Writing short stories is one of my hobbies in free time. No matter how they sound, I wanna reflect daily stuff from different points of view...

  1. Autobiography of a banknote
  2. A dog story
  3. A gentleman
  4. A workaholic
  5. The Ambassador
  6. Vanity and the slums

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Autobiography of a banknote

Money talks! What we can expect from the tale of a banknote is supposed to be just an array of transactions. Is it right? In an ironical way, a banknote can tell you much for than a tool of reserve and exchange.

I am a VND 500,000 banknote, with series dating back to 2006. I am always proud to be the most powerful and valuable note in my country. As an innate talent, I could draw the attention of people from all walks of life, like a magnet. I attract people and make them flunkeys to me in the same way that dogs are lured by a bone or fat, old bastards enchanted by sexy gals. Today, I decide to include all stories that I know in my autobiography, in a recital full of metaphors.

Five years ago, I first breathed the scent of life when I was drawn out of an ATM. Together with 03 other chums, I made up the whole monthly wage of my first owner, a young teacher. I was thrust into his right trousers pocket, as my owner did not have enough time to fold and put me gently in his imitating leather wallet in his left pockets. He was in a hurry. An image of his first son flashed into his dull mind, stuffed in a mixture of happiness and anxiety, threw him to a dusty road full of other people running for different purposes, in which traffic jams and accidents were at interval.

His wife was waiting for him in a hospital, not because of any maladies. She was about to give birth. A fat, bald-forehead, plain-faced, double-chinned and Chinese-faced old doctor just finished a diagnosis. A difficult case was prescribed. Absolutely, she needed a surgery to get the child out. However, the doctor was not in a hurry like him as there was a long array of pregnant women lying in the room, like pigs in a pigsty. Not because of lacking surgery equipments or injections, the doctor was waiting for a special oil to embark in his wife’s case. As a common practice, it was a small and thin envelop, not necessarily white, flat and formal. The inside was more important.

My first owner drew out a ragged envelop from his knapsack, put me in, glue the envelope harshly and rushed into the doctor private room. After a short, casual conservation like any other, in a sense of gratefulness, I was placed under a medicine dictionary on the surface of a small table. Part of the envelope was out so that the doctor could shoot a glance at it. Inside the thin, clear envelop, I could see a white coat hung at one corner. Some other envelop boasted its power above the two big pockets. A slogan thrashed into my eyesight. As I could read “Doctors are as great as moms”. After my first owner thanked and left the room, the doctor peeled out the envelope gently, stared at me, checked on my both sides to find out whether I was a fake banknote or not. Finally, he held me up before the slogan and grinned at me. That finished my first transaction. I felt a sentiment of accomplishment and satisfaction as I help born a new child.

However, my life did not end up in the doctor’s wallet for a very long time. Later that night, after a gorgeous carouse with other colleagues in a Korean restaurant, my second boss drove home. In his German car, an Audi A4, I could see a lot of people still toiled and moiled in the streets, to earn a good living and fight against each other for the guys like me, a VND 500,000 banknote.

Suddenly, a whistle aroused, dispersed the dirty air and awoke my boss. Two policemen, one young one old, running on a naked kike stopped my boss. Got out of the saloon, my boss was asked to show his driving license and registration paper. Surprised enough, he received a fine for over-speeding from the cops. As an nature instinct, the doctor concluded a quick negotiation and contained me in his driving license, submitted to the young cop. At that time, I could understand how powerful I was. They recorded me as a prerequisite, a verdict and sometimes a state-of-the-art. The total fine halved, no invoice was waited. My second boss departed, speeding up again in the twilight. I was thrust into the old cop’s uniform pocket, together with a pack of cigarettes. That was my second transaction. I saw myself tainted and smell badly, evoking a mixture of saliva, smoke and alcohol.

