. Sinh năm 1939 tại Bắc Việt
. Tốt nghiệp Đại Học .
. Vào thập niên 70 sang Úc dạy tại RAAF School (Trường Không Quân Hoàng Gia Úc).
. Về nước dạy Anh Văn tại các trường Trung học Gia Long, Trường Sơn.
. Làm Thơ, viết Văn.
. Đã chuyển dịch 10 tác phẩm của nhà văn Thế Phong sang Anh ngữ trước 75 ở Sài Gòn.


. Ngưỡng Cửa Chiêm Bao - Thi Tập (Sài Gòn 1967)
. Đưá Con của Bố Già - Truyện (dịch The Fortunate Pilgrim của Mario Puzo (Sài Gòn 1974) - tái bản năm 2000 NXB Thanh Niên với tựa đề Qua Cơn Ác Mộng )

. Hiện sống tại Cabramatta Sydney Australia.


chuyển dịch từ tập truyện ngắn







The work has been revised, with some minor corrections made,
but its contents and details are absolutely unchanged.


To Phạm Quang Huyến.

The place was about seven kilometers from the city. On one side there were immense rubber plantations. To the other side were paddy fields and textile mills. At the middle of it was an empty piece of land about five thousand square metres. Its front eating into the edge of the rubber plantations was a rubbish tip where a lot of trucks operated. Since the arrival of the Yankees business had been booming. This story centered on these foreigner-driven trucks. Their GMC’s and jeeps were both bigger and better than the ones they gave us in the aid program.
On the piece of land there were five sheds marked with identification letters A,B,C,D, anh E. Shed A was located next to the rim of the plantation, seperated only by a trip of barren land about seven hundred square metres. All the five sheds ---had corrugated iron roofing, wooden walls and no fenced around. They almost hid themselves behind a gigantic heap of rubbish and seemed to passers-by houses originally erected for plantation workers, but abandoned now.
He who owned the sheds was Trần, a paratrooper in the Airborne Brigade stationed at the other side of the road, in front of the rubbish tip. Now he had been discharged. As a matter of fact both the land and the rubber plantation belonged to the district Catholic priest; the veteran built the sheds in defiance of law.
He lived on the rentals in another place. Up to the time of this story he got the rentals all right.
One day the ex-serviceman was terribly upset; Đằng, the renter of sheds A and B had done him a bad turn. Đằng was a soldier in active service. He was also the boss of a sewer-and-brick producing firm, and supplier of other construction materials. He only came to rent the two sheds and the first step in his master plan to occupy the seven hundred square metres piece of land next to shed A which could be the future site for his fast expanding firm. His heart leaped up upon learning that this area really belonged to the Catholic priest. He took pains to enquire about his character and tastes. After that he gave him a big pet python and twenty newly- born doves, very good to make soup with. Then he asked to rent the empty piece of land, including the area of the five sheds. The priest found this reasonable and agreed heartily, as Trần did not pay him a cent.
One afternoon Trần had to appear in court for illegally occupying the land. He got the shock of his life.
Trần was ordered to move out of the land within a few months as in spite of his lawyer’s plea, as "wealth alone breeds strength and boldness."
Following his successful suit, Đằng no longer rented sheds A and B. In awaiting the removal dateline Trần rented the shed B for an airman, and let notable Việt Nhân stay in shed A. The latter was an acquaintance of Mr Chánh(1) who gave me accommodation in the last few months. According to Mr Chánh, the notable was an old fox, very well read in law. He already won a case against an Indian landlord. The story went like this: He rented the house of an Indian. The Indian landlord sued him at court in view of dislodging him and won the case. But the Higher Court changed the decision of the court of Petty Sessions in favour of the appellant. Only God knew what manoeuvres he had deployed. His fame spread like bush fire in the area to the extend any man in adversity depended heavily on his advice. Trần was no exception. This was the reason, I guessed, Trần let him use his shed. But he wanted to leave it to Mr Chánh, my landlord, to the full content of Trần. Why was that? Generosity to a friend might be a motive, but the stronger reason could arise from the praise of myself by Mr Chánh, "He’s a great writer and close friend of many judges and lawyers".
These were really hard times for both Mr Chánh and myself. Trailing a cloud of debts, he must think of selling his own house. Right at this moment, notable Việt Nhân gave such a good offer…
And we came down to this rubbish tip area…


