Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Waiter in Saigon

We only had one customer since this morning. I wanted to be a one-day waiter at my cousin’s café in the center of Saigon, not far from the Opera House. So far, one customer only. 
I had a bad night sleep, the convertible sofa was strangely designed, it was difficult to find the right position, the air conditioning was blowing directly on me and making a loud roaring sound, while mosquitoes were waltzing around me.
I literally threw myself out of the bed when the alarm rang this morning. Actually, I could have slept one hour longer, since that lone morning customer only appeared an hour later…
I had prepared some music to replace the aggressive r’n’b and hip hop tunes my cousin usually plays and which may be a turn off for potential customers.
Well it’s all a very pleasant and fashionable environment but still waiting for people to dare come in.
Oh but  someone has just stepped in!!!


I can’t understand a word he’s saying. Nor can anyone else… Sounds like a Japanese trying to speak Vietnamese without the vocabulary.


Now I know why I’m no longer a piano teacher. Yesterday evening, my cousin’s eldest son was having his piano lesson. To say that he didn’t practice the whole week is an understatement. Not only hasn’t he touched a single key, but his expression was as happy as a caged rabbit.
The piano teacher wasn’t much of an enthusiast either. She merely hummed along, occasionally stopping him, but never telling him what to do to play the piece better. One piece after another - I must admit they weren’t very exciting to play, I suppose she knows him well now and after years of such display of passionate love for music, she has totally given up any hope to turn him into the next Horowitz.
Plinky plonk.


I  was standing at the café entrance when the postman  stopped and handed me a letter. I looked at it and startled. It was addressed to Tôn Thât An. To me! How on earth could somebody know I was there, and who was that somebody? For an instant I was a spy who would get his orders in the most baffling manner.
My name is…
Tôi là…
The letter apparently came from a bank. Money order? Oh yes, I badly needed money! But the name of the person who sent it was unknown to me.
It turned out that the landlord’s name was also Tôn Thât An.
Something that was unlikely to happen in France!

Monday, 28 January 2008

Sài Gòn đẹp lám

Sài Gòn đẹp lám!!! Welcome back to the rush and dust of the city of Saigon. I forgot how much I missed this cocktail of pollution, dust and motorcycle fumes.
I visited my cousin Giao who opened his café in central Saigon a few months ago. We haven’t seen each other for many years since his youngest sister illness and eventual passing.
I found a glowing young man who seemed so happy to engage in this life in Vietnam.

While I was in Singapore, I chatted with someone I knew from Taiwan, a stage director and writer. He asked me whether I’d be interested to score a musical for him in April, the premiere being in July. That’s little time for such a task, especially since I intended to work on my album. But I consider this offer as a sign that my life is already happening in Asia. I’m now waiting for the libretto as well as all the documents related to the project.
The gods are really looking over me!


I’m sitting in the living room at my cousin’s place. The weather is hot, but dry. The two big fans on the ceiling make a lulling noise. I can hear the young workers outside softly singing as they paint the wall and the gate. From the song they’re singing I recognize they come from Huê. It’s very soothing and almost brings back a memory I never actually had.
Sometime a woman would pass by on the street, selling something, buying something. My cousin is renovating her house, so she got rid of all the old VHS tapes. 1000 Dong a kilo…
The humungous aquarium that has been sitting in the living rooms for decades is going to find a new home in some primary school, far away. They sent two men to have a look at it and come back with the appropriate vehicle for the transportation.
Well I don’t know about their sense of measurement, but what they came back later and started moving the big thing. Any helping arm was welcome so I also participated. Six of us were not enough to handle the monster. But then I saw the vehicle: a rusted old cyclo.
It took more than half and hour to lift the monster and leave it gingerly on the cyclo. Neighbors and passing strangers all gave us a hand. Everybody was shouting a different command each in a different dialect, it was merry mess. One of the men though had his big toe nail pulled off in the process and was leaving big blood stains on the ground.
Now that the monster was on the cyclo, I was wondering how they‘d manage to  get to the school. How long would it take? One day? Two days? How would they go up on the bridge? There were only two of them.
I was counting without the ability of the people here to deal with any seemingly impossible situation. There is always a way. An hour later they had reached their destination. I was knocked for six.

The young house maid has a crush on the one of the two singing workers whose task led him to add another layer of paint on the kitchen wall, so she tries to keep busy near him…And she looks, very busy.

Oh, I have a craving for biscuits!

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Chin Dog

Nicolas and I had our first real chat in weeks from both end of the globe. He has just arrived in San Francisco and was telling me about his impressions on this very first visit to the Land of Abraham Lincoln and the hamburgers. I was happy and relieved to learn that he didn’t encounter any major problem, in spite of his poor English. I really admire his boldness and courage. He shows the stuff of a true adventurer who wants to give meaning to his life. I learned so much about myself thanks to him and now I  also feel this inner strength that pushes me to reach for what I believe in. If people could inspire each other in such a way, I’m sure many more of us would decide to go for the big leap.