The old cop escorted, together with the young one, his subordinate, a truly apprentice in the career of road-robbing. The two stopped by a big restaurant. A few second of hesitation and a short discussion over how to spend the evening’s earnings, the cops popped in. Welcomed by a sexy waitress dressing like in the beach, I saw a bald, thick-beard guy hustling from the kitchen, greeting the cops wholeheartedly and taking them to a table. A small, gilt board carved a line “V.I.P.” was well placed on the table. It must have been reserved for my third boss. The bald guy waddled, turning out to be the owner of the restaurant as I could realize the way he called and gave orders to a handful of lustful waitresses.

“What’s special for this week?” the old cop asked, without having a look at the menu.

Subsequently, the chef appeared with a tortoise hanging in his left hand by its throat. In my country, tortoise was supposed to help increase men’s sexual prowess. Needless to say, the poor animal was cut by its neck. A flow of red blood dropped slowly in a glass half-filled with brandy. The deadly liquid was shared to two shot glasses and flew into the cops after a toast. The bloodless tortoise was back to the kitchen and cooked in several dishes. It would supposedly bring luck to the two cops in the following week. Luck in terms of more drivers without a driving license, over-speeding like my second boss, or even without a side-mirror. Luxurious cars were my third boss’s favourite.

I went home by midnight, soaked with smell of alcohol and urine. I witnessed my partners, fifteen VND 100,000 banknotes handed on to the sexy chick. My boss did not forget to save her phone number as other guys used to do. I slept in my boss’s wallet and woke up at 10am the next day.

“What’s the fuck, why so late?” – I mumbled. “Weekend – Home sweet home” – Shrieked my boss.

Hurrah, I might not be transferred to another boss as they often stayed at home at weekend. But I was absolutely wrong. My boss and his wife were preparing for a pre-wedding of their only son. Not because they wanted their son had made his girlfriend pregnant for four months. She should have been shaven bare and thrown into the river in the past as a common practice. But for now, as a current practice, the young couple was awarded with a wedding. More and more girls were pregnant before wedding in this country. It became a new culture.

Once again, they flattened me. They put me gently in an envelope, together with 99 other VND 500,000 banknotes. I had a lot of new friends. I called them comrades as we had the same mission, working as a gift for the bridegroom’s family. The first time in my life, I was treated in such a solemn way. My comrades and I were put on a tray, together with other offerings, a bottle of Chivas 24. “Seven trays in a line”, I counted. We were carried on shoulders of seven guys supposed to be virgin. All headed for the bride’s house.

I stayed there until the wedding as the envelope was given to the bridegroom by the parents. After the wedding, came the most sacred night of the couple. “How happy and eager they are!” – I muttered. I saw myself in the wedding room, decorated with a variety of offerings. At midnight, the door closed. The couple stepped in, hand in hand. The room was filled up with a sentiment of eagerness and joy. The curtain covered. The dim light showed their faces tired but happy.

I could see them taking off their wedding attires. Only underwear left on their scented bodies. I felt even more eager waiting to see what happened next. “They must do that” – I tittered.

Ten minutes passed. They did nothing, just smiled. I felt the bride touched me, uncovered the envelope. She took me out. She counted my comrades and I, one by one, as their face got brighter and brighter.

“198 millions in total, OMG”, shouted the couple in joy and victory. They threw me in the wardrobe, laid on bed. So tired were they to do what couples were supposed to do. No matter. They had done it so many times before this wedding. I felt asleep, too. God blessed me as I had brought about happiness to a young couple in such a way.

“Who can imagine a banknote have a honey moon?” – Yes, I had. I was left in the smelly wardrobe for one week as my co-owners went on a holiday. I had time to talk to other comrades, also VND 500,000 in value. Life was so vivid. I heard different stories about their lives, a series of transactions, of sentiment, of different fates waxed and waned.

In a cloudy afternoon, returned my co-owners. They seemed to be in a hurry. They threw their belongings at random, opened the wardrobe, picked up the purse, took me and three other comrades out. They put all in another envelope and glued cursorily. Then, they set out, heading for their college teacher’s. I guessed that one of them failed a final exam.

