Monday, 30 December 2019

Merry is the widow

I went to a 'concert performance' of Franz Lehár's Die lustige Witwe by the NSO. 
When Vienna meets Taipei... Hsueh-min had bought a ticket for me weeks ago, although I admit I went with some predjudice.
Two hours earlier, I had totally forgotten about it, occupied as I was with all the composing. A message from Hsueh-min woke up me. I nearly didn't go. Yes, what, or how could the NSO 'get' the Viennese style and not turn that poor - well, she's not poor, widow into am indigestible cream puff.
Some predjudices are made to be crushed. No regret at all. I was more than pleasantly surprised. Although just a concert performance, it was very cleverly staged by Jean-Michel Criqui with minimal prop and setting, a smart use of video projection to create the atmosphere and optimal use of the space on stage. The orchestra was beautifully conducted by Yin-Fang Chang who avoided the trap of indulging in sentimentality but instead brought out the sensuality and luxuriousness of the score with a hint of melancholy and yearning during the more intimate scenes and lost of gusto and peps for the comedic parts.
The singers rose up to the challenge and delivered a nuanced performance. Kudo in particular to Chan-Yu Yeh as Count Danillo. He's is as good a singer as he is a good actor. I remember seeing him in Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos in a little role several years ago, and he already did impress me then. Glad that he's been given the lead part now. 
It was a delightful good evening and I'm glad I took the time off work to enjoy this evening full of wit, charm and beautiful music.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Asa ga kuru 朝が来る - recording more music...

Christmas Eve.
The recording sessions keep going on during the year end festivities. I was working on the music for the final scene of the film when I suddenly heard a short choral-like piece for 2 female voices in my head. I immediately contacted Irene and 古宸禎, two members of the acapella vocal group with whom I just recently collaborated on one song for the Ray Kang's album. They quickly got the feel and mood of the piece and we recorded their vocals right before they had to dash to YiLan for a performance!

Right before my session with them, I was recording Edric Chang's violin playing. I actually got confused about our meeting time - I remembered it to be late afternoon, as it had usually been so, when I had the good instinct to check on the appointment time and realised, only a few minutes before the door bell rang, that it was at 11 a.m.! I quickly scribbled down the violin parts and Edric played them effortlessly - as he always does.

All the pieces for the film slowly shape up. It's an interesting process. It (fortunately) all came together in a very brief lapse of time.  
Naomi still hasn't heard anything yet. She very sympathetically agreed to leave me be in peace without interfering. She did begin to ask me to do and redo the opening music until I realised that I would be losing my inspiration if I was only trying to please her. She maybe a famous and celebrated director, but I still wanted to enjoy the process. After some time debating what to say to her, I simply wrote and explained how I felt, and how I worked. She replied and said that she totally understood. 

Roman, the wizard mixing engineer who suggested me as a composer for this film, has started to place all the music I have written so far in the film. I haven't yet had the time to watch. Still a lot of music to be done, but I think that most of the musical stuff is there now...
And it saves lots of time and energy to work with intuitive musicians. 

Monday, 23 December 2019

Always experimenting... Allen played percussion on a music stand, on a windchime made of keys, on sticks and bowls... He's so ressourceful and inventive. 
Each new sound gives me ideas and leads to more experimentation. Then back home, I'm like a mad scientist trying a new formula.
The music stand sounds great!

Sunday, 22 December 2019

work work work

Asa ga kuru 朝が来る (Comes Morning) 
Cello session this evening at the music zombieland, ie. my home, with my dear long-time partner in crime, Emily.

The music for Naomi Kawase's new film is shaping up. I think I will have completed all the score very soon. Nothing like a great project to end the year and begin the next.


At the rate of one, two, sometime three pieces of music composed each day, I think I deserve a couple of hours off, and a little stroll to Eslite bookstore (Xmas presents and cards to buy, mind you ...)

