Saturday, 1 December 2012

Mon Oncle

I had just opened the door when my father told me the news. My head went blank. It was like being compelled to read a book I had no intention to read. I wished I had heard the wrong words. Uncle Kỷ had been sick for some time now and getting weaker by the week. It was no surprise. But it's always a surprise when it actually happens. My father was sitting on the sofa, looking up at the ceiling, his stare lost in thought, my mother just near him. I needed time to digest the news so I went up to the study and checked my e-mails. Another case of missed carpe diem. I had been thinking of visiting Uncle Kỷ during my stay in Paris, but had kept postponing it. His son, my childhood friend An had written to me that he would be coming with all his family to Paris. Ironically I had just changed my return ticket to Taipei today for a week later. I was glad to see him again, especially after our reunion in Taipei two months earlier.
I had brought back plenty of pastries from Taipei, so my father had saved one box of mochi for Uncle Kỷ. But I kept postponing the visit. It is still there now, in my father's room.
I can't  help blaming myself for not having gone earlier. Would it have changed anything?

When I came down to the living room again, my father was still sitting on the sofa. With each close friend or relative passing away, it was one more look closer at the final picture. And around him, not much to comfort and soothe him. He was sending a message on his i-Pad but asked me to stay nearby. I understood. I wanted to be near anyway. And it's less about what one talks about than the simple fact to let it out. My father has a lot to express.
My mother soon joined us.
"I feel scared, sitting alone up there in my room" she said with an embarrassed smile. So we chatted. About Uncle Kỷ, then we let the space be filled with happier, lighter images.
"At least, I like the thought that my father has gone up to meet his wife again", An wrote to me later in the evening. "Now I'm okay, but I'm not sure how I will react when I see... him and the morgue"

Friday, 30 November 2012

Bác Kỹ

"I'm about to tell you some very bad news... Uncle Kỷ has passed away.
Yesterday, on Thursday, the cleaning lady came in the morning as usual. She knocked on the door, but since Uncle Kỷ didn't answer, she had the inkling something was terribly wrong so she called the firemen. 
They arrived soon after and broke the window of the bathroom in order to get in. They found Uncle Kỷ lifeless in his room, on the groundfloor.
The police came. 
At 12:30, Mrs Continent, the neighbour informed me about his passing. The police ordered me to come as quickly as possible.
I reached the house at 1:40. The policeman said that since it was a natural death, it wasn't their duty have to handle the matter, so I had to find a doctor to pronounce him dead and call the funeral service in order to bring the body to the funeral home.

With the help of Mrs. Continent, we called many doctors of the district, but all of them declined to come.

I eventually managed to reach Dr. Dê, who is his personal doctor. He told me to call the city hall.

We finally got an appointment after 8pm. The wait was excrutiatingly long.

At 10pm, the doctor came to pronounce Uncle Kỷ dead.

At 11:30, the funeral service took the body to the funeral home in Bry.

When did Uncle Kỷ pass away????"

Chị Nga

Saturday, 24 November 2012

La famiglia mia


"Hello stranger" my mother greeted me as I passed the door. The return of the son after one year of absence. Time seemed to have stopped for a few seconds as I stood at the threshold of my parents' house. The feeling that I was watching a repeat of a familiar film. Time resumed its course when I stepped inside. Had my mother changed since last year? She and my father hardly seemed any older. I looked for signs of alteration in her words, in her stare but didn't see any. She hugged me tightly. Jan was standing behind me, smiling at this moving reunion between mother and son.
A few minutes later, we were having tea around the dining table. It seems time stands still in this house. I had brought a box of pineapple cakes which she loves.


Grey sky. The temperature has dropped. I drove my parents to my brother's house. It's Wednesday. A much anticipated day for my mother, for that's when they can spend it with their grandson. My brother's house is located at the other end of the capital, in the suburb. I always dread going there. It's a long walk from the train station. I know the houses and the buildings are inhabited, but I can't chase away the feeling that I'm walking through a cemetary.
No traffic on the road today. My father freaks out whenever he takes the car. He's getting old so his reflexes are not as good as they used to. If I jump a few years back, I wouldn't say his reflexes were that great then. He would never have been hired for a car chase scene. His anxiety become words and when he's not the driver, it's nearly maddening!
Their Wednesday with the grandson follows the same pattern: go to the nanny, pick up the baby there, bring him home, feed the baby, put the baby to sleep for his afternoon nap, give the baby a little snack, have a walk with the baby, bathe the baby, then bye bye baby. Yes my tone is dry. Don't I feel the family blood pounding in my veins? As I told a friend, even though I know he's my nephew, even though he looks absolutely adorable, I can't pretend to be excited when I'm not!
From relatives to friends, everybody seemed to be more excited to see the baby than I am.

Grey day. Rain? On the verge to. Not much connection with my nephew. Understandable, since I'm a stranger to him. And my mother suddenly became territorial, so I let her enjoy her grandson. I'll have time later.
I'm walking the dog and trying not to walk too fast, so my parents can keep up with the pace. They have to stop every ten meters to make sure the baby is warm - poor thing just caught a cold. We are going to the park to the park, a fifteen minute walk from the house.
The park near my brother's house is gloomy. The neighbourhood is gloomy. A young boy was racing excitedly on a miniature blue bike. I smile faintly. It suddenly reminds me of the day my dad taught me how to ride a bike. I was a five. We were practicing on the parking area near our flat. It was the end of the afternoon. My mother and my younger brother were there too. He couldn't ride a bike yet. He was only three. But he had a yellow plastic fish on wheels and would try to follow me happily with it.
Happy time.
Wasn't it?


