Wednesday, 21 March 2012

No Vietnam

My father does want to go to Vietnam, but my mother is reluctant, indecisive...One day, the idea would appeal to her and she would get excited about it, the next day, she would have doubts about the relevance of such a trip.
"And the heat!" she would often exclaim. "The heat! I don't think I can stand being in that heat. I'm an 80 year old lady, remember!!!"
The constant change of mood and her unwillingness to leave the house make it difficult for my father to plan anything. He had hoped that I would be better at convincing my mother, but the effect didn't last long.
I received an email this morning stating that the irrevocable final decision was that they won't be coming to Vietnam. I feel dispirited. But maybe also relieved, if I'm honest. I loved the idea of seeing my parents again, but as my mother put it yesterday on the phone:
"It will be nice for the first few days, because we haven't seen you in a long time, but then what? Nothing to do. I have seen it all already!" 
Maybe she has, when she was younger.
"Your father wants to visit the Emperors' tombs in Huê. I have seen them countless time!" went on.
Another reason is that she has no longer any relative there. The trip was important to me as it was our first time meeting in Vietnam. I have to accept that it may only be meaningful to me. I'm the free agent in the family and the need to feel my roots is stronger for that very reason.
It would have been a welcome change of air for my father. I know he would have loved to come. Staying all day long with my mother is draining. I feel bad for him, but what can be done? I suggested that my mother spent a month in Los Angeles with her sister and that my father came to Vietnam alone... It remained a suggestion.
"But I can't leave your father like that" she told me. "Poor man, who would take care of him? Who would cook for him?"
I repressed a chuckle. I wanted to tell her that it would be quite the opposite. He needs a holiday from looking after HER.

As far as I'm concerned, the trip now will be reduced to one or two weeks in only one city, Saigon - so I can meet Tuân Lê. However, now I also feel uncertain. Time is precious at the moment, projects keep coming (as I don't keep my mouth shut). My intuition now tells me it's not the right time.
I will wait a couple of weeks before I buy the ticket. So far, a tentative date is set around the 17th of April, after the performances of Winterreise.
But I just don't feel like it anymore...

Saturday, 17 March 2012


I just missed an opportunity to keep my mouth shut. It was the end of the rehearsal. The dancers had been working on Winterreise, a dance piece based on Schubert's song cycle, story about a woman reminiscing her dead lovers in time of war. The principal dancer, a beautiful girl with a perfect technique seemed to lack the emotional background required for the part. XiaoXiong, the teacher and choreographer had been telling me that he wanted them to stop counting and focus on the musical lines instead. I suggested the dancer could sing or hum the melody as I would play the piano accompaniment so she would be able to connect the movements to the music phrases. That was when I could still have kept it safe and not talked any further. But too late. I couldn't resist an uncontrolled impulse to go on which led me to say: "I could ask a singer friend of mine to come next week for the rehearsal and have a try with the dancers!" XiaoXiong was beaming.
"It would be so nice if the performance was actually with real musicians instead of the tape" (Tape??? No one uses tape anymore. Recording!)
After saying that, there was no turning back. The only thing which could have rescued me was that Ching Yao rejected the offer because of his schedule. But he accepted. For me that was also an opportunity to rekindle our friendship with a safety of making music and performing in a show. It was also a chance to seize to be back on stage again, albeit as an accompanist. I had not played classical music on stage for so many years, and the thought occurred to me that I was maybe too bold to embark in such project.
I remember what the spirit said to me: 'Plants eggs!'

Sunday morning. I had come to the Guandu NTUA again morning to coach another student, LinYi for his piece - a duet. XiaoXiong, one of the teachers (and an acquaintance of mine) had also been requested to be there. Incidentally, LinYi and two other dancers had gone to Niigata to audition for Noism. According to YaTin, Jo liked them very much and even found them good and talented enough to consider them to be in Noism 1!!! Unfortunately, there was currently no vacancy, so they will have to wait. And the military service is the next thing for poor LinYi after graduation... 
XiaoXiong took me for a meal after LinYi's rehearsal. Meal and talk. We kept each other updated about our current projects. He had taken six sabbatical months - which he actually spent touring in France in a theatre piece. "Never any holiday for me..." he half lamented.
I told him about the reason of my presence at the students' dance rehearsals, about my plans to organise the workshops. He seized the chance to hire me to compose the music for a dance project of his. He wanted to create a piece for his best dancers. Why not, I thought. But I needed to know more about it. I can't say yes to anything that comes my way, even if I have to plant eggs!!!
"Can you come and see my rehearsal? It's a piece I did in Australia. Winterreise..."
"Schubert's Winterreise?"
"Yes'! Please come if you have the time. You'll see some of my favourite students."
Two hours later, as I was suggesting to play on stage for him, I was relieved that he didn't us all the songs from the cycle.