I don't know if all the music will be completed in two weeks, I can only hold the lantern of hope close to me so that hope may become reality... Send me your good vibes. O, I really need it!
Bonne nuit... Listening to Beethoven and Sibelius.. then bedtime.
Oh yes, and a read few pages of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in the original text.

Oh, but I'm still in the bus...

Saperlipopette. I feel like a robot.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Midnight at Mos Burger...

Between 'Jingle Bell' destroyed by a clarinetist who sounds like he can't wait for the music to be finished, and an old, solitary woman playing Candy Crush at full volume at the back of the room, I feel the jolly spirit very, very strongly. Ho ho ho....

Friday, 20 December 2019

I just learned that Ròm has been heralded 'best film of 2019' by the ASEAN - the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. South East Asia countries are now bringing film of great quality and diversity to the world. 

Can't wait to see Ròm tour around the world at festivals, and of course see the film being released theatrically everywhere!I'm particularly happy for Huy and everybody in the team. They worked so hard on it. I was browsing the behind the scene photos that showed what physical prowess it was for the two young actors and the crew to shoot the film. They do deserve the accolade!

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Koreyoshi Kurahara

In the midst of all the composing, I find moments where I can escape by watching films. Change of mind, change of mood, change of spirit = inspiration.

On my journey of exploring older Japanese cinema, I recently ordered a Criterion set of films by Koreyoshi Kuraha, a director I knew nothing about. I just went by instinct, and I was handsomely rewarded. I watched Black Sun 黒い太陽, a wacky, anti-buddy romp of a film between a young jazz-obsessed society miscast (played by the charismatic Tamio Kawaji, another discovery for me...) and a Black GI on the run after an accidental murder.

It was the 60's, Japan was still occupied by the U.S., jazz was all the rage among the youngsters, and there was the Japanese Nouvelle Vague in cinema, which found in Koreyoshi Kurahara 蔵原惟繕, one of his best figures. 

The main actor, Tamio Kawaji, plays his role with joyful abandon, over-the-top child-like wildness. I was just captivated by him. Opposite him is American Chico Lourant, a Black American soldier who found a career as an actor in Japan during the 60's, who, despite his very limited acting range (and I could barely understand anything from his incessant breathy mumbling), still managed to create a convincing character as 'Gill'.

And to top it all, the score played by hyped jazz hero Max Roach (with Abbey Lincoln's singing) adds to the 'assault' to the senses that the film is, both visually and sonically.

"Koreyoshi Kurahara’s Black Sun is a loud, ugly, gritty, and gripping film. It is a tortured shriek of post-war anguish from one of Japan’s leading filmmakers of the 1960s."

I'm so thankful to Criterion for releasing such treasures in perfect quality. The black and white photography by Mitsuji Kanau just looked gorgeous. Next will be The Warped Ones, which apparently precedes Black Sun by four years, with again, Tamio Kawaji as a young society miscast, and also Chico Lourant, this time in a minor role.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Do over

Everyday Facebook asks "what's on your mind?"... Today, I'd like reply: NOTHING.

I do wish there were something in my mind but I have been composing so much music in the past months or even years, that my head is totally blank today. I'm painstakingly writing and recording a new piece for Be Water today despite a strong headache, but the perspective of all the music to milk out of our brain (to our dismay, Goh and I found out that Bao has kept nearly nothing from all the music we have been writing - producers' command...) 
Two weeks... Bao wants to have everything completed so he can send the documentary to the Sundance Festival. "We're nearly there" Bao wrote as words of encouragement, "You just have to do variations of what you have already done"
No, mister director, you may minimise our workload by saying it's a 'variation', but we still have to re-record the music, call the musicians, edit and mix everything so that you get your 'variation'. It isn't like using Microsoft Word... 
The new cut of the film is drastically different, which might explain why our music didn't 'survive'. The producers gave us references for each scene, each cue. Goh is furious. "We basically we practically have to start it over again!!!" he lamented. I still have a couple of pieces left unscathed from the flood. The situation feels like this Greek myth where Psyche has to do a new impossible chore every day.