First appointment with the dentist. I badly needed it. My father came with me. I drove the car. Now that he's old, he tries to avoid the unpleasant experience as much as he can.
"Your mother only has 8 years left to live, do you know that?". He paused.
"That's what they say about people who have the Alzheimer disease. 8 years."
I remained silent. I could find nothing to reply.
"I told your brother. I guess he's really sad about it". So was I. Who wants to see his parents go? That is, if there is love in the family. I still didn't know what to say. My father would always find the most unlikely timing to send out such news.
"And many people say that the person who takes care of the patient usually dies first."
I knew it. That was the case with Isabelle's parents. His father died earlier this year, and his wife still thinks that he's always late...
"What can I say to that?" I said after a time.
"I just wanted you to know".
My parents will be 80 next year. Given their age, it will almost be a natural thing if they happen to pass away in 8 years.
Dry? Yes.


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Patrick Wolfe

I didn't know much about Patrick Wolfe except for a couple of songs which happen to be in my i-Pod, but Jan insisted that I joined him. As a fan, it was essential for him to convert other friends. I was in Paris, why not seize the chance? The concert was to take place at the Café de la Danse.
"Patrick Wolfe is going to perform where Aaken once performed!" Jan said in a joke. My last concert at the Café de la Danse? in 2006... Ages ago!
"His new album is a reworking of his best songs in an acoustic orchestration. It's beautiful." Jan chimed. He was accompanied by another one of his friend - even more devoted than he was, who was ready to buy all the new releases or re-releases if he was to find any.
My cousin Nina came as well. Jan and Nina, my favourite people, a perfect evening in perspective. 
If I didn't know Patrick Wolfe's songs, I quickly got into his music. A giant of a man, he would clumsily move accross the stage, and played on ridiculously small instruments. But the man was so touching in his vulnerability and passion, it was hard to resist the invitation to join him in his world. Watching him just gave me the itch to be back on stage.
It had been ages since I last went to a concert where 95% of the audience were die hard fans. There was something moving, being surrounded by all these young kids. Everything now reminds me of my younger years...
A delicious young singer opened the concert: Abi Wade. We all wondered who that person was, where that name came from.
"Abi Wade... That could be African!!!" Jan suggested.
No she was a pure British product - with a voice that reminded me of Regina Spektor. It was just her and her cello, but the music was fresh and witty. 
When I'm done with Thanh Giong, I'll look for concert venues.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Back / on visit?

It was, once again, my faithful and dear friend Jan who came to pick me up at the airport. In my messy mind, I gave him the wrong date, in his own term, a general rehearsal... Poor Jan! 
After my brief Hanoi interlude, I found it harder to believe I wasn't dreaming awake, the half tooth in my stomach being the only item to keep me connected to reality...

Now... My parents and Paris! So far, it's the joy of the reunion.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Ten minutes before taking the taxi to the TaoYuan airport, I was still writing one last e-mail to Tim Cribb. Tim Cribb? And editor and literary agent who discovered me through Norm Yip.
The two live in Hong Kong and are closely connected to the Asian artistic world. For Tim, his mission is to promote Asian literature in Western countries. It was through a facebook exchange between me and Norm that Tim learned about me. Would I be willing to write a book related to my music, take eight songs and tell about the creative process. Anything I would want to talk about, if it could also be connected to my Vietnamese roots and the life as a musician. He sent me some pages by another musician he has discovered. The project was indeed very attractive, yet I suggested another angle of approach: since most of my works were strongly connected to events in my life, I prefered to write short stories, where the characters would What about short stories that would The man is passionate and pressed me to
I found a few messages I had spent the previous few days scribbling down the synopsis of eight short stories which would compose a book I had entitled Hyperbody. Tim urged me to come up with something as quickly as possible for he had to meet a publisher in Sydney the next week and he wanted to show her something.
Writing a book... .

Hà Nội

I had told my friends Loc and Huy that I would come to Saigon to visit them on my way to Paris, before I learned that the plane would make a stop over in Hanoi instead. 
The disappointment quickly vanished when I set foot again in this city. I had six hours. Enough time to see my friend Nam, have a stroll in the old city and take some pictures. Tim urged me to pay a visit to a writer he knew and helped publish a book. "A very talented writer!!! He has a coffee shop in Hanoi. You must pay him a visit. Tell him you come on my behalf and have a martini on me!"
I didn't have a martini, but I certainly enjoyed the few hours there. The coffee shop, named Tadioto (which means 'I take the car') was a delightful place where exhibitions and small concerts were held.
It was exquisitely decorated. The owner, Qui Duc, also designed furniture. 
"Quy Duc says that he and your father were apparently related!" Tim wrote. Quy Duc wrote to me to invite me to drop by and have a martini (sic) and I realised that a dear cousin of mine was or common link. 

