Letter writerDuong Van Ngo

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Born in Vietnam, Ngo said he got an excellent primary school education, where he even learned French. At 12, even though he was from a poor family, Ngo was accepted at the high-end Petrus Ky High School (now Le Hong Phong High School For The Gifted), and at 16 went to work for the Saigon Central Post Office. He did well at the work, and when he was 36, the post office asked him to complete his education in French, and also learn English; for the latter he was tutored by a pilot at the Vietnamese-American Association.

Ngo at work with the tools of his trade: pens and dictionaries. (Photo CC2.0 by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier)

His job: letter writer, also providing information to English- and French-speaking tourists. “I have asked Mr. Ngo to write letters to send overseas since I was very young,” said Ho Thi Hong in 2017. “He has done this job for dozens of years.” The service was free. “People can turn to the Internet and smart phones to translate,” he said. “But many still ask me to help them write addresses and check the information. Some send packages containing a lot of documents and papers which needs the correct address of the sender and receiver.” Many recipients of such letters and packages that came to Vietnam made time to seek him out to get a photo, or just meet him.

Slowly, the other six letter writers died off, leaving Ngo as the last of his profession at the post office. Declining health forced him into retirement in 2021, but he “snuck in” when he felt well to continue the work. In 2009 he had been recognized by the Vietnam Records Book Center as the longest-serving public letter writer in the country’s history. The recognition came with a prize of 20 million dong — about US$800. Dương Văn Ngộ died August 1, at 93. He was the last public letter writer at the Central Post Office in what is now Ho Chi Minh City.

From This is True for 6 August 2023