Friday, 30 October 2009

The Land of Smile

I seem to spend most of time at Siam Paragon! This time I attended the press conference for the launching of a new recording label named Revol - Music Creation founded by Dunk, a Thai pop star/celebrity in his own right.
The connection? Another internet friend who happens to be a good friend of Dunk’s. That was a good opportunity to discover some Thai acts. I never thought the indie music scene would be that vibrant. Nothing groundbreaking but it was very interesting and wiped away all my notions about Thai music being syrupy and sentimental. I’m always happy to ditch my prejudices. 
Some bands I have discovered today: ETC, ArtFloor.

A week gone by already?
As a child, Franz Lehár’s operetta gave me the wrong notion that the Land of Smile was China.
Another example of how misleading the western knowledge of foreign culture can be!
People do not smile so much in Paris. They do more in the south, where the sun shines brighter and longer. IN big cities, not just Paris, but also New York or London, a smile can almost be interpreted as unusual behaviour or even as an act of aggression! 
Here in Bangkok people smile with a kindness that I rarely see anywhere else - except maybe in Myanmar where I saw the kindest people in the whole world. And the word doesn’t even has a hint of an idea!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

White night, wild city

Ronny told me to meet him at DJ Station. He would be there with some friends. It seems people party all week long in Bangkok!
The place was packed. The cabaret show was hilarious more because the drag queens were so bad they were good - and loved, apparently, for all of them were very popular.
Ronny insisted that I stayed around when I told him that maybe it would be time for me to go home. Some guys have caught my eyes but it was just too hot for me to start the wooing game.

When the club was about to close, Ronny grab me by the arms and summoned me to follow him and his friends. The owner of one of the bars had plan. They all referred to him as the big mama. A tall, chubby, middle aged man who liked to keep his composure no matter the situation.
Ronny told me we would go to a hotel with all the boys, have drinks there and also some fun with two money boys who were hired for the occasion.
I hesitated for a second but thought that it was much too late to back up.
We jumped in a taxi which led us to a motel. It was all very quiet, almost like a monastery, compared to the noise and sweat of the club.
We made ourselves comfortable. There was a large double bed, some armchairs and a little sofa. The boys started drinking vodka, laughing and unable to sit still. I chose to stick to water. The money boys were not there and there was tension and anticipation in the air.
Someone played some music from the TV. Big Mama presided the whole thing in silence.
The first money boy finally arrived. When he saw the whole congregation, he shyed away. He didn't expect that, he said. He was ordered by Big Mama to undress and lie on the bed. He did as he was told and dropped all his clothes to reveal a finely buffed body. His face, however, was rough, even unattractive. I imagined him to be from the countryside and coming to the big city for a better life only to end up grabbing any available labour. 
The boys couldn't contain themselves and giggled like Japanese school girls but didn't seem to muster the courage to come near the money boy, preferring sitting around the bed, not daring to do anything.
That didn't help the poor money boy who didn't know what to do. Asked to display what was expected, he said that he didn't feel at ease.
"If that goes on like that, nothing will happen!" I thought.
I got on the bed and said: "Allow me to help."
What I did was only to lick his nipples and give him a slow and deep French kiss. That did the trick and soon he displayed a splendid specimen of manlihood in all its glory.
The other boys undressed me as I kept on playing with the money boy.
Suddenly the doorbell rang. The second money boy one had just arrived. But no one paid attention to him. He was not so well endowed and his face was too nondescript. He and was left by himself on the other side of the bed and laboriously attempted to get it up.
Now the money boy and I were the only ones naked on the bed. Ronny and the other boys were still half dressed, (still) giggling and touching our bodies.
"I feel like I'm actually the money boy".
The thought amused me.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Bollywood in Bangkok

Bollywood show in Bangkok tonight: The Merchants of Bollywood. A friend of mine, Bom, works in a company that brings shows from abroad to Thailand and invited me and Pann. 
I first thought it was a musical adaptation of the Shakespeare play and was looking forward to see it. Hell it wasn’t! Just a mish-mash of a plot as an excuse to have lots of song and dance numbers energetically stringed one after the other to lead the audience to the point of dizziness.
Entertaining, though.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Hua Hin

I was abducted by Pann to Hua Hin, where a friend of his owns a sumptuous summer residence. 
They apparently like to gather there on regularly, to eat, drink, swim, dance and have fun. That was possibly my first true holiday in years. 
We cooked together - cooking took most of the time actually! We lounged by the pool. One of the highlight was our night ball game in the pool. I was surpised to see that the girls who had been pretty and well groomed all day didn't not fear to jump in the pool for a good laugh. 
But two days of that were more than enough for me.

