TÁC GIẢ
TÁC PHẨM







. Tên thật : Trần Thị Thu Vân .
. Chào đời tại Huế, lớn lên tại Sài Gòn.
. Trước 1975 sinh sống tại Đà Lạt.
. Hiện đang ở San José, Californie, USA.

TÁC PHẨM ĐÃ XUẤT BẢN

. Nước Chảy Qua Cầu (Bút Ký)
. Gã Cùi và Miếng Dừa Non (tập truyện)
. Một Truyên Dài Không Có Tên (I, II - tâm bút)
. Nhật Nguyệt Buồn Như Nhau (I, II -tự truyện)
. Tài Hoa Mệnh Bạc (I, II, III, biên khảo tiểu sử danh nhân)
. Trần Sa (tự truyện)
. Tài Hoa và Cô Đơn Như Một Định Mênh (tuyển tập tâm bút)
. Con Tằm Đến Thác Vẫn Còn Vương Tơ (tuyển tập tâm bút)
. Điệu Múa Cuối Cùng Của Con Thiên Nga (I, II, tuyển tập tâm bút)
. River of Time (bản Anh ngữ của Nước Chảy Qua Cầu, Trần Thy Hà chuyển dịch)














Tranh của cố họa sĩ Tạ Tỵ








If the road still stretches ahead, Where will it turn?



(Trần Thy Hà chuyển ngữ "NƯỚC CHẢY QUA CẦU" )




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trần Thị Bông Giấy was born in Huế, Central Việt-Nam, and grew up in Sàigòn, capital of the Republic of Việt-Nam.

Graduated as a violinist from the National Conservatory of Music in 1967; and B.A. in Literature from the University of Arts in 1972, she had performed with numerous orchestras and bands in Việt-Nam as a violinist before and after 1975. She moved to Paris, France with her family in 1982, and then to San Jose, California in 1986.

Her first novel in Vietnamese, River Of Time, was first published in 1989, documenting her music tours in Việt-Nam and life in Paris. This work has readily inspired deep appreciation in many readers worldwide.

Since then, she has been the Editor in Chief of Văn-Uyển Magazine, a Vietnamese quarterly literary magazine. She has also written and published 14 more books afterward.

The author is now living quietly with her unique daughter in San Jose, California.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

Trần Thy Hà was born and raised in Sàigòn of Southern Việt-Nam. She moved to California in 1988 at the age of eleven and began to take private piano lessons from the author shortly afterward. As one of the best students, she appreciates the author’s artistry. This led to the translation project of River Of Time in 1996, and Hà finished the translation a year later at the age of twenty.

She earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of San Francisco in 1999 and was a recipient of the university’s Mel Gorman Scientific Award. Since graduation, she worked abroad in London and performed research in phosphate and oxygen distribution in the Northwest Atlantic through an oceanography program by Sea education Association and Woods Hole Oceanography Institute.

She currently works in clinical data management at Clinimetrics and resides in San Jose, California.

INTRODUCTION

Mark Berkson received his B.A. from Princeton University, his M.A. from the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford University, and his Ph. D. from Stanford’s Department of Religious Studies, where he wrote a dissertation entitled “Death and the Self in Ancient Chinese Thought: A Comparative Perspective.” He has taught at Stanford University and the University of San Francisco, where he was the 1997-98 Kiriyama fellow at the Center for the Pacific Rim. He has also published and presented papers on topics including classical Chinese thought, comparative religious ethics, and interfaith dialogue. He is currently Assistant Professor of Religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he specializes in Asian religions and comparative religion.





INTRODUCTION


The United States has gone through many stages in its attempt to come to terms with the legacy of the Việt-Nam War. In the immediate aftermath of the war, there was disbelief, anger, fingerpointing and grief. Then, for a while, there was silence. The pain of confrontation was repressed, delayed --but it could not be eliminated.

