Sunday, 22 September 2013

Happy finality

I was having a quiet dinner with Dennis. Two days later I was to have the first rehearsal with Isabelle and Vanessa for the launch of my mother's book. 
"You know there's no piano at the gallery anymore, don't you?" Dennis said between two bites of the Filipino style chicken he had cooked.
I nearly choked. "No piano?" 
"The jazz band took it back, in May, I think."
"Is there the slimmest chance that it may have come back to the gallery....?" I knew the question needed no answer. There was only two solutions: whether I would have to bring my mother's digital piano, or I would have to come up with new music and play it from the laptop - but what laptop?
After a talk with Vanessa, it became clear that I would have to opt for the second solution. Vanessa didn't think she would manage to do her  improvisation on a digital piano: she wanted to play with the strings, with the wooden structure and make sounds out of it. How relieved she was when I told her I would take care of the music myself. And the mere thought of having to find a car and bring the piano all the way to the gallery on a Sunday afternoon in Paris was enough to discourage me. And I was supposed to sit back and enjoy the event...
My brother provided the laptop. After two rehearsals and two evenings spent working on the music we were fine ready. I didn't need to worry about the performance. Isabelle being a pro, she captivated the thirty children and the parents who accompanied them.
"The doors were not yet open, and a woman came and said to me", Isabelle told me after the show. "She said: I have ten boys with me, around 10 year old, high on testoterone and addicted to Wii!!! When can we get in? I thought to myself: Isabelle you have to rise to the challenge!"
And it was a success. Adults and children alike were all enchanted. The children, including the ten hyperactive boys, were attentive and taken by the stories. Praises went to Isabelle, of course, but also to my mother's writing. As a result, many copies of the book were sold afterward.
My mother was elated and so happy to witness the fruit of her labour. She may claim that she doesn't care, but I know she had now good reasons to be proud of herself.
Vanessa came with a friend of hers - also a pianist, and both agreed to bring the project to the next level. "A reading with two pianos, perhaps?". Whatever it is, I think I will organise something for Christmas or/and Chinese New Year!
We celebrated with a dinner at a nearby restaurant.
My nephew Vu An enchanted everyone with his newly improved vocabulary. Only a few months ago he could barely say more than 'Papa' or 'Mama'...

Tuesday, 17 September 2013


I watched two films, read one book and miraculously managed a bit of sleep, sandwiched in a small seat between a chubby and physically invasive Czech woman and an elderly giant German man who couldn't stop coughing. I told myself "Just imagine that you will be walking the streets of Paris in a few hours and that these interminable hours on the plane will be nothing more than a vague memory..."

My faithful and long time friend Jan was there to pick me up at the airport as he's done many times in the past, in spite of the early hour (6 a.m.). "Our little airport routine!" he said with a big smile, without a hint of a yawn.
The journey into the city usually allows us to inform each other of our respective state of life whilst marvelling at the beautiful sunrise on the freeway. 
We headed to Dennis' flat - I had decided to opt for a new strategy and stay at his place, so to constantly bring a fresh element of surprise and joy on each of my visit to my parents, thus allowing myself some space and not being caught in a self-destructive pattern. 

My mother was sitting on the piano bench as I opened the door. She dashed to me and gave me a big hug. "So glad you passed by!!!" she joked.
"We were just calling Jan, because we didn't know when exactly you'd arrive" my father said, with the phone still in hand.
The first day went by smoothly. My presence is a boost in their daily and fairly uneventful routine. I was happy and relieved to see them still strong and valiant. My mother's state seems stable, even though I could detect some little progress of the Alzheimer disease.
The afternoon was luminous.

Sunday, 15 September 2013


And it happened. I saw William again after a one month hiatus. There wasn't much time left. I had spent the day running accross the city to buy all the presents for my family and some friends. 
"Do you want to go to the hotspring?" he asked. 
I immediately accepted. It was getting a bit late but taking a dip in the hot pool would be a perfect way to end the day.
I only wish I don't start a pattern of break ups and mendings. As we were in the car, I told William that if I didn't expect him to leave his boyfriend, I would not keep on being his closet secret. It was important that he told him about our relationship. 
"Just take the time to think about it". 
William said that he would. I can only hope that he does. 
Not so deep inside, I felt so glad and peaceful to see him again.
"I just cannot go on being away from you..." 
I couldn't believe I was saying something so tacky. William, as usual, didn't say much, but I knew from the way he looked at me that he was happy that we met again.
So what's next? 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Strike a pose