In our first days in house A, we did have good relations with people in house B. Its tenant was in airman living with two brothers-in-law and a small daughter about to be able to walk. Tiết, the airman, went to work everyday while his wife helped Thước, a Northerner refugee in the hamlet on the other side of the forest, to collect rubbish from American trucks. The forest itself was a sort of communal toilet serving not only the five houses, but also some sixty families in the hamlet where Thước lived.
Between fifty to sixty trucks came daily. Amongst the paper and steel and iron and rust and old boots and everything that the people of the town had cast out as of no use and not worth anything anymore, the Vietnamese found unused cans of food, shells of rockets, military uniforms and other cast-off war materials. When the trucks stopped, the drivers were given Coca Cola, 33 beer and soft drinks by the tenant of house B. An official class A, I sadly thought, could not expect to earn as much money as Tiết, if he knew the price of a wooden case ranged from 80 piasters to 150 piasters, and the cardboard box could bring 50 or 60 piasters and a couple of rocket shells 10 piasters. I felt a burning shame at the thought a piece of writing brought me less than the money of 50 rocket shells. At most, our family spent only 12 piasters for vegetables and dry fish every day-two and a half rockets.
Though we did sometimes make this sort of mental calculation, none of myself, Mr Chánh, his two sons and his small daughter, was ever envious. We suffered without a cry the eye burting smoke from the bid fire they burned on the rubbish dump every evening.
During the first month Tiết was very sensible man in Mr Chánh eye’s. He praised the airman, "The chap next door tells Hùm there’s no need to buy logs. Just get the pieces of wood and burn. He’s a good man, isn’t he?"
I nodded, but said nothing.
To me, he also looked reliable. He smiled to greet me whenever coming home. His favourite activities were smoking Pall Mall, playing guitar and speaking English. The Americans could understand him without much difficulty. He never said harsh words to his wife, his kids or even his wife’s brother. In short, he never bothered anybody. Of course, he was rather reliable. Whether he was literate or not was simply not my concern. I bothered myself with people to a degree only. This was I kept silent when Mr Chánh praised Tiết. Another good thing about him was his love for music. He used to hear Western music from the radio every night. He did not turn it too loudly, and I was thankful for it.
However, I had to hear Trần talking about the time Tiêt was so poor he had to ask for a cooking pot from his elder brother. Now things had changed. Tiết was in much better shape because he could do business with the Yankees. They gave valuable rubbish to Tiết. He was really much better now. But, he looked down on Trần and according to Trần, it was a terrible mistake. I listened to what Trần had to say without commenting. A small speculation flashed in my mind: they had entered into an arduous contest due to business. And certainly Trần badly wanted Mr Chánh on his side.


As I returned home late at night, Tiết was still awake. Half naked, looking rather pensive, he sat in front of B, beside his expensive Philip radio set, smoking cigarette after another…
I could not sleep myself. After a while I did some exercise in the yard. He smiled to me, then the usual refrain, "Trần was a nuisance to me. Recently the Yankee gave me a truck full of woodden items. Almost mysteriously the heap of wood disappeared, I have asked the security chaps in the battalion for a formal investigation. Would you believe, the thief was him, the little bastard!"
I diid not reply. Tiết added,
"You know I bear no enmity towards him. But he should have the guts to admit his wrong doing, don’t you agree?"
Seeing me unimpressed, he turned to another topic,
"I’ll go the U.S. following the intervention of my good Yankee friend. It’ll be all right for me, but I have to worry about my wife and kids. "
I remember the nights he received American guests. Whenever a taxi stopped, Tiết’ s wife appointed her brother to pay the driver. After that, she proudly boasted of entertaining influential American friends.
Our five houses being fenceless, we did the cooking together in the long adjoining room in the rear. The floor was a mess of paper and rubbish. One night, when I collected some paper for a small fire to boil water with, I found the rough draft of a letter in English. It read:
Dear M,
Please don’t bother to buy gifts for my wife, Instead, would you so be kind as to buy me 50 cartons of Pall Mall, Lucky, Salem and 20 packs of 79 pipe tobacco. This Christmas I will bring you to a very interesting place. Vietnamese girls are very beautiful. I expect you this evening at my house.
Sincerely yours,