Friday, 16 March 2012


I sent YaTin a message on Facebook a few weeks ago to invite her to come for tea and present her some of my upcoming projects, especially the play. FangYi told me that she knew everyone in the performing art world in Taipei and therefore could be very helpful. During the company dinner before Chinese New Year, we had vaguely mentioned about a possible appointment a week later, but nearly two months have rushed by before anything was settled.
"Okay, with pleasure, I'll bring some cakes!" she wrote back. 
I was surprised when I saw her climb up the stairs to my flat. Her hair was curly. 
"Oh, you changed you hairstyle..." I said tentatively. "It wasn't curly last time I saw you, was it?" She passed her hand through her hair. "Yes, I had it permed recently.
As I was preparing tea I asked her if she had any news from FangYi.
"Oh it's hard to keep up with her! She's touring everywhere! She is in New York now, isn't she?". I knew that, since I had sent her the revised versions of Just and the completed music for JJJ. I still don't know whether Just will be part of the big performances she will have in October at the National Theatre.
"And when did you last see her?" I asked. "It must be around November!" I startled. November? I saw YaTin at a company dinner with FangYi and all the dancers just before Chinese New Year... The YaTin present in my flat wasn't the one I thoughtI was inviting. Indeed this other YaTin was also closely connected to dance, since she had a teaching position at the Taipei University of the Arts in Guandu. Whence my confusion. To me, they were the same person.
We sat down. I tried to bring the conversation to some common ground. Yes, I remembered that she had asked me to attend to join a panel discussion about my collaborative project with Huang Yi and Yu-teh (to talk about Second Skin, not Symphony Project) at the WDA World Dance Alliance and daCi (Dance and the Child International) conference at the campus in July. I shed some light about the way I worked and approached the creative process, also about the differences between me and Huang Yi in our past collaborations. 
But Huang Yi said he wasn't even sure he would be able to join the panel discussion, in which case there was no point for me to attend.
I reached a blank space. I was running short of idea. I had only exchanged a few emails with YaTin but not enough to feel comfortable sitting in front of her in my house, eating cake and drinking tea...
Then it dawned on me... What if shared my ideas about master classes and workshops for dance and music students from the art university? She was the perfect person to help make it become reality. She listened with great interest and her enthusiasm grew as I told her about my ideas.
The question remained how. Make a proposal. Talk to the dean. Meet the other teachers... 
"Do you think you could come and help one of my students on his piece?" YaTin asked. "They're having a graduation show in one month and I think your input would be most welcome."
I immediately accepted. I had never done that before, but that was a perfect way to introduce myself and what I do to them. 
"By the way, most of them have seen NINA so they know who you are and will be even more interested" she added.

A few days later, she picked me at the MRT station and drove me to university. Guandu. Familiar territory, since that's where I spent three months or so working on Auntie four years ago.
We arrived in the middle of the rehearsal. YaTin had not talked to the students so I saw their stare that they were wondering who I was. A few words later we were in the midst of it. I followed my intuition and would stop them each time I felt there was something to work on. The dancing was good, very good, although the choice of music and the movements were predictable: the aria from the Goldberg Variations complete with rain soundscape, release technique, dancers running across the stage... But the potential was there. The student / choreographer was barely twenty...