I didn't imagine how happy I would be to come back to Vietnam. For too long did I postpone a possible trip there. Hearing my own language me after months of Chinese was more than a relief. Hanoi is a beautiful city. The houses are charming and colourful, in high contrast to the unimaginative architecture in Taipei. Nam picked me up at the Hoang Kiêm lake. I took a couple of hours to wander in the old city and take pictures. in five years, many new buildings have sprouted out around Hanoi, but the old city has been left fairly unscathed. I was just happy and lighthearted.
Nam drove me to Tadioto. He picked me up exactly at the same time and the same place where we met for the very first time some five years ago. There's something moving, meeting up again after all this time as if only a few weeks have passed by...
I found it hard to realise I was in Vietnam. 
"By the time I realise it, I will already be on the plane, flying to Paris..." I thought, watching people having a walk or jogging around the lake. Behind me, a little boy was escalading a little mound. The weather was ideal, as in Taipei: warm, but not too hot. Why was I going to Paris at this very season!

Tadioto was not only a café but also an art gallery as well as a workshop for Quy Duc's creations. Many of the customers that evening were French. Quy Duc also could speak perfect French. He re-created an atmosphere  which reminded me of the gatherings my parents would attend when I was still very young. They would meet at my parents' friend's place, in the northern suburb of Paris. A large house and its outbuilding at the back of the garden. The husband, a small man with moustache and glasses, had a printing company which he used to publish a Vietnamese magazine. Now as I write about it, I remember a beautiful white peacock pigeon which I would invariably see on the window sill. I had wanted to come near it to watch it, but never dared to... We children would play together while adults would discuss serious matters. The Vietnam war had just ended and they needed to meet regularly to comfort each other. Naturally, as children, we were hardly aware of the tragedy. It may a relief for the parents that the children were so carefree. I suddenly recalled some long forgotten scent as I was sitting in the backyard of the café with Nam.
"What do you wish to eat? We can order anything!" Quy Duc asked. 
"Oh my request would be food from Huê... I've been craving that for years!!! Vietnamese food in Taipei is a calamity!!!!" I said laughing. So food from Huê we had. Quy Duc ordered a perfect selection of dishes. My palate was in trance.
It was nearly time for me to go. I counted one hour to go back to the airport but didn't want to take any chances.
"Have the last one!" Quy Duc pointed to the remaining bánh ran, a sort of salty mochi made of glutinous rice filled with meat and peanuts, served on a small and very crispy cracker.  I swallowed it in one go and noticed something strange in my mouth... Half of a back teeth had gone down to my stomach with the glutinous rice!!!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

We were here

The twenty-fourth hour of the day has nearly passed and I still can't believe it happened. But I have to, for it did happen, my first photo exhibition. Many have in the past months and years, encouraged me to go one step further and show my work to the public, and not only confine myself to the limits of the Internet and Facebook. Only when Nicolas and I a year ago, went to the photo shop to get prints of a selection of phototographs I wanted to offer to his godson, did it strike me that indeed, the picture would only come alive if blown up and deserved an exhibition. I was moved to see them come to life in print. Many friends came to support this endeavour of mine. Some I didn't even expect to see. As often in this situation, I sailed through the whole day like in a dream. If I was to be told that it didn't happen, I would believe it.
It was my friend Adrian who set the whole thing in motion. Adrian? A young student in cinema from Sydney, whom I befriended on Facebook a few months ago. He quickly became a little brother to me, and the relationship grew that way whenwhen he came to stay at my place during the past couple of months. He seemed to enjoy being there, having me and Ryan as bigger brothers. He lost his mother aged only nine, then was sent to a boarding school in England a few years later.
What I enjoyed in his company was his impulsive and enthusiastic (sometime erratic) nature. He suggested the idea of a double exhibition and I accpeted immediately, in spite of the many projects I was handling at the same time. Finding a venue wasn't difficult; Adrian had some contacts so we had our photos printed for next to nothing!

Thirty pictures each. Adrian's were to be in colour, and mine in black and white (what else?). It was a difficult task to select those thirty pictures among the thousands that I had taken all these years. I recalled Gilles' advice: not to make a 'best of'. I opted for those showing odd details in the urban landscapes: Paris, New York, Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Calcuta and named the exhibition We were here.
Since Adrian and I never got to establish solid roots, travels helped us find a sense of ourselves.

Then came the big challenge of creating something interesting with a limited space. I had big ideas in my head but they could not possibly see the light this time. The venue wasn't very large. One big wall we had to share, then portions of walls here and there.
"You should maybe put most of the pictures together to make a stronger impact, otherwise they would look like decoration" my friend James told me. He was one of the few friends I knew I could trust for his taste and his sense of esthetics.
Because of the lack of time and lack of finance, I decided it was a better idea to print the photos on foam boards. 
"How much do you think I should price them in case anybody would ask?" I asked James
"I don't think you should sell them. It's foam board... It's a cheap material... You should see this as publicity."
"I know. But then it's like saying that a sketch by a painter isn't worth anything because it's done on a piece of paper." I snapped back.
"You cannot compare yourself to them. You didn't give any thought about the way the pictures were to presented. You cannot expect people to buy that." he replied. I felt hurt.
"What you say is so snobbish and contemptuous, James!"
His words reminded me of the time I started writing songs and played them to people - friends or artistic directors at record labels. They usually would focus on the unfinished state of the demos and voice disregarding criticisms instead of seeing the potential and helping me achieve it.
Fine... James graduated from a design school in the Netherlands. And he loves fashion. So unless one is respected or is the new talk of the town, respect doesn't come easily... And then maybe James was unconsciously putting me down because I dared venture in artistic fields which were not mine. But then, why should I feel bad for enjoying myself? I let the thought stew for a while then pushed it away. It was supposed to be a good day and I did not intend to keep myself in such a crappy mood.

