Girl: What’s your name?
Me: It’s An
Me: Yes, it’s a Vietnamese name.
Girl: Oh I see… An…. I don’t like that name.
(on a date – first time, many, many years ago)
M.: You look very good! I like your style! And I love musicians
Me: Yes! I’m very glad to meet you!
M.: Erm, how old are you?
M.: 27??? Oh….
Me: Is there a problem?
M.: Well, I have a rule… I can’t date anybody who’s older than 26.
Me: You can’t? … Even if you like the person?
M.: Yes… I really like you but… you’re older than 27, so I can’t date you
Me: That’s weird… And what happens when you reach that age? Will you keep that rule?
M.: That’s how it is now. I have to follow that rule. If not… It’s a pity… because I really like you.
Me: (good luck with your life…)
X.: So where are you from?
Me: I’m Vietnamese (I know what to answer, now, he he!)
X.: Which country?
Me: Vietnam… I’m Vietnamese…
X.: You’re not Filipino?
Me: Erm, no… Vietnam and the Philippines are two different countries.
X.: But you don’t have Western blood?
Me: What do you… mean?
X.: Like, you could be Mexican!
Me: (Mexican?) No. I’m 100% Vietnamese
X.: Yes, but your parents could have Chinese blood!
Me: (This is getting curiouser and curiouser) I may have some Chinese ancestors… There’s no such a thing as pure blood.
X.: Seee! So you’re not completely… erm Vietnamese.
Me: But I am. Although I was born in France
X.: See! I knew it!
Me: Knew what?
X.: That you were not totally Vietnamese!
Me: Both my parents are Vietnamese. And so are my grand-parents.
X.: Yes, but one never knows. Maybe one of them had an affair with someone from America or Europe.
Me: Yes…. I really can picture my great grand-father going on Tinder to meet a French lady…
X.: (pause) Because you don’t look completely erm… Vietnamese
Me: And… how are Vietnamese supposed to look like?
X.: Not like you!
Me: (ok, I give up)
Guy: What’s your family name?
Me: Tôn Thất
Guy: How do your pronounce it?
Me: [toŋ˧˥ tʰə̰k˩˧]
Guy: Wow, that’s hard to pronounce!
Me: I know… what your name?
Me: Oh it’s Polish! (pronounce the name)
Guy: Wow! You can say it!
Me: Yes… I have come across Slavic names fairly often, so I’m a bit used to it. Why?
Guy: Well... I can’t even pronounce my own name correctly…
(28+ years ago… phone rings)
Woman: May I speak to mister… Anh.. Toh Tate?
Me: … It’s me speaking.
Woman: Oh! Wonderful! My name is Mrs. D. and I’m a casting agent for xxx Production. I’m calling you because I have received your photo and you’d be perfect! (I had just had a bit part in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s ‘The Lover’)
Me: (yeay yeay yeay!!!) Oh really? What is about?
Woman: Yes, we really like your look. It’s for a leading part in a film.
Me: (yeay yeay yeay x 10!!!!!!)
Woman: Do you have a moment? I would like to tell you about it.
Me: Of course
Woman: Oh… and… erm… I have one question…
Me: What is it?
Woman: Would you accept to play in the nude?
Woman: Yes… let me explain. The film is about Emmanuelle (the heroine of a series of French erotic films in the 70s and 80s)
Me: (mountains collapsing in my head)
Woman: So the story is: Emmanuelle goes to Asia… and she meets an old zen master. He gives her some magic tea to drink. She drinks it and then baaam! The zen master turns into a young man, and IT’S YOU!!!
Me: How.. wonderful…
Woman: Would you do it?
(twenty eight + years ago… phone rings)
Woman: Good morning, I’m mrs. G. from xxx production company. We’re casting for an advertisement and I thought of you.
Me: Oh good! When is it?
Woman: It’s in two days. Can you go?
Me: Yes, of course
Woman: Lovely! Do you… have a leather jacket?
Me: Yes I do… why? Should I bring it?
Woman: yes! Wear it!
(two days later … opening the door of the casting agency. The room is filled with Asian guys who look like they’re from the most dangerous gang in town. They all turn their head and look at me)
Me: Oh…. bonjour....
