Thursday, February 23, 2006

Second Hand Books

NV Tours
179 Phạm Ngũ Lão,
Phạm Ngũ Lão Ward
District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City
Việt Nam

Sometimes, I just want to thank those organizations who have made my life here better, and NV Tours are one of them. Their main purpose is, as the title suggests, a tourist centre providing tours for visitors. How good are these services? I don't know. I've never used them.

I come for their second-hand book section. You can't miss it. The shelves start behind the main desk. Here are the detritus of (I guess) 10 years of novels either unwanted or forgotten by travellers. To be honest, there's a lot of crap there - you can see several shelves devoted alone to mass-market junk like Tom Clancy and John Grisham. (We can't forget Dan Brown either.) But the joy is finding the gold among the gravel. I've found a few Iain [M.] Banks novels, and the odd Elaine Peters. But you won't find much John Le Carre or Len Deighton - I've depleted them of their stock. There are several other authors I've discovered that I wouldn't mind looking up when I eventually return to Australia.

(I'd also like to say that NV Tours is about the only reason I come to Phạm Ngũ Lão these days - period. There are many reasons, but an important one is that I no longer work near it. There used to be only one restaurant that I frequented, and their food went downhill once they changed the management. Oh, and it's backpacker hell, with own scamming mafia attached.)

My appreciation is born out of scarcity - but is none the less genuine. There is still a lack of good English language bookstores in this town. Part of it is due to economics - you have to get the books assayed by the local censors, and I have no idea of what import tax needs to be paid. It's probably substantial. But clueless management has something to do with it. Fahasa (one of the big bookshops here) has lots of the Asterix comic books - in the original French. But did they ever realize that the English translations could be hot sellers as well? (And with better puns.)

They did open up a new shop in the last few months. It was in Saigon Tower, wasn't it? Or Saigon Square? Or possibly the Saigon Tax Centre? (Most of the shopping centres have interchangeable names, as you can see.) I did see lots of books on graphic design, which would make my wife happy. But much of the fiction on hand was those "Oxford Learners" series - literature simplified for the English learner. I have no wish to read them again, having experienced their "edition" of The Big Sleep. I prefer my prose uncut. For that reason, I return to NV Tours once a week to see what they offer.

(What is the price? The answer is "negotiable". Don't ask for prices in dollars - that's bloody stupid. Try in đồng, and try starting at 35,000 or 40,000 and work your way up. They may print a price, but they could lower it. And now is as good a time to practice your Vietnamese.)

UPDATE: Some readers may be confused by the last line: "And now is as good a time to practice your Vietnamese." I could have given the impression that it's a monolingual operation. NV Tours is run by Vietnamese, but it provides much of its services in English. It's what you'd expect from an operation on the backpacker strip). However, a lot of prices in the country are negotiable, and speaking Vietnamese may help you get a lower price for books. And the staff seem to like it that way.