Saturday, 9 February 2008

Singapore glitter

I didn’t feel any emotion when I left. We were having lunch at Weng’s, with a few of his friends who came back to Singapore to celebrate the lunar new year. We were having such a relaxed time, chatting about our experience, family, coming out, flying away, settling down, in Asia or elsewhere, the choices we have in life…. Of course for all of them but one found, Singapore was the perfect place to be in Asia. Geographically I do agree. It’s so easy to find cheap flights to anywhere. The cost of life is rather cheap - except for accommodation. The only problem might be getting the residency permit. I’m confident. As Nick said, I propose my wish, with full attention for what surrounds me, to the details of the situation and insight about myself. I’m sitting in the plane and am reviewing the various cities and countries I have been to. Hong Kong? Saigon? Hanoi? Kuala Lumpur? Tokyo? Singapore? 
In general, the idea of modern of life does not include arts and culture which are still at an embryonic stage. Economic growth first. People want more, but in the race for more they forget why they want more. Just create some movement then some meaning might come out of it… or not, but does it matter, since people are doing something. I still marvel at the insight George Orwell had more than sixty years ago when he wrote 1984. Terribly frightening to see the accuracy of his vision and understanding of human nature and what direction we were to take to reach now. It’s also alarming that such a powerful book is only regarded as a piece of great literature and that its wisdom is forgotten. Difficult to keep the faith - people who believe are seen as non productive daydreamers. I have been reading my friend Nicolas’ account of his first journey out of France, across America from New York to San Francisco and cannot but feel veneration and respect for his bravery. Here’s a person who isn’t afraid to leave everything, trust his intuition and build his future according to his own terms, in spite of his great fears and uncertainties. 
Now he’s going to fly to Taiwan. He’s done with America. Apparently got what he needed to take there. Or maybe he must search for other parts of himself in other places.
We keep exchanging and watching over each other from afar. He’s like a twin soul brother who’s living the same life in another dimension.
Taiwan is at my door as well. This will be in April, for the musical play with a book in Mandarin!!! That is, if the project does work out. I don’t like to use this word ‘if’, but I don’t want to rejoice too quickly and find myself like a duck who mistook a muddy pond for a lake.
However, I will try to come back to Singapore again soon for some interviews. I have never been much of a businessman, but I have to adopt some of these traits that will help me move forward.
Singapore seems to be the right place to be. The city does not inspire such excitement in me as New York or Tokyo do. But maybe that is where to begin. The playing factor is that I feel that people will take time to stop and listen. But well, who knows... My enthusiasm may cloud my judgment!
Giao’s mother, my cousin Tâm Mân, took me to a lunar new year celebration at a friend of hers in some posh area of Singapore. A crowd of extremely wealthy Vietnamese expats from Europe or America there. She used the opportunity to introduce me to some of them who have positions and may be able to help, if not point me to the right persons.
I really do feel like playwright Molière going from one court to another to find a noble patron.
It is no longer extraordinary to be chatting with a cousin the morning in one country and attend a party the evening of the same day in another country. But it is does fill me with excitement. My name An means contentment and I wish never to become indifferent to the joys life can bring me. 
Tôi chọn đời.
Tôi là An.

Youths on Sentosa Island

Construction site

Old town

ManHunt pageant contest

Friday, 8 February 2008


Couvent des Oiseaux
Outside Hanoi

On the heights of Đà Lạt

The house of an eccentric woman, Đà Lạt

On the road to Đà Lạt

The streets of Saigon

I have never eaten so much than during the past couple of days. Lunar New Year oblige! 
My cousin has prepared this speciality called bánh chưng, a square cake made of glutinous rice, yellow bean and pork wrapped in a banana leaf. She made more than fifty of them and had to spend two whole nights of labour on them, if not more. I was in Đà Lạt and missed the chance to watch the preparation.
The result couldn’t have been more delicious. Even if this cake can now be found the whole year long in any Asian store, it is to me the symbol of the new year. During my glorious times as a boy scout,  I learned about the origins of this much loved cake: according to an old Vietnamese legend, an ageing king was eager to find the right heir among his four sons. Since he was unable to make a decision, he gave them the task to bring him something extraordinary. Such task is found in so many tales, when one thinks of it. The three eldest sons travelled the world and came back with precious stones, gold and gems, extremely rare birds and animals. The youngest didn’t go anywhere and still had nothing for his father, thus causing his brothers to spitefully  laugh at him.
He only had one day left before the presentation. During the night, he was visited by a vision. A square cake made of the main essential ingredients used by the people: glutinous rice, yellow bean and pork, wrapped in a banana leaf. The universe, the sky, and the earth. I don’t remember everything exactly.
At first the king was very doubtful. Even if he loved this youngest son very dearly and preferred him to his arrogant brothers, he thought his son had lost his mind when he appeared with this square cake. However, once the son explained to him what it symbolized, the king recognized the extreme wisdom of this youngest son and chose his as his heir.
And we had to stage a little play for the lunar new year ceremony, with props and costume. Needles to say, we wouldn’t have earned any award for that. But at least, I know the story when so many people stuff themselves to death - the banh chung is the exact opposite of a mousse, without realizing wha it symbolizes.
Well, how many people know about the meaning of the Christmas pudding????
Don’t ask me.

