Thursday, August 29, 2019

Having Lost Business?

This has been a quiet business month, mostly because, I guess, Singapore had a long weekend and, of course, Japan had its summer holiday, except last weekend when I rushed to finish a large volume of translation.

For September, work has already been confirmed on 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 25th. All for interpretation. Not too bad. But the job on 25th is from the company I’ve been working for the past two and half years, and in Singapore only for three hours. Back in July, I wasn’t asked to go to Senai, Johor, as it had been the case. This month, no request at all. This is something ominous. It is quite inconceivable nothing is happening there. It seems I’ve lost work there.

Nobody at the company has explained to me why this is happening. My guess is that they are now paying more attention to the expenses required for my interpretation. And not surprisingly at all, they can save much money if they engage an interpreter in Johor. This is what people, who know little about interpretation, do. For me as an interpreter, intangible things like if I know the place and if I know the people there have a significant meaning because I believe, from my own experience, interpretation is not word-replacement work. And in practical terms, working with those people in Singapore is not very easy for me.

I feel the friendship I’ve built with so many people in Senai and a little knowledge I’ve acquired is being wasted. Work with them has always been my priority. This is certainly not only about money, though if this continues (it appears it will), it’ll affect my business considerably. 

Today, it was 4:00 PM when I got out of bed, hoping that the day would never break. I didn’t want to open my eyes, while, with my eyes closed shut, seeing scenes continuously changing, incoherent and disjoined.  This has happened so many times before. But it is rather amazing to see what a short period of two weeks can make. I was so active in Sài Gòn, ain’t I?

I’m sure this financial year, ending next month, makes profit. But the next one may be my final year.

The criminal, probably under a fake identity in Hong Kong, may still be accessing this blog. Pay me back! You’ve managed to escape only because of the incompetence of your country’s enforcement authorities.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Japan Pensions Service -- Very Much Miserable


Day 5 in Sai Gon

Day 5, Thursday (15th): Breakfast of two bananas. I didn’t have much time before I had to leave the hotel to catch a 12:30 SIA flight (SQ177).

I left the hotel at around quarter past ten. The metered taxi took me to Tân Sơn Nhất Airport in time, and the driver started almost shouting at me when I was getting out, saying, “Một cái…” The lady passenger who got into the passenger’s seat before I got out translated for me, “another 10,000.” For what? I guessed this was a tip for handling my small suitcase. I didn’t need any trouble. I handed a 10,000-dong bill to him.

Then, I didn’t have to, but I went to the airport restaurant and ordered a mug of Tiger beer and a US$16 (!) “Hue Beef Noodle Soup (Bun Bo Hue)” and quickly finished it. And almost rushed to Gate 15 (I had to wait for a long time for the noodle soup to come to the table). Unlike SQ184 of last Sunday, this fight was packed. I found an Indian guy had occupied my seat, one row wrong. And this concluded my place-finding trip to Sài Gòn, filled with so many cans of beer and bad sleep and much sweating and blisters. Only walking around with no time to appreciate any scenery.
I had to seek help from so many people to find the places I wanted to see, many of which are certainly not tourist spots. And I still have more to see there. This time, I really didn’t have enough time to visit all, as my time was taken up for walking and more walking. Sincere thanks to all who helped me. And FUCK YOU to those who tried to cheat me.

Day 4 in Sai Gon

Day 4, Wednesday (14th): Breakfast again (!!) with scrambled egg, salad, bread and coffee. Because of my painful blister, I decided not to walk very far. I wanted to find 36 Lê Lợi, where Kaiko lived during his visit in 1973. From the hotel, I started walking down Lý Tự Trọng and before reaching Lê Lợi, one of the largest boulevards in this city, I found the CIA safehouse, crossed the street and went to a small garden adjacent to the building directly facing the safehouse. Now I could see the rooftop of it clearly.
But “36,” was not easy to find, as should be, because the whole street seemed to be a
“36” at an alley corner and, walking into it, an apartment building. Very old and almost dilapidated. I saw a hair salon at the ground floor and walked up the spiral stairs to its fourth or fifth floor, as high as I could go. Was Kaiko, a regular of Hotel Majestic, really staying here for his last visit to Sài Gòn? Kaiko also writes about a noodle shop “聯光酒店” at Pasteur which he seemed to visit frequently. I couldn’t find it.
And walking down the street, I heard someone speaking to me from behind. “Do you speak English?” I turned around and answered, “I do.” The man, a Westerner, said, “I lost my bag two days ago…” I remembered reading an article about “Western beggars” and said, “Go to the police.” “Thank you and have a nice day.”

