08/04/2016 12:49 GMT+7 Email Print Like 0

The Public Letter Writer

Duong Van Ngo is known as the man who has spent the most time writing letters at the Saigon Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City. He bridges different worlds – connecting people across the planet with his fountain pen.
Going to Ho Chi Minh City, visitors should not miss the chance to visit the Saigon Central Post Office which is the most beautiful  in all of Asia with its unique  architecture, electrical fans humming between ornamental pillars and spots of sunlight falling through a skylight in the ceiling. Here, there is an old man who diligently writes  letters everyday even though he is now 85 years old. 

Duong Van Ngo was  born in 1930. He has been working here since he was 18 years old as a public letter writer. Being the last letter writer in the city, he is a source of stories of how to connect people across the planet with his fountain pen.



The Vietnam Guinness Book of Records has recognised Duong Van Ngo
as the man who has spent the most time writing letters for those unable to write by themselves.


His main job is translating Vietnamese letters into English or French and vice versa.

Looking up a word in a dictionary while translating letters.

Vu Phuong from Tan Phu asks him to translate her letter into English to send to her cousin in the US.


Many tourists to the Saigon Central Post Office are curious about his work.

Ngo has been working here since he was 18 years old.

He can fluently communicate with foreign tourists in both English and French.

During his free time, he also introduces tourists to the architecture of the Saigon Central Post Office. 

He is admired and loved by his neighbours.

Despite being 85 years old, Ngo still cycles from his house to the Saigon Central Post Office to work.

Taking photos with young tourists.

Trung tâm sách kỷ lục Việt Nam xác lập kỷ lục ông Ngộ là “Người viết thư thuê lâu năm nhất Việt Nam”.

Ngo learnt French at Petrus Ky School (present-day Le Hong Phong High School for the Gifted) and then English at the Vietnam-US Society when he was working at the Saigon Central Post Office. Therefore, he can fluently communicate in both English and French.

In 1990 when he retired, he was invited to continue working as a  public letter writer at the Saigon Central Post Office. At that time, there were six letter writers and Ngo was the youngest. Now, everyday he sits at the end of a long wooden table, behind the sign “Information and Writing Assistance”. He translates Vietnamese letters into English or French and vice versa. He also helps customers to write  recipient addresses in foreign countries. While translating, he chooses each word carefully, formulates cautiously and polishes the style of the letter. He knows how important words are and what harm they can do. Ngo doesn't just translate. He bridges the distance between people, advises and comforts them, discreetly and with perfect attention to form. He said: “Each country has its own culture that can be seen through the way to write addresses on letters. If we write correctly it means that we understand their country and culture”.

On the day we arrived at the Saigon Central Post Office, we saw him diligently looking up a word in a dictionary with  a magnifying glass while translating the letters of Vu Phuong from Tan Phu District to her cousin in the US and Ngoc Thuy from Binh Thuan to her relatives in Thailand. It is the second time Thuy asked him to translate her letter. “He is still sound in mind, healthy in body and works very cautiously and responsibly,” Phuong said.

Besides writing letters, Ngo sometimes works as a guide to take tourists to visit the Saigon Central Post Office. He believes that it is a way to introduce the culture and the country of Vietnam to tourists.

 
Story: Son Nghia - Photos: Dang Kim Phuong