It was an excellent idea to go out and have a walk, experience the effervescence of a city on the eve of a new year. All the temples were packed - mostly the elderly, while the younger ones would be out, whether on their bikes or strolling along the Flower Road that had been set up for the occasion. I saw it taking shape day after day for the past ten days. It can be a very pleasurable promenade if one is able to remain oblivious of the millions of people shouting and laughing all around.
And of course, the firework to mark the passage to the year of the Rat. Strangely, it was launched on the side, behind tall buildings, when everybody expected on the main road. People started shouting and yelling while craning to catch a glimpse of it. Finally, the real show started to everyone’s glee.

That was my first new year outside of France. Is this a dream? Everything seems to unreal, so impossibly perfect to be true.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

New Year preparation

Been to the flower market this morning with my cousin to bring back colours and vegetation in the house for the New Year. Sunflowers, cherry blossom, peach blossom, carnation, roses, chrysanthemums, yellow, red, pink, white… 
This morning was the last opportunity before everything closes for two or three days. Silly me for I forgot to bring my camera. I actually thought we would just go to a shop. But my cousin took me to a big garden in the centre of the city. It wasn’t the main flower market, but it was already quite packed. Everyone was leaving with their motorbike loaded with oversized plants. It was a miracle that they’d manage to ride back home without leaving a petal or a leaf on the street. But that’s another wonder of the people here. Always finding a way. I’m thinking about that giant aquarium last week…
Now everything is ready for lunar new year!

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Đà Lạt

A cousin I haven’t seen or talked to for seventeen years called me and asked whether I was ready for an escapade to Đà Lạt, where his mother lives. I only had vague plans for the weekend to meet some friends or possibly go out. Nothing definite though, so I accepted. A bus ticket was bought for a seven hour ride, I later learned.
The ride allowed me to watch the changing scenery. It’s beautiful especially when one reaches the mountain area. What aroused me the most was to watch the people. Seeing all these houses one after the other, catching a glimpse, a second, of their life, imagining what was happening just before, and what was going to happen right after they are out of sight. This live film was an overwhelming experience for me. I love all these people.
Nicolas was telling me before I started this journey, that it would be great if I travelled by road instead taking the plane of the boat. "Walk", he said. 
To feel the earth under my steps, get grounded, find this other side of myself on the land of my ancestors. Discarding a certain habit for comfort I‘m used to in my Parisian life. Actually, it’s more about leaving behind the familiarity than the comfort. Familiarity has security in the equation. If that’s so, then I guess the task is done. 
I really do feel different, expanded, shall I say. I can be nothing, I can be everything, it doesn’t matter. I may be a musician when I’m doing music, but I enjoy many other things in my life, even if they are not the core of who I am, and still, I am. I am when I walk on the streets, I am when I feel the heat, I am when I am cooking or eating, I am whatever language I may be speaking… 
Every minute counts and I’m so alive.

Đà Lạt provided me my first good night sleep in three months, but also the opportunity to drive a motorbike for the very first time in my life. I was slightly reluctant, but my cousin encouraged me to try. He stopped where the road was less crowded and said:
"Now it’s your turn. You drive"
He showed me the basic function. Very simple. Two minutes later, we were on the road again, up to the mountain. We went to the Couvent des Oiseaux, a former school and convent run by nuns, which my mother attended from elementary school until high school graduation. Those were happy, carefree times. She told me many fond memories.
The school is now badly tended. It’s still used, but for the ethnic minorities. The left wing still is inhabited by nuns. I could recognize all the places my mother described: the trees, the hills, the courtyard, the dormitory, even if didn’t know the place… The memory of the young girls playing and studying there. I have some footages of the place, and a few pictures. I wonder whether my mother will not cry when she sees what it has become.
Will I be ready to face the craziness of Saigon traffic? That will come. On my next time in Vietnam, I’ll make sure to rent a bike.

On the way to Đà Lạt

The mountain of Đà Lạt

Our ride back was quick. The driver was reckless and it’s a miracle that he didn’t leave any corpse behind on the road! It was so exciting to witness this race between bikes, motorbikes, cars, lorries and buses. Now everyone has to wear a helmet. Government statement. To prevent any more accident. That means non too sophisticated hairdos, since any trendy hairstyle is bound to be flattened by the helmet! A disgrace for hair care market, I was told.
The city of Saigon is preparing for the lunar new year. The year of the Rat is about to start! Some of the main streets are adorned with wonderful, lively light decoration. Getting stuck in the traffic jam becomes a fest for the eyes. The sight of these thousands of helmets is quite impressive. Tonight, everything will be ready for the public. Expect the streets to be overcrowded.

In my aunt's garden in Đà Lạt