I went back to the Gingko shop and bought three T-shirts. Walking toward the hotel, I thought about having lunch at the Market but I didn’t, finding a family of rats, busy and voracious there.

Back at the hotel, I read some pages. I took a shower. Out for dinner of seafood spaghetti and lime juice at Café Lamenda, very near the hotel.

Day 3 in Sai Gon

Day 3, Tuesday (13th): After breakfast (!!) of omelet, salad, bread and coffee. I took a “decent” cab to the zoo, though it took several minutes to make the driver understand “zoo” with help from a hotel guy. Really sorry I don’t speak your language. Well, I did want to have a look at the zoo, where Kondo had visited, but my priority was the former US Embassy.

I found the UK Consul General office and asked the security guards there where the US “Embassy” was. They pointed just across the street. I crossed it but saw no sign of the US Consul General. The only sign I saw along Lê Duẩn (Thống Nhứt) Street was the one of French Consul General. I walked around and around, drenched with sweat again and asking people. Still. I thought wrongly that the premises of the former US Embassy were detached from the current Consul General compound, open for the general public, because of a photo I saw on “Wekipedia” about the place.

I asked the security guard at the US Consulate General gate of Mạc Đĩnh Chi. He said, “We destroyed everything,” probably not understanding my question. I turned to Lê Duẩn one more time and asked another security guard, and he pointed to yet another guard at the, supposedly main, entrance.

I said to him,
“I’m looking for the site of the former US Embassy. Is there a garden or park inside.”
He said, “Yes. Where are you from?”
“Japan (not really...)”
“How long have you been in Vietnam?”
“Three days.”
I then asked him if I could go in there.
He asked “Why?” 
“I only want to take a few photos there.”
“Only the employees can go.”

I gave up and crossed Lê Duẩn (an irony that this street is named as such for the US) to the other side and started taking a few photos of the US compound.
After a few photos, I noticed that security guard showing to me an X sign with his arms crossed over his head (no photos, please). He was watching me. I crossed the street again to have a look at the Tet Offensive memorial, built by Vietnamese, and the guard who had directed me to another tried to stop me. Why, I thought. This is a memorial built by the Vietnamese Government. I showed my right index finger without a word to him, telling him I only intended to take a photo of it. He said, “Quickly.”

That’s all about the former US Embassy. So much walk again, to find almost nothing. I went to the zoo, Kondo’s favorite, and saw a sickly bear.
It was a zoo as sickly as the bear. And it started drizzling. With my feet giving away because of the blisters, I took a taxi, parked in front of the zoo entrance, to go to the “War Remnants Museum.”  

In 2008, I visited the museum. I learned from Nothing Ever Dies by Viet Thanh Nguyen that the museum had been renovated. It was. Better presented, at least visually maybe, with Bob Kerry panels added.  I remember back then in 2008 finding plastic benches outside, which were marked “Donated by the Japanese Communist Party.” They were gone. Those “tiger cage (chuồng cọp)” exhibits were new, which didn’t impress me because of their rather shabby design, reminding me of some show tent of old days in Japan, “exhibiting” a wolf girl, an octopus girl or a cow man. Instead, I found young “V sign” girls who were taking turns being taken photos in front of those weapons. Depressing. And the camera battery went dead.. Those weapons had fresh paint. I was wondering if those US weapons are regularly repainted for public view by Vietnamese.