(In Bretagne – Brittany, after a concert during a tour with a French singer and her band, of which I was the musical director and pianist)
R. (Bass player): Oh An, I would like to introduce you to my parents!
Me: With great pleasure!
(walking to an elderly couple)
R.: Mum and dad, this is An!
Me: (extending my right arm to the lady) How do you do? A pleasure to m…
(Lady jumps back as if she has seen a ghost. Her husband shakes my hand)
R.: (embarrassed) Sorry for my mom… she has never seen any Asian in her life…
(twenty years ago, at a famous record company)
Manager: We listened to your songs. It’s really good!
Me: Oh thank you!
Manager: Well… some of the songs are a bit long… and it’s a bit complicated… but… it’s very interesting! We like your music!
Me: I’m happy to hear that.
Manager: However… we don’t know how we are going to sell this…
Me: I know. There isn’t any Asian singer or musician out there in France, or Europe…
Manager: Yes… so how do we sell you? Pop? World music? Electronic? French? No… not French…
Me: Yes, everything has to be built up from scratch… it’s virgin territory.
Manager: That’s the problem. How to market you?
Me: That’s not for me to say…
Manager: And… could you change certain things in your songs? I know they are demos… but your way of writing is too meandering, it's too… personal. Could you make the songs shorter? And perhaps make the structure more simple?
Me: Then it wouldn’t be me…
Manager: Mmm… the problem is that nobody does what you do. So we have to make it more approachable to the audience. Once the audience gets used to what you do, you can do what you like!
Manager: However, the main issue is… how to market you? … Let me think about it and we will call you…
(There is one known fact: if a company say they will call you again, you can be sure they will NOT call you back. The manager never called me back.)
(Months later at a launch party of an album by an artist by the same label)
Manager: Hey An! ... How are you doing?
Me: ... Still meeting with record companies...
Manager: Yeah, I know... It's a tough world, isn't it? ...
Singer: I heard that Julia (my singing teacher) has encouraged you to write your own songs.
Me: Yes. She did.
Singer: Your OWN song?
Me: Yes. Why?
Singer: … well… you have nothing to offer as a singer, or on stage. You are a composer. That’s what your skill is.
Me: How can you tell, since you’ve never seen me do anything on stage but play the piano for you or someone else?
Singer: I just know. I can tell when someone has the talent. You don’t!
Me: I don’t find that very nice of you.
Singer: You have to know the truth
(several years later, at a hip Parisian concert venue where I presented my first album)
Singer: Oh An you were wonderful! I’ve always known it! You have IT!
Woman: "I really love your music! It's so powerful and dramatic! Very unique. I hope we can work on something together!"
Me: "Oh thank you. That could be nice! Whenever you have a new project"
(some time later)
Woman: "The music you've done is... nice, but... It's not really what I had in mind... Could you do something more in this style? (plays something...)
Me: "That's quite the opposite of what I do... why did you ask me then..?"
Woman: "No... I like what you do. But... it's maybe a little too dramatic.. It's too..."
Me: (If I had a virtual punching ball....)
(Twenty two years ago, in California, where I was meeting casting directors – at that time, I was still thinking of - and working at being an actor)
Uncle T.: You can’t be an actor.
Me: Why so?
Uncle T.: Because we are in America. This isn’t our land. This isn’t our culture. There is no place for Asian people in movies. We have to play it low profile and earn an honest living
Me: But that’s what I want to do. At least try. I know it’s going to tough. But I have to try. If everybody thinks that way, nothing will change.
Uncle T.: Well, you should just not waste your time on that. Go get yourself a proper job, resume your studies, study something like... engineering! Gte married and make your parents happy. This isn’t our country, there’s no room for such things as being an actor as an Asian.
(later, after he heard me play the piano to entertain my cousins)
Uncle T.: Mmmm maybe you can be a musician… But not an actor!
Actually – and sadly, my uncle was right. There wasn’t much of a future as actor for me at that time – unless one is okay with playing a Laundromat owner, a Chinese restaurant waiter, a gang member, or martial art fighter. And true, I felt that my true calling was music, not being an actor. And I’m glad I picked music.