My stay in the (mer)Lion city has come to an end today. It has been a much needed quiet time so that I could digest two month worth of intense experience. Being in a new environment hasn’t been a distraction. The friends I have encountered here have showed such a genuine generosity and kindness that my western brainwashed suspicious mind first couldn’t believe it could be so simple. Why not? There are many ways to live and to interact with one another. Maybe it comes also from the fact that Singapore, as well as Vietnam, Malaysia or Hong Kong have been colonized for a long time and therefore compelled to cope with the presence of occupying forces or migrating populations. As this man I interviewed once in New York said, ’it doest’ mean that people from a different ethnicity will like each other, but at least, they tolerate each other’s presence. A man can curse the whole Asian race and be found eating Chinese noodle with his Asian friend one hour later.’
I tell everyone how much I enjoy being in Asia, even if it is not originally my country. There might be differences, but I have never felt this subtle contempt or haughtiness I have come across during my years in France. Not to say that everyone behaves in such a way, of course. Maybe it is just my fear of rejection that made me over-sensitive regarding that issue.
Even though I have was born in France, the fact that I look Asian will always set me apart, however better my command of the language or my knowledge of the culture. Call it human nature, claim that it actually happens anywhere in the world - if not, why all these wars…
My father told me that, not so long ago, he was about to post a letter in the mailbox when he heard a middle-aged woman mutter behind his back
"Oh… A man from Asia. They‘re going to rob us of all our pension!!!"
My father did not deign to reply. What can one say? Answering would be acknowledging them. I wasn’t that composed on a similar occasion, when, on the day I sent Xiao off to the airport, I passed a very young girl who started crying out ‘chinetoc’ with a nasal voice for each Asian person who would walk past her. Whether she was aware of her what the word meant, I‘m not certain, I stopped in front of her and asked:
"What did I hear you say?"
No response but an embarrassed  blank stare.
"Why did you say that?"
No response. Blank stare.
A Japanese man who was standing nearby signified me with a stare that it was not worth paying more attention to her. I was angry though. Not at the girl, but at the parents who let that happen without saying a word. They were standing next to her the whole time merely told her to ‘go and play behind' and continued their chatting.
Maybe it sent me back to my own childhood when that kind of behavior was a daily intake at school. It made me angry. Xiao managed to calm me down.
Oh, I don’t say that will not happen anywhere else. But if a few years ago, the president of the National Front would have been banned for his usual racist jokes and innuendos,  now the current president can say the same things openly without causing even a raised eyebrow. Sadly that doesn’t only happen in France, but in many other European countries. People are afraid and completely at loss regarding the future. I only hope they will not choose to close up and become blind to the big changes that are drawing closer the coming months and years.

My friends in Singapore were surprised I liked their city so much. Everybody says Singapore is boring. The usual feeling is that nothing much happens there and a four day stay is more than enough. Nonetheless there’s the awareness that a strong cultural life is needed for the city to sparkle even more in the eye of the world.
My intention in the coming years is to create this network of artists throughout Asia and get them to work and collaborate more with each other, thus developing a pan-Asian cultural force.

Thursday, 24 January 2008


Sentosa. My idea of holiday resort only encompasses the summer holiday I would spend with my parents when I was young in the south of France. But  never went to places such as Ibiza like most of my happy friends would, so when I heard about Sentosa, it was the biggest clichés that sprung to mind: palm trees, seaside, tropical vegetation, beautiful birds and beautiful flowers, young and handsome people playing on the beach or lazying under the sun… And actually, that’s what I saw when I got there.  Add the mythical Café del Mar to crown the whole thing and you have the ideal setting for a artifical paradise.
I must admit that my only wish was to take a dive in the sea and play beach volley ball with these happy youths.
Start feeling like Paul Bowles now, albeit Paul Bowles Asian version. 

Monday, 21 January 2008

Living in Asia

Going to new places isn’t just about changing location. I have realized how much it takes for the body to adapt to the food, the air, the pace, the weather… Living in Asia isn’t that easy for me because I’m not used to that heat and the constant exposure to air conditioning. It just means that I have to change the way I live physically. I have for instance realized how little water I’d drink everyday. In my case, that would prove lethal. My body has been giving my warnings I have to notice.
I just understood that today. I cannot move to another place and just bring who I am there without and adaptation. I wonder how closely people pay attention to that aspect.

I’m more and more inclined to believe that it’s not going to be New York, but maybe Asia. The city remains to be chosen. I still have to go to Taiwan and Shanghai, therefore also learn Mandarin in the process. 