I asked a security guard of the museum for the direction to Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa (Công Ly) Street. Walking more, I passed a Japanese language school with the name of Murayama Tomiichi (ha!!), and after I found the street, I had a very late lunch of grilled salmon and lime juice at Café RuNam along the street and got a few mosquito bites there. 194 Công Ly, where the farewell party for Edward Lansdale was held from “4 p.m. on June 8, 1968, the early start necessitated by the curfew in post
-Tet Saigon, Three hundred guests packed the second floor.” (p. 528. The Road Not Taken) Now, the building standing there seems to belong to Petro Viet. As I left there after two photos, a man came out of the guard house, and from his hand gesture with the thumb rubbing the tips of other fingers, I knew he was demanding money for my photo taking, though I didn’t understand a word he was saying. I said, “Someone I knew was living here many years ago,” I don’t think he understood me, and I ignored him.
Walking down Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa to the direction from which I came, I passed Café RuNam, reached the Palace and turned to Hàn Thuyên, seeing the old Time-Life office again. Ahead was the Cathedral being now renovated. I was trying to find the Central Post Office only to have a look at it. Going around the behind of the Cathedral, I didn’t know where I was again, and entered Intercontinental Hotel for a tourist map. Still not sure because the map was not very helpful, I asked the same hotel man who had given me the map for the direction to the Central Post Office. He, as any hotel man should, went out of the entrance and explained it to me. “Cross the street and go through the bookstore alley and turn to the left.” Just recently, I had read a VnExpress article about these bookstores. Then, easy to find there. Outside and inside, I took a few photos. And that was it.

I thought about taking a taxi. But I walked back to the hotel. One of my blisters, covered with two platers, was bleeding.

After a rest, I, limping because of the pain of the bleeding blister, walked around the Market. Rather reluctantly, I settled down for dinner at the izakaya at the intersection with Trương Định. This izakaya seemed quite popular and I noticed not only Japanese but Vietnamese and Westerners as its customers.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Day 2 in Sai Gon

Day 2, Monday (12th): My first full day. Woke up with a nightmare. I had breakfast at the hotel dining area, open for guests from 6:30 to 9:30. It was not superb but certainly acceptable, though I stopped “Singapore fried noodles” only after a bite because I felt the taste was funny. A surprise is that I had breakfast!

I started walking. Westward straight from the hotel, toward the city center. Though I had a few printed Google maps, my knowledge of places was very unreliable. After a while, I realized Lý Tự Trọng, where the hotel stood, was the former Gia Long and found the “CIA safehouse”/USAID building,” from the rooftop of which the last US military chopper left Sài Gòn on April 30, 1975, rather easily. I crossed the street, but I couldn’t see the rooftop structure because of the height of the building.
Then I came across the Cathedral and moved on to the Independence Palace (Dinh Độc Lập). I lost the sense of direction almost completely as I somehow thought the Palace was facing south to the river when actually the main gain was on the western side to the direction to Saigon Zoo. It seems I walked the entire perimeter of the place.

After a few photos and only a few blocks away, I managed to find 7 Hàn Thuyên, where Time-Life had its office and Robert Sam Anson worked before she was sent to Cambodia.
Next. Continental Hotel and its restaurants, Le Bourgiois (Radio Catinat) and Le Dolce Vita. And Union Square, formerly Eden Building, a corner of which Givral used to occupy. Each of all these places has a significant meaning for the life of Pham Xuan An. Nearby were Opera House and Caravelle Hotel. I walked down Đồng Khởi, looking for 104. Along the way, I found a sign that indicated probably a temporary location of Brodard, which some authors mention, including Morley Safer. 104 Đồng Khởi (rue Catinat, back then) was the address Graham Greene “borrowed” for The Quiet American from a couple who lived there. I found 103 Đồng Khởi and 105 Đồng Khởi, not 104 Đồng Khởi.
Down to Saigon River, I turned to the right toward Hotel Majestic and found a statue of Trần Hưng Đạo, about whom I have no idea. Anyway, I took a photo of him as a good tourist. Then, I took a photo of another Singapore establishment, Jumbo Seafood. I climbed up to the 8th-floor of the hotel to the bar, M Bar, where I saw only a couple sitting outside. Already so much walking, I also took a seat outside and ordered a can of “333” and felt relaxed, looking at the opposite side of the river and wondering where all those large “Heineken” billboards had gone. And much surprised seeing all those skyscrapers going up across the river. After 40 minutes or so, I left the bar, and in the elevator lobby was a framed photo of Kaiko Takeshi.
I walked to Nguyễn Huệ from Hotel Majestic, a short distance. One of the few areas I walked around three years ago. There stood an old-looking building which might be the area, where the former Japanese Embassy stood.