The ethics of this made me laugh.
Well, this chap Tiết always dressed as a Southern dandy, a real parvenu. On Sunday mornings he wore formal suit no matter how hot the weather might be. On holidays, he went to Chinese soup shops, smelling of perfume. He always looked wealthy just as a class A civil servant. He only smoked either Lucky or 79 . Once I used the soap left by him at the communal bathroom to wash my hands. My God, they still smelt good after more than one hour.
Tiết ’s family has accessed to all American-manufactured goods available in Vietnam: canned grapes, beef, cakes, ice cream, candies, coffee, chocolate, pear and the magic powder soap which could whiten clothes without man’s twisting. When I had no money left for cigarettes I just sat in the direction of 79 tobacoo smell.
As the days went by, more and more American trucks came to Tiết’ s house and Trần was very bitter about it. By the end of last month Tiet refused to pay the rent to Trần in relatiation for the latter’s theft of wood. As a matter of fact the rental only amounted to 300 piasters a month while a truck could bring in as much as one thousand piasters each time. This resentment was to stay as there were no fever than sixty other families also keeping an eye on the rubbish business as a mean of livelihood. They are shared the same hope: one of the trucks would come to the rubbish forest, and not to Tiết’ s house.
A couple of them did go there, but they only gave out real rubbish - their drives hated to be bribed. Only inside the trucks coming to Tiết’ s house there were wooden bars, tin cans, pinewood pieces, rocket shells, clothing, footwear mattress, military uniforms and the like.


Tiết of house B started quarelling with Mr Chánh after a small incident. He requested Tiết to move away the wooden bars scattered in front of shed A, claiming to have a lot of guests coming down for the house warming party. Tiết was cool and prompty had the wooden bars cleared.
The party, a dog meat feast, proved to be a very happy gathering with many people taking part, including a number of my friends- a lawyer and a judge- some policemen in the nearby post. All was arranged for by Mr Chánh. Since my coming down here, all my acquaintances became his and vice-versa.
Returning to Tiết once again, he claimed to be the victim of that meeting and following his complaint, the invited policemen were called to give evidence.
Mr Chánh secretly planned his revenge.
I always remained non-committal, thinking Tiết was obssesed by an imaginary battle for rubbish with Mr Chánh . So Tiết had to react, and reacted by slander.
Alas the cold war had broken out between the warning houses A and B; the critical phase already began. On A’s side were Trần, Bảy and sixty families on the edges of the forest.
Talking of this weird mob, I could not forget the shabby image of a dirty-faced, heavy-breasted Cambodian Vietnamese carrying a small baby on the back, poking the rubbish heap. Her energy amazed me, queerly… The heavy smell from spoilt tin canned food could give headache to a strongly-built man like myself, especially after a rain. And yet, I saw people moving around this damned place for a whole morning or afternoon. They picked up every still usable string, every piece of broken iron and empty bottles lying at the bottom of the heap.The kids would willingly engaged themselves in bitter fight for a military coat or pants. Anyone would claim having seen it first.
Mr Chánh told me more about Tiết’ s life. His wife was a prostitute of Chinese origin, formely operating around the crossroads. She was giving herself airs now, pretending to be respectable. When Tiết came to B, another chap also came to A, but had to move away for fear of Tiết.
More and more rockets were discharged, even, brand new unused ammunitsion cases. The Chinese bought the bullets for an extremely low price. Mr Chánh secretly compiled a complaint. This time, he did not say anything to me about it. As a matter of fact, the complaint was done collectively.
The tenant of a complained that the burning smell of rubbish would be harzardous to the health of the community. I was sure of Trần’ s substantial contribution. Whereas, I was told of Trần’ s separate disclosure to the U.S. Embassy and military authorities that the truck drivers were bribed and given sex and as a result, they brought also good, unused things.
I did not feel the need to do anything about the whole matter.