In order for healing to take place, we had to begin the processes of both individual soul-searching and a collective national conversation on Việt-Nam.

First in a trickle, then a torrent, writers and filmakers began to struggle with the issue of the war. Particularly through the medium of film, the issue was once again raised in public consciousness. The silence was replaced by dark, often wrenching films, The Deer Hunter, Coming Home, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, each in their own way trying to struggle with the meaning of the war and its aftermath. For the most part, however, the pens and the cameras have belonged to Americans. We have never really heard the stories, the poems, and the cries of the Vietnamese people. As great a physical and psychic toll as the war took on the United States, the suffering of the Vietnamese was immeasurably greater. Its land, the precious earth from which the Vietnamese draw food and strength, is still pock-marked with craters, filled with mines and slowly recovering from the assault of poisons. Over a million people, many of them noncombatants, were killed. Prosthetic limbs are a common sight. And yet we have not really heard the people of Việt-Nam speak.

There is still another problem. To most Americans, "Việt-Nam" means "The Việt-Nam War". Because Việt-Nam has always been an object to us, a painful part of our story, its relevance is usually seen in terms of the twenty years of violence and mutual distrust that marked the relationship from the 1950's to the 1970's.

However, even if we see Việt-Nam simply in terms of war, we must realize that the Việt-Nam war was a war that extends back to the 50 years struggle with the French that began in the mid-19th century, and still further back to Việt-Nam's ongoing attempt to preserve its own identify in the face of a Chinese influence that was, by turns, philosophical, political, cultural and often military. In the words of one scholar, it has been a "2,000 year struggle".

Although war has had an enormous impact on Việt-Nam, Việt-Nam is much more than a battleground, a fact that many Americans are only beginning to discover. It is a country with a history of its own, a culture that has produced beautiful poetry and literature, and as we learn from the author, a musician able to bring notes to life through written words, rich traditions of music and opera.

Việt-Nam is also land, rice paddies and bustling cities, farmland and villages. And most of all, it is its people. People who are both in Việt-Nam rebuilding their country and their lives; and people who are scattered across the globe feeling, in varying degrees, either like citizens of new lands or an exiled people still waiting to return home. In order to understand, we must begin listening to their voices. Trần Thị Bông-Giấy's is a beautiful voice with which to begin this journey. Her perspective is shaped by time spent in three places, three cultures intertwined in a tragic story, now struggling to find reconciliation, Việt-Nam, France and the United States. Trần Thị Bông Giấy is an author who doesn't spend much time on explicit political statements, diatribes, arguments or theory. She is very much a writer of the particular and concrete, not the general and abstract.

Here is an intimate journal of meals shared and concerts remembered, of conversations, images, personal encounters --open this journal and both Việt-Nam and France come to you in all of their sights, sounds, textures and smells. She brings to us numerous people whose lives have been shaped, in many different ways, by the conflict. We see connections being made across cultural boundaries just as we see the divisions that still exist within them --Vietnamese, like Americans, still split passionately over the war. Her diary is filled with stories and characters that stay with the reader long after the book is put away.

The author's experience of Việt-Nam is particularly revealing, for she is describing the world she was away from for years and then returned to. There is an extra vividness that comes out of seeing one's old home with new eyes --it makes the experience both richer and more painful. But there are really two journals here --for she not only shows us Việt-Nam through the eyes of one who has returned, she also gives to us the experience of a Vietnamese making a life in Europe.

The author's personality shines through in the book. She is a fiercely proud and deeply sensitive woman; she is a person of tradition facing a world of change and uncertainty. Above all, she is an artist, and her words can be so lyrical that the line between prose and poetry begins to disappear.

In conversation, as in music, it is often the quiet but strong voice that holds one's attention. Trần Thị Bông Giấy's is such a voice. Slowly, through a moving story or memorable character here, a reflection on a poem or thoughts about an opera there, the motifs are woven; the piece comes together as a whole. The effect builds up as you keep reading, until you feel you have come to know this person and her country better.

