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READERS CORNER: Saigon and Viet Nam at the turn of the century (1900)

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Title: On and Off Duty in Annam (1910)

Subject: Great “turn of the century (1900)” tour of Viet Nam – Travel, Social Life and Customs.

Author: Gabrielle M. Vassal

Review: This is a great read for anyone with an interest in Viet Nam. The book is the travel narrative of an English woman who married a French Doctor. Shortly after their marriage he was relocated to the Louis Pasteur Institute (Hospital) in Nha Trang.

She describes in great detail day to day living starting with their departure from Europe, travel to Saigon and on to Nha Trang, the culture of the Vietnamese and their minorities.

Her details lead to many further questions. She describes a tri-car, an early French 3 wheeled car as one mode of in country transportation. Was this an early steam powered version of the Cyclo? I wounder what make and model it was? I’m still searching for that answer.

She starts the book with the…

Introduction

Occupation of the Country, or First Occupation of the Colony.

Then continues on for 388 pages with numerous illustrations from *photographs* taken by the author, including…

FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF FRENCH INDO-CHINA

The send-off of our English and French friends : Arrival at Cap St. Jacques : First glimpse of the Annamese : Saigon : Adventurous driving : Le tour d’inspection : Public buildings and native dwellings : My first evening in the Tropics : European life in Saigon : Cholen : A crowded native thoroughfare

LIFE IN AN ANNAMESE FISHING VILLAGE

Miseries of a coast steamer : An ungraceful landing : Nhatrang : The native village : Fishing tactics : Our new home : Choosing native servants : Beginning of domestic worries : Fight with insects, damp, mould, native habits, &c. : Catering of native cook : The market : My neighbour’s pigeons : Cooking practices : Daily routine

A TROPICAL PASTEUR INSTITUTE

Influence of Pasteur’s discoveries on tropical medicine : The origin of research work : One of Pasteur’s pupils : Yersin’s discovery of the plague bacillus : His search for a site and foundation of the present Institute : Its work and organisation : Suoigiau : A rubber plantation : Mosquitoes and malaria : The Institute’s cattle : Natives’ distrust of European doctor : A shark’s victim : Difficulties in treatment of native patients : Escape of a one-legged
man : Expressions of gratitude after recovery : A thanksgiving ceremony : Trials of research work in the Tropics

IN AND ABOUT NHATRANG

Lessons in riding and shooting : Configuration and outlook of Annam : Want of communications : Comparison with Cochin-China : Beauty and attractiveness of the country : A native village : Pagodas and tombs : Water buffaloes : Red ants : A brickmaking village

DAILY ROUTINE IN THE LITTLE CAI-NHA

The awakening at dawn : The rush into light and air of the cai-nka’s occupants : Tidying up and arranging the house for the day : The ba-gia : The baby’s meal : Occupations of the children : The market : The rice-fields irrigating, ploughing, sowing, and planting out : Occupations which bring men and women together : Evening leisure

THE MANDARIN AT HOME

How to become a mandarin : The esteem with which education is
regarded in Annam : The mandarin’s house and furniture : The
Citadel : Visit to the Quan Bo of the province : Shaking hands : Refreshments : His family : Nicknames of the children : Respect due to the family name : The Quan Bo’s return call : A brother of Thanh-Thai : Illness of one of his wives : The princess : A royal infant : A Chinese pipe : Snapshots

RELIGIOUS RITES AND SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEFS

Religious systems of Annam : The scepticism of the native : Spirits and genii : Countryside shrines : The shrine to the tiger : Superstitions concerning the tiger : Ancestor-worship : The benefits to family life of this cult : Its ceremonies : The death and funeral of a believer : The practice of polygamy

THE SOCIAL POSITION OF WOMEN

Marriage laws : Betrothal and divorce : Betrothal and marriage ceremonials : Polygamy : Social situation : Education and occupations : Peculiarities of Annamese beauty : Generalities

THE ANNAMESE COMMUNE AND THE ADMINISTRATIVE ORGANISATION OF THE STATE

The Annamese Commune : Its independence and its functions : Mayor and deputy mayors : Notables and the Municipal Council : The Public Hall, goods in common and their redistribution : The canton, the district, and the prefecture : The Ministers and the Comat : The Emperor

THE TET

Preparations for the Tet : Gambling propensities of the Annamese : Baquan : Festivities during the Tet : Sports on water and land : Procession of the Dragon : A theatrical performance : A curious play : An enthusiastic audience

OUR GARDEN

Laying out and planning a garden in the Tropics : Our coolie gardener : Tropical shrubs, bougainvilleas, filaos, agaves : Tropical fruits : Cultivation of European garden flowers : Enemies lizards, crabs, birds, ants

THE TCHAM TEMPLE OF NHATRANG

History of the Tchams and their conquest : Tcham dress : Their temples : Po Nagar’s temple : Its architectural beauty : The goddess Po Nagar : Tcham curios and hidden treasures : A Tcham legend

