THE WRITERS POST
VOLUME 8 NUMBER 1
WITH AUTHOR NGO THE VINH
Introduction to the interviewee by interviewer Le Quynh Mai:
Ngo The Vinh was born in 1941 in Thanh Hoa province.
Editor-in-chief of Tinh Thuong (Compassion), a monthly magazine of students of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Saigon.
Chief surgeon of the 81st Airborne Ranger Group in the ARVN.
Resident physician in SUNY Downstate at Brooklyn, New York.
Ngo The Vinh currently lives in Southern California and is a board certified internist, an attending physician, and an Assistant Clinical Professor at UC-Irvine College of Medicine.
--May Bao (Storm Clouds). Saigon: Song Ma, 1963; California: Van Nghe, 1993.
--Bong Dem (Dark of Night). Saigon: Khai Tri, 1964.
--Gio Mua (Monsoon Wind). Saigon: Song Ma, 1965.
--Vong Dai Xanh (The Green Belt). Saigon: Thai Do, 1971; California: Van Nghe, 1987.
--Mat Tran o Sai Gon (The Battle of Saigon). California: Van Nghe, 1996.
--Cuu Long Can Dong Bien Dong Day Song (Mekong River Drained Dry, South China Sea in Turmoil). California: Van Nghe, 2000 & 2001.
The work Cuu Long Can Dong Bien Dong Day Song (CLCD, Van Nghe 2000) by author Ngo The Vinh is a faction -- fiction drawn from factual events -- about the Mekong River, the third longest river in Asia and the twelfth longest in the world
The book portrays the Mekong River in its declining years, its past darkly marked with natural disasters and with human destruction, and its future quite uncertain. In this work, the author brings up many important matters, of utmost concern among them is the environmental issue. He outlines the history of the Mekong River, and of the cycle of prosperity and decline experienced by the countries and civilizations connected with this twelfth longest river in the world. "With regard to the current circumstance of Vietnam, due to a chain reaction caused by a cascade of dams built on the tributaries of the Mekong River in Thailand and Laos, and on its mainstream in Yunnan, there have clearly appeared signs of scorched earth during the dry season in the Mekong delta. In order to guarantee enough water for the rice basket in the Delta, we have no alternative but to urgently investigate the feasibility of building dams on the tributaries of the Mekong River within the territory of Vietnam." (CLCD, p. 158). This work of faction is a more absorbing read than Ivo Andic's The Bridge on the Drina which won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1961. Embedded in it are all the sentiments of joy and anger, love and hate, together with all issues connected with humanity as a whole, especially the environmental issue. However, even against such a dark outlook for the Mekong River and in face of Beijing's ambition to extend its control toward the South China Sea, author Ngo The Vinh is still hopeful for "A global order in the upcoming millennium, wherein the superpowers will behave with a greater sense of responsibility, not relying exclusively on their own power as is the case at present. And furthermore, happiness for Chinese and Vietnamese peoples will be to co-exist in peace, so that they can together rationally exploit and share natural resources in both the South China Sea and the Mekong River." (CLCD, p. 373).
The Vietnam question is the major theme in almost all of Ngo The Vinh's works. With regard to the massacre during the Tet offensive of 1968 as well as that at Son My, he has an appeal to make: "Do not nurture hatred, but at the same time do not allow any room for deception and cover-up. Following from that, Vietnamese forces of the present as well as in the future must keep alive the memory of the tragedies suffered by the country so that they can avoid repeating such crimes." (CLCD, p. 330). Thinking about his native land in that light, he also shows anguish: "If we do not engage in looking backward and meditate on past events, won't we again be faced with the irony that Vietnam, after having once experienced the tragedy of being an outpost of the free world, in a future not far from now may again be honored, for a second time, as an outpost to prevent Chinese expansionism?" (MAT TRAN O SAI GON, Van Nghe 1996, p.180). Not only is he concerned and worried about the survival of Vietnam, Ngo The Vinh also has dreams and hope for a good future for his homeland. He says: "In the future, at the start of the new millennium, the Mekong delta will be like a cradle of Vietnamese culture." (CLCD, p.387). In the same manner displayed by Herman Hess in The Glass Bead Game which won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1946, Ngo The Vinh is full of humanity when he writes: "In the limited life span within this impermanent universe, the threat of an uncertain future made me feel more strongly drawn to life and living." (VONG DAI XANH, Thai Do 1971, p. 171).
