Idle talks with Tran Đang Khoa

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - 8:25:01

(VOVworld) - Meeting Tran Dang Khoa for the very first time, he was totally different from what I had imagined about him as a famous poet.

At a ceremony to mark Voice of Vietnam’s 69th founding anniversary (7/9/1945 – 7/9/2014), for the first time, VOV awarded the title “VOV pen” to its 5 most outstanding journalists, including Trần Đăng Khoa, VOV Party Committee’s Deputy Secretary; Uông Ngọc Dậu, Director of the News and Current Affairs channel VOV1; Ngô Thiệu Phong, Deputy Director of VOV Bureau in the Mekong River Delta; Phạm Trung Tuyến, Deputy Director of the National Assembly Channel, and Trần Nhật Minh, Deputy Director of the Culture, Science and Education channel (VOV2). In today VOV’s special column “VOV: Life and Career”, we’d like to introduce journalist Trần Đăng Khoa.

A busy poet 

It was not easy to organize an interview with Khoa, even with an appointment made in advance. In in my several hours reserved with him, his office door was kept open with many people coming in and out, talking with him about work.

Our interview was constantly disrupted by unwanted visits. A thought came to my mind that Khoa must have been exausted greeting people all morning. But he looked very relaxed and cheerful, and kept smiling with all of his colleagues and guests.

idle talks with tran dang khoa hinh 0

Khoa’s telephone kept ringing as we talked and people kept coming to see him on the afternoon we met. At the end of our talk, he apologized to me as if I was about to blame him for so many visitors. He asked for my sympathy, explaining that he has long been compared to a village announcer whom everyone could come to talk about anything. His voice was ardent and warm.

The story of a recorder

It was a recorder Khoa gave to me as a present.

During my interview with Khoa that day, my recorder ran out of storage space and I could not record the rest of our talk.

- You must have a good recording device when working as a reporter, Khoa told me. Your recorder can be used for display only, he joked.

- I agreed with him but thought to myself that I was only a freshman in this job and buying a professional recorder would cost me a bit too much of my small salary. And that was why I still needed that made-in-China recorder for my work! 

I thought our conversation about my recorder had simply ended. A few days later, however, Khoa phoned me and said he had bought me a new and better recorder as a present. I was a bit surprised as we were not that close and it was a digital recorder that I used to dream of. So I received a gift from a poet prodigy. And that was a very sweet memory of our interesting time together.

He gave me the new recorder and a few days later we met on a journey to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to take part in an exchange entitled “Journalists and soldiers” held by Journalism Journal. Khoa told me: I am often extremely busy by the years-end but I would quit all other jobs to accept journalist Huỳnh Dũng Nhân’s invitation. He advised me: if you want to improve your journalism skills, you should read works by famous authors, including Ngô Tất Tố, Phạm Quỳnh, Hữu Thọ, Nguyễn Trần Bạt, Trần Đăng Tuấn, Đỗ Doãn Hoàng, Huỳnh Dũng Nhân. You should not miss “On the case of Ms. Cotton Rabbit” of Phan Vàng Anh, and “Petty memories” of Nguyễn Quang Lập, “Spells of Muong region” of Hoàng Anh Sướng. Such works are very good references for your writing job.…
I had been told by journalist Huỳnh Dũng Nhân the day before that Khoa would have given me a lift because he has a car, which could save me money. Of course I asked Khoa for a lift.

In the past, whenever talking about Khoa, I used to imagine a proper and elegant poet. His job at Radio Voice of Vietnam consolidated my thoughts. But when we met each other, nothing was like what I had imagined. Khoa was very casual, even too casual, and people meeting him often have the feelings that he spends no time taking care of his looks. People love him for his simple and countrified characteristics …He told me: just keep your eyes closed and think of me, you’ll imagine me to be very handsome. But if you open your eyes and look at me, you would think I’m very ugly. I thought although he’s not handsome, his soul is beautiful and that makes him “handsome” in other people’s eyes. I’d like to contribute some small stories about this poet prodigy.

 I’m old, over 70 years old

On the day I asked Khoa for a lift as journalist Huỳnh Dũng Nhân had told me, Khoa took a cab to fetch me.

- I thought you have a private driver who drives you with your company car? – I asked him.

- I did not ask him because this is not company work. I don’t use a company car for my personal issues – He answered phlegmatically.

The taxi driver joined our chat on that day:

- You should not worry about that. I think people with authority should make full use of their advantages.

-  I’m not interested in such advantages. I rarely use the benefits my company offers. I even never use the fixed telephone line in my office for my personal talks. And for travel, I take a taxi, which is convenient and helps me avoid the thoughts that I’m making use of the company’s offerings.

- Why don’t you get a car if you have to travel that much? – The taxi driver wanted to satisfy his curiosity.

- I’m traveling by car right now, aren’t I? Buying a car would be very troublesome. It would cost at least 50,000 USD. I’d rather spend that money on travelling by taxi. I’m not a good driver, and if I had an accident, I would regret for the rest of my life if I hurt other people. The thought that I could kill someone in a traffic accident really haunts me.

