Thursday, 22 September 2016

Currently reading: Google Maps

Long time no see, folks.
I just moved to Leeds last week. I know, surprise! The reason for the silence is that I've been and still am extremely busy, having a lot to sort out and many other things to do and hardly anyone but myself to rely on, and I haven't been reading anything but Google Maps- only got my student card on Monday and went to the library today to borrow another copy of The Confidence-Man
So, yeah... 
Regarding my new life in Leeds: 

I'm uploading the 1st photos of Leeds. You'll see them soon. 

Saturday, 3 September 2016

The restaurant, the ex-boss, and a moment of schadenfreude [updated]

I've written 3 posts about my experience at the restaurant: 
I never translated the article I wrote and got published. To summarise, it has 5 main points: 
1/ Low pay. No tip, even in cash- everything goes to the boss.
The boss never gave us anything, even at Christmas and New Year. There were only 2 occasions: the 1st time was on her birthday, she gave each a piece of cake; the 2nd time was at Christmas, when there was a special sale of pepperkake, 1 kroner a box. 
2/ No rights. 
3/ No freedom. There are 4 cameras: the 1st one viewing the whole restaurant, the 2nd one pointing at the bar and the cash register, the 3rd one watching the kitchen and the 4th one for the area where people chop meat and vegetables. 
The boss watches her employees all the time, even when she's on vacation. 
The details of these 3 points were in my 1st post about the working conditions. 
4/ Lack of respect for employees. The boss doesn't respect people working for her. She never turns to violence, but scolding, insulting and humiliating are common, especially for the students working part-time. 
Once, the mobile phone used for accepting takeaway orders and table reservations was lost at the end of the day. It's a crappy phone that nobody would bother to take, cheaper than our own phones. The next day, whilst people assumed it could have been accidentally swept into a waste basket and lost, the boss went around saying loudly that it was certainly stolen, and accused 2 persons of stealing who were present the day the phone was lost but absent that day and unable to defend themselves. 
5/ The boss only thinks about her own gains. In the article I only told 3 stories: 
- Once, some time before Tết, the boss got as gift a box of cookies, which she put on display at the restaurant for decoration. A woman, some kind of manager just below her in power, opened the box and let the employees eat. That evening, I saw the boss phone the woman to scold her- why did you open the box? who told you? that box was for decorating the restaurant, if it expires then throw it away, who told you to let them eat, etc. 
- There were 2 exchange students who registered for a Norwegian-language class, twice a week. The 2nd day was on a Wednesday. The boss whined, why learn Norwegian when the restaurant didn't have enough workers. Finally, as though coming to Norway to work in a restaurant instead of studying, those 2 students had to skip a few classes in order to take turns to work on Wednesdays. That time it was none of my business but I jumped in because there was actually a girl, working full-time, who was free on Wednesday and didn't have to do anything. I asked why not ask her to switch because the Norwegian course was temporary and it was a class, whereas that girl didn't have to do anything, it just happened to be her day off. However, the 2 students were not me, they agreed, and that's that. 
- The 3rd incident was some time before I quit. Back then, I worked as a waitress and a cashier. 1 time, when the cash register was transferred from a man to me, I discovered that there was a difference in over 400 kroner between the cash I counted and the amount in the system. I could have been a mess at waitressing, but never screwed up at the cash register, but that man sometimes did, and we often covered up for him- however, because it was such a large amount, I had to tell the boss. It turned out that he made a mistake in inserting an amount, and instead of pressing "retur" to fix it, he inserted it again and doubled the mistake. In other words, no money was actually lost. What he could have done was to press "retur" to delete the whole amount. For fear of getting trouble with the tax agency and being accused of using "retur" to take money for herself, the boss insisted on him taking money from his own pockets to make the amount the same as in the system. I stress again, the money wasn't really lost, but she forced the man to do so. 