Ngo The Vinh is a committed writer. Almost all of his works reflect his care and concern, and his aspiration to make the human world better.
LQM: Aside from published works of literature, is it correct that you also authored a book on medicine?
NTV: In 1971, I received special training in Rehabilitation Medicine at Letterman Hospital, the Presidio, San Francisco. After 1975, there was a period when I worked at the Rehabilitation Center and the School of Physiotherapy in Saigon. The book titled Handbook of Rehabilation Medicine, published in 1983, is a condensation of the lectures I delivered. Rehabilitation Medicine at that point in time was a relatively new concept, seen as the Third Step in medicine (after Preventive Medicine and Treatment Medicine).
-- What reason prompted you, during your fourth year of medical school, to consider dropping out and to become a reporter, with special concern about the ethnic minorities living in the Central Highlands?
-- During those years at medical school, I was not a model student. Instead of regular attendance at the lecture hall, laboratory, and hospital, I devoted a lot of time to student activities, journalism, and even fiction writing. (I completed the writing of the novel May Bao [Storm Clouds] in my second year of medical school.) It is true that during my fourth year there, I even entertained the idea of dropping out and to work in journalism, an activity which I was very passionate about at that time. Forty years have passed since then, but each time when I have an occasion to stop by a printing house to check on the progress of one of my books, or to visit a newspaper office, the smell of paper and the odor of printer's ink trigger a flashback transporting me to the time of my virgin passion for journalism (although, as you may know, our current journalistic activities are quite different from those undertaken on Nguyen An Ninh and Pham Ngu Lao streets in Saigon before 1975). As if confronting an identity crisis, sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice between a medical career and journalism.
-- In the 1960s there appeared two well-known books written in the form of "faction" dealing with Viet Nam: The Quiet American by Graham Greene and The Ambassador by Morris West. Why did you yourself prefer to adopt this genre when writing Vong Dai Xanh and Cuu Long Can Dong Bien Dong Day Song?
-- I read those two works during my university years, but they did not have any influence on my decision to choose the faction form when writing Vong Dai Xanh in the 1960s and recently Cuu Long Can Dong… In my talk with Nguyen Manh Trinh in 1996, when discussing the writing of Vong Dai Xanh, I explained that "…instead of a research book of a dry style, a faction through the use of literary images will have widespread and more lasting impact on the reading public." I am sure your are aware that the director Phillip Noyce is now in Saigon to film the second movie based on Graham's The Quiet American.
-- Do you think the divisive and impoverished situation of Vietnam today is a karmic consequence of the cruel and discriminating policies imposed on the Thuong people (1), a payback for the invasion of the Champa kingdom and the elimination of its people(2) by our predecessors?
-- When one is caught in a protracted war and in utmost suffering and despair, when one's appeal to the mercy of Heaven or Buddha is not heard, when one's prayers are rejected by God as portrayed in Richard E. Kim's The Martyred , one has nothing else but the notion of Karma to rely on for consolation, or for rationalization, to use a psychologists' term, of irresolvable conflicts.
-- Looking closely at the course of our history which boasts four thousand years of civilization, is it not an illusion when you dream: "Some day when there is a solid and strong democratic government [in Vietnam] that respects human values, it will be time for the leader of the country to publicly apologize to the Cham people and to other ethnic minorities for all the suffering and loss caused by our Vietnamese ancestors in their southward expansion."? (3)
-- Southward expansionism is a closed chapter in our history, and so it's not wrong to refer to it as a fait accompli. However, the suffering and loss is still there, heavy in the hearts of those who survived it. Therefore, I don't think a public apology suffices. What is required is an integrated plan with a positive intent, which is true concern for security and happiness of the Cham, the Thuong, as well as other ethnic minorities. Forty years after the publication of Vong Dai Xanh, the most recent revolt by the Thuong people clearly shows us that their life has not improved at all, rather more severely deteriorated.