At the other end of Nguyễn Huệ was Rex Hotel, whose rooftop sign advertised it as the place of “Five O’clock Follies.” Ha!!
Completely drenched with sweat, I returned to Sunrise Central Hotel and found my feet got a few blisters after this much of walk. I took a shower, read some pages of The Crucifix of Saigon by Kaiko (I had read it a few times already) and had a short nap.

I went west to the direction of Phạm Ngũ Lão, where Kondo Koichi lived with his wife and her family. Some people were playing dá cầu (shuttlecock) very skillfully in Công viên 23 tháng 9 (September 23rd Park). No photo remained from my previous visit here three years ago because my Nikon had got broken. Back then, if I’m not mistaken, “ABC Bakery” was still in business. Though I found the place again this time, closed now with the “ABC” shutter painted over with black but with “ABC” still visible. Kondo writes that his “ghost house” on Phạm Ngũ Lão was adjacent to a bakery which made unbearable noises from 2:00 am.
Already so much walk… At the corner of Phạm Ngũ Lão and Tôn Thất Tùng, I had very late lunch (early evening, still bright) of soup noodles of beef and tendon and lime juice. The place is called “Phở Quỳnh,” which a Japanese website described “Neither good nor bad.” Good enough for me.

Now, my quest for the temple, “Chùa An Lạc,” “Q Café” and the guesthouse where I spent three weeks, none of which I could locate three years ago even though I walked into this alley and that while asking many people, especially superbly kind ladies of massage parlors. Nobody knew where the temple was then. And it was already dark, and I was “mentally sick.” This time again, I had to ask someone standing in front of a Bùi Viện bar, showing her a printed Google map, for the direction to the temple.

With her help. I found Chùa An Lạc. The alley was decorated with red lanterns. As I remember, the temple was, well, like a temple, with a gate, and behind it was small space of soil to the temple itself. But Chùa An Lạc I saw this time had a living space right behind the gate with people inside. They seemed to be living there. It was the temple, no doubt, but it was not as I remembered it.
And Q Café of so many memories… I thought it was on the same alley. The area looked still familiar to me after 10 years. After a little hesitation, I hopped into a bar, “Restaurant Phuong.” Several Westerners having beer outside. Just like Q Café. Inside, I saw a woman and a young teenager of the bar having dinner and customers, probably a family, a man and a woman and their little daughter. After a small bottle of Saigon Bia Special, I asked the woman who should be the master of the place.

“How old is this place?”
“25 years.”
“Do you remember “Q Café?”
“Q Café… finished.”

I got confused again. I thought Q Café was on this alley and even this bar was Q Café. In any case, Q Café was no more. After a second bottle of Saigon Bia Special, I left the bar. The woman smiled at me, maybe because I remembered that old Q Café. And the guesthouse was gone too, I believe.
Back at the hotel, I found a few blisters on my feet after a 6-hour walk.

Day 1 in Sai Gon

And Sài Gòn… I thought I would never come to this city again after my last visit in 2016. But there I was and came back to Singapore with several mosquito bites and blisters in my soles.

Day 1, Sunday (11th): Unsure of any on-board meal, I ordered a bowl of plain noodles at the T2 food court and couldn’t finish it. No appetite in Singapore. I took SIA’s SQ184, leaving Changi at 13:30 as scheduled. The flight was half-empty, something I’d probably never experienced on a SIA flight for many years! Some turbulence over Singapore, but it went smoothly all the way to Sai Gon. A meal was served but I couldn’t finish this either.

Tân Sơn Nhất Airport seemed to be the same, more or less. The immigration officer of the line looked tired with so many people he had to process. But at the arrival hall, there were counters for taxi booking. I should’ve booked one there, but I didn’t because I thought it would be easy to take a “Grab” taxi. Then, I found out Grab offered only motorbike-riding services, not suitable for someone who had a suitcase, no matter how small that was. Or so I thought. I really should’ve booked a taxi at one of the counters as the driver I ended up with was one of those taxi robbers, just like the one who had stolen my 4,000 yen from my wallet three years ago. For the money for (perhaps) the parking fee and while I was trying to find the correct bank notes, he tried to grab my wallet. I resisted hard because that was exactly how I was robbed last time. As I resisted so hard, he gave up and asked me to get out of his car. I was happy to do so. I took another to go to the hotel and paid 250,000 dong. Too much maybe, but I was safe.