However I was happy to see the pictures in print. Of course, James was right. I wish for a larger exhibition in a bigger venue, with more means. This was only a try out. I nevertheless felt elated.

Add caption

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Son Shine

"Do you mind if I bring my six year-old nephew?" Xiao Chu asked me when I invited her and her boyfriend Wei Jen to come for dinner. I was so delighted to catch them after the last performance of Double Yellow Line that I didn't want to let more time pass between our next get together.
Fred and Michael were bringing their dog, and old companion of Michael's named Macy who had recently been sent from Australia after months of paperworks.
I wanted to cook for them. I had just received a jar of home-made French pâté and wanted to share that with my friends. I was also curious to see what I could with this chocolate paste that Ryan had brought home. Salty, spicy... It didn't taste at all like chocolate, yet, you could tell it was made of chocolate.

The six year-old nephew stood for a moment at the door threshold before he stepped in. He was holding a book tightly in his little hands - Angry Birds explain astronomy, and looked up at me.
"您好,我是安!" I told him.
He gave me a big smile with two front teeth missing.
"我是 Hank!!!" he said joyfully. I liked him instantly. One minute later, he had decided he liked it there and was sitting on the white armchair.

The dog, Xiao Chu, her boyfriend and the little nephew, Fred and Michael... I had also asked James to join us. As we were sitting around the table, eating and drinking joyfully, it suddenly struck me how all of us formed a re-composed family. Xiao Chu was an orphan. Hank's mother abandonned him after a violent fight she had with her companion, and returned to her homeland of China. Despite Xiao Chu's brother efforts to spot her, she had refused to get back in touch.
"The boy hasn't spoken about it since" Wei Jen told me. 
The boy I saw was lively, talkative and extremely smart. Even if I couldn't speak Mandarin, I could tell how articulate he was. His drawing were not the simple and clumsy ones of a six-year old's. He already had a sense of perspective and held his pencil confidently.
Such moments deeply touch me, especially since I live far away from my friends and family. One may start anew for a better and more fulfilling life, the warmth and love from the loved ones will be missing.

"No more creative flow! The artist is tired" Hank said as the dinner was coming to a close. He was lying on the floor with a contended smile. He made many drawings and gave one to me.
"He never gives away his drawings', Wei Jen told me.
I took it as a sign of his high appreciation. In my mind, I was already thinking of all the activities we could have together in the future.

Noé and Tamise's faces came to me. My little cousins. How I missed them! And I'm getting sentimental!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

L'avventura è finita!

I didn't want it to come but it came. The last performance. Luckily, we got to perform Double Yellow Line enough times so not to feel this frustration of having spent lots of energy and time on a project just for one show. 
As I anticipated it, the last show wasn't as good as the previous ones. Maybe because Hu Chien's family was there... Maybe because it was the last show... Many reasons spring to mind. 
Huang Yi and I agreed that Saturday was our best day. 
Hu Chien cracked his pants. We usually have a little moment off-stage after the big dance duet of Main Theme, when Huang Yi sits at the piano and plays his slow interlude before Hu Chien joins him again for another duet which includes some piano playing from them as well.
The trousers were had big gaping holes on the knee and under the crotch. He didn't know what to do. Of course he would have gone back on stage regardless, but I dropped my pants and told him to wear mine.
"You can't dance in yours!!!!" I pointed at the holes, laughing. He gratefully accepted the exchange and made a few movements to check the size and the resistance of the garment. Fortunately, the size was fine and to my greatest surprise, I found out that Hu Chien's trousers were one size bigger than mine. They were all wet from the sweat...

I documented the rehearsal process and posted lots of pictures on Facebook. I mentioned the show to some friends but didn't press anyone to come.
"I didn't do any advertisement either" Huang Yi said. "Just that trailer on YouTube and postcards that you saw. For my previous projects they would always want to boost the ticket sales weeks in advance, but this time I wanted to see how it would go. Normally the tickets are sold out two or three weeks before the performances. For Double Yellow Line we've continued to sell them until the last day. But eventually it is sold out!"
Huang also wanted to see who wuld be coming. What kind of audience if the usual circle fans and friends didn't come. A young man said he was attracted by the music from the trailer and decided to come. Many came with their friends. And I saw my friend Xiao Chu and her boyfriend Wei Jen. I didn't expect to see them at all!
"But I'm a fan of Huang Yi!!!! I have seen all his shows!!!" she said with a broad smile. This came as a surprise.
"I know her" Huang Yi said later when I introduced them to each other. "I remember her face from the audience."
"And I have a question for you" Xiao Chu went on. "Wei Jen and I have been wondering... This piece during the duet, is it Bach or is it you?"
This filled me with great joy. Wei Jen is an ardent classical music lover so the question was a huge compliment in disguise.

We did another performance, this time for the shooting, then packed everything and took a few pictures with everyone for the memory.