Singapore could be a nice place to start. Everyone speaks English, which is quite convenient for me. At worst, I could easily find a position as a French or music teacher. But there are lots of other things I will have to try and slowly think of myself differently. Mutation. Funny that it didn’t occur to me before now.

I’m staying now in a flat in one of the many housing estates in Hougang. It’s quite working class here, something similar to Sarcelle, a city near Paris, but with a totally different feel. There are food centers


Contrary to Hong Kong where most of the old buildings have been destroyed in favor of new, taller and more profitable condos, in Singapore the old quarters have been preserved, and it’s so agreeable to walk in Chinatown for instance, or along Arab Street and enjoy the view of these charming Victorian houses.  It creates a nice contrast to the bay area that promoters have been quick to develop into a commercial center.
I was taken to the Chinatown area a few times for a stroll during the day and clubbing and partying in the night. It was then that I saw these night auctions. Not Sotheby. Maybe just for the fun of it for the prices were ridiculously low. Some decorative objects that were introduced as the epitome of beauty to grace one’s home.
On one side a man who was indeed very lively and professional. On the other side, a woman whose voice sounded like a cat in pain. As we walked back again a couple of hours later, the cat was nearly dying.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

A farewell

I had a last look at the Hong Kong skyline from the ferry. I know I’d be there again soon. Goodbye Lamma Island!
I usually go to the airport by myself, maybe for fear to get too emotional. Ahhh, all these farewell scenes at train stations or airport terminals…
However, this time my departure has turned into a joyful moment thanks to the company of Patrick, who thought that even one hour seeing a friend is worth the effort. I met him by chance one late afternoon during my early days in Hong Kong, as I was still struggling to find a bus to the city. He was that smiling man standing nearby and kindly fed me with the information I needed. Even if I didn’t know him as a person, there was something I recognize, as if we were old friends meeting in this life. One of those persons who can be described as sunny in a spiritual sense. 
He’s a wayfaring traveler, now in Hong Kong, next in Japan, before in Australia.
I guess it’s never fortuitous to make such encounter. We are all signposts to one another. The most important is to keep eyes and senses open.
The few words we exchanged gave me comfort and confidence for the future. I still do not know, but I trust life completely, more than I have ever had.

With Patrick

A wall of ads in Lamma Island

Central Hong Kong from the opposite pier

From the ferry

Monday, 14 January 2008


My last day in Hong Kong. I caught this trend of being sick myself. 80% of my friends have got a flu or a cold. I’m lucky it doesn’t compel me to stay in bed the whole day.
Everyone suddenly woke up and realized I was to leave very soon and expressed the wish to see me, even for a drink. So the days are spent running from one place to another, before dinner, after dinner, for lunch, after lunch, not before breakfast though…
Francis seized the opportunity to introduce me to his best friend, Fanny, a lively socialite who used to be a model, actress and a trendsetter (still is, apparently). I may have to check about her to find out who she really is. Francis told me she’s always stalked by paparazzi… She’ll come to Paris just when I get back myself. We will certainly meet up, since she wants to know about some un-touristy places in Paris. Anyway, she seems to be quite someone to hang out with. I’ll surely enjoy her company.

Zen told me he’d be unable to join me in Singapore because of some hectic working schedule. The disappointment was momentarily soothed by the prospect of a short trip to Kuala Lumpur to see him even for one day. This fragile hope of a reunion was shattered by the realization that I had been chasing a mirage. According to his own words, he didn't know I was nurturing such feelings for him. He only saw us as 'brothers'. Was he blind, or just deaf to all my words, was his mind so fogged by fear?
I keep asking myself questions, reviewing each word, each gesture, each expression on his face. How possibly can he say that he didn’t see? It’s as if Woody Allen came and did some Tiger Lily tricks and changed all the dialogues of the scenes I have lived. What did these gestures of tenderness, the tears when I left mean then?
I was really puzzled. And deeply hurt by this pretense.
I had images from the film Lust, Caution coming to me. This tale of a woman who would sacrifice anything for love, even her dignity, when the two men she has loved would sacrifice her, and stick to their macho code of honor and principles. As I told Zen, I would do anything. I came all this way to visit him. How many people does one meet in a lifetime who would go all that length? 
But however (slightly) wiser I am now to recognize an unfertile soil when I see one, I still have done some good job deluding myself in believing there was there was a romance in the making. My intuition had warned me all the way, but I kept hanging on that thin rope.
For a split second, I nearly considered changing my ticket and flying straight to Paris. But the angels are watching me. I received a wonderful e-mail from Bévinda sending me kisses and saying that there was nothing like travels. And Simon found the right words to recharge my confidence when he told me that if until now home was the place where I could heal my wounds, now I would carry home everywhere I go and won't need to depend on anything else but myself.