I was right. The husband even omitted an exam in his bachelor program. But once again, I could reaffirm the power of a banknote.

After a short chat, I was handed over to the teacher and my owner got mark seven for the exam. He passed. Later that evening, in a dim light, I saw the envelope opened again. A big grin welcomed me. I tried to recognize a young man.

“How small the world becomes under the privilege of a banknote” – I shrieked. The young teacher was no other than my first owner...

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A dog story

In a country full of dogs, dogs are regarded as friends, sometimes enemies and sometimes cooked into specialities for gourmets.

At a corner of a brick, one-storey hut, tiled in deadly red, sat a growling four-leg yearling. He tugged at the leash fractiously and sniffed around. He was a dog, living as a flunkey to a two-leg owner, in a world where four-legs were reined by two-legs. This day was his one-year birthday.

“Where is the party?” – He groaned, “My first birthday should be celebrated with a bone or ham”. Of course, no dogs liked a cake. His favourite was spare-ribs that he was once fed by his owner as the rest of a party. The party one year before, he recalled, was the party that he never wanted to think about. It was the day that his father passed his life, a dog life. His father was sacrificed to a handful of communal leaders, just to celebrate his owner’s promotion into a Secretary of the Communal Youth Union. Then, they threw the rest of his father to feed his mother because there was nothing left. His father was cooked into 07 courses, the most favourite specialities in the country born him.

“Should it be a birthday celebration or a funeral recall?”- He muttered. The yearling started chewing his owner’s trousers with a yeasty growl and barked at interval. He wanted to bite the two-leg to death but a sense of gratefulness retained him. The two-leg was the very one who brought him up, with love and caress. The yearling soaked his owner’s trousers with doggie saliva while the owner stood still, motionless.

Despite his trousers soaked with doggie saliva, the owner kept staring at the ether. His mind was stuffed with a mixture of anxiety and dream. He dreamed about a two-storey building with wooden furniture like other communal leaders’. An idea flashed into his mind. He could buy his beloved wife a high-end scooter, the same model as the one owned by first lady of his communal chairman, a Honda PS. He could send his only son to the UK, to make his son a gentleman in the future. He could buy himself a four-wheel vehicle made in Germany, a BMW series 5 like the Secretary of the Communal Party. He could make other villagers become flunkeys to him. He was dreaming about the position – Head of Natural Resources and Environment Sub-Department of his commune.

In the suburbs where real estate price rose day by day, people were so proud of the so-called “one inch of soil, one inch of gold-ore”. They saw themselves becoming billionaires overnight. A new road was bound to halve the commune, turning it into a new urban area, villagers into city-dwellers, in the process of modernization and urbanization. No longer were there huts and straws. Instead, four and five-storey buildings and villas were growing up all over the commune. No longer did villagers toil and moil in the field. Their land has doubled, tripled and even quadrupled its price. Cultivating land was sold for new houses, branded two-wheel and four-wheel vehicle. Land was regarded as the utmost tenet, even more important than family, friends and social values. A man was judged by the total area of land possessed him.

He did not have much land to sell. But he was going to be the Lord of Land – Head of Natural Resources and Environment Sub-department. Every transaction must be ratified by him. Any issue of a certificate of land ownership, or “red cover” as often called, had to be facilitated by the oil of bribes, as a common practice in this regime.

Luxurious perspective dulled his mind, dispersing the reality of poverty and filling with lustre and prosperity. He suddenly forgot the fact that his belongings now were an antique bike dated back to the 1990s and a dog. This day would be a milestone in his life, marking a transition from a frugal Youth Union Secretary to the “Lord of Land”. All he needed to do was so simple, like thrusting his hands into the pockets. He was about to organize a party for some communal leaders. He expected a verdict after the most important party in his life, to be inaugurated as the new Head.

