Tuesday, 11 December 2007

After 17 years

I booked my ticket from Saigon to Singapore then back to Hong Kong.  It’s like playing a game. It’s a tentative move to the unknown. I have decided it would be a good idea to take the train from Hanoi down to Saigon. It might not the most comfortable way to travel, I know. But I need to make this trip on a train, to see the people and the land.  Nicolas has told me to bring back some sand in a bottle, as a token from the land of my roots.
My little stop over in Singapore will be an occasion to see my dear brudda Zen. The two of us get along extremely well and share similar views on many different topics. He’s a very talented songwriter and musician. And he also forgot to be ugly! He sent me the demo of a pop ballad he wrote with his own vocals and I was completely enchanted. Yes the song is a standard ballad, but I sensed he could come up with great music when given the right opportunity. So we want to write a few songs together. He will be providing the Chinese lyrics…

It’s been 17 years, and I didn’t even go to Hanoi then. But it feels, if not like home, at least very familiar and comfortable. I didn’t have much thought about his trip, no expectation, no hope, I just knew I was coming to support my father for his first world premiere in his native land.
But as soon as I stepped out of the plane, I felt happy. Simple and pure joy. I do not consider myself a Vietnamese in the patriotic sense, but there is a bond that comes alive whenever I spend time in Asia, and even more now that I am here, in Vietnam.

Now it’s been three days already. Three days of welcome change from the craziness of Hong Kong. The craziness is of another kind here, maybe more good-natured. Crossing the street has become one of my favorite activities. Even if I see hundreds of cars, bikes and motorcycles coming from all direction, I know I can just walk smoothly accross the street in the middle of a concert of honking. As long as the drivers see you, they avoid you like fish in a river.

I didn’t plan to do any sightseeing this time. But a friend has taken me to a small village specialized in china. China being one of my soft spots I found it quite challenging to resist the sights of all these beautiful vases and teapots - oh yes, the resistance didn’t last long because I brought back a couple of items... 

Làn gôm

I went to the general rehearsal for the concert this morning. The concert progam includes Grieg’s über-famous Piano Concerto in A minor, as well as his German song cycle, Ravel’s Bolero and finally my father’s Cello Concerto. The orchestra isn’t the strongest I’ve ever heard, to put it mildly, and the conductor happened to be a last minute replacement for the chief one, a female conductor who was pregnant - why on earth didn’t the organizers think of that when they asked her ???
As my father so wisely put it: ’If there’s is no time, if the players are not good enough, better concentrate on the general instead of the particular’.
At least they are trying their best. The life of a musician in Vietnam is a tough one. Their monthly wage doesn't amount to more than 50 US$... They have to juggle different jobs to survive. Some musicians could only come to the last rehearsal; they also had to hire a harpist from Hong Kong because there was none available in the whole country!
My father knew of this state of things so he was more sympathetic and encouraged everyone the best he could.
His Cello Concerto is a beautiful piece of music, not so much a concerto, but more a dialogue between cello, percussions and the strings.

I know that’s the way things are in countries like Vietnam: rich people vs. poor people. Somehow, I have never seen so many smiling faces here in Hanoi. A striking contrast from the gilded coldness of Hong Kong.

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