peteg's blog - noise - books - 2011 04 29 VuTrongPhung LucXi

Vũ Trọng Phụng: Lục Xì: Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi

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Translated by Shaun Kingsley Malarney, University of Hawai‘i Press.

I borrowed this from the ANU library on the strength of earlier Vũ Trọng Phụng reportage in translation. The topic (prostitution in colonial Hà Nội in the 1930s) is a bit far from what I'm interested in; Hà Nội had a special status in those days, as French jurisdiction stopped at the municipal limits, and so the Girls Squad, Dispensary, etc. were hamstrung. In contrast Sài Gòn and greater Cochinchina was under the full-blown control of the colonialists, and it seems that there is almost nothing in translation from the region in that era. I'm also more curious about the status of women from an indigenous (traditional) perspective and how it changed when exposed to Europeanization, for courtesans cast a long shadow over Vietnamese literature and yet it is held that there is no place for that sort of thing in traditional Vietnamese society.

Malarney is certainly across his stuff, which one might expect from a professor in gender studies. His translation is excellent and his introduction certainly worth reading both before and after the main text. The interviews with the various players (two prostitutes, the director of the Dispensary, etc.) are intriguing. It dovetails well with Vũ Trọng Phụng's earlier account of the industrialists. I like it that the best account of what "lục xì" means is a Vietnamese rendition of the English "look see".

I can only add that "chicken" (gà) is slang for prostitute, at least in Sài Gòn.

One of the lovely librarians at the Menzies Library at ANU dredged this out of the new book processing pipeline for me. I can't get over the irony of the Menzies building being full of Asian materials, nor how helpful the library staff are. If this is inefficiency, let's have more of it.