Good bye!

Saturday, 29 September 2012


Two performances today (with post-show talks) and so far I would say they were the best we gave. We're getting more and more into the core of it, each time. 
I never fail to have a second of complete panic before starting to play the Bach-like Main Theme. Yesterday, as I hit the key to play the first note, my mind went completely blank. It was as if I was discovering the music as the notes would unfold themselves to me. "And what if I start playing something else??? What if I go somewhere else musically???" I cried out loud in my head as I watched Hu Chien and Huang Yi do their movements. Fortunately such a thing did not happen. (will NOT happen!)

After the first show I told Huang Yi and Hu Chien to be more daring for our piano trio. The idea came form an improvisation we made during one rehearsal where I told them to hit any note on the piano and I would turn turn it into a musical phrase and make it sound as if it was written that way.
On the opening night, they were quite shy. 
"Don't be afriad. Be more tricky!!!" I told them.
Instead of being more tricky, to my greatest surprise, they actually turned more musical. As dancers they observed my movements and spotted where I would hit the key to create certain sounds. The improvisational trio thus became more and more musical.
"It's very sexy to see three men in suit sitting at the piano", a girl said.

I just love being on stage. It's supposed to be the same show, but each time I embark on a different journey... 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Et voilà!

It's always the same scenario. In the beginning the performance dates seem too distant to bear any reality. In this case, we had half a year. As I learned that I had to perform my own music on stage, I soothed the slight panic that seized me just thinking that I had many, many months... Fortunately, in the meantime, I accepted to play the piano for Xiao-Xiong's piece, Winterreise, and that was a perfect way to get myself back on the saddle and reacquaint myself with playing the instrument more intensively. 
When summer came, I still thought we had lots of time. I was juggling with a few other projects and having music sessions with Huang Yi whenever his tight schedule would allow it. My major concern however was that I still had no clear idea what I would be playing. 
And now... We'll be onstage in a few minutes. I feel calm, but I know this is barely hiding a storm that will unyield itself on stage! Reading Jeffrey Eugenides' last novel is a good way to tame anxiety... 

Now everything is ready. We are happy and nervous to be soon on stage. A run through with a dozen people at most never really compare to a real performance with an audience. And Huang Yi told me that the first performance was sold out...

Just before jumping on stage

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Spiegel im Spiegel

Tech rehearsal today. The lights are done. Everything seems ready. Tomorrow we'll have a press conference  in the afternoon and a general rehearsal in the evening.
I won't have to play Arvo Pärt's Spiegel am Spiegel after all. Huang Yi's has used this famous work for Whisper a piece he created five years ago and garnered him lots of prizes in Taiwan and internationally. I suggested that it could be nice to have it played live instead of using a CD since all the music from Double Yellow Line is also played live. We decided to give it a try. But it quickly appeared that Huang Yi got so used to all the little details of one particular recording that he couldn't adapt to any other version, much less a piano solo version sans violin. I was disappointed, naturally, but had to bow down.
Since I was sitting at my piano when we would rehearse Whisper, I could not see much of the dance. But today, I was standing on the aisle and could see it and enjoy it. It's a beautiful and extremely moving piece (which fills me with even more regret not to play it) and I saw something that I had not seen until now: the love the two boys share for each other. They radiated it as they were dancing it and fooling around - it was a rehearsal, so they didn't do everything seriously. The sight really touched me. However, an uneasiness started to seize me. Whisper was originally intended as an encore for Double Yellow Line. I thought they would dance the piece immediately after it, but learned that the stage would need to be cleared - which will require a good ten minutes. My major concern was that Whisper might overshadow Double Yellow Lines. Huang Yi and Hu Chien have that piece under their skin. It's strong and powerful. And the audience is most likely to remember it more than the rest of the show. 
I truly hope to be proven wrong...

I left the theatre in low spirit. 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Here we are!!!

Huang Yi is back. He sent me a message on Friday night to tell me that he would not make it in time for the rehearsal on Saturday: his flight was scheduled for the evening!!! I can imagine how worried and furious he must have felt. 
In the meantime, I had managed to complete the Main Theme movement!!! I had played it over and over the past days. I coudn't believe I finally made it. Well it still sounds very baroque. But Huang Yi agreed that I had to do some thematic developments instead of using the Theme & Variations mould. How could I do variations when I was only allowed a limited range of musical expression???
I hope the result will be well received by the audience. Yes I'm so nervous about it!!!

"We have to do a run through." Huang Yi said when he realised that there was little more than one hour left. 
Against all odd, the magic happened... It flowed seamlessly. Everything fell into place as it was meant to be, albeit with a big part of chance interfering.
After the run-through, Huang Yi was beaming and crying out for joy. I had never seen him like that!
"I didn't have the feeling I was dancing, but that I was telling a story" he said.
I was feeling happy, yet uncertain. "It was a good thing finally, that you went to Beijing. To let everything rest and grow by itself... I hope we'll manage to retain that feeling for the performances!"
"We will! But we should not rehearse too much until the premiere."
For now, let us savour the joy.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