Upon the invitation of a friend of mine I came with him to Dalat and stayed there for over ten days. When I came back on the 27 th of Tết(2) Mr Chánh jubilantly said,
"We thought you wouldn’t be back; so, we intended to close down and to receive no guests. Without you, everything became a bore! "
In fact, I intended to stay on with my friend in Dalat. Coming back was pointless-this being not my home. But frankly, I could not resist the thought that my presence would mean a lot to them in this sad place. It really did.
I answered,
"Of course, I must be back, I will spend Tết with you. After Tết, I will go to Dalat again for some time. Now, tell me, did you sell the old house?
He shook his head. This also signalled another fact; there would be no Tết for us. I was subsequently reported the happenings in my absence. Tiết and Trần beat each other because Tiết did not pay the rent. Both were fined at the precinct police station.
On the day I was back from Dalat I went to the rubber forest and saw Bảy . He said,
"Mate, would you believe my only hope was to see the heap of rubbish getting higher. Without rubbish, we’ll have no bánh tét (3) at Tết time.
I looked in the direction of his pointing: the faces of rubbish sorting out children were much dirtier than usual. A Cambodian girl of seventeen years of age was sucking her chocolate stained fingers, her tattered clothes showing her breast. She looked like a mother of two or three children. I turned my face away to avoid this heart rending scene. I really felt her body would mean nothing, not knowing what induced such as a cruel thought. Let me ask you something: what was her worth now, considering her sagging breast, her tattered clothes, her terrible need and finally, her loitering around this rubbish tip near the forest of sin for food. As night was drawing near, couples of lovers were seen coming in from the road on the fallen leaves. Oh! only a worthless girl could bring herself to fight her own sister for a piece of chocolate and put it in her mouth, ignoring the tearful cries. If this was so, what remained of her dignity? My thoughts were then turned to Tiết’s family. Every evening, foreigners came to sell him cigarettes and whisky at given away prices. I admitted having no pity for Tiết when he lost clothes and Philips radio set. What I could not put out of my mind was the seventeen year old Cambodian Vietnamese girl struggling to get the piece of chocolate from her own sister amidst the strident cry of the latter.
All the complaints on the rubbish had been sent. Mr Chánh was the chief signatory, but he kept it a secret to me. Only last night, I heard him screaming,
"O folks! This cowboy (4) is going to beat me."
I went out, hearing Tiết’ s wife brother-in-law with his dull face somber like a brewing storm saying.
"You mother fucker old man! If you do not look at me, why do you know I look at you".
This was socking. No twenty year old youth could use such offensive words to address the father of a friend of his- I often saw him and Cường at play.
Sure, Tiết was up to something, but he let this hoodlum to fire the first shot. After I got up the following morning, I went to the door.
Suddenly I heard Mr Chánh screaming again,
"Folks! This bastard’s threatening me. He looked at me insolently and told stories. Folks! Have a look please. I say, men, come and see. Fuck it! How dares he? You go away, or else, I will beat the hell out of you. Come out in the open.
A hell of a lot of people swarmed around them. The voice of my landlord resounded,
"Hùm, where in the world are you! Come and report to the police this bastard of a youth’s attempt on your dad."
came in the direction of his house, swearing loudly, As Mr Chánh came out, a stick in his hand, the little bastard stood open-legged, offensively. I walked to him to reconcile them. Ah, he behaved as if wanting to strike me. Checking my temper, I said softly,
"Don’t be silly. He must be as old as your daddy. No matter what he said, you must behave yourself if you have education".
This hardly soothed him as he went on,
"That old bastard, I’ll strangle him to death. Want to have trouble? Why call me a cowboy ? Old mother fucker! I won’t back out".
Hùm had called policemen. Meanwhile, I went to the gate and Tiết got prepared to go to work. As I turned back, Tiết did the same thing. Mr Chánh argued his case to the policemen. The face of and Hùm paled to the point of bloodless. Ah, the wisdom of my ancestors was never wrong, " Unkindness has no remedy at law" .