The amount was about more than 3 times as much as his pay per hour. 
I would have fought to the end (within the time working at the restaurant, I challenged the boss at least 3 times). He didn't. He acquiesced. 
I write about these incidents to let you see that my ex-boss isn't an ordinary exploiter, which is typical for immigrant restaurant owners. She's a special case. One may even see her as an interesting case study, if not for her pettiness, stinginess and cruelty. 
My 2 blog posts in August were updates on what happened after my article. My friend, who started working there together with me and stayed after I quit, has been working nonstop, without a day off, since 25/7 for lack of workers. When I went out with her on Tuesday, 23/8, she told me that, after working every day for a long time, she worked for 11 hours and a half on Sunday (21/8), and on Monday (22/8). We hung out for some hours, then she went to work. Even now, she hasn't had a day off, since the last day off on 25/7. Today is 3/9, you make the calculations. 
I asked my friend if she could at least get overtidtillegg (extra pay when one exceeds the limit of working hours), she asked "Do you seriously think there is overtidtillegg at that woman's restaurant?". Don't ask me how the bitch evades the law, I have no idea. 
Not only so, recently my friend told me that she asked the bitch to send her salary early to pay the rent. It didn't come. My friend texted to remind her, and got no response till the next day, and from the looks of it, would get her money next week. She also said once the woman that managed things asked about a late pay, and the shameless bitch asked "Why do you love money so much?". 
(At this point, your question is why my friend continues working there. It's difficult for her to get another job, having no formal training in restaurant work, and even though she speaks better Norwegian than I do, she's very shy, so shy that she works inside, cutting vegetables, preparing food and making starters, rather than meet people. Besides, as she works all the time, it's impossible to go anywhere to ask for another job). 
Now you see why I use the word "the bitch". It is justifiable. 
However, here are the news I've just got lately: 
1/ The bitch has just had some kind of trouble with the tax agency. She probably has to pay some fines. I don't know the details, that information comes from 1 of the waitresses, who, by the way, has been working since February without a contract. 
2/ After me, some other people also quit. 1 of the cooks transferred to another restaurant. 
3/ Lately, the bitch can't hire anyone. I don't know if it's her luck, or 1 of the effects of my article, but she can't find anyone working for her. 
4/ Mattilsynet (Norwegian Food Safety Authority) have just come for a check-up, and given the restaurant a sad face :( 
I don't particularly like revealing the name of the restaurant, but here is proof
The other restaurant of the same boss seems to do better, but the last result :) was in April, and after 1 :( and 2 :| 
According to 1 of the waitresses at the other restaurant, the boss said there were complaints in the papers about bad service, but because she didn't say which newspaper, it could have been a lie she made up to scold her employees. 
5/ There's some trouble between the bitch and her young boyfriend, whom we often call her gigolo or toyboy, not only because he's nearly 20 years younger but also because he is unemployed, lives on social benefits for people with mental health (he once stabbed someone, or so the rumour says) and she treats him with contempt. Again, it's hearsay, so I don't know, but apparently the man stole some money and jewellery, so it's quite a big deal now, involving the police and the court and all that. 
These things are nothing compared to what she has done, but allow me to be childish and have a moment of schadenfreude. I don't have 1 bit of guilt. 


