“A Tasty Stroll in Saigon,” L’Écho annamite newspaper, 18 April 1924

A central Saigon street scene in the mid 1920s

A brave nhà-quê named Pham-Van-Vang, aged 28 and originally from Binh-Luong-Trung, Go-Cong province, wanted to visit Saigon, which he had never seen and of which he had heard so many wonderful things.

So, on the 15th of last month, after selling in Cholon a cargo of paddy which had netted him 3,000 piastres, our man took the opportunity to take a “Grand Duke’s Tour” of the “Pearl of the Orient.”

Newspaper advertising for the Nam-Viet-Khach-Lâu dormitory

While Vang went into raptures standing in front of the gleamingly lit stores of the rue Catinat, two individuals dressed in European style, named Muoi-Cho and Ba-Duoc, engaged him in conversation and offered to guide him around the capital.

Vang having accepted their services, they brought him to the annex of the Nam-Viet-Khach-Lâu [a Vietnamese person’s dormitory run by the Hotel d’Annam], where they rented a room in which they relieved our naïve country bumpkin of the sum of 500 piastres over a game of baccarat.

After this first exploit, the swindlers led their unwitting victim to the house of a Monsieur Maturin on the rue de Champagne [modern Lý Chính Tháng, District 3]. The master of the house proposed to his new “friend” that they take a walk to the Halles-centrales [Bến Thành Market], an invitation which Vang accepted with pleasure, considering himself honoured to keep company with such a kind ông-tây.

On the way, the two men stopped at a Chinese bistro, where they drank a toast to their mutual health and their new friendship. Maturin, citing urgent business, then asked Vang to return alone to his house on the rue de Champagne, promising that he would join him there.

The Gendarmerie coloniale, Saigon

Arriving at Maturin’s house, the nhà-quê was surprised to find the European there already, together with Muoi-Cho, Ba-Duoc and a young métisse named Mademoiselle Vidal. Immediately, the quartet pounced on the naïve peasant, striking him repeatedly with a stick in order to rob him of his remaining 2,480 piastres.

Then, in an attempt to cover up what they had done, Maturin grabbed the unfortunate Vang by the collar and led him to a nearby police station, where he filed a complaint against him for trespass and attempted theft.

However, Maturin soon fell into his own trap. Known as the leader of a gang of thugs and repeatedly convicted for fraud, the disreputable character immediately aroused the suspicions of the sympathetic commissioner, Monsieur Chapuis. During the course of the very detailed investigation which followed, the guilt of Vang’s aggressors was firmly established.

Maturin was referred to the public prosecutor’s office. Mademoiselle Vidal was allowed out on bail, pending the outcome of the investigation.

As for his two native accomplices, they both fled and are now actively being sought by police.

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tour guidebook Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts Saigon and Chợ Lớn Heritage Tours.

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

Join the Facebook group pages Saigon-Chợ Lớn Then & Now to see historic photographs juxtaposed with new ones taken in the same locations, and Đài Quan sát Di sản Sài Gòn – Saigon Heritage Observatory for up-to-date information on conservation issues in Saigon and Chợ Lớn.

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