright futures ahead,
marrying, fucking, getting rich, having kids and dying and…
Anyway, off the off-topics, some traffic cops were nice enough,
they took it with obviously just-hidden satisfying smiles,
some asked for more as they saw the not-precious-enough papers,
and got their favorite results after all…
Very few didn’t, those few even engaged in more serious note takings…
Now I don’t know what the punishments were for bribing,
but obviously those unluckier college dudes weren’t very happy
with them unique and morally intact dudes in yellow suits,
they even started fights and shit, I heard it on the interwebs,
saw some very unique videos also…
Well, here’s the thing, what really interested me was that,
no one called out when them traffic cops asked for money, FIRST.
They just, giveth whatever the heck needed when asked;
‘Pho’ in Saigon was delicious, I tell you.
Look for every store or restaurant with these two words “Quan Pho”
in its sign, you’d be in for tongue pleasurements.
It’s a really great food, a traditional one, sometimes spicy,
sometimes not, served with types of beef, eaten like a meal,
and an even more special thing about it was that at any hour of the day
you’d see people coming in and out of places that served it
like it was nothing— The stores or restaurants were usually crowded,
so noises were obvious, but they didn’t come from the customers,
usually cases where the owners’/chefs’, waitresses’,
shouting for services and at each other and… customers
as if there were twenty-four rushing hours a day, and they were mad.
People didn’t usually talk when they were having Pho,
they were just, having it, finishing things up and no more…
I didn’t know, I ate it a lot, there was always something new about it,
the tastes of Pho and the surroundings, the stuffs
always felt pretty systemized and uncommon, eery and awkward.
Yes! Awkward, that’s right. Pho is a really nice food,
but I won’t take chicks to these places that serve it on first dates,
it felt really awkward eating it, and in there, somehow.
Probably involved something philosophical,
like, loneliness in the middle of randomness (noises)?
Or just because, Pho is cheap as hell?
…Either way, the food is typed “Phở” in Vietnamese,
just another useless trivial fact for the day;
Oh and Vietnamese coffee was out of this world,
especially the places that served it.
There were variety of looks for a coffee shop,
and no matter if it was an actual store or outdoor thingy,
they always looked classy and cozy—
Really were lairs for businessmen and adults to talk about things,
stuffs about their humble and gloriously happy lives sitting in plastic chairs,
usually accompanied by house and techno music,
trippy stuffs that said drunken idiots would probably enjoy.
But really though, no, no one was giving a single shit,
they drank their cups of coffee automatically and talked and talked,
lied down to the chair, spread them hairy legs,
the opposite ways of how they did it with Pho,
and the only thing in common was that no one cared
for the noises ’round, even at the drops.
…Oh wait, sometimes they do, at night,
when there were football matches.
I mean, real football, with players using their foot
to actually kick the goddamn ball, not…
Anyway, sometimes they do, at night,
when there were football matches.
It’s the world’s beloved sport, so what do you expect?
They rarely ever came at night and talked randomly,
they came to watch the matches, the spectacular thingies,
to call it a way to entertain themselves at the end of days,
to discuss football clubs and tactics, football trivial facts,
to listen to the calm and sometimes wild commentaries,
to shout loud and clear, and oh no, not ever,
they won’t just start punching each other in the aftermath
unless someone insulted someone first.
This whole situation felt both pretty normal and unique to me,
there was something solidarity about it, something deep in its core,
something meaningful that I wanted to extract from it,
but then again, probably there weren’t any howevers, either.
It’s football, and no one gave a shit about anything else,
including their business and their lives, their cups of coffee.
And that is somehow, pretty understandable in comparison to…;
I stayed in one of Saigon’s middle-classed boarding-houses,
room something something on floor fourth, and it looked pretty neat,
not as terrible as I had imagined it would be.
I didn’t meet anyone there, ever,
except the lessor who was weirdly smiling and nodding all the time—
For three days straight, I would start my traveling trips right from my room,
tiptoe myself through floors back to the still-quiet ground
and go hiking while the Sun was still asleep, and come back
a few hours later to pick up, dress up, try on clothes—
That time around was usually when the traffic began to jam itself up,
[there was nothing that the dudes in yellow suits can do…]
I did keep on wondering if there really was a solution to all of this,
especially since people used motorbikes, bikes to workplaces and schools
for the most part… Now, just imagine if everyone had their own car…
Anyway, one day, the fourth day, when I came back to my room again
to prepare myself for the rest of the traveling day,
to pick up, dress up, try on clothes and stuffs,
there were practically nothing in it. I mean, NOTHING, in the room.
Some moments later, some French guy came, and moved in,
upon my lengthy, shockingly silent reaction to it all—
We exchanged a few words in the worst international convo ever,
then ran back downstairs, asked the lessor in English, even in Vietnamese,
but he didn’t understand anything… I do hope he didn’t.
I then reported to the seemingly powerful authorities nearby,
waited for days and for news about my stuffs,
and after a while I ended up working as a cleaner
at the N.G.U liquor store for some little cash, for the time being,
waiting for someone to bring me back [to a similar situation]…
…Yeah and that was it, blank, right?
Well, obviously, now I’m here again in Tokyo,
telling pulp fictions, feeling extremely normal
at the sights of young people falling deliberately from the sky
upon flashes and flashes and stares and stares below.
And I’m not angry. It just feels weird how the world connects sometimes.
Khoa lives in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.