Despite a rummage around his hut, he could not find enough money for the party. His tiny salary was coming next week while this month’s salary was running off. Of course, his wife could make some homemade salad from vegetables in his small garden. But where were specialities? Without specialities, no leaders would be satisfied and no crown was inaugurated.

Once again, the lustrous perspective vanished from his mind, making room for anxiety and scrutiny. He thought about favourite courses of the leaders, all from canine flesh. He looked down his trousers, glaring at his beloved dog with love, waiting for sympathy.

Finally, the dog had been sacrificed to the crown. He was beaten to death by a hammer, before being turned into seven dishes of bribes and immorality. He did not blame his owner for killing him on his very first birthday. As the best loyal animal in the world, he wished the best for his owner.

By the end of that year, the real estate bubble collapsed. All communal leaders were taken to jail in an investigation on frauds and taking bribes. The dog owner received a strict sentence. A doggie life was waiting for him in a cell.

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A Gentleman

How should we define a gentleman? Whatever it is, the guy always considers himself a gentleman, in his own definition. Indeed, he is not unreasonable as his definition is so widespread in his country that it has become a symbol for the nouveaux riches. Let’s call him Mr. Gentleman as he prefers.

Unlike other gentlemen working in ministries of the state, he feels proud of quitting a desirable job in the General Department of Customs where he could give himself a privilege of giving alms to enterprises. Yes, he used to be a King, surrounded by flunkeys, supermodels and bribes. Big bosses regarded him as a prerequisite to unplug flows of smuggling commodities across borders. How, he is no longer a King, but a Gentleman, a man of high culture and poise and wealth. His wealth is in lands, tenements and hereditaments, as the legal phrase goes. He is a sole heir.

As a fairytale, Mr. Gentleman accompanied his wife to a faraway country in Western Europe. His wife is working on a PhD while he working for a restaurant. In that half-antique-half-modern Vietnamese restaurant, located in the centre of disturbance, nobody knows exactly what his position is. Gourmets call him “le garcon” or “the waiter”. Bosses call him a partner, sometimes a dragged bastard when they are not satisfied. Friends call him a restaurant manager while he calls himself an angel investor. He regards himself as a lifebuoy to save the nearly drown from dire straits.

In a breezy morning, he started his lectures for a young guy also studying MBA in Brussels. He kept talking the hind legs off a donkey. Mr. Gentleman possesses a flat, Chinese-looked face and wide, double chin. His face is so oily for a beard to grow, topped by a typical hairdo of the leaders in the Politburo in Vietnam, with a parting on the left. He wears a shirt with different color in its collar and cuffs.

He taught the young man about a swell life of ladies and gentlemen, about fashion and stylishness. He reiterated how great he felt as he left the fruitful job in the government in exchange for a true life in Europe.

“Deux cafes, s’il vous plait”, ordered he as if he had become an integrated part of the bar ”Rois des Belgies”, then gulping down a bar of chocolate at a mouthful. The sun was tearing black clouds hovering about in the grey sky. The first sunlight pierced the window with pure radiations like a prisoner opting for a jailbreak. The young guy sat in eagerness, playing an apprentice role to grasp advices and instructions given in a variety of rhetoric. Mr. Gentleman gossiped about friendship, family, the meaning of life and attitudes towards parenthood. He insisted on patriotism, highlighting the important of boycotting Chinese products. “To buy a made-in-China product is to shoot a bullet to our own country” said he. Mr. Gentleman sometimes burst out laughing, shrieking out and giggling occasionally.

The young guy listened with zeal and admiration. “This is bound to be the man I should become” whispered he.

That evening, Mr. Gentleman invited the young guy to his so-called penthouse for dinner. His lodgement was, in fact, the highest room in a slender and small building dating back to 19 century. It could save him a lot of money as making him doing exercises by going upstairs and downstairs on a super slope staircase. He gave the young guy 02 pairs of shoes and told him to bring them to his mother on return to Vietnam. The dinner was kicked off buy his recital about how expensive living costs in Vietnam turned out to be.

