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PASTEUR

“In science, there is no concept of different countries because knowledge is the property of humanity and the light to guide the entire world.”

This statement stands patently at odds with the notion of “intellectual property rights” that is being institutionalized in the name of fair trade and is anything but.

But, to paraphrase the Bard, Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) was an honourable man.

For the founder of the science of microbiology, the investor of the pasteurization process and the person who developed vaccines for several diseases including rabies, the pursuit of knowledge transcended national boundaries.

In Vietnam, the French chemist and bacteriologist’s ideals have inspired those working in the Pasteur Institute in the southern coastal city of Nha Trang for more than a hundred years.

After setting up the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1888 to further his research, the scientist assigned his 27 year-old bacteriologist assistant, Albert Calmette, to carry on the work in Vietnam. In February 1891, Calmette arrived in Saigon (now HCM City), a still wild tropical place where the science of microbiology was unknown.

There was no electricity and everything needed for his work, including chemicals, had to be imported from France.

In 1893, Calmette came down with severe dysentery and had to leave his unfinished task to Alexandre Yersin who discovered the Liangbiang Plateau and founded the Pasteur Institute in Nha Trang.

During his stay in Vietnam, Calmette had successfully developed vaccines for smallpox and rabies, sterilized the city’s water supply and was working to make a serum for copperhead poisoning under the most difficult of circumstances.

Tow sculptures of Pasteur and Calmette solemnly stand amid the carefully trimmed green garden in the institute today, and documents show that the two Pasteur institute in Saigon and Nha Trang were most active in protecting people’s health in Indochina.

A grateful nation has also paid tributes to the French scientist for his scientific and humanitarian contributions by naming one of the longest street in HCM City after him. The street also hosts the Pasteur Institute.

However, the 2km street that stretches from Chuong Duong Street in District 1 to Tran Quoc Toan Street in District 3 has been renamed several times reflecting changing governments and perspectives.
In 1865, when the French Government started numbering the streets, Pasteur Street was Rue No.24.

Then Rue No.24 was a canal with two banks which ware later called Olivier and Pellerin. The canal was gradually filled up and Olivier and Pellerin merged to became Pellerin street.

On March23, 1995, the former Saigon administration changed the street to Pasteur, but in August 1975, it was renamed Nguyen Thi Minh Khai after a national heroine. In September 1991, the Municipal People’s Committee reverted to Pasteur.

Famous for Pho

Apart from the Pasteur Institute and the work it does, the street a favourite destination for many Viet kieu (Oversea Vietnamese) and foreign tourists looking to savour the traditional pho (noodle soup).
The popular choice is Pho Hoa restaurant opposite the Pasteur Institute in district 1.

Nobody knows where the first owner of the restaurant came from (apart from the fact that he had to be from the north).

Old times recall that in the mid 1950s, one man, known only as Hoanh, pushed his pho cart to the corner of Vo Thi Sau and Pasteur streets every afternoon, and placed a few chairs and tables on the pavement. This mobile restaurant was open until in the night.

The current owner of Pho Hoa Restaurant on Pasteur Street is Cao Thi Xiem from the southern province of Tra Vinh, no relation of Hoanh. She recalls that after a few years, Hoanh sold the business to Xiem’s uncle who ran a sugarcane juice stall next to his next pho shop.

Hoanh than bought a motorbike to work as a xe om (motorbike taxi) driver and raised quails. After April 1975, Hoanh migrated aboard and there is no news of him since.

Xiem’s uncle retained the establishment’s name and the recipe after talking over Hoanh business, she claims. If proof of the pho is in the eating, it is available in the large number of regular patrons that her since registered her restaurant enjoys. Xiem has since registered her restaurant’s name.

Xiem says she doesn’t know how many Pho Hoa restaurant there are in the world, having been told that a Pho Hoa chain is operating in the United States, Canada, France, Australia, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia.

But for Bon, who is in his sixties and has been selling chewing gum, cigarettes, mineral water and snacks in front of the Vinh Quang Cinema for years, Pho Hoa was less famous than Pho Minh at 63 Pasteur Street next to the cinema.

“Every old person in this city will know when you say Pho Minh next cinema Casino (Vinh Quang Cinema’s old name before 1975). Pho Hoa is more recent,” says Bon. (He was named Paul because it was popular at the time to have French names, but when his application for an identity card was rejected by the Ngo Dinh Diem administration, he adopted the name “Bon”.

The small alley where Pho Minh stands once housed northern migrants who moved south before 1945. Together with the shoemaking trade, the northerners also introduced northern food including banh tom (shrimp cake) and banh cuon (steamed rice pancake)

“At three in the morning , people would start killing the chicken and preparing the beef. It was always crowded, and so was this Cinema Casino,” reminisces Bon, turning towards the cinema where a few people ware buying tickets for the afternoon show. He inherited the snack box and the place in front of the cinema from his grandmother and mother.

With the opening up of the market, the attendance at the State-owned cinema is getting thinner and thinner.

“You can’t imagine, it was full of moviegoers from 8 in the morning till 9:30 in the night, everyday. Then people just went out, had some pho and went to watch a movie here or walk along the Le Loi Boulevard. Very cheerful!” Bon sighs wistfully.

Locals still call it the Pho Minh alley.

Another establishment of time-honoured fame was a sugarcane juice stall where people are said to have had to queue op to get a drink. The new owner readily admits she is not the original owner of the famous Vien Dong (Far Eastern) sugarcane juice stall.

“I only started this in 1985 after my husband, who was working for the Land Administration Department, was allocated this small house,” the woman said.

She was told about the Vien Dong (Far Eastern) sugarcane juice shop and thought it a good idea to follow suit. The Chinese man who owned the business migrated to Canada shortly after Liberation Day, and has since died.

“I don’t know his secret, but some say he added American milk powder and that his juice tasted very special,” the new owner says.

The long street now hosts many trades and offices including banking, electronic products, stationery, souvenirs, coffee and footwear shops and government offices. It offers a mixture of French and

American-style buildings as well as more contemporary architecture.

Meanwhile, the physicians at the Pasteur Institute are still working to ensure that the city in particular and the southern region as a whole is not exposed to major epidemic outbreaks. – VNS

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