True understanding can never occur between a subject and an object. It only emerges between two subjects. In order to understand the Vietnamese people, people whose lives are intertwined with ours, we must not simply talk about them --we must genuinely listen to them. We are very fortunate, then, that Trần Thị Bông Giấy's book has been translated into English-- and that the translation was done with such skill and sensitivity by her brightest former piano student, a twenty-year-old who is so close to her –Trần Thy Hà.

The book teaches us again an important lesson about literature --that while it is always about the unique and particular, it also speaks universally to all human beings; for in the voice of another, we hear back, in a new and powerful way, our own speaking about loss, struggle, and hope.

MARK BERKSON

PhD., University of San Francisco

SF. May 1998






When you return, where is your place?

The river rushes down in white foams

A friend’s old wishful tune lingers

A magic string to seal memories!

(Hoàng Trúc Ly)

II

Performance at Bastogne, Belgium.

Bastogne is one of the five main districts of Luxembourg Province, the South East region of Belgium, right next to the boundary line of the country of Luxembourg in the Ardennes Area.

Since May of 1940, during World War II, Ardennes had been used as Germany's starting mark in their invasion of Europe. In December of 1944, confronted with the overwhelming attacks of the German army within the region of Ardennes, General Eisenhower had sent the air force of division 101 into Bastogne. This division fought from the 21st to 26th of December in 1944. On December 27, 1944, Division III's tanks, directed by General Patton, defeated the battle group of German General Von Rundsted and reestablished connections with Allied forces in Bastogne.

The violent battle in Bastogne was the decisive one, with fighters and big armored vehicles, and ended on February 1st, 1945. The victory at Bastogne was looked upon as the turning point toward the defeat of the German army worldwide before the final ending of World War II in May of 1945. After World War II, in commemorating t

he Bastogne battle, people raised up statues of the generals, the leaders, and the soldiers of the Allied forces in the position of discussing war strategies. Settling in the middle of a clear, flat land with rows of towering pine and churches since the seventh century, this historical place had drawn many visitors.

A tower in the shape of an octagon, sitting on a high mound, had inscribed many names of American soldiers who had died there as well as the states where they came from. A few tanks from 1944 still lay near the main town, in the middle of a road marked by the oval column with a torch sign and the line "Voie de la Liberté, 1944" (The road of Liberty, 1944).

Toward the end of November, 1978, we returned back to Qui-Nhơn, the native land of the hero Quang-Trung, the great king of Việt-Nam under the Tây-Sơn Dynasty.

In 1753, at Kiên-Mỹ Village, Kiên-Thành Hamlet of Tuy-Viễn City, Qui-Nhơn Province, a bright genius was born in a small thatch house by the Côn River named Nguyễn Huệ.

He was the third son of Mr. Hồ Phi Phúc and Ms. Nguyễn Thị Đồng. When he was still young, he and his two elder brothers, Nguyễn Nhạc and Nguyễn Lữ, studied with a teacher named Hiến. Due to brutal policies of the rebellious Trương Phúc Loan, later on, this Confucian scholar had to escape to Qui-Nhơn and opened up a school at the hamlet of An-Thái

In spring of 1781, Tây-Sơn Land was stirred with the revolutionary spirit, led by Nguyễn Huệ. The red silk flag stretched out ten meters long and flew high with the inscription "Rob the rich to give to the poor." The people exposed the crimes of Trương Phúc Loan everywhere. Many joined in enthusiastically.

From the Revolution at Tây-Sơn Land, Nguyễn Huệ became the grand hero of Việt-Nam. The great battle defeating the army of China in spring of 1789 was his most famous achievement. Afterwards, peace returned to Việt-Nam. Unfortunately, he only appeared on the historical scene for a short moment like the blaze of a star in the dark sky of Vietnamese history. On September 29, 1792, he passed away and caused deep mourning.

