Trong gurgled and moaned slightly. He should be very tired today, drinking 12 hours already.
Normally he drunk much better than me. He was notoriously the best drinker of the university dormitory many years ago. Trong was from the North of Viet Nam. He moved to the South with his family after 1975. He told me his name was originally Trong without any accent: “It means pure, limpid, you see. It was some officer working on my paper that turned it accidentally to Trọng by adding an accent below it, which makes it mean respect, heavier and completely different, less pure Vietnamese.” I replied to him that the two names sound fine and however it is, in English, his name means always pure and limpid. He liked my idea very much and spoke about that everywhere.
We were quite close friends. He took me to see all his friends and presented me to them with the kindest words that sometimes embarrassed me. As this noon he told Trung about me. “Here is my friend coming from abroad that you can discuss everything, from drink to politics or woman.” “He exaggerated. I came mostly to listen.” I said to them.
Trong grew up in the South but most of his relatives were still in the North. He was particular; he told a lot of stories about his family members in the North and others that he knew so well.
“Thien, my uncle was always running for the party chief position at a town up North. Spent quite a lot of money already. Last time when my dad spoke to his wife, she told him that they run out of money. You see. My dad was angry, telling me that how can a wife say that? She has to support her husband. She has to find money, she knows all the people working for her husband.”
Or some years ago he told me:
“The family of my cousin was again separate. His wife ran again sleeping with other guys. My cousin could not support that any more. He begun to drink again and doesn’t care anymore for his political career. The family is now arranging to get rid of his wife by sending her and her boy friend she chooses abroad for some kind of studies during my cousin runs for office. No more news is good news. You see people up there in the North still care very much about the family situation when you run for some positions. So old-schooled this country.”
“After the last year session studying kind of how to learn and follow Uncle Ho’s example, some high officers in this town turned on cassette player with the sound of pigs in their houses’ living rooms: oink oink like that. So that people believe that they are now turning to bring up pigs for their living, following very well the Uncle’s example. Funny?”
Trong could spend all day telling me these stories that he had quite a lot. He told without any judgement and so naturally that some times, however close we were one to another, I asked myself if he had ever thought about any moral issues in his stories. Was he simply ignorant, immoral, or more exactly innocently immoral? Once when we were very drunk, I told him my feeling. He just burst into laughter.
“Do you know who can judge people?” He then asked me.
“Go on.” I told him.
“To judge people, you should be or have one of the following three. First it is God. Second it is Buddha or Vietnamese tradition who taught that if you sin you can be punished. And third it should be a Republican system in countries like France where the judges represent so well the common will; hence they can define themselves as the justice.”
“You read a lot, Trong. I can say that all these things are wiped out completely in this country.”
“Then what’s the point of judging people here?”
“So in this world without God, Buddha or any belief and justice, do you know where we go?” I asked him. We stayed silent a while.
“Should we invent something?” Trong replied.