Little by little, I manage to get all my work done before my departure for Paris next Monday. Today was the photo shoot with Raymond Huang for his book about musicians. I booked the entire afternoon for it. Raymond was to come to my place and take the picture here, instead of me coming to his studio. He brought all his equipment and came with his young assistant. I find it difficult to trust a photographer. Maybe out of vanity, I like to retain a certain control over my  image. I know my angles, I know what kind of light works best on me... That's why I hate snapshots or pictures taken randomly. even when more often than not, I'm surprised (and relieved) to see that those quickie pictures come out well. As a result, I have developed my skill at self-portraiture. 
I knew I could trust Raymond. He had a few ideas in mind already, but remained open to suggestion. We did a series by the piano, one of me lying on the floor, another one against the CD shelves and a final one in my room. 
Raymond has that gift to make his subject feel comfortable and confident. I don't think I ventured very fast from what I usually do for my own pictures, but it was a good change to have a real photographer behind the lens instead of using the timer!

The book shall be published in December and will be launched with an exhibition. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013


A voice messsage from Damien, calling from Paris. I couldn't hear very well, but I understood it was about concerts. I wrote back to him saying that we could discuss the matter when I'm in Paris then went to sleep. It was nearly 2 AM.
The answer came back quickly: No! we had to discuss about it now, Damien wrote. Because the schedule was being done right now. I was given a set of concert dates. Which one could I do? 
11/29-30 and 12/13-14 were possible for me. One concert in Shanghai and one in Hong Kong the next day. Shanghai!!!!???? I had never been there. I couldn't believe what Damien was saying! 
"The concerts will be paid US 1500$ each , excluding flight and accomodation, and will take place at the Kee Club in both cities."
In my mind, ideas and music were whirling in fast motion. Set list, songs, arrangements, musicians, rehearsals... When, how, who, what???
But I accepted. I'll never know what will happen until I allow it to happen. Therefore, I must take the dive!
I immediately thought of Emily as a musical partner on stage. She's talented, she's fast, she looks good and I love the cello! 
"Oh.... will there be any piano there?" I asked
"You want a white one with candles?"
Perfect I thought. Another big adventure. 
Yes, Emily at the cello, tapes and me at the piano. The how will be handled later. 
And a few days ago, my friend Matthew, after watching the music video of To the Sun, was telling how he wished he could see me perform on stage. I remembered how, at the start of the year, I had promised myself to be be giving concerts again. I had no clue how. Once again the universe has heard me!
That said, nothing's settled yet... Wait and see!

In concert at the Café de la Danse, 2006, Paris. 

Monday, 9 September 2013


I just couldn't resist it any longer. At 5:14pm I sent William a message: There isn't a single day that I don't think of you. I miss you so much. I'm aware that I could have been a tad more original, but I have to make it simple for him, since his command of English isn't that advanced. At 22:05, his reply came in the shape of one of those cute stickers that never fail to exasperate me: a weeping rabbit contemplating the photo of his beloved bear. I didn't know there was a sticker for every single life/love situation...
William has never been the talkative type. His silences and his presence can express more than pages of words.
He hasn't tried to contact me the past three weeks, certainly because he doesn't to add salt to the wound, but I know he keeps an eye on me. Whenever I post a new picture on Facebook, I can see a little 'like' from him.

I wonder whether I should try to maintain the distance a little longer until the feeling wanes, or whether I should take action and be more aggressive? However, do I have the right to compel him to make a decision? I guess not. So the question returns to me: what does the situation reflects of me?
I met up with Jin who gave me a make-up set for Thursday's shooting with Raymond. We sat around a cup of tea and naturally, the topic of love and relationship quickly became the main core of the conversation.
"Have you ever tried to maintain a relationship when you're not madly in love with the person... that your feeling are no more than a liking of the person?" Jin asked me.
"I guess in that case, I wouldn't bother. I wouldn't now. Maybe I would just try to be friend, eventhough friendship also requires lots of effort. Maybe that's why I'm single..." I gave a faint laugh. 
"Because I know that in my case, a relationship would work if my partner loves me more than I do. If I really fall madly in love with someone, it would be too passionate, I would do anything for the person. And that's not good."
I agreed. I had done that too often in my life. And the ideal lover does not exist. First you're on a cloud, then you have to adjust with the differences, given that you love the person enough to make that step. The concept of perfection is one of the greatest human illusion.
But I will try again with William. I know I had to.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

To the Sun

On Friday midnight, I finally launched the music video of To the Sun. Zed and I finalised all the post-production and colour fine-tuning the day before, so excited to be able to show and share it with everyone.
"I wonder how people will react to it" I mused. 
"You'll find out on Saturday." Zed replied.
I couldn't help thinking of that quote from composer Arthur Honegger that I wrote in my diary a few months ago: The profession of composer is peculiar in that it is the principal activity and occupation of a man who exerts himself to produce wares for which no one has any use.
Even if I try hard to remain positive, that's how I have been thinking all my life. I have big dreams, big projects, ambitious ideas. Some of them have seen the light, some of them will be realised. And yet, I always have the impression that the world is indifferent to what I may do or say. I shouldn't disregard the few people who support and follow me, I know that some of them genuinely like and enjoy my work.  