I had never stayed at a place (guesthouses and cheap hotels) with a window in Saigon. This time, just the same. Little wonder Sunrise Central Hotel was so cheap especially when its location is considered (along Ly Tu Trong, near Chợ Bến Thành), which was probably an ideal to walk around District 1 of Sai Gon. The size of the bedroom was fine, and its bathroom, partly because of the bathtub, was quite large. A problem of this window-less room was that it was either all bright with the lights on or all dark with them off, confusing me about what time it was.

I had let my friend in Saigon know about my trip, and she set the time for our meeting for dinner at 6:00 pm, giving me some time for settling down at the hotel. And she postponed the time to 6:30. No problem with me. The Vietnamese restaurant, “Bếp Mẹ Ỉn,” which she had chosen for dinner, was near the hotel and I had no trouble finding it. She was already there when I reached the place. We shook hands and had a gentle hug. Her friend joined us perhaps 15 minutes later. We all had a good time. Or so I hope. And something astonishing to learn is that my friend, now married, sees her husband, working in New Mexico, only once a year. After her friend left on a Grab motorbike, we walked around the night market before we said good night to each other at the hotel. Did I talk to her about enough of what’s been happening to me, or not happening to me? Thanks to her and her friend.

At the intersection of Lý Tự Trọng and Trương Định, to the west side from the hotel, I found three Japanese restaurants, a ramen shop (Ringer Hut), an udon shop (Marukame Udon) and an izakaya (Maruman) and a Singaporean sushi restaurant (Sushi Tei). Sài Gòn being contaminated.

Ken Burns's "The Vietnam War," "The English Patient," and "Paco's Story"

On 15th (Thursday), I collected “The Vietnam War (DVD)” by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, “The English Patient (DVD)” and Paco’s Story by Larry Heinemann at the “POP Station” at Thomson Plaza. “The Vietnam War” taught me more about the war. It mentioned John Paul Vann in the battle of Ap Bac, but not Edward Lansdale, though I saw him in some footage with Ngo Dinh Diem. “The English Patient” was a huge disappointment. I had read the original novel. The movie completely omitted Kip’s thoughts about the bomb on Hiroshima. Paco’s Story required to read through much effort because of the way people speak in the novel. Powerful and sad.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Water Leak from Bathroom Ceiling, Second Time in 4+ Years

At around 4 pm today, I noticed dripping sounds somewhere and I thought some work was going on at the swimming pool of the next condo which faces this unit. Then I felt the sounds were coming from some place much nearer. I found the bathroom ceiling was leaking in a big way. Again! This happened a few years ago and the water heater had to be replaced then. I immediately contacted the owner and agent and the plumber the agent arranged came within two hours. He said, “heater spoiled.” Oh no. Believing he is an honest guy, it means the heater lasted only for less than 4 years! The man will come again tomorrow, bringing his cutter to make an opening to the ceiling and a new heater.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

A's Return

Last night at CC (I was there because it was F’s anniversary of passing), I heard from Boss that A had come back to Singapore and is working here. Boss himself has not seen A (he learned of his return from another person who had accidentally met him) and it seems A has not contacted any of those people who encouraged, criticized or helped him back then. Even S, a fellow country guy of A who was drinking with his friends at CC last night and one of those who definitely helped him, didn’t know he had come back. He asked me, “how’s A doing?” Or did he pretend he didn’t know?

I’m not angry with A. Not at all. It’s just this cloudy feeling that I have when I consider how miserable he was then and how he disappeared (absolutely no word to his friends) and how he came back this time (absolutely no word to his friends). I don’t even think I’d like to see him now. It’s all up to him to mind his own business. I don’t care. But still, I can't erase this cloudy feeling that we, or at least a few of us who were closest to him, deserve better.