Inside the Central Post Office in downtown HCMC, foreign tourists might be captivated by not only the charm of the French-built building but also the image of an 87-year-old man who has been sticking with his job as ghostwriter. He is Duong Van Ngo who was acknowledged as the oldest ghostwriter in the city by the the Vietnam Guinness Book of Records. Born into a poor Chinese-Vietnamese family, he started working at the Post Office at the age of 18. In 1990, he retired after 42 years of work but his deep passion for the job and the passionate love of the age building urged him to continue serving the public as a ghostwriter of letters or translator. Ngo says he learned the French language at Petrus Ky High School, the present-day Le Hong Phong High School in District 5, and it is no wonder he can speak French fluently when he communicates with international tourists.
When he turned 36, he was sent to the Vietnam USA Society English Centers (VUS), a English teaching institute in the city, to improve his English skills and serve his job. “Translating Vietnamese letters and documents into English or French and vice versa is not challenging but the job requires accuracy, meticulousness and patience,” Ngo said.
“The happiness he has found in this job is to help those having trouble with complicated paperwork and to connect families and their relatives in different geographical locations around the globe.” Every day, Ngo still cycles around two kilometers from Thi Nghe in Binh Thanh District to the Central Post Office and is always there from 8 a.m. until 3.30 p.m.
His office is at a small corner where people in need of help can visit, ask and talk to him. The set of his tools consists of old dictionaries, a magnifying glass, a pen and geographical books. All of them are neatly arranged on a wooden table.
In addition to his letter-writing job, he spends much time introducing the architecture of the Central Post Office and telling interesting stories about the history and culture of Saigon, the former name of HCMC, to visitors, especially those from abroad with a hope to promote the tourism image to international friends and leave a good impression on tourists to the city. When asked why he has yet to quit the job, Ngo says he wishes to stay on until his last breath. For him, the Post Office is like a second home where he has tons of unforgetable memories. A 32-year-old American woman who is touring the city says that apart from admiring one of the oldest post offices in Asia, she wants to see people’s daily activities and talks to the 87-year-old who infuses spirit into handwritten letters and captures the attention of foreign visitors. She says she also asked Ngo to write a few lines on a postcard for her three-week visit to Vietnam. Everyday he can earn VND120,000 to VND130,000 but on some days his income is only VND5,000 but he no longer sees the job as a way of earning a living, Ngo notes. “He is acutally a star at the Post Office as students, officials, and domestic and foreign tourists come and ask him to write or translate letters and pose for photos with him day in, day out, says Hong Minh, a 40-year-old staff who has worked there for more than 10 years. Despite the busy city life and the fast pace of urbanization, the image of an elderly man sitting at a small corner of the 130-year-old Post Office to write letters for customers is an unique trait of the more-than-300-year-old city.