I was looking at an issue of Phụ nữ tân văn (Women’s News) from 1934 and came across an article written by a certain Nguyễn Thị Manh Manh about a visit she made to an insane asylum (Asile des aliénés) in Biên Hòa.
In this article, Nguyễn Thị Manh Manh engages in a fascinating conversation with “Docteur” Nguyễn Văn Hoài about insanity and learns, among other things, that the three biggest causes of insanity are addiction to alcohol, syphilis and tuberculosis.
As fascinating as that discussion is, the ending of the article is also interesting. It consists of a transcription of a conversation that Nguyễn Thị Manh Manh had at the asylum. I’ve abbreviated the names of Nguyễn Thị Manh Manh and Nguyễn Văn Hoài as NTMM and NVH, respectively.
NTMM: “Could you tell me sir how many people are admitted each year?”
NVH: “From 100 to 120.”
NTMM: “How many recover and leave?”
NVH: “There are two periods [when people are released each year], and 20-25 people [are let out] each time.”
NTMM: “How many people die in the asylum?”
NVH: “Between 50 and 60 each year.”
NTMM: “Are there many insane Westerners here?”
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Hoài consulted the records and replied, “8 Western men and 10 ladies.”
NTMM: “Please check to see who is now more numerous among our insane in the asylum, men or women.”
NVH: “There are 420 men and 218 women.”
Miss Nga, my colleague, laughed and said, “So we women go insane less then men!”
Mr. Michel Thành who takes care of the records at the asylum was standing near us and responded right away, “No, it’s because women drive men crazy a lot. . .”
NTMM: “Surely not!”
[An addendum: I think that I am actually being quite polite here in using the word “insane” to translate “điên.” It really means “crazy,” and this author is therefore asking questions about “crazy” people.]