I don't know what has been happening to me since the beginning of the year, I feel like everything is possible. On Chinese New Year's Eve, I went to the BaoAn temple which is located very near my flat. It's the oldest temple in Taiwan, I have been told, and I enjoy visiting it regularly. Of course, since it was Chinese New Year, it was much more crowded than usual. I paid my respect to the gods and divinities (I enjoy this return to a polytheist culture - history has demonstrated too well that people aren't mature and wise enough to understand and embrace a monotheist religion.) As I stood in front of one of the altars, I heard a voice telling me that I had to plant eggs.
The idea was curious. "Yes, plant eggs!" the voice went on. "Don't hesitate to diversify your activity." In my head, I saw a map with an intricate network of green coloured roads.
"You can hear the spirits! It's great" Jay said later, when I told him about the experience.
"I think I have always been able to. But I thought it was me thinking - or losing my mind!"
"Actually, they use your own thoughts and words to communicate with you" he explained.
I was surprised, because I thought the experience was of a more mystical dimension. I tried a few other times to check whether it wasn't a figment of my imagination. I'm aware that people reading this will indeed think that I have gone round the bend now!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A photo exhibition

I was waiting for ChienWei in an Italian café located in the student area near YongKang street. We set out appointment at 3pm. I had just arrived. A few minutes early (for once!) The place was full, so the waiter told me to sit on one of the high stools by the counter. I had a look around me. Photographs on the wall. People, faces, landscapes...
Why shouldn't I? It seemed like a natural resolution of all these years travelling and taking pictures. I called the waiter.
"Can you tell me what is required to do an exhibition in your café?"
The waiter called the owner who standing nearby. He said it was quite simple and easy, but that the place was booked until this summer.
Before I started saying anything, a little voice told me to simply state that I was a photographer and not start telling him about the intricate paths of my life. 
"I'm a photographer and I would like to make an exhibition in your café".
"No problem!"
It was so easy? I couldn't believe my ears.
"I will give you the link of a little website of my work"
The owner smiled and said he was interested.
Yes why not??? Many friends had been pushing me to do something with my photographies. Before Jay left for Paris, he was asking himself what he could find for his 11 year-old nephew (and godson) for a present. We went to a few shops but he didn't find anything which inspired him. As we were eating in a beef noodle restaurant, Jay said that his nephew was very much interested in architecture and wanted to redecorate his room.
"Maybe we could have a look at my pictures, select a dozen of them and print them for him. I have been to so many places around the world. It could be nice for him"
Jay immediately welcomed the idea. We browsed through all my pictures. Taipei, Hong Kong, New York, Bangkok, Calcutta and Paris. Jay was very happy and almost certain that he had something quite unique for his nephew. When I saw the prints, I discovered something new about those pictures I knew so well. Seeing them on a computer screen does not do them justice at all!!!
A photo exhibition is a natural step. Photography has always been so present in my life and work. The reaction to my photos has even been more positive than to my music!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Typical 'An' moment

I got up early to have enough time and not rush like a madman to Jay's flat in XinBeitou. Only ten days after he moved in, he felt that there was something seriously wrong about the flat. Being the energy sensitive person he is, he quickly discovered that the building was surrounded by three electric pillars, which caused him to feel weak, nauseous and sleep very badly. He called the agency to try to find a solution. Naturally, I was shocked by the news. Everyone was. Less than two weeks! Jay himself was tired of having to follow the right path, thus leading quite an unstable life. 
"I hope I can settle down very soon. This is draining!" 
I can recall lengthy conversations we had when he just arrived in Taipei and found this flat. He saw himself developing a community in XinBeitou, even asked me to move out of mine and settle there. "Don't you like the quietness here? Don't you like the vibe?" he asked me as we were having a walk in the neighbourhood
He was the only tenant living in the building. The rest was office and English school. There was a terrace, he had just subscribed to the Internet, bought chairs for his classes and a bed... I had given him a big pot of paint so we could start turning the flat into something very comfortable. 
"I like the way you painted your wall!" he said when I had just finished jazzing up one wall. I had pumped up one of the Parisian flats he had rented. We were quite happy with the result and a month later, he announced  me that he was moving out and starting to travel around the world. "Because they tell to do so."
I'm relieved they told him to do so before we started the painting (the walls are huge).
And now?
"Everything is changing in me at the moment. I know I have to develop the physical part of my life as I have developed the spiritual one. I have to go with the flow and follow my intuition", he told me. "I think I will settle in Taichung. The quality of life is better there."
What came next was that he also felt that his relationship with JhenChiang was coming to a new turn and that the two had to part ways, that is, as lovers.