"My method is different. I do not rush into actual work. When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements, and operate the device entirely in my mind."
Nikola Tesla

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Composer's life

Louisa Café.

Ritual: I wake up, look at the small vintage clock - when it hasn't stopped working during the night. Get my glass of water then get dressed to have my coffee downstairs at the Louisa Café, which opened a couple of years (or more) ago.

It’s not that I really need to go there to have a cup of coffee. I could do that with the delicious coffee I had brought back from Vietnam. But somehow, in the solitary routine of music composing, to find myself in this familiar place every morning is soothing. Young mothers and their cute offsprings, old lady friends, young students, some sporty-looking guys in shorts and tank top. They play the same generic music over and over – American pop, mostly, again, always, ad nauseam... 

But I don’t mind. I bring down my computer, write my emails or edit my photos. This ritual soothes me. The ladies’ joyful chatter at the nearby tables soothes me – the men are usually silent, reading the newspapers or just dozing, while the younger ones, bespectacled students, are busy with their homework and textbooks. I somehow envy them. 

It’s nearly the end of the year. I have those two projects on the fire: the Bruce Lee documentary and the album for this newcomer Ray Kang, a theatre actor and stand-up comedian who also moonlights as a singer-songwriter, protest songs and politically charged observation of Taiwan and its people. Sam told me about this "very interesting singer with a nice voice" a few months ago. 

Work, these past months, has been taking most of my energy – or what was left of it. Time and experience have helped hone this ability of mine to just take things at their own pace, even when everybody around me is under pressure or is rushing here, there and everywhere. My survival and mental sanity depend on letting the music come in due time, and trusting that everything will eventually turn out well – which it has, so far.

But I do look forward to that week in Seoul that I promised myself to take. December? Early January? As usual, it will be a last minute decision. 

For now, it’s the Bruce Lee documentary - Be Water the title is, said Bao, and Parallel, the temporary title for Ray’s album.

Sam Liao wanted me to arrange the songs that Ray had penned – shall I say write music on the lyrics Ray penned, for the music is no more that some unstructured melodies placed on words. Ray’s singing is very soulful with a beautiful tone of voice and nice musicality. Sam recognised the qualities right away and that prompted him to take on this project.

The bare melodies are like souls searching for themselves, and as a composer, it is an interesting challenge – sometime an infuriating process, to find the colours, the instruments, the harmonies, the rhythms that will give the song its personality, although it sometimes feels like writing a whole novel out of a simple synopsis... Because if he has some nice melodic ideas, structure isn't his forte, and he tends to repeat the same kind of humming when he gets lost musically.

However, this project allowed me to meet two talented musicians, guitarist Chen Pang and accordionist Achino, both of whom Sam introduced me to. 

When he said that he knew someone who could play flamenco guitar really well, my pictured a chubby fifty-something bearded man with long hair, a smiling face, who would be wearing a hat. Why so? I have no idea. The person who rang the doorbell was barely in his late twenties, short-haired, with a tattoo on his arm, cool and hip. I immediately felt 'in tune' with him – both personally and musically. Working with him felt like two children playing Lego. He immediately understood my intentions for the songs and after one session with him, his parts for the first two songs were already clearly defined. We were looking forward to the next session, just like children who can’t wait to meet up again to play and imagine more together. I see less and less of my friends, but such encounters, beside being musically arousing, also bring warmth and a sense of companionship in an otherwise very solitary life.

Achino is, according to Sam, the best accordion player in Taiwan. Whatever that meant, I did not know. I had no clue about the state of accordion playing in Taiwan! 

His studio was located in Gongguan, the university area, close to one of my favourite spots in town, Treasure Hill – or the artists’ village.