TV Drama

When the gods told me that I had to 'plant eggs' when I paid them a visit for Chinese New Year, I didn't realise how many eggs would... grow!
I received an emergencey message from my friend Lisa who asked whether I would be willing to act in a project the next day. What project she did not know. It was all very vague. We are rehearsing intensively with Huang Yui, so I told her that I would, only if the time would match. Only in the morning, I told her, for I had a long rehearsal with Huang Yi in the afternoon until late at night.
What was I thinking? I should save some time to rest or practice my piano. 
"I can... but I don't speak Mandarin..."
"They say it's okay. You won't have much to say anyway."
Before I could think twice I gave a positive reply.
"The director would like to meet you tonight for an interview. Can you come?" Lisa asked.
At 7:30 pm I was picked up by a big van at an MRT station near their office. The driver was a cheerful and talkative young chap from Malaysia who was studying film production in Taipei. 
"On my last month! Then I'll stop being a student... But I don't want to go back to Malaysia..." The situation sounded familiar. Visa, papers, working permit... I went through all that, and still have no official permit to stay in Taipei, except as a visiting tourist...
Once at the office, I was introduced to the assistant director who gave me a script. So the project was a TV drama. I was to play an important client of an international firm. (it's still unclear what kind of firm it is...)
"So in this scene, you see this girl and you have been wanting to talk to her so you grabe the occasion to tell her your feeling and seduce her!"
Then he started checking other documents as I was reading the script. Just a few lines. The dialogue sounded a bit trite to me. I was told to rehearse the scene with the Malaysian chap playing the girl.
"You have to be more seductive. Body language, intense stare... you know!!!!"
I followed his instruction and played the scene that way but wasn't help by his wooden delivery. I did the scene again for the assistant who gave me opposite direction.
"No, not seductive. Not like a playboy...You love her, but you didn't dare to tell her. But now it's your chance. So even a one stand stand would be good for you!!!"
That didn't make sense to me. I tried my best, but obviously, it wasn't very convincing. 
Long gone were my days of acting classes so I was completely rusted. My self confidence was at its lowest and the contradictory instructions made it worse. 
"What if you play the scene in French? The actress can speak French!!!" the assistant director exclaimed.
"Nah!" someone said. "She can barely speak..."
So the idea was dropped.
As I was waiting to leave, the Malaysian chap told me that I would actually play another character. He didn't tell me why or what, but I had an inkling that the assistant director didn't judge me suitable for the scene.
I was given a new sheet of dialogue. This time I only had two lines to say.
The Malaysian chap must have sensed my disappointment. But I didn't care about the scene. I was more annoyed with myself, for not being able to rise to the challenge.

Once back home, I went to bed early. The shooting was to start at 7:00 in the morning, which meant that I had to get up at 5:30.
I couldn't sleep. I had the music for Double Yellow Line playing incessantly in my head, and of course, I reviewed what happened earlier in the evening. Even if I wasn't to play the scene the next day, I still rehearsed it over and over in my head. 
"And what if suddenly, the director changes his mind and asks me to play the scene eventually?"
I coudn't fool myself. I had to stop this battle of ego. Remember what my acting teacher used to tell me: "If you don't enjoy yourself, the audience will not enjoy watching you."
Did I enjoy playing the scene? No. I was too busy trying to be... good. That was not the right way. So  that was something to keep in mind. 
I finally fell asleep around 3:30 to wake barely two hours later. I hate alarm clock so I opned my eyes half an hour before it rang.
I prepared a few shirts and a jacket as requested and left with a thick fog in my mind.
We were to shoot the scene in one fo those luxurious offices in Neihu. The crew was there already, of course - how can they get up so early every morning when they go to bed so late...?
I was picked up at the station as well as a French man. He looked familiar. I immediately knew why he was there. And my suspicion was confirmed when I saw him take out a sheet of paper from his bag and start to  read his lines. He was my replacement! I felt as low as the ground. But then... I am not an actor, so why should it matter? 
A group of youngsters was already there, sitting on a bench. Two boys and three girls. Certainly the other players. I was led to the tenth floor then to what seemed to be a meeting room. Another boy was at the table, checking his phone. As expected, the shooting didn't before few long hours later.
I've had bit parts in some films in my younger days and the long waits were an unavoidable part of the experience. For one or two lines of dialogue, one would have to wait a whole day.
I was supposed to have only one scene, but the director seemed happy with me so he added more scenes. Nothing major to do. But I witnessed with some amusement how the assistant director's attitude changed as the day progressed.  The Malaysian chap seemed happy to see that everything was going well for me, and that I had eventually ended up with more to do than originally intended. I was mostly pleased with myself for being able to handle everything they asked me. To me what mattered was not how good I was, but how I could react to any given situation. When the shooting was over for the day, I felt elated.

I ran straight to the theatre for a long rehearsal with Huang Yi and Hu Chien. We didn't have that much time left. CloudGate made it understood that Huang Yi's presence was more than needed for a promotional tour next week in Beijing, which meant that four days of our precious rehearsing time were to be sacrificed.
As far as my part was concerned, there were still a big chunk of music to complete, in particular the one that Huang Yi calls Main Theme, an eight minute baroque sounding piece that I had started to develop during our first rehearsals in April. So far the development followed a Theme & Variations structure and the more I would work on it, the more I felt stuck and uninspired. I wished I had the skills and talents of someone like Stravinsky who could manipulate any musical style and come up with something extremely personal. Why did I come up with this Bach-like theme? Huang Yi is so demanding when it comes to music that I had to find a way to reach a satisfactory result.
I realised that I had once again trapped myself in a situation where I would get entangled in web of contradictory rules. Baorque theme didn't mean that I had to compose music the way Bach or Handel used to. Until now, I have always tried to find my own musical language and vocabulary, given any  situation.