… … …

Our company stopped at Qui-Nhơn, the cultural, political, and economical center of Nghĩa-Bình Province, where ships weighing over thousands of tons could still anchor in its harbor in the deep water of Thị Nại. Further out lay a beautiful island called Xanh that blocked the wind quite well. This island, now known as the city of Nhơn-Châu, had an area of about five kilometers and resided about thirty kilometers away from Qui-Nhơn beaches. The population has approximately two thousands, mostly fishermen and people who specialized in coral products. Xanh Island provided a strong screen against the wind for Qui-Nhơn Harbor. Thus, people here had a saying:

"Qui-Nhơn has the overcoat

The drivers call it the island of Xanh."

A strong storm from the North produced violent rains and wind in Qui-Nhơn. The sea was in rage and the weather turned icy. Our group delayed the performance for three nights already; none of us received any salary.

Right in front of the theater, wine bottles lay scattered. The common entertainment for two-thirds of the company was still drinking. Though we had plenty of rules against it, in this relaxed atmosphere, the rules had proven to be invalid. Eventually, it became an official rule at the meeting but without any real meaning. Except during performances, our group members had the freedom to live their personal lives.

During these three nights, we came to the theater to eat, and retreated to the hotel for sleep. I had the chance to look deeper into the life of the Vietnamese opera world.

Since long ago, there appeared the Chèo and Tuồng style of singing in the Northern Việt-Nam and the Bội style in the Central. Only in the Southern, scattered throughout the provinces, did one find a few singing bands at various social functions. Around 1910, the band of Nguyễn Tống Triều appeared at Mỹ-Tho Town, and was popular with the public right away. However, not until 1917 when Châu Văn Tứ, a wealthy man at Mỹ-Tho Town, promoted the band to the official stage with its glamorous backgrounds, props, and costumes did the Vietnamese opera finally make its debut and thrived.

By the 1930s, numerous professional opera companies opened up and actively performed. The beginning stage of Vietnamese opera was graced by such celebrated sopranos as Misses Năm Phỉ, Bảy Phùng Há, and Tư Sạng for sopranos, as well as Hai Giỏi, Năm Châu, Tư Chơi, Ba Du, Tám Mẹo, and Năm Long for tenors.

After spreading throughout the South, Vietnamese opera was presented at the Central and Northern Việt-Nam as well, and received warm applause there. Never had an art grown as fast as Vietnamese opera, and never had an art claimed audiences as powerfully. From then on, after more than twenty years in business, the opera became very familiar with the public through hundreds of plays.

Since 1975, private owners no longer directed the opera companies, and everything was taken over by the Communist government. My company was one of the main ones, belonging to the Theater Division of Hồ-Chí-Minh's Cultural and Communication Department. Except for the administrators, there were two distinct groups in an opera company: the artist group which included the actors, the Oriental Classical Music and the Western Modern Music divisions; the worker group which included the divisions of the Background, Costume, Food, Ticket, and Transportation. Concerning the rations of salary, necessary items, bedrooms, vehicles for long tours, the artist group was favored distinctly over the worker group. Even so, in the company's daily activities, this fact did not divide the two groups. The best actor could drink wine with the employees in the Background Division. A musician in the Western Modern Music Division could drink coffee on the sidewalk with the president of the company. The warm relationships were the bright moments of the opera life, arising from the long tours of month after month.

As a musician of the Western Modern Music Division, I loved to socialize with my co-workers. One had to be close to these crew workers to really understand and sympathize with the wandering opera life. Some gave everything they got to the opera company, before and after 1975, like an inherited job. Some used to be supporting actors, and even when retired, they still could not resist the charms of the stage and were willing to hold any humble job within the company. Others had never known what school meant since they became part of the opera company at such a young age. Still others had no family or home, and turned to the stage as their family (a family over an area of a small mat that had to be moved constantly.)

A worker told me, "Once eaten the rice of the opera company, one has to follow the opera life continuously until the Ancestor is willing to let one go!"