We agreed to meet before he’d go on tour for a week or so. There was still a few days. I had brought my ZOOM recorder, but when I saw his working space, I knew there would be no need for it. It was a mad scientist’s den, albeit for music. All sorts of machines, recording devices, keyboards, wires and cables… 

Of course, there were countless declinations of accordions: cassoto accordion, bandoneon, accordina, musette accordion, melodeons… Achino had been asked to arrange three songs for Ray. I was relieved to hear that he too, struggled to give life (and structure) to the songs. “They always follow the same patterns, the beginning is fine, with some nice melody, then it fizzles out, no structure and he (Ray) ends up humming the same kind of melodic patterns to fill the void.” Oooh... that sounds familiar...

What makes the songs, are the texts. Ray writes beautifully. But the work of a composer’s goes beyond putting notes under words. Achino played what he had done on the songs. It was beautiful. I was worried that his arrangements and mine wouldn’t match with each other, but they do. 
I don't know how Ray will stand up for this album. Sam told me that he, in turn, struggled with the music that has been written, and I understand he feels dispossessed of his songs. "Why not go back to the demos? Ray suggested at some point. Sam told me he stood his ground. 
It is a pity that there hasn't been more interaction between Ray and us. It feels more like playing at dressing up than a true collaboration.
And the issue regarding copyright and composer credit is infuriating to me.
"That's how it goes in Taiwan, and also in China" Sam explained. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

On being Asian - and some other anecdotes (continued)

Girl: What’s your name?
Me: It’s An
Girl: An?
Me: Yes, it’s a Vietnamese name.
Girl: Oh I see… An…. I don’t like that name.
Me: …

(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.: So… 
Me: ?
M.: Erm, how old are you?
Me: 27
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?
Guy: Wojciechowski…
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)
Me: Allo?
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?
Me: ???
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: Hello?
Me: Hello.
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!
Me: …
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.

Friday, 18 October 2019

A BIFF's Official photo during the closing ceremony (me carrying that bag... Inside were my laptop (Bao wanted to talk about his documentary, but for obvious reasons, he found no time for that) and camera... I couldn't find any place where to put it.)

We're all back home now and made it through the political controversy that surrounded - and still surrounds the film in Vietnam, a controversy that reaches summits of sheer absurdity. I can't emphasise enough how to us, it was, is and has always essentially been about creating, telling a story, expressing ourselves and share it with the audience. That the film won the coveted New Current Best Film award should be a reason for Vietnam to rejoice and celebrate, not resent and battle us - or anyone else (the controversy is actually a displaced result of internal feuds within the Department of Film in Vietnam...)

I can't express enough all the love and support I feel for the cast and crew of the film.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later."

Stanley Kubrick”

Team Ròm walking that red carpet during the closing ceremony. 

Friday, 11 October 2019

News of the day: Ròm won New Current Best Film at the Busan Film Festival alongside Iraki Mohamad Hayal's Haifa Street!!! Unbelieveable!!!

Monday, 7 October 2019

Ròm: A feeling of fullfillment and elation.


It is a great joy to see Jee-woong again in Busan, a year after The Third Wife, and only a few months after we met in Seoul last summer. A great pleasure indeed as this passionate film and music lovers such as him are rare. I was so glad when he attended the premiere of Ròm, and even happier that he loved the film - and it didn't kill me either that he also enjoyed Thưa mẹ con đi - "I was very touched by the film! I reminded me of my own younger years."

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Busan, the next morning. Jetlag oblige, I could barely sleep more than 3 hours. I felt the sea was calling me so I went out to the beach to watch the sunrise. 
It will take me some time to realise I'm actually in Busan. 
Unfortunately, I arrived a tad too late to be allowed entry for the opening ceremony yesterday. Unclear information from Bao regarding the opening ceremony schedule. The gates were closed at 5 p.m. and the taxi reached the city ten minutes later... No big deal, although had I known it before, I wouldn't have rushed from Paris to Taipei and Taipei to Busan like that.
But as I told the taxi driver, I'm excited to be back in Busan. This year, I don't see any film poster on Haeundae Beach...