-- Would you give us the name of the Vietnamese princess who, according to history and legend, bewitched and finally destroyed the last king of the Thuong people? (4)
-- Even as one cannot think of a few hundred years back as a remote past, all that has been kept in memory and come down to us is legends. We all know the officially recorded story of Vietnamese Princess Huyen Tran being married to the Cham King Jaya Simhavarman IV in 1306. As for the Vietnamese princess that figures in the Thuong's history and legend, her name was Ngoc Khoa. Her father, Lord Nguyen Phuc Nguyen, gave her in marriage to King Pô Rômê in 1631. According to Dohamide, in his study on history of Champa civilization (pp. 147-152), Pô Rômê, a highlander of the Churu tribe, was one of the last kings of Champa, the small country also known as Panduranga. He had three wives: Bia Thanh Chih of Cham origins, Bia Thanh Chanh of Rhade origins, and Bia Ut or the Vietnamese princess Ngoc Khoa. In the town of Phan Rang today, there still stands a temple for the worship of Pô Rômê, where ceremonial offerings are presented every year during the traditional Katé festival, with the participation of the Thuong people of Raglai origins who bring offerings and take part in the dance ritual. Inside the temple, in addition to a statue of Pô Rômê, one sees also a statue of Bia Thanh Chanh who, in spite of her different Rhade tribal roots, bore the King children and was very loyal to him. In fact, this lady jumped into the funeral pyre to join the king in death. Bia Thanh Chih is worshipped in a separate temple. The statue of Princess Ngoc Khoa was excavated in 1956 by Nghiem Tham and Dohamide from an uncultivated field which the Cham call Hamu Bruk, about 3km from Pô Rômê's temple. Every year, villagers living nearby come to offer gifts and prayers. It is obvious that a number of Thuong tribes have historical and kinship relations with the Cham, and so there are similarities or identical elements in a number of their folk tales and legends.
-- "How sad to be a montagnard" (5) and "How sad to be a Cambodian" (6) . I wonder if we should add: "How sad to be a Vietnamese" after having read these lines in your most recent book: "Markets, hotels, banks, post offices are new and magnificent constructions; only schools remain dilapidated, lagging behind in the renovation period." ? (7)
-- We know that the ethnic minorities live in appalling conditions, but life for the Vietnamese in rural areas is no better. It breaks your heart to watch children in the Mekong delta, even a quarter of a century after reunification of the country, still walking barefoot to their old broken down schools, at a time when humanity gets ready to step into the 21st century engrossed in the notion of globalization.
-- New dams continue to be built on the Mekong River that flows through seven countries, even though it is known that "economic gains cannot make up for widespread and long-term negative impacts on the environment" (8). In your opinion, what source of energy should be used given the rate of human population increase at a geometric progression as in the present?
-- To a certain extent, with gradual and balanced development coupled with true concern for environmental protection, and given that self-regulation and sensible utilization of it is strictly observed, we won't be able to deny that hydroelectric power is a clean source of energy bequeathed by nature. A good example is the Nam Ngun dam, the first hydroelectric dam in Laos which was built on a tributary of the Mekong River. It has been in operation since 1971, really bringing the light of civilization to the Lao populace. However, the issue is, people hurriedly and blindly ran after material gains through stages of destructive development without any consideration for the consequences, leading to damage of the ecosystem. One outstanding evidence of this can be seen in the mad rush into "building more and more" dams on the tributaries as well as the main stream of the Mekong River, notable among which is a cascade of huge dams in Yunnan. Before construction of these dams, there had not been any comprehensive study that would address all basic questions as to whether "the price to be paid" would be acceptable in relation to the environment and the welfare of the inhabitants of the involved areas.