Release and let go...

Thursday, 13 September 2012

An / An 2

That was one day before he would fly back to Singapore. But we managed to see each other. The plan was simple: having a nice dinner and possible see a few areas of Taipei. I had spent the whole day enjoying the sea side in Keelung with William. Huang Yi had cancelled the rehearsal to stay in BaLi and work at the Cloudgate studio with Hu Chien. I had not shaved, and my t-shirt still strongly smelled of the hotspring water from the past night (something between sulfer and rotten eggs which takes a quite some time to dissipate). Time was running short and I had no time to go back home and change. It was in this state that I went to find a childhood friend I had not seen for eight years.
An was there with a colleague of his, Jay-Jay, a jovial French born African fellow who also settled in Singapore a few years ago. They had not seen much from Taipei except a few streets near their hotel. 
"Let's walk a little" I suggested. They were delighted. They had not seen anything else but their office and the some posh restaurants where they would spend the evening.
I took them to a local restaurant near the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial which specialises in a dumplings. Quite ironically, we were so happy with the food that I forgot to show them the monument...
We headed to Ximen where they could see the younger and hipper side of Taipei, which owes a lot to Tokyo's Shibuya and Harajuku. An spent a few years in Tokyo so he could relate to it even more. 
An had been relatively silent during the evening, Jay-Jay being the one in charge of the talking. We had more time to catch up (coud we really in so short a time?) when we came back to the hotel and comfortably sat in the lounge bar. He talked about his family, his wife who suddenly showed signs of a stronger devotion in her religion: Islam. I had actually seen that on the pictures she had recently posted on Facebook, where she would wear the infamous veil. I was more surprised when he told me had also converted to Islam.
"For my wife, her family... But I don't care much about it" he said as an explanation. "And that was 12 years ago, and if I had to do it now, I would definitely not!"
I asked him whether he found it hard to be in a culture which was not his own. "I make sure that my children are taught the right thing. I don't mind that they receive a religious education. But I don't want them to be brainwashed."
I felt relieved to hear that. "Do you study the Coran since you'll certainly will have to talk with  some narrow minded persons who only worship the creed."
"Of course I do. My wife can be worked up when the issue of Islam is touched and what she says sounds like it comes from a tape. So I must have the background to discuss the subject with her so it's not black against white..."
"Funny, she didn't strike me as a devout Muslim when I first met her years ago in Tokyo..."
That came after she turned 40. Someone said that it often happen with women who reach their forties. They suddenly feel the need to follow religion more closely... But the weird thing is that none of her friends did so... Only her."
"Maybe it's an unconscious reaction to prove that she is still one of theirs, since she married you, a free thinker and foreigner..."
"I haven't thought of that... maybe..."
Then we talked about our parents. In his case, his father, since his mother passed away a long time ago. I was glad we could talk about her mother. Her death, left us in such a state of shock that somehow what mattered was to keep on and survive the grief. I was already deeply affected, I knew it was worse for he and his brother. Maybe that explains why he had to leave Paris a few years later. His life started again, elsewhere. 
Listening to him speak and reminisce, I felt so much warmth and love. We were childhood friends and we were still there. My brother and his brother sadly do not have that bond anymore. 
"I remember how going to your place was the biggest event. As soon as we got out of the car, we would run to your flat. I remember clearly, it was on the groundfloor, on the right side of the building, wasn't it? We woulod ring the bell and ten seconds later, we were playing in your room!!! How old were we? Five or six???"
I smiled when I saw that he could remember so well. 
"I remember what I want to remember. And that, I want to remember!"  
I smiled again

An & An in Ximen

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


"The Lover's discourse today is of an extreme solitude"

The first encounter was at the hotspring, more than three months ago. The weather was getting hotter ands hotter by the day, yet I felt like going to the hotspring with my friend Jin. I heard that the benefits were even greater during the hot season.
We went to the one I usually go to, in the YangMing mountain. The pools there are comfortable, the place is clean and spacious. As it happened sometime, once in a blue moon, it was love at first sight. I can say it now that I write about it a few months later. But there he was, this young man, enjoying himself with a friend in one of the middle pool. (a friend? a relative? a significant other?) Not a significant other, since his stare would end on me. In the steam room, he stood next to me. His eyes coudn't have expressed more. But I didn't dare to say a word. What word? I couldn't speak Chinese anyway. Just enough for basic life situation, although not this one (oh yes, some cheeky friend gave me a small little book of hook up lines in Chinese... I should make better use of it than leave it to take dust on the shelf)
He was the best looking one, literally glowing in the midst of naked bodies. Hard as I tried to keep a detached composure, I could not help scanning the place to search for him. When finally I saw him walk to the changing room, I knew I had to act, otherwise he would disappear from my life for ever. I was given his number. Discreetly.