"The Ancestor of opera" was also a mysterious element that stirred within me so much curiosity. A table nestled in the most elegant spot of the backstage with fruits and rich incense. Anyone walking by had to bow his head before this sacred altar of the Ancestor. Before each performance, each actor often burned incense and prayed in front of the altar, hoping to perfect the performances and singing.

Unofficial rules came to be known and followed faithfully by members of the company. Never should an employee wear wooden clogs during the performance. Never give money to beggars. Never strike the drum before a performance. And each year around September of the lunar calendar, the company must take a vacation to commemorate the anniversary of the Ancestor's death in a grand and respectful atmosphere.

Vianden, Luxembourg. Snow falls with its crisp and pure flakes all over the streets. The performance at Saint Hubert had to be canceled at the last minute so we decide to go to Vianden. The whole group fills two cars, following each other across the boundary of Belgium.

Vianden is a tourist city; resting toward the north of Luxembourg, right near the boundary of Germany. Here, the scenery is truly romantic. Glamorous palaces that are dated back to the 11st century and restored again in 1906 stand eminently on high hills, looking down on small frozen streams. By the sidewalks, snow lingers on the tips of the pine trees. Snow even clings to the layers of withered leaves that fell year after year in the forest which were as soft as the most luxurious carpet. Vianden's scenes are like a pure white picture that only God could have mixed such a sparkling white so skillfully.

Claudia asks me, "Do you like snow?" I answer, "When I was small, looking at snow from pictures, I liked it very much." Claudia smiles, "And now?" I shake my head, "Now, facing it, I'm scared!" And I add, "Scared, but still admiring even if I don't like it anymore".

The last two days at Qui-Nhơn. The storm had passed, but the air still remained gloomy and cold. Afternoons often came quickly before switching to night. I liked walking to town to drink coffee with my friend, a trumpet player, in a nationalized restaurant.

Since 1975, almost all private businesses were taken over by the Communist government. Restaurants were no exception. A "nationalized" system was set up for all kinds of businesses, from nationalized restaurants, nationalized buses, nationalized ships to nationalized shops, nationalized music companies, nationalized movie theaters; everything was nationalized!

During the first period after 1975, most of the nationalized restaurants were empty. The Southern public still had the cravings for private coffee shops and restaurants from before 1975. However, after the movement against free enterprises in 1976, almost all private owners went out of business. In their absence, the nationalized restaurants became bustling.

.. .. ..

On cold afternoons in Qui-Nhơn, we often stopped by a nationalized restaurant near the market, next to the busy and active bus station. Here in the restaurant, they sold all kinds of foods with very reasonable prices so customers always filled the place.

Right at the entrance, there was a notebook about two hundred pages thick, titled "Suggestions and Comments of Customers". The expressed ideas on these pages reflected clearly the people of Qui-Nhơn's opinions, and we absolutely loved it. "The restaurant is beautiful, relatively clean, but too little meat compared to vegetables on the dishes." "One order of ham costing one piastre is better than two because our salaries aren't much while the cost of living is always rising." "Before, in the South, water vegetable was only fit for pigs to eat, and now, why is it climbing rocket high like this? Filthy rich government officials wouldn't even dare to call it trash!" "The beer is diluted with water too much. What for? How could anyone get drunk with this stuff to forget this damned life of Hell? It just serves to fatten up the lady owners with buck teeth!" "Good food, moderate prices, but if there are sweet Southern belles to serve the customers, instead of the loud and ugly Northern girls, it'd be so much better!"

In that similar manner, each cool afternoon in Qui Nhơn, my friend and I always found our way back to that nationalized restaurant to read more about the new "comments and ideas" of our fellow customers. Ordinarily among the public, who would dare to volunteer such bold and frank comments?

III

Ardennes, Belgium. Snow falls all day. The weather turns unbearably cold with temperatures dropping down to seventeen degrees Celsius below zero. The national performing tour around Belgium is still delayed because Jean-Luc, our pianist, has not recovered yet from his cold.

