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Tuesday 1 March 2011

Typewriters in Vietnam: A Voss in a Different State

Just looking at the latest post on Richard Polt's "Writing Ball" blog today made me drool like a boy at the window of a lolly shop. Like him, I have a definite soft spot for the Voss. However, unlike Richard, I haven't had much luck in collecting them. "Luck" isn't the right word to use in Richard's case, of course: his hunting skills are impressive to say the least. Living in Australia, the opportunity to gather a Voss or six isn’t so great.

However, I'm also impressed in a somewhat different way - by this photograph of a Voss, a typewriter which is in another state altogether from the beauties in Richard’s possession. A close friend of mine has just returned from a vacation in Vietnam and snapped this picture for me:

The Voss is on display in the Hanoi Women’s Museum. It was used by Ngo Ba Thanh ("The Rose in the Barbwire Forest") (1931-2004) to type documents, propaganda and resistance papers against the Thieu government in the 1970s, when she was a member of the committee, “Vietnamese Women Demand Living Rights”. 

Madam Thanh (real name Pham Thi Thanh Van) was a doctor of law and deputy in the National Assembly. She was a member of the International Law and Practice American Bar Association, and the French Societe de Legislation Comparee, after graduating with doctorates in law from Paris University and Barcelona University and studying comparative law at Columbia University. During the Vietnam War, she was a member of "the third force" and was jailed for five years.
The American Biographical Institute selected her as a "Woman of the Year” in 1998 and the International Biography Centre in Cambridge, England, elected her a “Millennium Woman”.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in late 1992, Madam Thanh was described as “one of the precious cultural bridges between the Western world and Vietnam”.  The Times said, “Thanh has a reputation as a strong-willed, charismatic adjudicator who is used to speaking her mind at the risk of paying a price. She spent years in jail for her pro-Viet Cong views and activities in the 1960s under the fallen, US-backed Saigon government.”
Madam Thanh was quoted as saying, “I wanted peace, but at the time, the Vietnamese government said those who wanted it were either Communists or pro-Communists.” She said she had never been a Communist but was instead a peace activist.

These days, second-hand typewriters are shipped by certain charities from Australia to Vietnam to be used by people in areas without electricity or who cannot afford computers.


Richard P said...

You can just smell the history on that Voss! The French keyboard makes sense, given the country's colonial past.

Another fascinating typewriter tale.

Ryan Adney said...

It's amazing to thing what was written on this typewriter. That Voss looks like it's fought hard for it's values. Wonderful post.

shordzi said...

Thanks for telling this great story!