“I spent 2,500EUR in 01 month”, said he, “We gave out 500,000VND greenbacks like playing blackjack”.

“Only 1,500EUR, of which 1,000 spent on my new laptop” replied his wife.

The meal ended in less than 01 hour but they all felt as if they had caroused together in a banquet of a 05-star hotel.

One month later…

…The young guy returned home, waiting for relatives of Mr. Gentleman to come and take the shoes. “They must be very pleased, especially his mother”, muttered the young guy. Finally, one of the sisters of Mr. Gentleman came and brought the shoes to their mother, unpacking in joy and proud.

The wooden floor revealed 02 pairs of shoes in imitating leather and branded “Made in PRC”.

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A workaholic

The last embrace, she departed with her boyfriend and started a new life, becoming a workaholic. Working for an MNE, the slender, graceful-faced, long-lashed girl was in charge of developing new education projects, dealing with a variety of stakeholders, working as diligently as farmers toiled and moiled in paddy fields. She managed a bunch of flunkeys and herself served as a flunkey to her boss.

Her boss, a short, dwarfish, double-chinned and crescent guy from the nearby country, always equipped himself with a great deal of superior rhetoric and metaphors, ready to persuade anybody he needed. He often won all the deals he got involved in. He could persuade his business partners, even the strictest ones in the same way that a furious dog was lured by a bone. He could enchant his clients like ladies attracted by vanity and sparkling jewellery, fish wooed by artificial worms, flies trapped by marsh pitcher plants.

The only one he could not persuade was his other half, his first lady, his wife or, as the sayings went, the real owner of men’s heart and soul. Sauntered down the corridor of the HO, the first lady kept staring at all details in her empire, all machines, furniture, ornaments, like a police dog sniffing at opium. However, what she liked most was to gaze at little chicks in the boss’ office. She often stared at them and tried to find out whatever flaws in that flock of office gals. She shrieked whenever she discovered any chick dressing a bit sexy. All kinds of skirts were forbidden when she paid a sudden visit to the HO, even short, medium of long ones. She was an intelligent and careful woman, a female mogul, who never wanted the boss to lose his temple by those young, cool and sexy chicks, including Ms. Workaholic. It would be a disaster for Ms. Workaholic if she was caught by First Lady intimidating the boss or just wearing a nude-colour skirt. If that happened, a series of lectures and outrages and dynamo-like sentences would topple her. She knew it as she had endured those tortures.

Anyway, she always kept in mind that unofficial regulation. Ms. Workaholic proved to be the best staff in the gang by diligent work, concentration, flexibility and most of all, result-orientation. Right after the first cock crew in the vicinity, she woke up, sometimes before sunset. Then, 5 minutes in the toilet, 2 minutes in front of the dressing-table and 5 seconds to say goodbye to her parents, she set out for a new working day in a mood that it would be the last day in her life. Half-blond hair, slight make-up, professional-looked, long-heeled shoes, she rushed into the crazy flows of other workaholics like an ant to join its line, a warrior join the battlefield. Smoke, dust, smell and stiff stuff along the streets, all could not make her distracted as she was a workaholic, the best staff of the year.

Her typical working day often ended up at 10pm, sometimes a bit earlier, but just enough for a snap. Long ranges of tasks from the boss squeezed her skinny body, empty her energy but could not prevent her from keeping the title “Best staff of the year”. She was murmured with a dream of promotion, or power and determination. Her heart was so indulged with work to have a little room for her faraway boyfriend. Her soul was filled with plans, actions, difficulties and solutions like a dark and thick cloud that any image of her boyfriend could not flash through. She didn’t care. With greenbacks and power, she could find any other guy better than him, from the flock of bosses and flunkeys always surrounded by her.