-- In your view, what should the Vietnamese Diaspora do in face of "the storm clouds that forewarn natural disaster coming down from the northern border"? (9)
-- It's imperative to raise awareness and concern among Vietnamese both inside and outside the country about the real threats from the northern neighbor. The Paracels in the South China Sea were lost to China in 1974; the fate of the Spratlys is hanging on a fragile thread; then environmental catastrophe is flowing down from the upper reaches of the Mekong River, the most worrisome of which is a series of eight huge dams in Yunnan causing water shortages, loss of [nutrient-laden] silt deposit, and industrial pollution suffered by the countries in the lower reaches of the river. Obviously there is no freedom of the press in Vietnam [to raise any voice of protest]. But look at the overseas press that enjoys freedom of expression, look at a lot of newspapers and magazines, radio stations and websites in Vietnamese! The content one finds in all of them is not focused on news closely related to the future of Vietnam -- I mean the future of the people, not of a temporary political regime. A concrete example proves my point: Recently there appeared the inflammatory news about a flare-up in conflict between China and Vietnam regarding the issue of the Paracel and Spratly islands. It could have profoundly moved the hearts of all Vietnamese, but in reality the news occupied but a tiny humble slot, barely noticeable in Vietnamese language newspapers which had their eight columns on the front page filled with inconsequential news items that could be found in any American paper. I don't mean to say that those news items broadcast in the Vietnamese-language are not useful for the first generation of immigrant readers who don't know English. But more important than that are "timeliness and a measure of content in news items" that are to be disseminated. When information is complete, generally speaking the Vietnamese will no longer maintain a passive stand which American people refer to as the "wait-and-see" attitude. I also would like to draw attention to a noteworthy detail which is that, no matter whether they are nationalists or communists, when it comes to the matter of the South China Sea, Taiwan is always quick to concur with the standpoint of mainland China in the name of "the Chinese people", even though the two countries still very much differ from each other in terms of political system, and they are not short of conflicts. (CLCD, p. 377)
-- In order to deal with the "Tibetization of the South China Sea", you have proposed two solutions: "first is [for Vietnam] to economize so that she can afford to establish a national defense force, especially its navy, strong enough to protect its territorial waters and its air space; second is to develop long-range intellectual weaponry capable of asserting sovereignty of Vietnam over both the Paracel and the Spratly island areas". But how can Vietnam put into practice those suggested solutions amidst economic and social disunity at present?
-- "Tibetization", a new and suggestive term coined by B. A. Hamzah, Head of the Malaysian Institute of Maritime Affairs, is being used by the press and in diplomatic circles when they visualize the circumstance of Southeast Asian countries waking up one day to find the South China Sea in the hands of mainland China, a situation not unlike that suffered by Tibet. There have been two operating elements, destructive and constructive at the same time, which have shaped Vietnamese society throughout its history on its predestined land: while having to struggle with and overcome severe impacts of natural disasters, the Vietnamese have had to defend themselves and safeguard their identity against threat of assimilation imposed by the strong enemy in the north (It appears that Sar Desai, when conducting research on Vietnam, formed a similar opinion). Peace is always short-lived, while war protracted. It's an irony that, being a poor country, Vietnam has to carve out a big chunk of national resources to build a solid national defense force capable of protecting the country's territorial waters and air space -- which action is unavoidable. In this new century of globalization, in addition to the power derived from unity in a democratic system where all Vietnamese citizens are given an opportunity to participate and contribute, we must also take into account the potential "gray matter" of the young generations of Vietnamese living both outside and inside Vietnam. The latter can provide the very thing which I call "long-range intellectual weaponry" built on solid knowledge of historical factors and international law, which can help Vietnam confront China in a UN forum, not right at this moment, but perhaps far in the future.
-- Vietnam's ownership of the Paracel Islands was recorded in the document called An Nam Dai Quoc Hoa Do (Map of the Great An Nam Country) printed in 1833 in Calcutta, India (10) . But the world and our ally the USA still allowed China to seize the Paracels in 1974. Do you think we should erect a memorial to commemorate the heroic fighters like captain Nguy Van Tha and the crew members of the patrol craft escort Nhat Tao HQ10, who "died for the country" during the Paracel Islands battle? (11)
-- That's a good idea worthy of attention and consideration by the General Association of the [Vietnamese] Navy. A memorial dedicated to captain Nguy Van Tha and the crew members of Nhat Tao HQ10, who heroically sacrificed themselves at the Paracel Islands, will act as a reminder that those islands are still in the hands of China. Perhaps I should quote a paragraph from an article by Professor Hoang Xuan Han in Tap san Su Dia (Journal of History and Geography) in its special issue, No. 29, March 1975, devoted to the matter of the Paracels and the Spratlys: "An illustrious pattern in our history is that whenever the country was weakened by disunity and internecine conflict, neighboring countries invariably attempted to seize our territory. At present, the fact of the Paracel Islands being occupied provides concrete proof of disunity among our people…although old and new historical evidence says that the islands are Vietnam's territory." A memorial engraved with that quotation will have the effect of connecting and uniting Vietnamese people from both sides.