Reactions to To the Sun were fairly positive. "Congratulation! It's edited, shot and performed very well" (Norm) ... "'Nothing comes to Light' is more dark and artful. This one is more active, colourful, handsome, youthful and interesting!" (Matthew) .... "Congratulation for your beautiful MV! I simply like it!" (Alvin) ... "Thumb up, An!!! I was really impressed by some shots, the colour and blurred ones. It was a great idea to use make up for the beaten up scene, makes it realistic and beautiful. Taipei is so photogenic. And I really think the idea of the flashback/mirage in the end is so cool!" (Stéphane) ...
"Awesome! Love the music video! My favourite parts were the voice over intro, the overall cinematography and the story (which reminded me of that Jimmy Liao's story "Turn left, Turn right"). But yeah, good job!" (Josh) ... 

I embraced those words with delight. There weren't so many comments. Apart from the same small circle of close friends and supporters who follow me, it seems that people's attention span does not last more than a few seconds. If one doesn't manage to catch their interest within that short amount of time and give them that instant excitement, one has to resign to sink into the limbo of oblivion. That explains why people are much more receptive to my photos. The thought was dispiriting. I should learn from the tree that I see from my window. It grows quietly, just being a tree and not thinking or wishing about anything else.


Thursday, 5 September 2013

Death of a bee

A bee flew into my room by the open window. I tried to shoo it away, but it wouldn't leave. It instead scuttled on my bed and would stop for a moment in sunny spots then scuttle around again. I found it odd, because I rarely saw bee do that. "Maybe it is tired" I thought. I observed it for a little while. It fell from the bed to the floor. It seemed lost, weakly looking for something. 
The thought crossed my mind that it may be dying. When I see bees at work, they usually send out this strong and active vibe as they're flying from one flower to another. This one was like the shadow of itself. I left it alone and resumed my work. 
Ten minutes or so later I had another look at the bee. It was on the tatami, dead, curled into a little ball. The bee was searching for a place to die...

Pieces of memory

Vanessa said recently that she thought I was perhaps a little too attached to things. I let the word sink in for a time and gave some thought about it. She is right. I am attached to things, but only to certain things, things that guard the memory of a very special time in my life.
The comment came the day a treasured painting which had soothed my eyes and accompanied me for nearly to decades fell to the ground one early morning, when the plastic hook broke in two. Naturally, the sight of  the damaged painting caused a shock. It was a prized possession, a token of my late student years, when I was living in this modest flat in Montmartre...
Under the layers of confused emotions, I knew that it was just material thing, I wasn't as sad as I would have expected. Only when some friends started reciting corny, ready-made phrases like 'c'est la vie', 'a new chapter in life', or 'cheer up' that I truly became annoyed and angry at their insensitivity and lack of empathy.
Of course I would move on and not mourn for years. 

Memory is slowly starting to bear another meaning in our lives. In an age where everything is being digitalised, what will we leave behind us for generations to come? Not much. Most of people's life is now contained in a computer, an iPhone or an iPad: their photos, images and videos, music, messages, correspondence... their memory.
Everything is stored in a cloud or in a hard disk, at best. Dematerialised. Components of our lives are provided by big giants like Apple, Ikea or Sony whose motto could be "everything but sustainability". I remember this advertisement I saw on the Taiwanese TV, showing a older lady fondly flipping through her photo album when a younger woman, presumably her daughter (or daughter-in-law) comes in and looks at her with an air that seems to say that she obviously hasn't understood anything about life. But luckily, she brings the answer that will make her a modern woman, and tadaaaa, shows her an iPad! Oh, how easy it is to view all the pictures now! And on top of that, an iPad is so much lighter and easier to handle than that heavy photo album!!! Now the older lady understands the true meaning of life and both laugh and smile full-heartedly.
I was sick when I saw that. The advertisement would play again every fifteen minutes. 
I wonder how future generation will remember our time. That wonderful iPad will last until the next one is launched. iPhones as well as laptops are not meant to 'survive' half a decade. Computers and hard disk crash and we lose all the memories within in a second.
And what about our memory. What do we decide to remember? Can we really entrust all of them to that fragile little thing?
I re-read pages of a diary I kept when I was in my late teens. I had kept it in a folder which has followed me to Taipei. I have an old photograph of my father taken in Huê when he was three, an ashtray that was designed by and belonged to my grand-father. I kept a few of the EP's that my mother used to listen to when a student in London.
Attached to things, yes I am. They are pieces of my history. Being a wayfaring stranger, I like to have them around. They're like a map of my own life. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

