A Day with Saigon's Last Public Letter Writer

The first person to come to his stand is a man from the Mekong Delta. He’s got a letter with him, addressed to a businessman from Europe. He’s his chauffeur, and he’s been driving him to business meals and meetings for a year. He asks in writing if the man can get him health insurance and asks for a $200 advance. Ngo translates the letter into English. “Dear Sir,” he writes with his fountain pen, “might I politely request, sincerely yours.” Or would it better to say “affectionately”? No, that’s too intimate. The man hands him a bill. Ngo slips it between the pages of his dictionary without ever looking at it.

Ngo is a mediator between worlds — a professional letter writer of the sort that used to exist in the old days. He chooses each word carefully, formulates cautiously, polishes the style of the letter. He knows how important words are and what harm they can do. Ngo doesn’t just translate. He bridges the distance between people, advises and comforts them, discreetly and with perfect attention to form. —Fiona EhlersA Day with Saigon’s Last Public Letter Writer (Spiegel Online)