Marseille, peak travel and peak immigration

Born in Nghe An, he quit school after the 9th grade to start working full time at 15-years-old. He got a job in Saigon, then Phu Quoc Island, the southernmost part of Vietnam. He visited Hanoi and remote Dien Bien Phu, right on the Laotian border.

At 18, he agreed to pay $15,000 to be smuggled into the European Union. The first installment was only $500, however, for which he was flown to Moscow, where he stayed in a house for a month, seeing nothing of Russia, until he and other illegal immigrants were driven to Lithuania, with the intention of entering Poland.

Driving down the road quite openly, they were pulled over by cops, thus he ended up spending a month in a Lithuanian prison, then deported to Vietnam.

Thuy, “Western jails are fantastic. I had my own room, three meals a day, delivered right to my door, and I didn’t even have to do my own dishes. The food was great. I gained ten kilograms [22 pounds]. We had exercise equipment, time to play soccer. I’d gladly have stayed in that jail for an entire year.”

The smugglers refunded his $500, so it was like a vacation of sort, a three-country adventure, counting Belarus, “If they had taken our money without bringing us to Europe, who would use their service again?”

Next, he bought someone’s identity for $20,000. Using this man’s scholastic credentials, he enrolled in a Spanish university then flew to Barcelona with the man’s doctored passport. There, he stayed but a week, seeing nada, before flying to Paris.

In the French capital, he does construction work on an all-Vietnamese crew, for which he’s paid 90 Euros a day, under the table. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment with three other Vietnamese, one woman and two men. Sharing one bedroom, they sleep on two beds, with the three males arrayed on one, “We’re all related, with the same last name and from the same district even, Dien Chau.”

Central Vietnam is known for its poor soil and people, but Dien Chau, with its dusty, potholed streets and spartan stores, is particularly dismal. In Paris, he lives in the 13th Arrondissement, among many Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodians, Laotians and Thais. I remember some hideous high-rises there, but also one of my best Vietnamese meals ever. Ah, the caramelized pork and eggs!

Each Sunday, a hundred Vietnamese, easy, hang out in a 13th arrondissement park, where they drink beer, sing karaoke and buy food from ambulant peddlers, all illegal, of course, though reasonably discreet. There are similar food purveyors in ethnic neighborhoods across the USA.

“Everyone has a good time. Even some Frenchmen join us. Many of the Vietnamese also speak French. Sometimes, we get carried away and sing to late into the evening, so somebody will have to call the police. That rarely happens, though.”

Working his tail off, he paid off his smuggling fee four months ago, and even bought a 790 Euro cellphone. He wears Adidas, sports a quiff haircut. Life’s good, “The best thing about living here is that you don’t have to worry about anyone harassing you. In Vietnam, when you see a cop, you get very nervous, but the French police are here to protect you. All you have to do is work hard. No one will bother you.”

He has never encountered any prejudice, “Everyone is very nice. Two doors from us, there’s a Muslim family who often bring us food. If they make something nice, they’ll share it with us, and we also bring them food. If we go to the beach, we’ll buy some shrimps or lobsters for them.”

This, despite any of the Vietnamese being able to carry on a conversation with their Muslim neighbors, “Next month, I will start my French lessons. It’s in the evening, three times a week, and costs 200 Euros a month.”

When he gets a chance, he roams around by train or bus. His housemates are not so adventurous. “They just stay around Paris. They think I’m wasting my money, running around, but why not see everything? I have even gone to Berlin, where I have a cousin. I stayed there a week.”

With the global economy still levitating preternaturally and visa-free crossing of many borders, particularly in Europe, we’re living through peak travel. The globe will never be so accessible again.

This week, he asked for five days off, so he could visit Toulouse, Marseille and Cannes, “I’ve been to Marseille twice, but I want to see it again. Last night, my train arrived from Toulouse, but my cousin wasn’t there to pick me up, so I decided to sleep at the station. Around four in the morning, I got robbed by two Arab guys. One guy grabbed my throat, roughed me up a bit, so I gave him my phone and wallet. I’d rather lose my stuff than my life. What I lost, I can make back in a week, but if I had resisted, they might have really hurt me. This is the first time I’ve ever been mugged, but it’s no big deal. You can’t just sit home.”

A few hours later, he met me and Jonathan Revusky on the Place d’Huiles by the Marseilles Old Port. The 21-year-old was sitting outside a closed Le Ginseng, where his cousin’s a waitress.

Staring at a menu on the wall behind him, I made small talk, asked how long he had been in France. Just a year and a half, he said. We moved to nearby Le Cigalon, had a cutthroat beer, chatted.

Enjoying our conversation so much, he accompanied Jonathan Revusky and me to Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, just half a mile away, though steeply uphill. In that 87 degree weather, I was huffing and had to park my lardy ass a couple of times. My new young friend didn’t break a sweat.

Looking at my slumped form, Jon said, “Is this the same Vietnamese that defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu?”

Inside the church, he knelt down and prayed, then bought a crucifix and a Virgin Mary statue for 13 Euros from the gift shop. His cousin had apparently lent him some money. It’s good to belong to a network. He has relatives in England and Poland also. He dreams of going to England, “I hear that life there is really great.”

His name is Thủy, which means water. “You’re meant to flow everywhere,” I said.

“Yes, that’s me,” he laughed.

Devout, he goes to mass every week, at a Vietnamese church in the 17th arrondissement, two metro lines away. He’s planning a Vatican trip. “Many people dream of seeing it at least once in their lifetime. I will actually see it.”

The best view of Marseille is from the northern end of Le Pharo, a park. From that vantage point, you’ll have at your feet the 17th century Fort St Jean, the 19th century cathedral, with its domes, twin spires and banded marble design, and the Old Port with all of its fishing boats and yachts.