One year passed by, time flied. Once again, her name was spoken loudly, inaugurated as the “Best staff of the year” once more. Praised into the sky, she was surrounded by flowers, cheers and claps and admiring flares from those guys.

She was promoted as a deputy manager just one week before her boyfriend returned home. She did not remember as it had been a long time they were not in touch. She celebrated herself with a branded, blue gown, leather muffs, Jimmy Choo shoes and a Ferragamo handbag. The quick shopping made after the annual ceremony of her company, she went home at 11pm, in a night with neither moon nor stars. Also 5 minutes in the toilet, 2 minutes to clean up all powder in her face and 5 seconds to say goodnight to her parents, she went to bed. Her heart was full of proud and joy, her soul full of victory and accomplishment, her dreams full of new men of higher culture and poise waiting for her, bestowing and kneeling like a prince asking for engagement from a princess.

Five days later, she was caught pale and unconscious in her office, then sent to a nearby hospital. After a dozen of diagnosis, a bald-head and long-beard doctor delivered a prescription on her of stress and exhaustion.

One day before her boyfriend landed, she received a big letter from her boss. Peeled it out by two fingers, she skimmed through the document for 02 times, pored over it and acknowledged that a younger, more energetic gal had been promoted and replaced her position.

She got a sack. She felt hopeless, no power. She didn’t know when she could recover. She cried out but no tears flew from her eyes.

In a breezy morning came her boyfriend. The same embrace but she felt so marvellous, inspiring like a sudden rain soaked up dry soil in a desert.

She was no longer a workaholic.

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The Ambassador

Of all types of Ambassadors, he regards himself as the most powerful one as he is inaugurated as Ambassador of his faraway country in the political center of ancient and conservative Western Europe, a respectable mogul.

The slender, double-chinned, Chinese-faced guy always appears elegant. He ranks himself within the best caste of his society, catching attention of the mob everywhere he goes. He is representative of the whole nation, both the President and the populace. He epitomizes all quintessence of his country. Well-defined as a prophet, sometimes a guru, or a mogul, or whatsoever, the Ambassador is surrounded by a handful of flunkeys, flattered by subordinates in the same way that he raises his President to the sky whenever the two meet.

In a high culture and poise, he usually dresses a polished attire, with a black suit and a silk tie, glamoured by state-of-the-art and limited-edition fragrance, with precious and natural mother-of-pearl buttons on his cuffs. He never thinks he is showing off as he is the utmost tenet of foreign affairs, cunning, intelligence and elegance.

How magnificent is the Ambassador, with his great, smooth, laughing face, his crescent eye, shrewd as a chicken hawks, his Antwerp diamond ring, his voice like a rooster chirping, his clarion call to friend and comrade – what a real mogul! Aged over 40, he possessed no wrinkles on his cheesy forehead, a slim and fragile body. His skin seems to be so thick and oily for a beard to grow. He is decorated with dimples on his cheeks, as gracefully as the gals in pure highlands.

In a late-autumn morning with scattered yellow leaves and breezy winds, he waddled around the chamber like a chieftain in the center of his sanctuary. Then, passed the marble corridors, he sauntered down the garden of the Embassy building. He drew out a cigar from an oak carved box and lighted it up with a St. Dupont limited-edition gilded lighter. He looked up the building, puffed away at his cigar, as round smoke rose up into the ether.

“Great! The President must be very proud of me. He would be welcomed in a most solemn ceremony during his visit next week”, the Ambassador murmured. He was preparing for the upcoming visit of his President and Ministers and all types of flunkeys.

“He will be surprised at what I have done for the country, tightening up multi-faceted cooperation between the two nations”, whispered the Ambassador.

“Look! I’ve made it a gorgeous palace” – The Ambassador stared at the building which was constructed in a Renaissance style, decorated with stuff from his faraway country and backed by Japanese style garden. What a mixture, a cultural and architectural diversity, comparable to one of the most favorite courses – hot pot. The building symbolizes all quintessence of the Ambassador’s empire. He is the king in this resized regime like a lion in a zoo. He’s gonna show off all splendid achievements to his President.