Update on 6/9/2016: 
In Norway there's something called feriepenger (ferie= holiday; penger= money), which is money that employers have to pay employees for the summer holiday and which is typically paid before holiday, for example, in June. 
It is now September, the summer is over, and the bitch hasn't paid feriepenger to anyone except a Bulgarian woman who, after asking many times, mentioned the law and threatened to sue, and me. 
My hard-working friend hasn't got her feriepenger. Her salary went into the account yesterday. Not only was it late and without overtidtillegg even though my friend had been working every day for over a month, but the salary was also 1000 kroner short, apparently because of fears of some issues with the tax agency, according to my friend. The bitch said, that 1000 kroner would be added to next month. 
You'd think a person like that sounds more like a caricature in a novel. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The style of The Confidence-Man

Reading The Confidence-Man, I sometimes come across a rather tiresome sentence, though not as odd as many sentences written by Henry James. 
For example, from chapter VII: 
“Upon his hitherto moderate enough companion, this suggestion had an effect illustrative in a sort of that notion of Socrates, that the soul is a harmony; for as the sound of a flute, in any particular key, will, it is said, audibly affect the corresponding chord of any harp in good tune, within hearing, just so now did some string in him respond, and with animation.Which animation, by the way, might seem more or less out of character in the man in gray, considering his unsprightly manner when first introduced, had he not already, in certain after colloquies, given proof, in some degree, of the fact, that, with certain natures, a soberly continent air at times, so far from arguing emptiness of stuff, is good proof it is there, and plenty of it, because unwasted, and may be used the more effectively, too, when opportunity offers.” 
Or from chapter XII: 
“What made it yet more lamentable was, that the unfortunate man, thinking that, before the court, his wisest plan, as well as the most Christian besides, being, as he deemed, not at variance with the truth of the matter, would be to put forth the plea of the mental derangement of Goneril, which done, he could, with less of mortification to himself, and odium to her, reveal in self-defense those eccentricities which had led to his retirement from the joys of wedlock, had much ado in the end to prevent this charge of derangement from fatally recoiling upon himself—especially, when, among other things, he alleged her mysterious teachings.” 
At this point I don’t have much to say. The only thing is that the novel’s very different from Moby Dick. The exuberance, the joy and enthusiasm of Melville’s magnum opus are not to be found here. Nor is humour as we see in Moby Dick, though perhaps The Confidence-Man does have humour, a different kind. 
I’m noting, not really complaining. 
What do you think? 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Melville's The Confidence-Man: who is the con man in chapter 3?

I've returned to Melville- I'm reading The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade. What can be a better read now, whilst one follows the elections in the US? 
People who know the book all know that it's about a con man or more in different disguises. What bothers me is, who is the con man in chapter 3? Everywhere I look, people say it's the crippled black man, because he wins people's pity and thus gets money, but is he? What I see in the chapter is that out of nowhere "a limping, gimlet-eyed, sour-faced person", a custom-house officer, appears and loudly says the black man's deformity is a sham, "got up for financial purposes". How does he know? What are those allegations based on? Does he have evidence or anything to back up those claims?After saying it's a sham, the custom-house officer just says "He can walk fast enough when he tries, a good deal faster than I; but he can lie yet faster. He's some white operator, betwisted and painted up for a decoy. He and his friends are all humbugs." but doesn't bother to prove any of his words. He is like a Donald Trump, loudly and confidently throwing out claims and accusations based on nothing, showing no regard for facts. Then he leaves, but before that, has successfully sowed a seed of doubt in everyone's minds. 
Doesn't that make him, rather than the black cripple, a con artist? 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Updates: life, The Sympathiser, the restaurant

Here I am again.
Last week, some time after my trip to Greece, I finished reading The Sympathiser, and should have written a review or something by now. Sadly, the problem with taking so long to read a book that isn't so thick is that once you're finally done with it, you no longer feel the urge to write anything, and just want to move on with your life. What can I say? On the 1 hand, the sense of responsibility keeps nagging me- as a Vietnamese who feels strongly about literature and about the war and who has an advantage over many Vietnamese people in that she can read the Pulitzer-winning book in the original instead of waiting for a translation that perhaps would never come, I should write a few words. On the other hand, I've been changing from a watcher to a doer, having fun, enjoying life, trying out fascinating stuff and experimenting, and then analysing myself as I've just discovered another side of myself. At the moment it appears a bit pointless to get worked up about a book when I just prefer to embrace my joie de vivre philosophy instead (which, I know, is merely a fancy way of saying I'm just frivolous and lazy).
Perhaps some day I'll write. The verdict: I'm not impressed.
To get back to the restaurant, I keep in touch with a few former co-workers to know that the ex-boss aka the bitch still talks of me constantly, and would never forget me because she has owned a restaurant for 28 years and nobody has ever dared to write a word, so on and so forth. She should have known better than to mess with me, I thought, if she couldn't handle something so light, let's go hardcore. But now, except for a few headaches, I'm generally in such a good mood that I don't bother- after all, who cares really, I didn't hear it, she didn't say to my face.
I'm feeling great.
Here's some Louis Armstrong:

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Some note on my waitressing experience

