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The Old Mars Bars Shop

(No.5, Vol.2 May 2012 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Robert Burns wrote of the frailty of ‘The best laid schemes of mice and men,’ but, as well, mice can interfere with the plans of men and women if they are not careful about their cupboards and drawers. My wife, a Vietnamese, and I were planning a holiday in my country, recently, but her Vietnamese birth certificate could not be notarised, because a long time ago, probably during the Vietnam War, a considerable portion of its paper, though none bearing the crucial information, was gnawed away by mice.
I do think it was mice - and this could probably be verified by the shapes of the old chomp indentations - because I heard mice squeaking with joy at night in the drawer in 2000, and when I looked inside there were pieces of nest.
A notarised birth certificate is among the papers required for a Vietnamese citizen’s tourist visa to my country, and perhaps the requirements for migration are stricter.
When I mentioned the problem to a Vietnamese company executive and member of the establishment, she threw her head back as if to say, ‘There is an obvious solution to that.’ I wonder what this might be, but I deduce at least that it is something that goes without saying, without talking about, and you have to work it out.
Perhaps we could lend my consulate the original, which, despite its odd shape, and colour of a long-dead leaf from a pawpaw tree, is sealed in a rectangular piece of transparent plastic. Or perhaps we could find another notary, or a lawyer, or something. In the end, we could go to one of the can-do corner shops, where, if you don’t complain about the use-by dates on their Mars bars, especially round a national holiday, they will quote you a price on anything made of paper with writing and red seals on it but not wrapped around anything.
Meanwhile, we have put off our trip to my down-under country till after we return from a trip to Indonesia, where a Vietnamese does not need a visa at all, and is welcome as long as he or she has a ticket out and away again. That’s simple, relatively speaking, and the air tickets are much cheaper.
Given that, technically, at least, the possession or not of the notarised version can change one’s holiday plans, and, presumably the country in which one lives and dies, it must be worth a vast amount of money, I supposed in the tens of thousands of dollars, at least. Given the state of the original, my wife a long while ago had an official transcript of it made, but neither was the notary of 2012 going just to put his or her red stamp on a copy of that, not just like that, anyway.
By the volume of people who turn up at the Old Mars Bar Shop near our house, however, and want paper with three colours and nothing wrapped in it, the turnover must be huge, ultimately due to the huge amount of bureaucracy requiring paper. The cost of an individual sheet could be quite reasonable.
But whoa! Hold your horses, even if by the time we get a valid version of this paper other ones on the list that we have accomplished for the visa have to be done again because they have survived not since 1955 but passed their own use-by dates, which give a maximum of around the time you, if not the shop, would possibly keep a Mars bar. Going to the Old Mars Bar Shop for the wrapper has its own problems, technically, again, because before you use their services you have to be sure they do not infringe any laws to do with ethics that you are subject to in your own country; this applies to my country, at least, as I understand it.


By James Gordon
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