I was early. Proud to be early (although it was only two minutes)! The appointment was set at 9:30 am. I was to open the door to the mover. Not much more was required from me. Just open the door.
As I was about to cross the street a thought struck me. "The keys... The keys???? The keys!!!!!" I had forgotten them at home. Another typical 'me' moment. I did remind myself to take them out of the drawer where I put them. But I was in the bathroom when the thought occurred to me and wrongly thought that I would still remember it a few minutes later. 
A taxi was stopped just in front of me as I was cursing myself. The way I hopped in told the driver that it would not be a slow stroll in the city. He drove quickly. It was a miracle we weren't stopped by policemen or caught by the radars. In less then 15 minutes, I was back at my place. Contrary to some drivers, he would always remain extremely calm. He was perfect for emergency situations.
"Wait for me!!!" I told him.
A minute later, I was in the taxi again and he drove me back to XinBeitou in the same reckless way.  
When we arrived, he looked at his watch and smiled proudly at me.
"A little more than 20 minutes in total!!!"
The mover was waiting down on the street, a jovial round faced young man. We loaded Jay's belongings in his vehicle and made our way to Jhen Chiang's parents'. If his small van obviously belonged to the last century, his driving was as reckless as the taxi driver's and he didn't far from intimidated by the stronger engines on the road. His car was making such alarming noise that I expected it to fall into pieces in the middle of the highway.
On the way back from Jhen Chiang's parents the mover said something that didn't make much sense to me. He showed me something at the end of the road. I could distinguish the words 'spice' and 'girl'. (the Spice Girls??? I quickly dismissed the idea as too incongruous. Since I didn't understand, he made a gesture with his hands which unmistakably described females curves. Then I understood = driver + girl = betelnut girls!!! A friend of mine had told about those sexy creatures who spend their day in a small shop, preparing hundreds of betelnuts for the drivers who, apparently love to chew them and who, after hundreds of mile driving their vans or lorries, enjoy the sight of a scantily clad nymphet coming to them to hand them a bagful of betelnuts. From what I heard, those hopeful road sirens wait for the driver charming who will take them as spouse. After the girl got back to her tiny little shop, the driver turned to me.
"Aaaaah!" he exclaimed, "This girl ugly!!! This girl girl too old!!!"
True. She wasn't the prettiest I had seen.
"Girls in Taipei ugly. In Taichung, in Kaohsiung, girls better!!!"
I couldn't stop laughing.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