So here I (still) come, Singapore!!!


Friday, 11 January 2008

At the concert hall

Edo de Waart. At last! As a farewell gift Fred took me to a concert of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, this time conducted by their real musical director, Edo de Waart - and not his assistant who bored everyone to death at the  previous concert. 
This concert was one of the series where top soloists are invited to play with the orchestra. Sadly I will miss the one with Yundi Li later this month, which I had been looking forward too. 
Tonight’s guest soloist was Jian Wang, the cellist who, as a nine year old prodigy, was discovered by Isaac Stern while he was in China in the late seventies to shoot his film From Mao to Mozart.
He played Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. I was so glad I got to hear the orchestra one more time. It’s amazing what a difference a conductor can make. A true musical dialogue took place this time between the cello and the orchestra. I didn’t know much about Jian Wang, except this baroque album he released a few years ago, and tonight‘s concert revealed a highly musical and sensitive performer, who isn‘t there for his ego, only music. I could sense the little boy who wonders at music still alive in him. A purity of being that few people manage to retain as they grow.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Two way mirror

The year 1998 was a turning point for me, because my real life as an adult started then. Madonna was releasing her Ray of Light album and I was still touring with Michèle Atlani. 
When I get into all the details and facts, I realize how far away it is from now. Ten years. But to me, it’s still only a little while back… I was nearing my thirties, now I’m getting closer and closer to the fatidic stage of the forties. I have this Dorian Gray syndrome that makes me look youthful whatever my age. So it’s even more confusing for me. 1998 could be a day ago; 2010 is in two years and I‘m drifting in time.
The Year of the Rat is coming.
I visited a few temples recently. The Sha Tin monastery with the ten thousand buddhas. Not the most popular spot because it demands the visitor to climb a little mountain - the path up to enlightenment…And Hong Kong people being their lazy selves, they wouldn’t go if a lift or an escalator isn’t set for them. Physical effort and sweat are out of the question. On the other hand, they like to go to the gym… A paradox, if you ask me. But then, yes, one can always shower after the work out…
Ah Sing took me to another temple yesterday. We arrived late so we only had the time to have a rough view of it. But then I saw the bamboo sticks fortune telling and suddenly got to indulge in some revelation.
I drew the stick number 92 and went to hear two ‘masters’ who revealed to me the mystery behind that magical number. Revelation it was not to be, because I knew it in my heart already. The same answer came twice: the upcoming year would be filled with great opportunities as I am finally entering my prodigious decade. However lots of efforts and focus on work for the first half of the year, with their share of headache and frustration. That’s when I’m going to be working on my album. From summer onward, it’s going to be all good for me.

I intend to leave my Parisian flat around autumn. As if the new year wanted to tell me that the decision was right, one of the friends Siu Yung is currently hosting in his Lamma flat, Steven, happens to have a place to rent in New York. He’s a musician and is traveling a lot, especially to Asia where his heart truly belongs. So if I was willing to share the flat with him, I might have it to myself most of the year, since he’s practically never there.
I find it hard to believe things can be so easy. But looking back on this current trip to Asia, I find that I’ve been really lucky, finding accommodation wherever I’d go. I just chatted with a friend in Singapore and he offered me a room. I must have a lucky star, coz it shines on me wherever I am…
I may be broke and not know how I’m going to go on for another month, but I’m alive and savoring every moment of this journey.


On that opening of the Dolce & Gabanna shop in the IFC shopping mall, I met Francis Cheng who turned out to be the PR who’s organizing most of the events in Hong Kong. His address book is impressive: all the big names are there.
From A to B and B to C, we were introduced to each other and a few days later, we were discussing how a good way to establish myself here in Asia. The state of the music market doesn’t make it easy for me, but being a total stranger to these practices,  I have the advantage to play the game I want to. That means of course working very hard and seizing the right time to act and talk.
Today, Francis invited to me to a fur design competition held at the Intercontinental Hotel. A parterre of local celebrities, socialites and business people. I was sitting at the same table as some Hong Kong top fashion designers, top models and top Wyman Wong a very famous songwriter who writes for everyone here and is also considered as a fashion icon. Fashion, fashion… Top, top, top…
Anyway, I set myself at my most charming and exotic.
One bead leads to another in this string of pearls; I never know what I can find in the end. But the game is quite enjoyable. As long as one knows that it’s a game. I must be thankful to Mihara-san for saving me from total fashion disgrace, for his coat made a very good impression on the people. I don’t envy the ones who have to regularly grace all these event with their presence.
The outfits presented tonight went from absolutely fabulous to absolutely hilarious. For some mysterious reasons, they used snippets from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, the use of music didn’t make sense at all. I later suggested Francis that I wanted to write the music for next year’s event, to which he agreed. 

At the Fur Design competition in Hong Kong