Friday, 23 October 2009

The road to Bangkok

Boarding time soon. It’s my second time to Thailand and the first this century! I didn’t stay very long the first time. It was with dear ole Emmanuel. Year: 1996. Month February. We only stayed a few days on our way to India and Myanmar. I knew nothing about the country, much less about Asia in general. And it was a big shock, a big discovery. The first step took place when I visited Vietnam for the first time a few years before to attend - among other things, my grand-mother’s ninetieth birthday. No one really knew her real age and that didn’t really matter. We just decided it was time to celebrate her life and longevity. I am happy she lived long enough to see me, her first male grand son , ironically the offspring of her youngest son.
It was during that trip in Thailand with Emmanuel that I learned that my grand mother had died. My father didn’t know where I was exactly, but wanted me to be there for the funeral. Unfortunately, when I finally managed to talk to him, it was already too late.
I stayed two weeks at my grand-mother’s. She lived in a beautiful colonial house that dated from the time her husband was the governor of the province of Huê. The house hadn’t changed that much since. I even wonder if the spider webs did not date from that time either…
She was so impatient to meet me. She had been told lots of things about me and my brother. Good and flattering things, I suppose, for I know that the truth can get enhanced in a very unexpected manner. She was impatient to meet me. It was already night time when we arrived after two days of an exhaustingly hot and bumpy bus ride. All the relatives and servants had lined up to have a look at this wonderful creature I was supposed to be. I passed them and walked to my grand-mother who was standing on top of the stairs that led to the house. All I could see was her frail silhouette against the dim yellow light that came from inside. It was a very solemn and very theatrical moment that I had to break by a joke. My parents had told her that I could speak Vietnamese well. So I greeted her and spoke with the most hopeless French accent possible. Everybody gasped. She startled. I laughed then told her how happy I was to see her, this time with the proper accent and embraced her. It was not the customary way for a grandchild to greet someone to whom he is to show the deepest respect. Even if I was never disrespectful to her, I always tried to remain who I was without drowning my behaviour in colloquial postures. That may have shocked some, but I think she loved it. No one had done that with her. She was regarded with some fearful deference by the whole household as well as the people in city. Just the fact she lived through nearly one century of Vietnamese history, from the French colony to the communist dictatorship, lost her husband and more than just one child was enough to compel high  respect from everyone!

All these memories were flashing into my mind as I was waiting to get on the plane.  Thirteen years now that I first went to Bangkok. Emmanuel and I were actually on our way to India and we stopped in the capital for a few days. Enough to do some sight seeing, but not enough to get a real feel of the city.


My friend Pann came to pick me up at the airport. I was glad to see his smiling face. I had never seen him in real life but I immediately felt comfortable. We had been exchanging mails and message for a more than a year until he learned that I may be coming to Thailand and kindly offered me to stay at his place.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


Derjk Wu, the boss from a classical music magazine called em… Muzzik has just called to ask to meet me for lunch. He came to see the last performance NINA and wants to meet me and apparently will also bring along a reporter from The China Time. Derjk  was sitting next to me at the wedding banquet and we laughed a lot together.
Things are going so quickly, it’s hard to keep up even for me!

I’m meeting Sandee Chan tomorrow. Hopefully she’ll show some interest in collaborating with me on a few songs. I listened to a few of her songs yesterday and I still really enjoy her musical world.
Keep the faith, keep the faith.

That’s what I say when I think of Billy. I met Mr. Wonderful more than two weeks ago at a party through a common friend, Duncan who introduced me to him - which was a big mistake for himn for Duncan had some views on me. Later in the evening, Billy came to me and asked for my number. A date with a handsome man! But the story didn’t start that easily. I was caught in a triangle and didn’t know which end to pull. 

Billy invited me to come to his place. A home party, as they like to call it. I didn't know the other guests. The flat was located in GuTing. The building didn't look very inviting at first sight - which could be said to most of Taipei. It's unbelievably charmless architecturally. But once inside the flat, I couldn't help but appreciate the work of the interior designer. Everything was perfect, spotless, except maybe the absence of any book, which to me is always a bad sign...
Billy wasted no time in telling me that I was scoring high on his potential boyfriend list. Who wouldn't yield to such declaration? An extremely handsome man, around the same age as me - for once! Smart, gentle and elegant with a body to die for. When he came to pick me up down in the lobby, the sight of him just made me melt. The kind of man everyody would dream of, but would never dare to approach. And he was the one who came to me!
"More complication ahead", I thought.
The tinge of guilt I felt regarding Duncan hovered over me. I decided I would simply tell him. However, a little voice told me that Billy, however strong the attraction I felt toward him, was going to cause more than a heartache.
One never listens to the voice of reason in the matters of love, and I was no exception. A glad fool, I was.
The party went on fairly smoothly. Some were playing cards, others were watching TV in the bedroom, drinking or chatting in the guestroom. I was given a glass of vodka-orange. Billy had fixed it for me. 
I had been drinking water until then and thought that a bit of alcohol wouldn't do me any harm.
Fifteen minutes or so later, I had the sensation that something was taking control of me. I felt nauseous. My head was spinning. I needed to lie down so I went to the guestroom to have a rest. Then I remembered I used to feel the same way when Emmanuel and I were sharing pot in the evening.
Could it be...?
I went to the kitchen and drank as much water as I could. The nauseous feeling slowly faded away.
"Did you put anything in my drink?" I asked Billy.
His little smile betrayed him.
"I wanted you to feel at ease and happy!" was his reply. His voice sounded like a moan. His stare was vague.
I knew he had also taken something. Something much stronger than what he gave me.