“What more do you want?” I marveled. “I can sit here for hours and just look at this.”

Thủy, “And it’s even better when you have a good conversation!”

Deeming the Old Port a terrorist nest, the Germans and their French collaborators raided it in January of 1943, arrested roughly 6,000 individuals, then deported 1,642,782 of whom were Jews. All the remaining residents of the Old Port, around 30,000 people, were cleared out so it could be dynamited, then rebuilt. In May of 1944, English and American planes bombed the Old Port and killed 1,752 people.

Thủy has no fear of being deported, “I know a guy who’s been here ten years, illegally. As long as I don’t rob or kill anyone, the police won’t bother me, and if I get sent back, I get sent back.”

After we had parted ways with Thủy, Jon observed, “That kid is like the protagonist of a picaresque novel. He’s a contemporary Huckleberry Finn! I can certainly understand the restrictionist point of view on immigration, that people like this should be sent back, but when you meet a kid like this, you really have to be inhuman, to turn off a certain human side of one’s being, in order not to feel some empathy with him.”

“He’s a survivor, man. He’s not thinking about the larger implications of what he’s doing. People have always been drawn to better opportunities, and you can even make a case that he’s a political refugee.”

“But much of the world can make the same claim.”

“Exactly! Since most governments are oppressive and awful, but that doesn’t mean that France should be responsible for a guy like Thủy.”

Visitors to Marseille converge on the Old Port. If they want to experience a less touristy neighborhood, they can stroll to Le Panier, where normal people live in five-floor walk ups and kids play in concrete parks late into the night. Few visitors will trek further north into Saint-Lazare, La Villette then Félix Pyat, the poorest neighborhood in all of France.

Along the way, you will notice that nearly everyone on the sidewalk is African, with at least half of the women in Muslim clothing. You will pass many discount clothing stores, hijab boutiques, Arab cafés that don’t serve alcohol, Saree Bollywood, Snack Luxor, Aroun Mohammed Pizzeria, Swag Hair, Africa Beauté and Karibou, a restaurant featuring the unjustly neglected cuisine of the Comoros.

Since wresting independence from France in 1975, the African island nation has been jolted by more than 20 coup d’états, with several heads of state assassinated. “Maybe it’s their national sport,” Jon remarked. Although Karibou’s sign had “welcome” in 11 languages, we didn’t go in to sample its kebabs and triangular savory pastries, regrettably. A woman sat on each side of the darkened door. One step down, on the sidewalk, a kid carried another on his back.

Compared to black American ghettos, the poorer, trash-strewn neighborhoods of Marseille are less dangerous and have better stores, including groceries with fresh fruit and vegetables. At the corner of Félix Pyat and Charpentier, a haggard man sat in front of a mural of green waves, well graffitied over. Bending to the side, he got ready to snort some powder heroin. Under an overpass, an old, head scarfed and black-robed lady sat on a folding chair, with a man’s hat upturned on her lap, begging. Twisting her mouth, she showed several missing teeth.

With resource depletion and a still ballooning global population, a flood of black, brown and yellow Third World immigrants will keep trying to enter rich, mostly white nations, where they will be met with a resurgence of nativism.

Though many native whites will continue to side with non-white newcomers, their number will dwindle as multiculturalism loses its appeal and legitimacy, for tension or even open, violent conflict is likely when you have distinctive groups, with clearly different worldviews and tendencies, jostling for scraps on the same sinking economic ship.

In Le Panier, I saw an Italian sticker, “La solidarietà è un’arma” [“Solidarity is a weapon”], but it’s no call for global unity, only the battle cry for fans of U.C. Sampdoria, the Genoan soccer team. Similarly, Liverpool supporters always sing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” If you’re one of us, that is. Always limited to your own group, solidarity is used as a shield or weapon against all enemies.

Persecuted or expelled from just about every Christian land, Jews would appear to be exhibit A of how multiculturalism doesn’t work, but we’re so much more progressive than that, correct? Chased from Spain, Jews were welcomed in Muslim Morocco and the Ottoman Empire.

Leaving Marseille, Jon and I drove back to Spain, and not long after crossing the border, we spotted two slim and gorgeous blondes in bikinis standing by the side of the sunny, dusty road. Ukrainians, they’re two more victims of the American Israel Empire. Like you, though, they’re not likely to know who have turned them into dispensable meat.

Speeding away from beauty, we encountered a charming sign in Pont du Mollins. Under a photo of a loafer about to step on dogshit, there’s a question in Catalan, “Your foot or your shit?” Then, “Dog owners should take care to pick up their animals’ excrement. Foul streets harm all, give the town a bad image and are a bad example to the little ones. Coexistence implies responsibility.”

Different populations have diverse ideas about civic responsibilities, however. Muslims don’t own dogs, so the above doesn’t even apply to them, but each French sidewalk is liberally garnished with dog droppings, for your typical Frenchman clearly thinks it’s ridiculous to pick up his pet’s caca. Next to soccer and bicycling, stepping on merde is France’s national sport.

Different peoples differ on just about everything, marriage, gay marriage, transsexuality, child beating, littering, education, loud music and paying taxes, etc. Peaceful coexistence means having rough consensuses, at the very least. Disagreeing, people voluntarily segregate, or worse, much worse.

Have we reached peak immigration, or will the coming global economic, political and social turmoil send billions, Americans included, across various borders?

Linh Dinh’s Postcards from the End of America has just been released by Seven Stories Press. He maintains an active photo blog.

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One Response to Marseille, peak travel and peak immigration

  1. A great read as usual but more eye opening and thought provoking. Thanks.