Mr Chánh raised his voice,
"All the neighbours knew he threatened me, I even had to scream for help. This morning, he threatened again. I am forced to call upon you".
Tiết was in uniforms, but without insignia. His treillis confounded everybody because no one knew who’s who. As a rule, policemen were rather weary of Air Force men, especially commissioned officers.
One of them said,
"Boss, we came here only at the request of this Mr…".
Elated by his unexpected prestige, Tiết spoke authoritatively,
"Gentlemen, this old man wants trouble. We want peace. But he’s really awful. I tell you.I lost a Philips radio worth $7000 and did not utter a single word. This kid (pointing at Hùm ) dropped in when I was at work, repairing the wardrobe. And at night I found it was lost. Listen, I did not want any trouble. They just did not leave us alone.
Mr Chánh pleaded,
"This is not true. Please ask this writer. He knew."
Sure, Tiết wanted Hùm to be the scapegoat. Peace loving as I was, I could not help feeling I should do something about this crook. I felt deep pity for Hùm who shook violently. I answered,
"I do not side with any party in any of these tangled affairs, but I have this counsel. As we know, the law is involved, Mr Chánh condemned for this attempt on him. As for this man, he accused Hùm of theft and yet said he wanted to forgive him. He may do what he pleases. The police will settle the matter for all".
After my account, Mr Chánh , and Tiết , were escorted to the police station. Upon his return in the afternoon, Mr Chánh said,
"The sheriff told he would be held responsible for any future attempt on me. The airman has been to the MP. Later this afternoon I must go to the MP’s and give evidence about Tiết’ s part in the rubbish affair.
No longer after Tiết ’s arrest, Mr Chánh told me he saw Tiết weeping profusely because of his involvement in many problems of a serious military character.
This was confirmed when I saw foreigner MP’s come down to the place for further investigation. was no longer arrogant: he changed completely. Tiết’s wife became reticent. Twice already a chap name Thước came to ask Mr Chánh to help Tiết by annuling the complaint in answer to Mr Chánh. I said it was his problem and he must decide for himself. But I added,
"It’s not good to meet trouble half-way. We got to defend ourselves when attacked, don’t you agree? And we got to carry the fight to the logical end, rather then be appeased on the weakenig of the enemy. Think of the people living on the edge of the forest, of Bảy and the kids. They laughed louder at the arrival of the rubbish trucks. Personally, I think wealth just corrupts the airman and his wife".
So, when Thước came again Mr Chánh said,
"As you know I’m not seeking trouble with anybody. They are the first to blame. Now, the MP’s arrested him because of military matters, how could I do anything at all about it?
"That’ s true. But you should have pity on his wretched family. If you fence around the yard, we are finished. American trucks would not come again. He has no salary or earnings what ever now. You can imagine the deplorable situation of his wife and kids".
I recalled my being aroused from sleep by the cried of Tiet’ s daughter late last night. Strangely, the voice which lulled her was not that of her mother, but of a boy. Alas, the boy now tried the national anthem. The louder his singing, the louder she cried. The marching tune made no impression on the poor little baby which cried fitfully for quite a while. It was almost dawn when her mother came home. There was immmediately talk about the story last night in the forest of love among the hamlet inhabitants,
"In the whole night Tiết ’s wife made love to a foreigner by the old tomb in the forest. Fucked up the woman! Her husband has been arrested for just a few days. She’s really a bitch. Oh yes, she was but a prostitute at Lăng Hamlet.
This spread near and far, faster than any press release by an efficient press agency. Lying cosily in bed, I had to hear both the accusation and the woman’s defence, a confession in disguise,
"You sons of bitches. I have no money. I love the Yankee for money. What’s wrong about it? Why did you talk about it? I know you’re elated by my husband’s arrest! "
Another serious event occurred: the MP’s caught a whole network of Chinese buyers of Tiết’ s cargo in Cholon. The hamlet shook with joy. I saw Bảy led twenty kids to surround Mr Chánh , cherring,
"We like you! You’ve made life easier for us! Hurray! Hurray!"