Finally came that special day. Everything deemed to be in its position. The Ambassador filled all his staff with proud and confidence as a great deal of preparations had been carried out before, like a maneuver in the battlefield. The hold building was cleaned up, as tidy as possible. All furniture, paintings, ornaments, carpets and rugs were made ready in a vague scent. He had also booked one of the most luxurious restaurants in the city, named “Little Asia”. A range of vintage wines and whiskies was racked up. A folklore band was summoned. Everyone dressed up like attendants in a royal wedding, waiting for the bride and bridegroom.

At noon, the delegation entered, headed by the President and followed by the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Transport and dozens of entrepreneurs. The national anthem was played. Then, the delegation stepped into the main hall, one by one, shaking hands with everyone from the Embassy. They waddled around the podium and put their ass on pre-designated and artificially-gilded chairs, centered by the President and the Ambassador.

In a sacred and solemn atmosphere, echoed by a Metro running in the vicinity, breezy outside and stifling inside the building, the President raised his ceremonial voice as slowly and tiredly as a bear just woke up after a long hibernation. No harsh inhalation or exhalation, everyone kept concentration, listening to his precious words, one by one, as if Muslims were listening to the Prophet.

Ten minutes passed by with only one idea, a reiteration on keeping “Independen-Freedom-Happiness”, in a demagogic tone. He could have broken a world record for a slowest-speaking bastard. Anyway, everyone received with cheers and claps, like watching a comedy in the theater.

Then followed the main part, a speech was delivered by the Ambassador.

The first point, he boasted his first achievement as he had bought the building from the Japanese Embassy 10 years ago at less than 1 million EUR. The Mikado bequeathed to him as he could not stand the noise from a nearby Metro station. And for now, the market value of the building had increased by 10 times.

The second point, the Ambassador congratulated a famous tourism site in his faraway country on being elected as one of the seven new wonders on earth.

The chamber was filled up with claps, cheers and proudness.

By the end of that year, the real estate bubble in his country broke down. The “Seven new wonders” poll turned out to be a global-scaled swindle of a Swiss Gentleman. The Embassy palace was sold as budget ran out. The Ambassador and all of his flunkeys returned to toil and moil on paddy fields as they used to do, in the most devastative economic crisis of the faraway country.

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Vanity and the slums

Since the road was constructed and widened, there had been flocks of kids born by its sides, grew up in dust both day and night, like mist hovering over a swamp. By that road, lived and died different fates of human beings. As the city was enlarged, it turned many residents into greenback millionaires by relocating them from the left side of the road to the right. In return, they received a bunch of compensation. And vanity arose.

Not as famous as Oxford street in London, Las Ramblas in Barcelona or Fifth Avenue in New York, the road had it own way to draw attention from the residents, like a porn star tried to show off her body. Even more unique, the road decorated itself with a long array of unfinished ditches, with no covers, ragged patches, dust and garbage, scattered with bare knots of all kinds of cables, grid, cable TV, phone wire, looking like gallows waiting to end up misery, grievance and oppression of people here. Indeed, many passed their life on this road. They got electric shocks by touching wires hovering above. They died of traffic accidents, of falling down uncovered ditches, of unreasonable quarrels and fights, of conflicts stemming from whatever reasons. And, worst of all, behind gorgeous line of buildings facing the road, many of them died of hunger as there located the slums.

Kien was lucky enough. He was not one of those corpses. With one wife and two kids, he lived altogether in a 15m2 room, which called his house or his family. Sometimes, Kien stared at it and mocked “a penthouse”. But in fact, he rented it for 100USD per month, obviously except other bills, electricity, gas and internet. His tiny house was surrounded by another one, also 15m2, then another one and more. All the long array of 16 15m2 rooms were built for rent by a fat landlord, as parts of the puzzle, making the whole slums with tiny rooms for many big families. Some of them were couples, husband and wife. Some lived together without any marriage certificate, no engagement, no wedding, in a country where no laws and regulations really worked.