As you may remember, in May I stopped working at the restaurant and had a rant about it on my blog
Soon afterwards I started writing for Trẻ magazine, and in July, used my own experience to write about the working conditions in 1 Vietnamese restaurant in Oslo, which was published on 27/7. The article was shared around and apparently became a thing in the Vietnamese community in Oslo, at least among the restaurant people, and reached the owner of the restaurant, my former boss. She called me last Saturday, 30/7. The conversation lasted about half an hour- long story short, she spoke of the reactions in the community and their fear of its effect on the restaurant business, explained several points in the article, tried to justify herself, spoke of things I'd said at the beginning, asked why I included so many details, said she didn't remember such trifles, noted that other restaurants of Vietnamese people paid their employees the same salaries and of course wouldn't be the same as Norwegian restaurants, on the 1 hand, wanted to put me down and made it personal, on the other hand, asked me to understand and sympathise, and tried to sweet-talk me into taking down the article. 
(That was a surprise. I rather expected some furious insults). 
I did say it's not personal- if I had really wanted a revenge, I would have filmed or recorded her and taken it to the Norwegian media or even the tax agency, or at least named the restaurant and included photos of it in my article. 
On the same day, 2 girls from the restaurant contacted me. For 1 thing, many of my former co-workers have read the article, and like it- it's all correct, they said. They even asked why I didn't publish in a Norwegian newspaper*. 
More importantly, the boss called the restaurant to ask how people felt about working for her, and over the past few days, has been nicer and more gentle than usual. She even asked 1 of the 2 girls about her pay, and decided to raise it herself. 
I'm too cynical and pessimistic to believe that 1 article of mine can change a person- she's 60 years old, but it feels good anyway. At least I made her think a bit. 

*: To be truthful, I wanted to bring down the whole restaurant. Then I contacted Arbeidstilsynet and realised that Norwegian's law is actually fucked up, and didn't bother... That article I wrote mostly for the fun of it. 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Some top 10 lists about books

- 10 favourite novels (updated):
Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy
War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

- 10 most important novels- 10 novels that have most influenced me or been most significant to me in some ways:
Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy
War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Emma by Jane Austen
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

- 10 novels I hate the most:
The Book of Daniel by E. L. Doctorow
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Corregidora by Gayl Jones
The Tattooed Girls by Joyce Carol Oates
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
(A possible candidate for 1 of the 2 empty spots might be The Sympathiser, but I have to finish the book). 

- 10 novels I feel worst for not having read:  
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky 
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe 
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes* 
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 
Bleak House by Charles Dickens**
The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass** 
Hunger by Knut Hamsun** 
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf** 
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo** 
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

- 10 novels I very much want to read but won't read any time soon: 
Ulysses by James Joyce
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust 
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov**  
Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
The Red and the Black by Stendhal 
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco 
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray 
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov 
The Golden Bowl by Henry James

- 10 novels I don't think I'll ever read: 
Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien 
Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre 
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce 
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys** 
Min Kamp by Karl Ove Knausgård
Nỗi buồn chiến tranh by Bảo Ninh
Anything by V. S. Naipaul
or Graham Greene
or E. L. Doctorow 
or Ayn Rand

*: I believe the book I read as a kid was an abridged version. Not sure. 
**: I tried and gave up on these books. 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Brief comments on The Sympathiser

Hello folks. 
After a period of silence, here I am again. 
I've been busy, writing for Trẻ magazine, watching Eurocup (Portugal becoming the champion is 1 of the most ridiculous things in football history, I have to say), facebooking, arguing about Donald and Melania Trump, following the protests in Vietnam regarding Formosa and the mass fish deaths, exploring things, etc. 
Reading-wise, I've been dealing with 2 books at the same time: Joseph Epstein's Plausible Prejudices and Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathiser (actually The Sympathizer, but I write British English).
Usually, instead of 1 long essay or review, I write a series of posts whilst reading the book, comment on things I notice, and often change my mind as I go along. This time I choose not to do so, believing it better to know the whole book and understand the author's point of view, and only make notes for myself. 
However, here are some brief comments I've posted on facebook: 

Let's see. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Revisiting "Bartleby"- questions and more questions

How can I find anything new to write about "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street", Melville's 2nd most known work and perhaps most widely read work, more than Moby Dick (because it's short, more accessible, and taught in schools)?
1 thing though, I won't make any claims or conclusions, because after several readings I've decided that "Bartleby" is a rich, open and ambiguous work that supports multiple interpretations and can mean many things at once.

