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.

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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!