From then to now

Another Jay adding up to the few Jays I already know. Nicolas has decided to cement his new identity / life by changing his name. It will take a little time for me to get accustomed to calling him 'Jay'. I told him so. He first saw it as a refusal to accept the changes and support him. He sent me another one of those volcanic letters which, in spite of my efforts to fight some emotional undercurrent, I took as violent blows on the face. My friendship was questioned. My sincerity as well. He felt hurt by what I told him. I had received such a letter a month ago. Same rebukes. That happens when Nicolas gets overwhelmed by what he's going through and loses control of his emotion. 
This time I confronted him. Why only write to me? Why not choose to see me and tell me face to face? I told him I didn't understand why he would keep on seeing as a friend if I were such a detestable person. I had the unpleasant impression that this friendship of ours was like a dictatorship. The bitter taste of my falling out with ChingYao made matters look worse. Why was it that some of the people I love the most and feel the closest showed such an ugly face and used me as their sitting target? What was it in me that triggered such violent outbursts, as ChingYao once explained?
I wrote another answer to Nicolas once I calmed down again. An image came to me, which finally connected these events and gave an explanation. It's simple, but I had not thought of it recently. I told Nicolas that even if I understood his insecurities and would always stand by his side, there was one thing I could not accept: his threat to abandon our friendship which was precious to me. As soon as I wrote this word, everything became clear to me. Yes, all my life, I had dreaded that feeling of abandonment. 
When my parents sent me to kindergarten, little did they realise that even at so young an age, it was important to explain and reassure the child. I suddenly found myself in a completely foreign surrounding with not much of a word of explanation from them. I can't help now thinking of these pigs which are raised to eventually end in the slaughterhouse. They trustingly follow their master unaware that they're actually going their doom.
My doom was that day after day, I would be beaten up by the other children. I can hardly remember anything. I have some vague image of me on the ground receiving their kicks. It's a blurry blank for me. I couldn't yet speak French then, Vietnam was making the headline of the news because of the ongoing war, I was an alien, I was different, even more the perfect target for their bad treatment. My mother told me that she would be standing in tears on the other side of the gate and be the powerless witness of the bullying. The teachers would all feign not to notice anything. 
"What I don't understand is why you didn't walk in the school and tell the director or a headmaster to put a stop to this bullying", I asked her recently.
"I never thought of it. I was so shocked and helpless. I yelled at the children to stop, but no one paid attention. And taking action like that has never been in my nature..." she went on. Another woman was standing next to her and had said: "Oh that's children. That's what they do, play and fight... You can't do anything!"
 A couple of years later, I witnessed other instances of my mother's extremely emotive reactions. We had lost our country. Saigon had surrendered to the Communists. The Vietnamese community abroad knew what it meant. My parents attended lots of meetings. They would also gathered with other intellectuals, writers, journalists and discuss the matter, maybe to feel a sense of togetherness now that they had lost their country. My father was harshly criticised by the press for some statements he made. My mother suffered from it. They would argue all the time, at home, at their friends', in the car... 
Once on our way to some of my parents's friend, my mother was in tear and opened the door of the car and unfastened her seat belt in an attempt to leave. Us... All of us? I didn't react. I hardly understood what they were fighting about. I could only see that they were unhappy. I only put my hands around my little brother's head. I didn't understand. We were in the middle of the freeway. My father yelled at her to close the door immediately. I saw my mother upset and crying. And the terrifying thought that she could just vanish from my life was starting to grow in me. 
Even if later I saw her calm down and laugh with the other adults, I was never quite reassured that this would not happen again. 
The same scene was repeated another time, certainly as they were fighting about the same topics.  
A few years later - I was eight or nine then, my brother and I had watched a show by one of our favourite singer. Hers were songs about fabulous worlds, fairies and witches. The show was quite an intricate one, beautiful staging and design. Very close to a Broadway show. In one scene, we saw the witch preparing a magic potion in her cauldron.
The next day, my mother was preparing phở. She was stirring something in a big cooking-pot. We laughed, reminiscing the witch we had seen the previous night.
"Why are you laughing, boys?" she asked.
We told her. 
"What? You think I am a WITCH????" 
We were stunned. We tried to defend ourselves, saying that the comparison was an innocent one, and that of course in no way did we even think she was a witch. But it was too late. Her two sons saw her as a witch, which meant that they didn't love her. She was truly very upset. 
Whatever we said didn't help. I remember her calling someone on the phone, crying. Then I saw her pack. My brother was crying and begging her not to go. She was crying too, but said that since she was a witch she had to leave. I couldn't feel anything. I was too young to reason and think that the whole thing was beyond ridiculous. But the fear of seeing my mother leave was becoming more and more threatening now. 
At the end of the day, she was still at home. She calmed down and told us that she would not leave. Our father was out at work therefore oblivious of the family drama that took place during his absence. My brother and I didn't know what to say. As the afternoon was ending, the children program was on TV and we watched it. I was scared that any witch might appear on the screen. But it was just a silly rabbit singing a silly song about carrots. 
My mother was sowing from the living room table and would occasionally glance at the TV screen and smile. 
We were safe... but for how long?
"You didn't even shed a tear" my brother said later as we were in bed. "I did all the crying..."

These childhood memories flashed in my mind as I was writing to Nicolas. I also understood why my friendship with ChingYao had taken such an unfortunate turn. When he told me that he had willingly terminated a friendship with a very dear female friend of his because she would continually be late at their appointments, I was shocked that he may choose to leave someone for such a ridiculous reason. And I didn't want to go on being threatened (even unconsciously) in such a manner. The fear of abandonment went on in my life and took another shape in my love relationships. 
Nicolas's volcanic letters are hard to swallow, but we always rise from the ashes and move forward. The recollection of this childhood trauma and its connection to recent events have found their purpose. The letter had its effect on Nicolas who in turn, wrote me a very moving reply. He was in awe of me, he wrote, and whatever comment I would make was like the final judgement to him. I wasn't aware of that. We saw each other a few days later and swore to be even more honest and not be afraid to say things face to face. If I may have to resign myself to see my friendship with ChingYao gone up in smoke (he told Nicolas that he had received my letter but could not reply to it, and in spite of my repeated attempts to engage a conversation, he avoids me and sticks to the strict minimum necessary. Obviously, my presence makes him ill at ease) my friendship for Nicolas has grown stronger.

