Many foreign researchers on Vietnamese Studies provisionally believe that the appellation of “authentic existentialist” must be reserved for Tan Da [Tản Đà] – a poet and a newsman, fairly original in the history of contemporary Vietnamese Literature and Press. What is meant by “existentialist”? – whether one understands that term rightly or wrongly – depends on one’s personal knowledge. In this year Tet [Tết] time, we have a chance to recall a “fragment of life” of the aforesaid poet and newsman in those sacred days of our nation.
That was the Tet [Tết] time of the year Giap Tuat [Giáp Tuất] (1934 – Year of the Dog) – Almost 70 years ago – At that time, poet Tan Da [Tản Đà] was writing for the Dong Phap [Đông Pháp] Time (French Indochina) owned by Diep Van Ky [Diệp Văn Kỳ] in Saigon. After submitting his articles for the Tet [Tết] issue, Tan Da [Tản Đà] was paid a whole month’s salary, but he quickly spent all that money. So when Tet [Tết] was approaching, our poet didn’t have any cent left, and as he was a great “drunkard”, he would be in trouble for lack of wine. Newsman Diep Van Ky [Diệp Văn Kỳ] understood his collaborator’s difficulty, so he gave him an “extra New Year’s gift” of 5 piastres.
With regard to the Dan bao [Dân báo] (People’s newspaper) – Newsman Bui The My [Bùi Thế Mỹ] had published 3 consecutive Springtime issues: in 1940-1941-1942. Besides them, the magazines of Dang Ngoc Anh [Đặng Ngọc Anh] and Mai Van Ninh [Mai Văn Ninh] had published 3 issues in the consecutive years 1943-1944 and 1945.
If the low-spirited “tone” had been laid bare in a time of economical crisis, then, when came the wartime period, this same tone still served the masses with their resentful psychology. Let’s re-read an article published on the Dien Tin [Điện Tín] in 1945.
“… Only people who had sheltered themselves under a trench could know how deep the ground was; and only those who had gone to sea could know how immense the sea was. In these last 6 years, our country was similar to a ship standing out to sea, while inland there still is a small trench to shelter.
People’s imperfection consists of thinking that other people are being more blessed than themselves, while actually, each day, they are getting much more blessings than their fellow-creatures. However small the blessing might be, we ought to feel happy to have it, as it’s created all by ourselves just like the shelter, though narrow, still contends the pressure of the wind, as well as the sharp bomb fragments.
However, there are several ways to enjoy, among which the passive and the active ways are the ones we ought to think about when the springtime comes back.
Many newsmen at that time had evaluated the decline of the contents of Springtime issues throughout those five wartime years.
Joyful, he immediately put the five-piastre bill – that was at that time a fairly great sum of money – into his purse, then, he ran straight to the carhiring station to hire a Delahaye with folding hood to stroll the city… enjoying the springtime. It’s quite strange, indeed! This year, this “crazy” poet suddenly gives himself “airs” vis-à-vis everybody. And this is also the first time in his life that poet Tan Da [Tản Đà] sits naturally and stately on a “noble” type of car, just like a wealthy planter. The Delahaye car at first took him to the Post Office so that he could buy a 3-piastre worth money order (in postcard form) which he sent to his close friend Ngo Tat To [Ngô Tất Tố] in Hanoi [Hà Nội] – as a springtime gift.
He must use one among the two remaining piastres to pay for the car rent so there remained in his purse only one last piastre that must be used for covering the expenses during the 3 Tet [Tết] days.
◊ Source: A TREASURE OF VIETNAM CULTURE Studied by Dr. Hung Nguyen Manh [Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng].
BAN TU THU