I still felt dizzy, so I went to the bedroom where some were watching Mama Mia and joined them on the bed.

Later on, Billy had lost it. He was in bed, sweating and drifting in his own fantasy world. Jonas, one of his closest friend, and one the few I talked to during that home party, told me that Billy would be okay.
I looked at him, the handsome,muscular hunk who mesmerised me, now shaking and trembling. I saw a little baby one needs to take care of.
"Complication and trouble ahead" I thought when I left.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

NINA in Taipei

The audience roared and applauded enthusiastically. I was in heaven. I’m so glad I came to Taipei to live that. Jo seemed also very relaxed and happy, much more than two years ago, when we went to New York. As he said, the New York performances were the first ones outside of Japan, so he was nervous about how people would react to the piece. And the article published in the New York Times affected him deeply.
I saw some boys and girls trying to imitate some movements they’ve seen in NINA. It was so cute. A university teacher from Guandu came with a whole group of young students who cheered excitedly at the sight of us when we walked out of the theatre and of course wanted to take millions of pictures. One of the Noism dancers, the youngest, revelled amidst the adoring fans and later said to me, as he was waving to them from the bus  « If I lived here, I would be a star …» before adding « Star Academy » with a little smile.
Who could blame him for loving the attention?

I took Jo and Sawako to the ShiLin night market. I wanted to show Jo something on the way, at the MRT station. When we reached the spot, I heard him gasp then laugh: he was facing a giant picture of himself which was used for the advertisement of NINA.
"They really do things well here" he exclaimed.

My head is boiling up with ideas for Les Contes d’Hoffmann. I want to enhance the tale telling aspect of the plot and bring the fantasy and fairy-like quality to the front.
It is E.T.A Hoffmann after all. I will do some more research about him and read some other tales.
Speaking of which, Jo has told me that the date of the premiere is precisely on my birthday. Something supernatural is indeed happening…


So I did sing at Micky’s wedding. I crooned through Cole Porter’s classic I’ve got you under my skin . Since I didn’t even have a percussionist, I asked the audience to snap their fingers, which they did willingly.
It was a wedding banquet. The wedding itself took place a week or so before among the family.
Like all Chinese style banquet, the meal was a 15 course meal. We were already exhausted after the fifth!!! 

Advertisement for NINA on the street

The National Theatre

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Black version

I was shocked  when I saw the dress rehearsal of NINA. It’s an alternate version Jo has called ‘black version’. The main reason was that the floor was no longer white as it was when the ballet premiered, but black. The changes he made in the choreography and  the alterations I brought to the score produced a totally different feeling to NINA. The movements are more precise, therefore the intention is clearer. The black floor completely changes the perception of the piece. I find it much darker and tighter but also much more effective.
And I thought as I listened to the music after all this time, that I was going through quite a dark and angry time myself! At some point I even found the music quite unbearable.
In a sense, that energy is good for what Jo intended.
It’s a different NINA I saw tonight but NINA definitely has a life of her own now.
But still, I’m in shock!!!

I took Jo and Sawako to this wonderful dumpling restaurant not for far from the theatre. It’s a really low key and unpretentious place. A hole in a wall. People sit at small dodgy tables on the street. But the food is so delicious. Jo and Sawako roared with delight!
We shall bring the other dancers in a couple of days. They like to eat so much, I have no doubt their palate and stomach will revel at the taste of this great food. As Simon liked to say, cheap and cheerful!