1/ 1 Sunday morning, the narrator goes to church and, finding it early, decides to go to his office. To his surprise, he discovers that the door is locked from the inside, and:
"... thrusting his lean visage at me, and holding the door ajar, the apparition of Bartleby appeared, in his shirt sleeves, and otherwise in a strangely tattered dishabille, saying quietly that he was sorry, but he was deeply engaged just then, and—preferred not admitting me at present. In a brief word or two, he moreover added, that perhaps I had better walk round the block two or three times, and by that time he would probably have concluded his affairs."
What's Bartleby doing then?

2/ How does the narrator feel, upon discovering that Bartleby has been making the office his home?
"Immediately then the thought came sweeping across me, What miserable friendlessness and loneliness are here revealed! His poverty is great; but his solitude, how horrible! Think of it. Of a Sunday, Wall-street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is an emptiness. This building too, which of week-days hums with industry and life, at nightfall echoes with sheer vacancy, and all through Sunday is forlorn. And here Bartleby makes his home; sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous—a sort of innocent and transformed Marius brooding among the ruins of Carthage!
For the first time in my life a feeling of overpowering stinging melancholy seized me. Before, I had never experienced aught but a not-unpleasing sadness. The bond of a common humanity now drew me irresistibly to gloom. A fraternal melancholy! For both I and Bartleby were sons of Adam."
That feeling doesn't last long.
"... Revolving all these things, and coupling them with the recently discovered fact that he made my office his constant abiding place and home, and not forgetful of his morbid moodiness; revolving all these things, a prudential feeling began to steal over me. My first emotions had been those of pure melancholy and sincerest pity; but just in proportion as the forlornness of Bartleby grew and grew to my imagination, did that same melancholy merge into fear, that pity into repulsion. So true it is, and so terrible too, that up to a certain point the thought or sight of misery enlists our best affections; but, in certain special cases, beyond that point it does not. They err who would assert that invariably this is owing to the inherent selfishness of the human heart. It rather proceeds from a certain hopelessness of remedying excessive and organic ill. To a sensitive being, pity is not seldom pain. And when at last it is perceived that such pity cannot lead to effectual succor, common sense bids the soul rid of it. What I saw that morning persuaded me that the scrivener was the victim of innate and incurable disorder. I might give alms to his body; but his body did not pain him; it was his soul that suffered, and his soul I could not reach."
Then he decides to fire him. That he doesn't do yet, as we see in the next scenes, but he thinks of firing him, even though at that point Bartleby hasn't stopped copying.
The narrator isn't as kind as he thinks and says he is.

3/ Later, having sacked Bartleby, given him money and expected him to have gone, our narrator comes to his office the next morning in a feeling of relief mixed with uncertainty.
"As I had intended, I was earlier than usual at my office door. I stood listening for a moment. All was still. He must be gone. I tried the knob. The door was locked. Yes, my procedure had worked to a charm; he indeed must be vanished. Yet a certain melancholy mixed with this: I was almost sorry for my brilliant success. I was fumbling under the door mat for the key, which Bartleby was to have left there for me, when accidentally my knee knocked against a panel, producing a summoning sound, and in response a voice came to me from within—'Not yet; I am occupied'."
At this point, Bartleby has given up on copying (actually, the word in the text is "writing"). The only thing he does all day, according to the narrator, is standing and staring at the wall.
What's he possibly doing then? Occupied with what?
To me, it's unlikely that he's simply standing there in his dead-wall reveries. There must be something secretive that Bartleby does in the office before other people show up. I have no idea. Let's start speculating.

4/ This is the goodbye scene, when the narrator changes his office:
"I re-entered, with my hand in my pocket—and—and my heart in my mouth.
'Good-bye, Bartleby; I am going—good-bye, and God some way bless you; and take that,' slipping something in his hand. But it dropped upon the floor, and then,—strange to say—I tore myself from him whom I had so longed to be rid of."
What is the something?

5/ Look at Bartleby's corpse: 
"Strangely huddled at the base of the wall, his knees drawn up, and lying on his side, his head touching the cold stones, I saw the wasted Bartleby. " 
Like a foetus?