- Pardon me, how old are you? The driver asked Khoa.

- Me? I’m more than 70. I’m very old now.

- A 70-year-old man can’t be that young, can he?

- You think I look young? Some young women even asked me if I had had cosmetic surgery. I told them I make up myself with God’s cosmetics. You can be healthy with look young if you hate no one, are never angry, and are not greedy for money or power. If you lead a healthy lifestyle, you can never be sad. Illness and age can be the results of an unbalanced and unhealthy lifestyle.

When we got off the taxi, I asked Khoa:

- Are you kidding? You can’t be that old. Tell me the truth.

- Only by saying this did I get his compliments. It cost me nothing for that compliment. If I did tell him the truth, he would have pitied this old man and said: “Oh my poor old man, you look so old with your big belly, bald hair and glassy eyes.” It would be too terrible for me to hear that.

Now I understood. That poet prodigy just played a trick with his age to make a good impression on the taxi driver that he looked so young while being over 70..

The funeral of Trần Đăng Khoa

The story of Khoa’s funeral was told by himself on the first day we arrived in Sài Gòn. How strange this poet is!  He has already prepared a plot for the day he passes away. He said it would be extremely terrible for a sad funeral. Sorrow would double if people mourned too much for the deceased. Why don’t we lessen the sorrow of the funeral? So he decided he would “pilot” his own funeral.

He has already written a script for the day he passes away. He also composed a poem about it. This is what he had written for his family, relatives, and friends attending his funeral: Trần Đăng Khoa was only Trần Đăng Khoa when alive (which means when he is still able to breathe), and when he is not able to breathe, it’s not Khoa anymore. So he is responsible for the corpse inside the coffin. It’s not him, definitely not him. He said people are advised not to look at his corpse and that it’s better to burn that corpse right away and put the ashes into an earthenware pot and bury it under a carambola tree. His last request, before his corpse should be burnt, is that someone read a goodbye poem for him as follow:

So many tiring years

Wandering in this life

Now I’d like to become smoke

Mincingly flying to the sky …

A civil servant who always practices thrift

We were picked up at the airport by journalist Huỳnh Dũng Nhân who took us to lunch. We decided that Khoa should choose our main dishes for lunch but it took him quite a while to select from the menu only a dish of boiled sweet potato buds… And he was very fastidious on whatever Huỳnh Dũng Nhân mentioned in the menu.

He asked: “Do they have dishes with snails here? It would be cheap and delicious.”

“My goodness!” I thought to myself. “We flew all the way to Saigon to eat snails and refuse all the delicious seafood on the restaurant menu”.

Then I found out that Khoa wanted to save money for journalist Huynh Dung Nhan. He refused all the delicious but expensive food. And he would love to pay for lunch for his friends all the time. But on that day he was not allowed to pay. That was why he became mean, because he wanted to save money for his host. He said he would choose anything to eat right away if the meals were on him. But he could not do that to his host, saying he would not enjoy such an expensive meal.

He also complained about his luxurious room at the Rex Hotel in Saigon, saying he could sleep over at any cheap hostels or hotels instead of that fancy palce! Huỳnh Dũng Nhân made very good preparations for us and he booked us rooms at the Rex, the most luxurious hotel in Saigon. And our poet felt very uncomfortable with the thought that his host had overspent on him.…

To me Khoa was extremely special. He always wants to save money for other people.

The poet who loves high-techs

Khoa is reaching his 60s but is still a high-tech fan. He would buy any of the latest versions of the ipod, ipad, Samsung Galaxy tablet, Canon, Nikon, or Sony cameras… although they are very expensive. He enjoys exploring how to operate those devices. That hobby of his almost annoyed me on our trip in Sai Gon.

We wandered through Saigon together the day before the exchange was held. It was a beautiful sunny day. He told me: I’d love to look for a micro SD 32 GB.

It took us the whole afternoon to find the memory card on sale after searching lots of electronic stores. Khoa insisted on looking for it while I just wanted to disappear, because I was exhausted to walk on my high heels after waking for the whole afternoon.

The next day, Khoa kept asking me to look for that same memory card with him in the supermarkets, explaining that this kind of card was not sold in Hanoi yet and he would love to have one and that people had said that it was available in Sai Gon.

We asked the Editor In Chief of the Journalism Journal, Huỳnh Dũng Nhân, to rent a motorbike for us so that we could continue our search. We went to almost every electronic store in District 1 but the memory card that Khoa wanted to have was nowhere to be found. They told us they only had that card of 16GB cards, not 32GB because that kind of card would be too expensive.

- So we just gave it up. That kind of memory card has long been available elsewhere in the world but not here. I’ll just wait for it to be sold in Hanoi – Khoa told me with a sigh.

- This poet has become crazed by high-tech, I joked to myself.

And those are some of my notes from our trip to Saigon together. Our idle talks seemed endless and gave us a picture of the true poet Tran Dang Khoa, no more, no less./.