-- In Vong Dai Xanh published in the 1960s, you discuss the forgotten war closely connected with the survival of more than thirty Thuong tribes, and also sovereignty over the immense Central Highlands. In the 1990s, with Cuu Long Can Dong Bien Dong Day Song you talk about the uncertain future of the Mekong River and the deterioration of the whole ecosystem in the delta. What will you be concerned with in the third millennium?
-- My concern will be focused on the Thuong in the Central Highlands, ecology and development of the Mekong River, the South China Sea and its gas and oil reserves. All of them are different problematic issues for Vietnam in the first century of the third millennium.
-- How long did you spend collecting data, attending conferences, and visiting various localities in the Mekong River Basin before you embarked on the writing of Cuu Long Can Dong Bien Dong Day Song?
-- Approximately somewhat more than five years.
-- We live in an age when there is no shortage of people who follow either Yang Zhu's principle: "I would not try to benefit the world if I have to pluck out one hair of my body for that"; or Marquise De Pompadour's statement: "Après nous le Déluge", generally taken to mean immediate interests taking precedence over those long-term. Against that mentality, do you think the Mekong Forum group feels they work in isolation in their goal to "save the River"?
-- I wouldn't say the group feels lonely or isolated in their goal. But in realization and development of that goal, progress has not been made as far as expected. The group's Webpage, www.mekongforum.org, has been online for 5 years now, but it can only boast a number of visits of over 10 thousand, among which very many are by members of the group. That's quite a small number indeed. According to Dr. Tran Tan Phat, webmaster of Mekong Forum, recently there have appeared positive signs: new visitors from international environmental organizations and universities, who asked permission to set up links with the home page of the Mekong Forum, and even initiated dialogues with the group. In connection with this, mention should be made of a person who very early on wrote an article on "Exploration of the Mekong River". The article was disseminated widely overseas and also appeared in the magazine Tuoi Tre (Youth) in Saigon. He is Pham Phan Long, an engineer. Aside from organizing workshops and conferences on the Mekong River in 1999 and 2000, together with like-minded friends Long is tenaciously pursuing the goal of establishing an NGO organization that will gather together intellectuals and experts both inside and outside the country, with a view to accumulating and sharing knowledge, as well as keeping track of development strategies for the Mekong River, the river which is the lifeline of a hundred million inhabitants of the river basin who belong to seven countries, including Vietnam. This is to ensure that Vietnamese people have a voice in international forums, the effect of which will be like a warning cry to the Mekong River Commission, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and big capitalist companies making investments in the area. Knowing that they are being watched, it is hoped that these institutions will work by transparent and correct methods and behave with decency and responsibility. An independent organization conceived as such by the Pham Phan Long group, with people's support, will help enhance the capacity of a democratic government in Vietnam to negotiate and discuss [the Mekong issue].
-- You wrote: "Memoirs are like smokescreens covering truths. If they are not meant to mythologize the writer, often they are for self-justification; nobody writes a memoir with the aim of self-depreciation. It takes a heroic heart and moral courage for one to engage in self-criticism and also to accept responsibility for one's mistakes." (12) What do you think when scholar Nguyen Hien Le says: "I was so naïve!", on page 23 in his Hoi Ky III (Memoir III), published by Van Nghe in 1988 (13) ?
-- I meant to refer to those memoirs with political content, and in that connection I very much appreciate the statement made by David Halberstam, author of many books on the Vietnam War: "Memory is often less about the truth than about what we want it to be." (David Halberstam, in the New York Times). As to Mr. Nguyen Hien Le, he has never engaged in politics; rather as a pure scholar he worked conscientiously for more than 35 years to produce more than 100 books, and his illustrious personality has been respected by everyone. His memoir written after 1975 captures the shattered dreams of an intellectual living in South Vietnam who before that date sympathized with the Resistance and also admired the communists, and who after only 5 years under the communist regime awoke in hurt and pain to what he witnessed firsthand. There is no smokescreen, for his is a memoir of truth.