Now I have fully embraced the change of name. Nicolas has indeed become Jay.

Thursday, 1 March 2012


Signs. I am trying to write a presentation of Devant mes Yeux | Before my Eyes to send to Gilles as soon as possible. I was browsing books at the Eslite bookstore and picked a novel at random :Before I got to Sleep. As soon as I read the first lines, I knew I had to read the rest: it was about memory. After a bad accident, a woman suffers a rare case of amnesia: every night, when she goes to sleep, she will forget everything and wake up the next day remembering nothing, not even her name. Last year, I read one of Banana Yoshimoto's earlier novel, Amrita, also about this woman who wakes up after an accident and tries to recollect facts and memories. 
The traffic accident I had at the same time as I was reading the book (coincidence?) also caused some traumas and a more acute awareness of time and the fragility of what we call 'reality'.
The desire to write this play became stronger after another accident I witnessed in Paris a few years ago, down on the street where I lived. I was making my way to the metro, following the same usual itinerary to the station when, from the distance, I saw a lorry, people standing next to it, as if petrified in time. On the ground next to the vehicle, a young girl was lying. She wore a long flower-patterned white and blue dress. She had shoulder length light brown curly hair. She must have been in her mid-twenties and a pool of blood was spreading beneath her. The silence that hovered over us was thick and peaceful. A black woman was holding her head between her hands with an expression of mute panic. A policewoman was already on the spot and asking people to move away. I saw the soul of the young girl slowly go up. The sight was violent yet serene. 

I started reading Before I go to Sleep as soon as hopped in the 41 bus which usually takes me home from the ZhongXiao/Dunhua area. I was the only passenger and chose to sit at the back of the bus.
After a few station, a young man came into the bus and sat just behind the driver.
As I looked at him, I couldn't help feeling a tinge of envy. Of his youth, his apparent nonchalance, how he carried himself, with ease and carefree attitude, his body, his long limbs, the fact that it didn't seem to matter for him. Didn't seem to matter. Why would it matter to me, even now?
And I thought of François. I was in primary school. François was perfection incarnate: handsome, blond and blue-eyed, always well dressed and well liked. He was a couple of years older than me. Everybody in his class seemed to have been gifted with similar traits. I envied them. The school would occasionally organise some shows or film screenings for the children. Once we all gathered in the school's inner courtyard to attend a pantomime of Sleeping Beauty, performed by the senior pupils. Gorgeous costumes (they looked gorgeous to me at that time) had been designed for the occasion and naturally, Tchaikovski's music was used as the soundtrack. It may have been Sleeping Beauty on stage, it was the Ugly Duckling inside of me. I was enchanted by what I saw and strongly wished I were one of them. The seniors carried themselves with grace and confidence. They belonged to another world. François was among them, albeit in the small role of the court pageboy.

A few years later, I was surprised to see him at the music school. He had been taking piano lessons. Of course he didn't recognise me. Did he even ever notice that younger Asian boy in the school playground? We were to have our first music exam. I had recently become the talk of the town. The little Vietnamese who after 3 months of lessons had already stepped on stage for his first concert. When he saw me, he smiled apologetically.
"Oh... I'm really no good with music, ha ha!"
"So he's not that perfect" I thought with a little hint of relief.


Before I go to Sleep is worth reading for the first half. The main idea is interesting but it ends in predictable grand guignol. I could tell what direction the story would follow half-way through the book. An entertaining read, nonetheless.
It's quite uncanny how, once I'm focused on a project, the universe conspires to give me tools and clues to feed it. Ideas are shaping up. I still haven't written a single word. I suppose I will let it out when it's ripe. Now I only have to let my life feed the play, keep my eyes, my ears open. I have flashes of how it will look like, but nothing I really grasp, yet. Tsuyoshi has agreed to collaborate on the project - hopefully we'll have a sufficient budget for it. I'm sure he will create a wonderful setting for the stage. With Bévinda and Jasmine as the two actresses, it's  a perfect team.