PV Youth had an exchange with the author of famous books written about Da Lat.
In just 9 years, he has had 6 books written about Da Lat, including a trio of elaborate, seasoned and enthusiastic reviewers (Da Lat, a distant homeland; Da Lat, under the fog and Da Lat, the encounters). Readers think that only “delusional Da Lat” can do that. What do you think about this statement?
I think Da Lat is the child born from love, conquest and aspiration for ideal urban values. So to go to Da Lat, this aspect cannot be ignored; It is impossible to enter the city’s soul or let the city enter into you without a deeply in synchronic heart. But sometimes it’s easy to get distracted and get lost in sentimentality and interpolation, especially when doing work that requires rationality like editing. Therefore, when writing about Da Lat, I try to separate myself clearly: on this side is the system of structure, discipline and intellectual methods that research needs; the other side is literature, the flight and the inward reflection that literature needs. Through 6 works, if readers are observant, they will recognize that clear separation. For me, Da Lat is sometimes a lover, but sometimes it is the subject of a survey. And often, it’s both.
Writer Nguyen Vinh Nguyen shares his collection of documents about Da Lat
The first book he wrote about Da Lat had the topic: With Da Lat, everyone is a traveler (published in 2014, reprinted 7 times), it’s an easy read. But the trio of editors Da Lat, a time far away (2016, reprinted 7 times), Da Lat, under the fog (2019, 3 times reprint) and Da Lat, the encounters (2020, reprinted twice)… can be surprising in the context of editorial books, especially those about a locality, which often face difficulties in publishing…
I only see my own writing page clearly and am often very dreamy when it comes to selling books (this is taken care of by publishers and book companies). Even sometimes, I have a need to give books to my friends, and I don’t know which bookstore to order for the best deals. But when you asked, I also honestly shared what I thought: perhaps because Da Lat itself is a treasure that many people want to learn. They want to understand to love more, understand to immerse in memories or regret. Or it could be to understand to explain your love for that city.
Can you share the process of making documents about Da Lat, archiving methods, research… as an independent writer?
I had no formal education, nor did I work in government research institutions. All I have is from reading and learning from the new trend of historical editing, so-called microhistory (micro history) and influenced by complex thinking. I spend most of my time in the archives at the national archives centers in Ho Chi Minh City, Da Lat to find original documents, and loitering among collectors of old books and newspapers to search for works and documents. the press and sought out witnesses to hear accounts of events. I approach, doubt, contrast, find the line of stories dusted by time; do it little by little, one at a time, systematically and diligently before finding the vocals, melodies, and themes for the books. When I do these things, I put myself in an eccentric and escapist flow, which is not part of the calculations of external life. As if I had to execute a “judgment” that Da Lat had reserved for me.
He was born in Cam Ranh (Khanh Hoa), but grew up in the harsh valley at the foot of Song Pha Pass (Ninh Thuan). Through some of his magazines and short stories in the past, readers can see autobiographical elements. Can you tell more about your hometown?
I had a strange childhood, converging both the beautiful and the grim aftershocks of the times and history. If this happens, I will tell it in another book. Here, I will talk about how that countryside was associated with Da Lat. I suddenly realized that my adult landmarks happened to repeat in the footsteps of Dr. Alexandre Yersin and Governor-General Paul Doumer when they made a companion trip to survey the Langbian Plateau at the end of March 1899. They went from Khanh Hoa to Ninh Chu (Ninh Thuan) and followed the road to the mountain. They spent the night at the foot of Krong-Pha (Song Pha) mountain, in my hometown, before crossing a steep cliff like a desolate wall to the Langbian plateau. After the trip, Governor-General Paul Doumer signed the Decree to establish Langbian Nursing Station in November of that year, opening the vision of a future Da Lat urban area.
In the first year of renovation, my family moved from Khanh Hoa to Ninh Son valley, where all the forest trees wanted to turn into thorns because of the aridity and heat. During my explorations of the forest with friends, I saw sections of the railway through the forest that were cut, sold for scrap, and faded traces of a highway connecting the sea and mountains in the past. That image anchored me questions. Perhaps the fate of Da Lat was “installed” in my mind from those memories… so that later on, I also found a way to cross the Song Pha pass to go to Da Lat.
Nguyen Vinh Nguyen and photographer Dang Van Thong
Talking about the time when I was a student at Da Lat University, I still remember the image of a dusty, skinny philological pedagogical student, riding a bicycle and going uphill… to work part-time, get news for newsrooms. …
Yes, you have reiterated a moving role model if we are talking about the traditional spirit of overcoming difficulties. That image covers many other stumbles that a person who enters life too soon cannot avoid: the fights that go nowhere on the shores of Xuan Huong Lake, the beautiful and dramatic love affairs that make people miserable. unnecessarily, and the health-destroying drunkennesses that followed… Again, I still wonder how I survived that period. Am I really overcoming adversity…
To this day, I still can’t explain why the teachers let me pass the subjects of composition, poetry, or aesthetics. Many times I dreamed that I took an exam and forgot something, had to jog back to my room to get it, and when I returned to the exam room, everyone had finished the exam. Indeed, that has happened. Study, schools always teach only a very limited number of things they can teach; while writing, I need to learn from a lot of things in the world and then choose the one that belongs to me the most to practice… (laugh).
Nguyen Vinh Nguyen signs books for readers in Da Lat
He hasn’t even mentioned the time he lost his job at the local newspaper and had to go fishing at Xuan Huong Lake…
At that time, in the rainy season of 2001, I felt my life was torn because I was abandoned by Da Lat. Maybe I was too sensitive and idealistic at that time. In our twenties, we often spend a lot of time struggling and drowning in illusions and exaggerating feelings of disappointment and pessimism. Then life will tidy it all up, trim away the frenetic frills and move towards what is truly placid and stoic. Gradually, I realized that the natural expulsion from Da Lat at that time was very meaningful for the times to come back, live and enter this city at a different distance, different dimension and different spirit.
He came back in the last meeting very different in the talk Da Lat on the page recently organized by the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Lam Dong. Da Lat welcomed a writer who wrote about himself solemnly almost without precedent. How are your feelings?
I was a bit surprised and pressured because it was an opening program, responding to the 2022 Da Lat Flower Festival, which was expected as a “deep program”. Ignoring the media preparations of the event, what I find most comforting is that it seems that Da Lat has begun to pay attention to urban knowledge.
It is known that he is currently in charge of content for a book publishing company, as well as a columnist for a number of newspapers and magazines. How do you manage your time to do so many things at once?
Although I don’t like living in scenarios, I often look for an order of life that suits my biological and psychological rhythms. I put my work into a stable system where each piece of work is an enjoyment instead of a torturous pressure (although enjoyment can be challenging at times, at times like that I usually… go) sleep so that all stress passes on its own!). I “edit, prune”, refrain from unnecessary work. Thanks to that, I work and live in my own initiative and moderation. Music also helps me a lot in finding peace and excitement in life.
Da Lat lovers are expecting Nguyen Vinh Nguyen to release new works about Da Lat. Can you tell in advance some things to do?
I may have written many books, but only one. I’m trying to see the city from private photos and old postcards.
What do you expect for Da Lat 10 years, 20 years, 50 years later?
I hope 10 years from now Da Lat will be Da Lat. 20 years later Da Lat is Da Lat. And, 50 years later, Da Lat is Da Lat.