For a whole month, our encounters remained very chaste. We would have a drink or a dinner, I took him to the screening of that Swedish film Maria Larssons eviga ögorn, which, to my greatest pleasure, he enjoyed, a good omen that we would have more interesting things to share. I enjoyed taking that time. So old-fashioned. Maybe the other reason it took so long was that I found out he was already engaged in another relationship, although the status on Facebook let me know that it was an 'open relationship'. In spite of his young age, twenty-eight, they had been together for ten years already... And that he was a Christian...  - oh dear, oh me, oh my. Ceci explique cela...
"Seize the day!" I said to myself. I was not going to expect or ask anything from him. I was not to repeat the same mistakes from the past. Just enjoy the few precious moments we had together, that was the key.
I could sense his original feeling physical attraction grow into something deeper. Yet he would avoid talking about it.

The first kiss... Funny how still at my age, a first kiss can be so meaningful. We took a walk along the river after our dinner. He drove me there on his scooter. There was a wharf near my flat, which I never paid attention to.
Some nocturnal joggers, young kids playing basket ball. We chose a bench facing the river and sat there for a long time. Kissing him as the obvious thing to do, so I did it. He didn't resist. One month after our first encounter.

We were once lying in bed, in his other flat in Keelung - out occasional getaway when we would need a place to escape. I felt so blissful and content.
"You know, when I first saw you at the hotspring, you really stood out. It was impossible for me to think of anything else!"
"Love at first sight, huh?" William replied. 
He didn't say anything else.
I noticed that the unexpected turn of our relationship brought confusion in his faith.
"I feel so far from God now..." he wrote one evening.
Sometime, I want to 'call the whole thing off', as the song goes. I know I come after his boyfriend, his family, his friends, his colleagues and above all: God...
I can only seize the day.
But each moment with him is full joy.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

An / An

I'm going to see my old childhood friend An (we share the same first name, although I would always refer to him as 'Ki') in a few days. He's now settled in Singapore with his family. Our last encounter dates from the time of my first trip to Tokyo. Nearly nine years ago... And before that, we had lost sight of each other for a decade or so after he and I left the university. He was the eldest son of this beloved aunt who died of cancer... 
When I saw him in Tokyo, he was married and had a young son. His work compelled him to change location regularly. From Hong Kong to Tokyo, then to Singapore. But when I stepped into his house, I was shocked. his wife was the spitting image of his late mother! 

He's now in Taipei for his work and contacted me yesterday for a possible dinner next week.
Then I had this dream....
The action took place within another dream I vaguely remember. But I recall thinking that it was such a weird dream that I had to still remember it once I would wake up.
I was waiting for him in an abandonned classroom in Paris. There was a circus nearby. It was still day time even though we were supposed to have dinner. But the person who showed up wasn't An. Strange how in dreams everything is possible. There's no logic. This person was in his early thirties at most, was slim and athletic and... sported curly brown hair and I couldn't help be struck by his piercing blue eyes. That was not An!!!
Yet in the dream, my reaction was weird. Instead of denouncing him as an impostor, I tested him.
"If he really is An, then he should be able to recall some childhood memory" I thought to myself.
It took me some time to react and confront him. He was like a moving target. His constant motion distracted me and it required all my strength and focus to ask him the question. He was an impostor, and I knew he was dangerous (why dangerous?). But I felt powerless. Because even if I managed to unveil his real identity, I would be the only one to know. And the fake An knew that.
And that's where the dream ended.

Thursday, 6 September 2012


In three weeks... the premiere. I'm having some sleepless nights, wondering. I'm not really worried. I just wonder. What will happen. Huang Yi has just come from Düsselfdorf where he toured with CloudGate2.
Now we have less than a month to rehearse and structure the piece.
"I'm worried too. Hu Chien is worried as well."
We make a fine trio! 
What occupies my mind is how create a music music which will be simple and unadorned as Huang Yi wishes, and yet doesn't sound like pastiche of already known music. My limitations as a pianist make things even more difficult. Or maybe it is the contrary? Precisely because I'm not a piano virtuoso, I will find something which will faithfully mirror my state of mind as a person and musician in the simplest manner...

Huang Yi and I met today for another rehearsal at the National theatre, this time without Hu Chien. We worked on the non-musical duet between he and I: as he dances, I will be using the table as my instrument. Huang Yi responded very well to my improvisation. We stopped after forty minutes of that, utterly happy with the outcome. There was an expression in Huang Yi's eyes I haven't seen before: joy and excitement. My hands were totally bruised (I got so taken away by my new 'instrument' that I didn't control my movements)
"It's going to be an improvised moment" he eventually said. "I think the scene requires that. I'm always a bit reticent to do improvisations, but in this case, it works perfectly well." 
Then came the big question: what was Huang Yi going to play at the piano? I started to discreetly play something that came to my mind. When Huang Yi noticed it and said that he liked it, I shaped up the music so he could learn it straight away. One hour later, he could play it fairly well and I saw that twinkle in his eyes again.
"We finished twenty minutes of the piece today!" he said.
"Did we??? I didn't .... notice that!"
"Yes! And now I know how to connect all the different parts of the piece now! Everything is clear for me now"
I was glad to see Huang Yi in such state of elation. As far as I was concerned, I was also excited. My piano playing suddenly made sense.
I still have to figure out how not to make the music sound like rip off of Arvo Pärt or Max Richter. Huang Yi loves Arvo Pärt...