Fled from the countryside, not far away from the city, just in the suburbs, when land were confiscated for new residential areas and farmers were workers, Kien worked for a textile company, not in the factory but in the administrative office. He earned a medium income, not high enough to buy vanity but enough to bring up his 3 year old son and a new-born daughter. His wife was still on maternity leave. From dawn till dusk, he lived a workaholic life, not because he was a workaholic but he was saving to buy a new apartment, fleeing away from the slums.

The slums lived thousands of people, always pervaded with all kinds of smells, stink from uncovered ditches, smell of urine, fish source, shrimp source from a dog meat restaurant in the vicinity, smell of burning, of garbage that collectors forgot to take away. Zoomed out, the slums looked like a bee hive, but zoomed in, it was a spider web with hundreds of chain of houses laying horizontally, vertically, and sometimes diagonally, like a chaos. “Slumdog millionaire” should have been filmed here instead of India.

Right after the entrance to his room, the first of the line, appeared an outdoor bathroom with only one tap, which was used as a shower, sometimes a sprinkler, sometimes a fire-pump. The tap lived a lot of households. Not only did it work as a shower but it also provided residents with water for cooking, drinking and even hands cleaning after getting out the nearby toilet. The tap and the toilet coupled like close friends. People tapped on after finishing the toilet and used a bucket to contain water from the tap in order to clean the toilet.

Kien’s children oftens saw their neighbors queuing up for both the tap and the toilet as it was shared amongst 16 rooms of approximately 49 residents and sometimes guesses, bill collectors or any drunk just passed by as the main gate was not always closed. It could take Kien’s wife 20 minutes to take queue for a buck of water.

Alongside, the walls, running like serpents inside the slums, decorated with billboards and thousands of posters advertising all kinds of stuff, from concrete drilling to in-house teaching, from sales-off programs to massage services, friends finding, pets caring, and especially real estate for rent and sales. Compared to New York, advertising here was the authentic state-of-the-art, offering residents vanity that they couldn’t afford.

Also in this slums, when his first son just born 05 years before, Kien lost all his savings and land compensation. His investments evaporated as the real estate market collapsed. From an investor, like almost other people in this city, he turned into a worker. Diligent and hardworking, never spending on vanity in the ads, Kien retained a small sum and lit up the dream of a new apartment. However, time passed by, living costs rose day by day, his efforts on saving had not made his dream come true. It would take his family 30 years’ salary for relocation, like other households in the centre of disturbance.

In a late-autumn morning, the sun left the sky swathed in smothers of blue and yellow, Kien had a day off. Not because he got an illness or personal affairs, his company cut shifts of staff due to a lack of orders. An economic crisis was hovering, sweeping away thousands of enterprises. A full day of freedom, sauntered Kien down the road. He wandered out of the slums, reaching the road and taking a cross to the other side that he rarely saw. Cursed fair weather, Kien mumbled that it should hail and blow and rain to be consonant with his mood.

As quiet as statues in a pagoda, arrays of buildings, villas, named LK, TT or BT stood along big roads, in the so-called “new urban area”. Scattered by some skyscrapers, the new urban area boasted its quintessence and luxury like a herd of giraffes in the prairies. A billboard was hung on one side of the entrance, faded with traces of time and negligence. Everything was finished, epitomizing a mega-town in the process of modernization and urbanization.

Kien shot a glance at each building, one by one, as beautiful and gorgeous as villas in Bahamas. Nothing inside, nobody lived. Walls turned grey, mossy, tainted and covered by a blanket of dust. Some gates tumbled down. Kien saw crevices on the surface of the walls and ceilings. All were filled an atmosphere of failures, sadness and melancholy.

They were left empty by speculators as the housing bubble burst out.

 

 

 

 

 
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