The trucks no longer came near our houses. Once, a truck came as if going astray and the driver was taken aback by the sight of barbed wire rolls in front of our houses. Suddenly, he caught sight of Tiết ’s wife . We waved, beckoning him to drive to the piece of land of Đặng next to our house. She was going to ask the Yankee to leave some valuable things there before putting out the bulk of rubbish in the forest nearby. But the men of Đặng refused. The truck had to move backward. The kids hopped on it, throwing evrything down.
A bitter fight broke out between Tiết’ s family and the kids. On Tiết’ s wife side were Xí and his younger brother. Thước did not interfere, being very cunning. The kids rained stones on their opponents. The offensive words of Tiết’s wife fell on deaf ears of Bảy, his wife and some twenty kids. The GI’s on the truck looked at the scene, smiling benignly. The fight over, the kids cleared the battefield with amazing quickness.
Every morning, as I crossed the forest to defecate. I saw Bảy and the kids sitting by the roadside, waiting for the foreign trucks. Their fleeful looks were really heartening. I tried to find the Cambodian Vietnamese girl. Her face brighter, her dress better, she stood under a rubber tree, smiling lovingly to a boy of her age.


We moved to this place, like the Americans coming to the West in the founding years. Here ended the similarity. They succeeded in making the region prosperous and a good place to live in. We can still see the great Western tradition in many good films. As for us, it was not quite the same story and no movies ever recorded what happened to us.
Now Tiết was released, he was a reticent chap, unlike in the old days. Mr Chánh, my landlord, did not fare any better. He smoked his hookah oftener than usual. Of course, he was thinking hard about something. My guess was that this was due to a letter from Dalat requesting him to pay an old debt. Our situation got worse steadily: his eldest son Cường had to come to an uncle’s in the province. Life was very hard on us. No prisoners, we had to live on a ration comprising red rice and dried fish. We did not feel miserable as we could not wish for more. Alas, within hours after meal, we saw in our mind’s eyes the fish, and felt like vomiting.
Recently, Mr Chánh refused to let Đặng re-hire the house and piece of land we lived on. But we were fighting a losing battle.
One day, when there were only myself and little Châu at home, her brother Hùm was sent away to borrow money. Mr Chánh said to me,
"Dear Nguyên" , we are very poor people. We are poor, we cannot act on our own terms. If we still refuse to re-hire to Đặng this houses, he will ask the parish priest to send for a bulldozer, and that is. Just a couple of days ago forty houses were flattened. We simply could not rely on anything else, but our prayers to the Blessed Virgin. Come and live with us in Vĩnh Long Province where life will be easier. What do you think?
As I kept silent, he continued,
" I am sorry to say that life at Vĩnh Long would surely be mustn’t duller".
I answer promptly,
"Don’t you worry about that! I think we’ll be happier if we have plenty to eat, whatever the environment."
I could not answer definetely whether I would go with him or stay behind to fend for myself. My dog Lili which followed me since my Dalat days was licking my feet affectionately. She followed me every time I went to the rubber forest near my house, as white Lulu. I climbed a tree, and lay on an arched branch reading a book defining the way the great Society should go. She also climbed to a lower branch, acting as my guard. I caressed her and felt pity for her she should have died some days before. She used to run out to the crossroad for food and amorous adventures in the evening. I called her back and caned her three or four times. She was so badly hurt her foetus was expulsed. I sadly thought I had to dig the ground to bury her this time. It hurt me to see her thin body with bleary eyes. She was so weak she could not walk up to the stone doorstep as before. There was not much I could do as I had no money left. Unable to eat cooked rice, she only sipped the glass of milk I gave her every day. But she did recover slowly and now, she was definitely well. I was glad that she was no longer fond of getting out to the crossroads. Looking at her, I said,
"In this mad, monstrous world, life has become so hard I am unable to feed myself and a female dog".


This morning Mr Chánh and his family were going to make a living elsewhere. When I awoke, my body was heavy as under the weight of a rock. I felt sad, seeing three persons about to get aboard a bus which would take them away from this rubbish tip area. I was speechless on this farawell occasion. Over there, there were only leafless rubber trees, their feet being hurt by the smouldering rubbish in early spring.
I held the hand of the father, caressing the hair of little Châu; then I shook hands with Mr Chánh , saying,
"I do not want to say thank you. It’s good manner, but it only applies to ordinary acquaintances who do not know each other well or do not like each other deeply. I would not say thank you. Hope to see you again…"
White Lulu at the end of the leash held by Hùm looked at me with affectionate eyes. I patted her lovingly.
With Lili by my side I walked in the opposite direction of them. The thirty year old man that I was had two empty hands, no family and owned only a female dog. In my pants pocket, there was just enough money for a motorised cyclo drive for two.


(1) Litterally, canton chief ( 2) The 27 th of December in the lunar calendar

(3) bánh tét or bánh chưng is served regularly at Tết, the Vietnamese New Year festival, which occurs during the first three days of the first month of the lunar calendar.(TR) (4) In the Vietnamese language, cowboy is an euphemism for hoodlum.(TR)


translated from the Vietnamese by ĐÀM XUÂN CẬN

Đọc nguyên bản Việt Ngữ :
KHU RÁC NGỌAI THÀNH của nhà văn Thế Phong

© Cấm trích đăng lại nếu không được sự chấp thuận của tác giả .