-- Through your works, you are a writer of dreams, of conscience, and of society. In your view, how must a person live his life in society in turmoil as it is at present when "the sea of suffering is so immense that when you turn your head you cannot see the shores". (14)
-- You asked about "how a person must live his life in society in turmoil as it is at present". To me, everyone will look for an answer himself in relation to his own circumstances. If you think to live means to live with others, let's wait and see how mankind in this new century will act in face of the catastrophe when "there is no one left in the whole of Africa". Would we choose to save dying mothers and children, or to protect the interests of those big companies that continue to produce AIDS drugs for another two decades until their patents expire? Your question also reminds me of my prison days when, outside the time spent in growing vegetables or chopping firewood, I tried to keep my mind active by studying classical Chinese from the fellow prisoner who lay next to me, who had been a math professor at the Military Academy before 1975. He was very smart, his instructions methodical, moving from basic roots of Chinese characters to analysis of meaning of new words containing those roots. Thanks to his methods, by the time I left the re-education camp I had a fair vocabulary. But now, all such language skills have been given back to the teacher so to speak, except for a few words I can never forget because they bear the imprint of a certain state of mind during that time. "The sea of suffering is so immense that when you turn your head you cannot see the shores.”
-- You wrote: "The war brought about many pleasant and accidental encounters." When the war ended, did you have any other pleasant and accidental encounters?
-- In war, love and death are entwined. Two things greater than all things are: the first is Love; and the second, War." And war is death. So wrote Rudyard Kipling. Just before Mua He Do Lua, The Red Fiery Summer of 1972 that inflicted great damage and suffering on Central Vietnam, a teenage girl who served coffee in a small shop located in an area bordering the Central Highlands, as if stricken by lightning fell in love at first sight with 2nd Lieutenant Hoang in our unit. She expressed her love through the melodious and sad singing voice of the famed Thai Thanh in the song "Don't Leave Me Alone". The next day, Lieutenant Hoang was inserted into the enemy's terrain to spy on them, and clashed head on with the enemy as soon as he touched the landing zone. His corpse was not recovered until two days later. When evening came, in the coffee shop we heard the same voice of the same singer, but this time choked with tears in "You Have Returned in a Poncho". If we think of encounters like that as interesting and pleasant, then it is "Thu Dau Thuong" (The Pleasure of Hurt and Pain, from Duong Kien's poetry) during wartime. But it was not always sorrowful like that: military operation should have meant homesickness away from home; but for the sergeant in charge of provisions for our unit, no matter where in all four corps tactical zones our operations took us, he needed only a very short time to find a home provided him by a woman!
-- In your first work May Bao (Storm Clouds), on page 58, you wrote: "Perhaps love dreads layers of fat and measurements of girth." Was the statement drawn from a medical or an aesthetic point of view?
-- As I remember, when you asked: "Was the writer Doan Quoc Sy himself in pain then?" quoting a sentence in his work Khu Rung Lau (The Reed Forest Area), the writer himself answered that it refers only to the emotion of a character in the book, not expressing the sentiment of the author. In the same manner, "dreading layers of fat and measurements of girth" is simply a view unfolding in personality development of a minor character named Hoat in the novel May Bao. All the more it is not from a medical viewpoint, because that would be unethical in terms of professional ethics.
-- "Trifling skills in language were not what made good works of literature; what was important was a fiery ardor in writing, which existed only in the younger generation." (17) In light of that statement of yours, what do you think about prominent young authors at present like Dinh Linh, Andrew Pham, Le Minh Ha…?
-- It’s true that trifling skills in language manipulation sometimes create beautiful lines of words. But truly good and timeless writings must carry contents full of humanity, which contents demand profound knowledge and vision from the writer. As for the talented authors you mention, I hope they will persevere in order to finish great works that we are waiting for.
-- You also wrote elsewhere: "I am very fond of painting." (18) Would you please tell us about the artists and the painting schools you like most?
-- Painting is another way of looking at life. I had a long-standing friend of 40 years who was a painter. We were different from each other in many ways, but we were close friends. I love his big oil paintings where, other than brushstrokes, what I like most are empty spaces marked with impressive delicate blocks of color. "An artist creates the right stroke in his painting from some where between two wrong strokes in life." Only, it's regrettable that this painter friend did not create many works. He was artist Nghieu De, and he is no longer with us.
