Oh Footscrazy, how I’ll miss you

Last year, I wrote an article about Footscray’s gentrification, which has now found a home in Peril’s latest issue, ‘Skin’. Despite having grown up in Melbourne’s affluent eastern suburbs, Footscray (or ‘Footscrazy’ as the locals call it) was a second home. Mum and Dad took me there every second week. It was the only place we’d dine out as a family, scoffing down Thanh Phu* pork chops on broken rice. It provided me with my first mobile phone, my first DVD, and the fabric for my first ao dai.

During my private school years, I hated the suburb. It smelt of piss, rotten vegetables, and fish sauce. Its inhabitants were fresh off the boats who paraded around in demoded styles that Alice Pung would later describe as ‘De Paul finery’. I spent most of my adolescence, sulking in the back of my parents’ station wagon, trying to drown out the front-yard karaoke with Backstreet Boys and Mariah Carey.

Footscray grows on you however. It’s loud, vibrant, and just a little bit dangerous. I shall miss the Footscrazy once the inevitable clean-up occurs.

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*Thanh Phu has since closed down due a fatal food poisoning incident.


Cho Tet 2010

Victoria Street’s Lunar New Year Festival (Cho Tet) happened last Sunday, and I got to wear my new ao dai with three-quarter length harem pants, sneakers and an AK-22 rifle earring. Mum would have died if she saw me. The camera died on her behalf when I remembered to take a photo of myself, but here are a few snaps from the day:

Faking ‘Fresh off the boat’

FOB. Fresh off the boat. The worst kind of insult you can give an ABC (Australian Born Chinese) or any other ethnic minority equivalent. For Caffe Sospeso’s Racism poetry readings, I tried on a fobby Vietnamese accent, hoping to parody my own ethnicity; nobody laughed: they were either too polite or my attempts were really bad.

Tom Cho (via), on the other hand, does an awesome Singlish/Chinese Malaysian accent for ‘Aiyo!!! An Evil Group of Ninjas is Enterting and Destroying a Call Centre!!!’

The story itself is a colourful read with its ‘lah’ and ‘alamak’  and extra exclamation marks, and I’ve always wanted to do a Vietnamese equivalent, so I’ve been reading over essays written by Vietnamese Deakin students, trying to get a feel on how Vinglish works. One kid has this penchant for leaving out ‘the’ in some sentences, overcompensating in others. He also avoids using apostrophes or turning nouns into adjectives, preferring to use ‘of’ instead. I don’t blame him, apostrophes are more often abused than used correctly. (DVD’s from JB-HiFi, anyone?) My favourite sentence of his illustrates both of these quirks as well as the incorrect use of tenses: ‘The problem of corruption cannot solve in the short time, but the solution can affect in long time.’

Here’s a more substantial chunk of Vinglish from binhthuan.gov.vn:

A clod morning, from the Nguyen Tat Thanh avenue taking a look on the city center’s direction, one has the impression that huge changes have taken in a short time. To the people who live every day with and for Phan Thiet it is a surprise. The changes of their beloved homeland, to me, a native coming from far it is much more. Chatting with me, most people confirmed that the city had made achievements that were expected to be done in 5, 10 or more years. I remember when the city decided to carry out the Phan Thiet socio-economic development plan for the 1996 – 2010 period, a lot of people were worried and doubtful. Now what seemingly impossible became possible just in the first 6 months of 2002: the liberation of land for the Phan Thiet industrial zone has been successfully done. It was just one among thousand jobs the city finished. It was a proof of the determination and unanimity of the leaders and people of Phan Thiet, more vivid than whatever figures and nice words.

There’s some wonderful phrases here: ‘the liberation of the land’, ‘more vivid than whatever figures and nice words’, and ‘native’. It makes me realise how expressions often fail to translate from one language to another, and how difficult it is to actually create Vinglish. Not only does one have to mimic the grammatical idiosyncrasies, but one also has to think in Vietnamese, using a dictionary to churn out the supposed English equivalent. (Or chuck a whole heap of text into Babel Fish and see what one ends up with.)

Nevertheless, it seems like a fun exercise. I’m going to collect a couple more examples of Vinglish over the next couple of months, and get back to you on that story idea. Meanwhile, you can be a fob too*. Try saying, ‘Hai, mai name y <insert name here>. Sauree, I am unavailable. Plee lea a message after the tone…’ It’s fun.

*This only works if you’re Viet. Otherwise, you’re just being plain racist.

A Brave New Footscray

 In Footscray, you can buy a bowl of pho, get salmonella poisoning, or hire the latest pirated Paris By Night DVD. You can get by in Footscray without needing a scrap of English as long as you know plenty of Vietnamese: cám ơn, xin lỗivâng. Footscray (aka ‘Fruitspray’) is Melbourne’s Viet capital. Or at least it used to be. 

Everything’s different now. Though Vietnamese gentrification is to be expected with most Indochinese immigrants no longer dressing up in ‘De Paul finery’ (Alice Pung, Unpolished Gem, 2006), it’s surprising to see so many new  African and Indian businesses next to the Nguyens, the Les, and the Trans. And while Little Saigon Supermarket is still predominantly Vietnamese, its stores are beginning to hire employees of other ethnic backgrounds.

This is not the first time Footscray has had a change of face(s):

Until the 1940s the population of the Footscray area was overwhelmingly Australian born or from the British Isles. Following the Second World War waves of migrants and refugees arrived from Europe and the Americas and by 1966 almost one-third of the population was overseas born, mostly from Italy, Greece, Malta, Poland, the former Republic of Yugoslavia, and Germany. (Maribyrnong City Council – History)

One can still find remnants of bygone eras:

T. Cavallaro & Sons Pasticceria - 98 Hopkins Street, Footscray (13/6/09)

T. Cavallaro & Sons Pasticceria - 98 Hopkins Street, Footscray (13/6/09)

As the Vietnamese move out into other suburbs, Footscray will no longer be associated with the Indochinese, but more with African, Middle Eastern, or Yugoslavian minorities. I thought I’d take some photos/footage during my Saturday grocery shop to document this Brave New Footscray:


Patrons picking out the best of the green beans at Little Saigon Supermarket (14/6/09)

Patrons picking out the best of the green beans at Little Saigon Supermarket (13/6/09)

Chillies at the counter (14/6/09)

Chillies at the counter (13/6/09)

Woman writes up a specials sign (13/6/09)

Woman writes up a specials sign (13/6/09)

An Indian man stands under the 'Little Saigon Supermarket' sign, waiting (14/6/09)

An Indian man stands under the 'Little Saigon Supermarket' sign, waiting (13/6/09)