Looking at the falling snow through the hotel's windows, I no longer feel that excited delight of childhood when I used to look at Christmas cards sent from the distant Europe; and no more of that sacred admiration for the pure hue of snow over the meadow, as described in the novel by Boris Pasternak, when I felt my whole being stirred in sympathy for the painful love affairs of Lara and Doctor Zhivago; no more of those passionate emotions of an artist when I look upon that marvelous but icy shade of white. Now, there is only repulsion as I remember the freezing nights coming back from the coffee shops, shoulders hunched all the way down underneath the coat to shrink away from the cruel droplets of snow pounding on my body.

Everything slowly rots under the hand of Time. Even the most sensitive string of my love for nature could not escape the hard fate, the ruthless destruction.

December, 1978. Returning to Sàigòn. A tingling happiness spread throughout my body as the company's cars rolled through Phan-Thanh-Giản Bridge, Đinh-Tiên-Hoàng Blvd before continuing on to Hiền-Vương Ave., turning left on Lê-Văn-Duyệt Street, turning right on Hồng Thập Tự

I have to admit that I love Sàigòn deeply, more than any other city I have visited. The romantic Huế and Hương River is only a faint source of pride for my country. Dalat, with its low cloud and melancholy, only represents a fleeting memory of my younghood.

Sàigòn is different. I love every corner of that city through each phase of my life. I love that childhood when my friends and I competed with each other for tamarind fruits in the courtyard of the National Conservatory of Music. I love those tall trees lining the Nguyễn-Du Street majestically, when the heart began to discern the dark spots of life. I love the schoolroom's window looking out to the courtyard of the university as the golden leaves floated throughout the dreamy afternoon. And I love very dearly the cup of hot coffee in Hân Shop of Đinh-Tiên-Hoàng Blvd when imagining myself as a "philosopher!"

Then while my heart discerned the bitter moments of life, I still loved Sàigòn passionately. Sàigòn, when not within physical reach, remained the comforting image while traveling to many different towns, the soothing shoulder to cry on when the performing life wore me out, the bitter sweet atmosphere that I cannot live without.

Sàigòn held its precious spot in my heart even when all my dreams had shattered. The harsher the political regime and the more restrictive the laws became, the more people of Sàigòn hung on to what they had lost or were losing. By the roads, bars sprouted up like mushrooms. The coffee shops crowded out every corner and sidewalk. The flea markets were more bustling than during Vietnamese New Year, also called Tết: buyers and sellers alike crowded around items in a competitive and envious fashion.

Sàigòn was loved despite or maybe because of its bitterness. The shabby canvas tents, stretched out along the areas of Nguyễn-Hoàng Street by people returning from the concentration camps, did not erase that warm feeling of reunion during Tết. The beggars, filling the streets, did not dampen the freshness of spring leaves.

As life became more difficult, Sàigòn turned even more irresistable like a gorgeous girl wearing a torn dress: the holes of the dress made the girl even sexier. Sometimes late at night, biking home from the theater, stopping by Trương-Minh-Giảng Bridge in front of Vạn-Hạnh University, drinking black coffee, reflecting on the flow of life around me, I knew I still love Sàigòn the best. With its cool breeze of December and night market during those few days before the Tết, Sàigòn continues to arouse nostalgia (that December wind never changes no matter how Time flows or society changes). Sàigòn captures my heart with that afternoon at the end of the year when the city turns silent all of a sudden, as if Space just cried and Time sighed in regret.

Above all, Sàigòn has that everlasting unique flavor of New Year's Eve. (Throughout my lifetime, perhaps only the love for my mother and New Year's Eve never lost their magic touch). Sitting in a low chair of some coffee shop by the sidewalk, I waited for the count down of New Year. The bikes rushed back and forth. Feet hurried along. People tried to catch up with Time as they anticipated another year. The fruit trays were displayed in front of doors with wisps of incense smoke. And then the firecrackers started. Scattered at first, they suddenly burst forth in deafening harmony. Lights blazed like miniature fireworks. The children squabbled for stray firecrackers. Sometimes, a loud boom resonated from a grandsized firecracker and the kids in turn, rushed to another street corner.