The good news is that Sandee Chan  left me a message with her number and her e-mail. I didn’t know whether she’d contact me, but I was surprised she did eventually. I invited to see the show and she accepted. I hope she’ll like what she sees and hears.
The not so good news are still about my financial state. There isn’t a drop of a penny in my account and I have idea how I will go on for the coming months. I have been lucky so far. My situation isn’t unlike these tales where the hero is lost in a foreign country or a forest and finds unexpected and invisible  help from well meaning fairies and elves. Maybe it is for me to trust that things will always be good for me and that I should not worry. However, we are so conditioned to function according to money that it is a difficult step to take.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Coincidence and fate

"Have you ever done music for a piece with plot which is already written?"  Jo asked me as we were relaxing in his hotel room. Sawako was stretching and hopping around.
"Yes, I have" I replied, although I didn’t know why he asked me that question.
"I even have written music for someone who had a very clear idea in her and gave me her ‘score’ with all the beat the bars and the bangs I had to put in the music", I continued.
"It must be a terrible compromise "he said pensively.
"It’s also a challenge, to still be myself within a limited frame."
Jo had a project to stage The Tales of Hoffmann for dance. He thought of using Offenbach’s music but the idea of asking me to do something occured to him. He didn’t dare to think that I would accept such a project. The premiere was scheduled for next July. Half a year was a short time to write quite a fair amount of music.
But I accepted. How could I miss an opportunity to work with Jo again? 
I discarded the idea of using Offenbach's music. I didn’t want to compete with such a famous score. And the story is an open door to imagination and offers many possibilities. The project was exciting and frightening also. I was wondering what I would do, whether I would rise up to the challenge. The same feeling I had before starting work on PLAY 2 PLAY. Only an hour before, I was telling Jo how I was looking forward to work with him again. We only had to find the right project.
Earlier one this year, Jo had been commissioned to stage an opera for a theatre in the south of Japan. After studying and watching a few of them he picked Offenbach’s swan song. But the project failed through.
Yet he still liked the idea and kept the idea of working on a subject that was not his own with the plot already written.
We brainstormed for a while and got more and more excited as ideas came out of our mind.
It was settled! I was to work with Jo again on The Tales of Hoffmann
The date of the premiere coincided with my birthday. I had this wish to celebrate my 40th birthday not with party but with a creation. My wish was granted!

Now as write this diary entry, my mind is boiling up.

The press conference for NINA took place in a large salon inside the National Theatre. It was a quiet and rather stiff affair. FangYi was to conduct the interview. We said that it would be nice to all speak in English. But for some reason they all ended up speaking in their respective tongue.
I said my lines about the creative process, my collaboration with Jo etc… Seeing Jo and Sawako was the chief reason. We were trying hard to keep our poise and a serious appearances but we al felt like blowing the house down and telling nonsense.

Sawako, me and FangYi

With FangYi, Sawako and Jo at the press conference

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Connected / Not connected

I found out that Sandee Chan was born the same year, the same month as me. We’re just three days apart, just like Beck and the Korean actor Lee Byung-Hun, two other artists whose work I admire and to whom I feel this mysterious connection.
It would be interesting to sit around a table and discuss how we grew up and developed into what we are now. When Bibbe showed me pictures of her family and talked about Beck as a young child, I found so much similarities with my own childhood. I felt the same when I saw Lee Byung-Hun on screen or listened to Sandee’s music…

Fang-Yi took me to the National Theatre to see two dance solos called While going to a condition and Accumulated Layout by Japanese Hiroaki Umeda. That was part of the Japan series that also features NINA.
The solo was interesting as it showcased the physical possibilities in a very limited realm, here between fast and slow. But as often with contemporary dancers, they want their art to also be brainy and intellectual so they load it with concepts and wordiness, they do not use music but prefer dry electronic soundscapes instead complete with quite abstract videos. Like the one we saw today. It was an impressive demonstration of research in physicality and movement which is alas quickly forgotten once the show is over. To me it was just a presentation of possibilities. There was still a few steps to go to call it a creation.
FangYi would really love to do a piece with Jo and me. That would be a good opportunity to work with him again, although I don’t know where he is artistically. He has changed a lot in the past couple of years, maybe because of the all the responsibilities which grew as Noism was also growing


There may still be some chance that the CD of NINA will be released. But that won’t be for the performances in Taipei. The director of the studio and record label Micky is getting married so all his time and energy are devoted to the celebration. He must have a meeting with the other members of the board and then come up with a decision.
The Auntie story continues, though this time in a very subdued way. LianYen still wants to release the music as part of a compilation album that would feature music from other shows he’s done. The little smirk comes at the thought that he wants to use the instrumental tracks without the singing. Micky has reached a state beyond annoyance, but has to agree since LianYen is the client.
"He changes his mind everyday", Micky told me.
Micky’s bride-to-be asked me to sing for their wedding. "A love song!". I don’t know what musician will be present, so I have decided to sing Cole Porter’s I’ve got you under my skin with just a drummer. I have been rehearsing the song in various situation: when walking on the street, to my Chinese coach, at the gym...