From Asian Male ... to (Asian) Musician (Male)

My memory tricked me. But that was for the 'bigger picture'. I was certain that the singing lesson today with Mrs. Hsu was at 4:30 pm. But Mrs. Hsu's habit of cancelling, postponing, changing days and time eventually got me confused. When Ching Yao called me to say that the lesson was finished, I was just about to step into the MRT which would take me to Mrs. Hsu's office. Instead of going back home to resume my work on PLAY 2 PLAY, I decided to head to the gym. I had not climbed the last steps which lead people out of the underground that I felt a pat on my shoulder. It was Raymond Huang, a photographer friend of mine. He was waiting for his bus. 
As a point of fact, I met Raymond at Mrs Hsu's office, a year and a half ago. She had kindly given me a big studio lamp that she used years ago whenever she would need to take pictures of her jewel creations. They had since been taking the dust in the corner and when I voiced my interest in finding a similar lamp and asked her where she found it, she was quick to offer one to me. 
Weeks later, it was Raymond who benefited of Mrs. Hsu's generosity. He took away lamps, stands, tripods, flashlights... When I asked ChingYao who the attractive man was, he showed me some pictures he had taken. They were just superb! A sought-after photographer, he developed from fashion photographer to portraitist whose approach combines style and inventiveness that creates a rarely seen dynamism, particularly his pictures of classical musicians, known for their tacky taste when they step out of their music world - ("Classical musicians are boring" he told me. "That is, classical musicians in Taiwan..." he corrected.)
"You would love his studio. It's filled with CDs!!! ChingYao added. "He asks his clients to pick one to create the mood for the shooting." 
I would find out by myself as he invited me to come at his studio, shortly after. 
Indeed I immediately felt at ease in his working space. It was a set in a large old, Taiwanese flat. Nothing was ostentatious. The only obvious thing was his passion for his work. On the wall above his desk, he had pinned small sized pictures of the portraits he had done. Pop stars, models, rock bands, celebrities, film stars... They were all there!
Raymond was not a very talkative person, but everything around him spoke for him, and his world attracts me like a magnet.

"I wanted to call you!" he said with a broad smile.
"Where are you going to?" I asked
"Back to my studio... I'll attend a concert later in the evening."
I suggested to go have a cup of coffee somewhere nearby.
The last time I had seen Raymond was in June. He had come to my flat this time, and after appraising my flat for a moment, asked me to be part of his upcoming book about musicians. I gladly accepted. Selbstverständlich! He took some photos of my home so to know how he would 'stage' me. I had not heard from him since. And just yesterday, I suddenly thought of him...

We found a Starbucks Coffee and sat at table by the window. 
"I have only one month to finish the book. Four musicians left, including you."
"Then we have to do it as soon as possible, for I leave in less than two weeks for Paris!"
Raymond opened his agenda. "Next week, Thursday 12th, at 1pm!" 
The book is to be a series of five pictures for each musician who is also asked to contribute a little story about a key moment of his life. There will be an exhibition as well. "Nothing fancy. I want a homey place, not a gallery. More like a coffee shop, so people feel comfortable... Do you have any idea?" I immediately thought of Changee Café's new space in the Zhongshan area. Adrian and I had been scheduled to have our own exhibition in December and the offer came... just yesterday!
Raymond had no time left to go back to his studio, so we extended our chat for one hour. He asked me what story I had in mind for his book.
I told him about the day I attended by mistake a concert by Pierre Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonic at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, the whole time fully convinced I was at the Salle Pleyel, at a concert by the Orchestre National d'Île-de-France - a lesser orchestra, to put it mildly, conducted by Jacques Mercier - nothing compared to Boulez...
I stopped. "I guess it will be too long... And Taiwanese people may not even know what and whom I'm talking about..."
Raymond nodded in agreement. "The story can be a funny one, an inspiring one..." he said.
I thought about how my magical encounter with Jo and how I came to work with him, then quickly realised that in that case too, people would have no clue.
"Some musicians have written sad stories..." Raymond went on. "Like this Aboriginal man who is a bar singer in Keelung..."
" I could tell about my paedophile piano teacher..." I mused.
We both laughed.

The last photo shoot I did was with Norm Yip last year, when I had to sweat under the projectors in my birthday suit for the third volume of his Asian Male series. It seems that the book will have to wait a little while longer before seeing the day and I'm not displeased to feature instead in a book about musicians!