--Please share with us your views concerning the Nobel Prize for literature in 2000 given to Gao Xingjian for his work Soul Mountain.
-- Those books with the label Nobel Prize from Stockholm attached to them are not necessarily among the 100 excellent works produced in the 20th century. I enjoyed reading a few fine excerpts from Soul Mountain, but the work did not greatly move me.
-- From your point of view, what difference is there between a well-known author who practices medicine and a physician whose works of literature are recorded in literary history?
-- Literature enriches the medical profession and, conversely, in medical practice "everyday one is in touch with those selves that are not oneself". The two fields have reciprocal impact on each other. In his work Viet va Doc Tieu Thuyet (Writing and Reading Fiction), when discussing Truth, Goodness and Beauty as aesthetic values, Nhat Linh mentions the art of cooking, which implies that in whatever field of activity one can always bring his job to the level of art, and time provides the most severe and fair evaluation.
-- If there were some power that prevents or forbids you from writing, how would you react?
-- Using force to stop an author from writing in the long run only begets a reverse consequence. But "self-restraint" -- that is, knowing when to stop -- is a form of freedom for a writer, insuring that he doesn't write meaningless lines of words having contents disagreeable to himself. "If one does not oppose something, then at least one should not support whatever contributes fertile soil for the evils in life." That is a line in a letter written by a writer friend when he was about to reach 70, after a meeting at the end of another year.
-- You have just completed a journey to Laos. Can you tell us the purpose of the trip? And what are your thoughts about that country at the present time?
-- It was a field research trip, or more accurately speaking, the purpose was to see firsthand the reaches of the Mekong River in upper Laos not very far from the cascade of giant dams in Yunnan. Deterioration of the River has been faster than I imagined. Moreover, given that the country, which is only one third the size of Texas, is hurriedly embracing "Renovation", receiving more than 600,000 tourists a year, having AIDS and HIV epidemics, and a drug problem, you come away with the general impression that Lao society is in danger of becoming damaged by capitalism.
--In your opinion, in an interview where the interviewee is a scientist or an author who has written works focusing on research related to historical fact, should we pose questions concerning love and happiness in family life (the human aspect of life)? If we should pose those questions, would you care to answer them? If we shouldn't, then why not?
-- Medical practice is a busy profession; writing and being passionate about writing, is a second busy preoccupation. Those two involvements take up much time from the 24 hours of everyday life. In the hope of being able to continue with these long chosen paths, surely one needs understanding, cooperation, and to a certain extent even sacrifice from one's family, and that is something one cannot have all the time.
--Thank you, author Ngo The Vinh.
(This is an introduction to the title Cuu Long Can Dong Bien Dong Day Song and its author Ngo The Vinh, broadcast in Literature and Arts Program, The Voice of Vietnam radio station, 103.3 FM- MTL, on March 25th, 2001.)
(Page references are to original Vietnamese texts)
(1) Vong Dai Xanh (The Green Belt), p. 5
(2) Mat Tran o Sai Gon (The Battle of Saigon), p. 80
(3) Cuu Long Can Dong Bien Dong Day Song (Mekong River Drained Dry, South China Sea in Turmoil), p. 325
(4) Vong Dai Xanh, p. 19
(5) Vong Dai Xanh, p.179
(6) Mat Tran o Sai Gon, p. 32
(7) Cuu Long Can Dong, p. 205
(8) Cuu Long Can Dong, p. 304
(9) Cuu Long Can Dong, p. 67
(10) Khoi Hanh, No. 43, p. 7
(11) Cuu Long Can Dong, p.383
(12) Cuu Long Can Dong, p. 562
(13) Hoi Ky III. California: Van Nghe, 1988, p. 23
(14) Mat Tran o Sai Gon, p. 152
(15) May Bao (Storm Clouds), p. 28
(16) May Bao, p. 58
(17) Vong Dai Xanh, p. 133
(18) Mat Tran o Sai Gon, p. 183
LE QUYNH MAI
Translated by Tam Binh
The Writers Post
founded 1999, based in the US.
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