Brian Edwards Media

A Man of Letters

main-saigon-post-office1mr-ngo-writing-lettersmr-ngo

Mr Ngô writes letters. He writes letters in a small, neat hand on almost transparently thin paper. He writes letters for other people, people who can’t write letters for themselves.

Mr Ngô is the Last Public Letter Writer.

Mr Ngô is 80 years old. He is tiny, less than 150cm tall, with bright eyes, a ready smile and dignified, old-fashioned courtesy. He has been working at the Main Post Office in Saigon for 63 years. He retired officially many years ago, but he still comes to work every day. He still sits in the same place and people still queue up patiently for him to write letters in their native Vietnamese, or translate for them into English or French.

His short sight isn’t so good these days. He has to use a magnifying glass to make out words in his worn little dictionaries, soft and fattened with constant handling. Mr Ngô is very precise. The words must be correct. These are letters of importance, of special events, of births, deaths, marriages. You don’t go to a Public Letter Writer on a whim.

This special job is carried out in a special place. The Main Post Office in Saigon is worthy of any European capital. It was built in grandiose French style in the 19th Century and is one of the most imposing buildings in the city. The Town Hall, you think. Parliament Buildings.  No, the post office. It’s a place you’d be proud to work, even for 63 years.

So if you ever go to the Main Post Office in Saigon, you should try to make the acquaintance of Mr Ngô. It is a privilege to meet the Last Public Letter Writer.

8 Comments:

  1. A delightful post. (No pun etc.)

  2. Beautiful writing JC. Why is he the last public letter writer?

    • Why is he the last public letter writer?

      I asked our Saigon guide. She says everyone can write these days. However, there were several women waiting for the services of Mr Ngo while we were there.

  3. There is something very dignified and sagacious about men like Mr Ngo. I once shared a compartment from KL to Singapore with one such. We discussed many things but, whatever the topic, he went immediately to the essence and dispensed his wisdom in the concise yet courteous manner of a Shaolin Priest. I fully expected him to address me as “Grasshopper” after a short while. It remains one of my favourite of many fond memories gathered during a lifetime of traveling.

  4. Very interesting read, about the Letter Writer.
    I know how the heart just sinks when you first enter a hotel room, and the standard is disappointing. It is a place to retreat, regather your spent resources, recover and prepare for the next outing.

    • It is a place to retreat, regather your spent resources, recover and prepare for the next outing.

      How true. We arrived in Cambodia today, and the hotel room is superb. And it’s a welcome haven since our guide to Angkor Wat this afternoon could bore for the Olympics. We’re seriously considering throwing a sickie tomorrow and going round on our own!

  5. Judging from the correspondence columns in our major newspapers I would suggest that Mr Ngo would have a future in New Zealand.

    I imagine it would be fascinating to have a long conversation with Mr Ngo and learn of his life’s experiences.

    • I imagine it would be fascinating to have a long conversation with Mr Ngo and learn of his life’s experiences.

      It would. But Mr Ngo has people waiting, alas, so a brief and pleasant chat is the most a passing visitor can hope for. Imagine a lecture series on life from a man like this! I envy Brewer his extended conversation in the train.