TO THE INLAND HILLS NHATRANG TO DABAN

Preparations for a two-hundred-kilometre journey : Trials of a tri-car : Catastrophe to a group of native women : Meeting an elephant : Arrival in a village whose inhabitants had never seen a motor-car : Commotion wrought among oxen, fowls, pigs, &c. : Frightful state of roads : Safe arrival at Banghoi : Phan Rang : Breakdown : Return to Phan Rang : New start in pony-cart : No relays ready : Balat : Change of scenery as we approached the hills : Exhaustion of the last pony : Deluge of rain : Shelter at Daban : In the land of the tiger

TO THE INLAND HILLS (continued) FROM DABAN TO DANKIA

The Mois’ physical appearance : their baskets : A “tailed race ” : A steep climb on horseback : The pines : A snake : Dran : Isolation of Europeans in this district : A second long climb : General view of the plateau : M. Canivey’s escape from a tiger : His punitive expedition to a Moi village : Moi bows and arrows : A Moi woman : Dankia

IN THE KINGDOM OF THE MOIS

A Moi village : Children decorticating and winnowing the rice : A Moi hut : Darkness and smoke : Moi furniture : Men and women round the fire : Hygiene among the Mois : A Moi woman’s confinement : A Moi funeral : Moi tombs : Sacrifice of a buffalo : The priest’s oration : The slaughter : The banquet which follows : Moi justice : The Sorcerer : Methods of discovering the culprit

THE AGRICULTURAL STATION

The discovery of the plateau : The proposed sanatorium : Foundation of the Agricultural Station : Temperate and tropical fruits and flowers : Cattle-breeding : The Mois as farm labourers : Moi slaves : Their hatred of the Annamese : Wages paid in kind : Good-bye to the Station : Visit to a Moi village : Hospitality of Moi women towards their sex : Arrival at Dran : An adventurous ride : An incident on the homeward drive

A TIGER HUNT

A tiger seen on the Station : Surrounding his hiding-place, a clump of bamboos : A courageous dog : First sight of the monster : Wounded : Hunting him in the long grass : Escaped : Reappearance at the house itself : A night watch under a bridge : The tiger by moonlight : Killed at last

THROUGH HINTER-ANNAM

Preparations for our novel journey : The pholy of Dankia promises to accompany us : Scenery beyond the plateau : Difficulties of mountain and jungle paths : Our first night : Strange quarters : Cockroaches : A tremendous descent : Great welcome to a Moi village : The pholy’s hut : Ternum : Sleeping to an audience : A hasty departure : Mois’ accurate shooting : Leeches : Crossing a river : Moi weavers : A narrow escape from a fight : The gradual extinction of the Moi race : Dankia again

If you’ve ever wondered what Viet Nam was like before most of us arrived in the 1950/60’s this is about as good as it gets.

If you are an Indo-china-phile: Do yourself a favor and read this gem from over 100 years ago!

CLICK HERE to download the eBook version in PDF format. You can save a copy to your computer if you want too.

Enjoy the read …

Bob

PS: Be forewarned this is one of those books that once you start reading it, you can’t put it down!

4 comments to READERS CORNER: Saigon and Viet Nam at the turn of the century (1900)

  • Robert Pollock

    The tri-car she wrote about may have been the Leon Bollee tandem tri-car (800cc, from 1897). Here’s a picture:

    http://www.special-classics.com/Archive/francais/2bollee.jpg

    • Hi Robert!

      Yes, you are correct it was most likely the Leon Bollee tri-car. I’ve since done some research on the tri-car. The only difference so far is that she refers to it as being *steam powered* and the Leon Bollee tri-cars (along with others of the era) were all gasoline engines. But, everything else (including one of her pictures of it) matches to it as being a Leon Bollee tri-car. I’ve even located a video of a guy who has one he has restored to fully operational. I’ll be posting it on the site soon.

      Thanks for your contribution and photo of the Leon Bollee tri-car.

      Happy Holidays!

      Bob

  • Richard Turner

    Bob,

    Thanks for all of the information on this book. You must have enjoyed it to but so much time into passing it along. I’ll probably read it over Christmas. I have a book titled Asia in Western Fiction by Robin Winks and James Rush. It has a chapter about Vietnam: Fear and Fascination in the tropics: a reader’s guide to French fiction on Indo-China. Some of the books mentioned are translated into English.

    My sister Georgia sent me a copy of the Circle Sportif Revue from 1960. Its sort of an annual report. In it there’s an article (in French of course) that lists the holdings of the Sportif library. Its a motley assortment of books, many of them apparently donated by French and American members, kind of like a traveler’s library in a Lonely Planet hotel.

    Best,

    Richard

    • Hi Rique!

      Yes, I found this book a great read. Particularly, the cultural and customs aspects. Also, a lot of the same, shall we say, *inconveniences* we experienced and encountered were still the same as when the author was in Viet Nam.

      Enjoy the read.

      Happy Holidays!

      Bob

      PS: I came across a similar Cercle Sportif annual report (but in English) as the one your sister has in French. Wouldn’t be fun to get into the Library at CSS?! I bet there are some jewels in it!

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