The count down was coming. A new year returned again. The shy spring gently smiled through the bright yellow Mai Flower next to the doorsteps. And the hearts of coffee customers vibrated in time with the firecrackers of Tết's Eve.

Ardennes, Belgium. I ask Daniel, "Do you think one of my nerves snapped?" He nods. Suddenly, I'm shocked at his gentle expression of sympathy,

Daniel is a good leader in the true sense of an artist. After the audition with four other European musicians, only a French musician of German origin and I are hired. Daniel tells me right after the audition, "I am happy to have a chance to work with you. The suffering of the Vietnamese people inspires my respect and admiration. That precious heritage of pain is the very thing that highlights the history of your country."

On certain aspect concerning the beauty of an artist, the West and East have met in agreement.

Cầu-Tre, December, 1978. The group stopped at Cầu-Tre, the final destination in Sàigòn, before beginning the long tour of the western region.

Cầu-Tre lies in District Six, western part of Hồ-Chí-Minh City, about 15 kilometers from Sàigòn in the direction of Phú-Lâm Area, and yet so different from Sàigòn.

Here, after 1975, houses broke down; some stayed above ground, some simply collapsed. The people appeared poor and dirty. Roads were filled with bumps and trash. Before coming to the theater, we had crossed a wooden bridge near the main road.

Here, after every performance in the late night, our whole group was reluctant to pass by the area of Minh-Phụng, Phú-Thọ Cemetary that was notorious for its violent cases of robbery and murder. Even so, people packed the theater, and this only encouraged everyone in our band to hope for the paycheck later on that night.

Artists voiced out the people and the country's pains through the plays. After May of 1975, almost all that media and entertaiment stopped functioning. Magazines and books of the old regime were confiscated to give place to the dull books full of propaganda. All dancing clubs were closed. All the elegant restaurant and stores were taken over by the government. The movie theaters only showed films of Communist countries, a presence foreign to the people of the South.

However, so many coffee shops and bars sprouted up by the sidewalks. One only needed twenty-five cents for a cup of coffee to spend a dull night away. A fifty-cent bottle of wine and a modest peanut plate of ten cents were enough to forget the present pains.

Besides coffee and wine, one had friends as well. This was the true comfort in a society lacking in every material aspect. Throughout the land of poverty, everything was missing except love and friendship. The need for friends surpassed all other necessities. Mere strangers could easily treat each other to a cup of coffee and become close friends. They met each day tirelessly to share the pains and sorrows that society was shoving on them, the difficult things to say to loved ones for fear of giving them worry or pain.

A second recreation for the Southerners was to watch Vietnamese opera. As far as this goes, both the cities and countrysides showed a high degree of appreciation. People could line up for hours just to wait for the ticket booth's door to open; they could jostle and push each other out until clothes were torn just to get a single ticket out of the limited supply. The rest was slipped out, obviously, to the black market.

The plight of the black market was a familiar phenomenon in Việt-Nam. It thrived in all environments and classes, a hot "job" for certain people. Specifically, within the singing industry, the black market was found to be increased ninety percent above other fields.

In our performing group, the Ticket Division was still nominated the "richest" division. However, not only the Ticket Division, but more than two-thirds of our group was involved in the black market business. Each of us, from the Administrators down, was allowed two tickets each night at the regular price. Most of these tickets immediately fell into the hands of the black market dealers who bought at a higher price, depending on the particular opera, the theater, and the night. The next day, most of the audience must buy the tickets at a price three to four times what the dealers paid.

In the end, only the audience's love of opera was being exploited the most.


"To be continued"






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