Now I need more sleep... But there are so many films I want to see!

Thursday, 26 September 2019

On being Asian (continued)

I. (My band and I were to perform for several evenings in some sort of variety show with other artists in a Parisian theatre
MC: Oh, so how do I pronounce your name? 'Ton Zat'?
Me: Ton That'...  'tʌn tæt' not 'zat'. 
MC: Ah... 'Toon Da'?"
Me: Not quite. 't', not 'd'." 
MC: I see! Thank you!
Me: (I don't think he sees...}
MC: "...and ladies and gentlemen, please welcome singer [...] and her two musicians, [...] and Anghr Doo Dad! I hope I pronounced his name well!" (little laugh)
(the following night)
MC: I guess I didn't pronounce your name well yesterday. How is it again?'
Me: 'tʌn tæt' would be ok. 
MC: 'Doon dæd'. Ok I got it!
Me: (I don't think so...)
MC:" ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to singer [...] and her two musicians [...] and Ann Doon Zat! I hope pronounced his name well!" (little laugh)
(the following night....)

II. (My first piano teacher, an old-fashioned lively lady who wore the same dress week after week, be it winter or summer. She also smelled of powder)
Piano teacher (on seeing my parents): Oh, mister and missus Ton Ton!!!

Girl: So you're Asian
Me: Obviously
Girl: My mother told me never to trust Asians
Me: ... but... you are Asian too
Girl: I was adopted!
Me: ...

IV. (I had put some ads in my neighbourhood for piano lessons to give)
Lady: Could you tell me a little about how you teach children?
(I briefly told her about my method)
Lady: Oh that's fantastic! I love that! When can we start? What's your name?
Me: 'Tôn Thất'
Lady: ... huh? I'm afraid I didn't hear well...
Me: 'Tôn Thất'. T.O.N. T.H.A.T. It's a Vietnamese name.
Lady: Oh... you're an Asian person...
Me: Yes.
Lady: ... Erm... We will call you again... I have to go now... I have things to do!
(she never called back)

V. (a rich American lady singer was looking for a pianist to accompany her for a debut concert of American songs.)
American lady: You're the fourth or fifth person I'm meeting! The first three pianists played well, but they knew nothing about Gershwin and Cole Porter, and American songs... So I asked my dentist, and he gave me the name of your friend who gave me your name. I was wondering what someone with such a name as yours would know about American songs!
Me: You will see after our first rehearsal
(after first rehearsal)
American lady: It's amazing! I would never have expected that an Asian person would know so much more than me about Amercian songs! When I saw your name, I thought "what on earth could he know about that repertoire!" 
Me: (Asians are mysterious and cunning people)

Tall Girl (looking at me adoringly): Oh An, you're so cute! You're so nice! You have everything!
Me: (blushing)
Tall Girl: If you were taller than me, I would FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU!
Me: ...

Situation A (years ago):
Man: So where do you come from? 
Me: I'm French
Man: Yes, but I mean, where do you really come from?
Me: My parents are from Vietnam
Man: So you're Vietnamese!
Me: I was born in France
Man: Yes, of course, I know, you have a French passport...

Situation B (now):
Man: So where are you from?
Me: I'm Vietnamese
Man: I see! I love spring rolls!
Me: ...
Man: But where did you learn French? You speak French so well!!! No accent at all!
Me: I was born in Paris. That helps a little.
Man: So you're Fremch!
Me: No. I'm Vietnamese
Man: NOOO! You were born in France, therefore you are French!

VIII. During dinner, during a music festival. I was introduced to singer Brigitte Fontaine.

Brigitte Fontaine (looking at me with her out-of-space eyes): Where do you come from?
Me: From the table over there.
My manager (gritting his teeth): Aaaan!!!!

IX: (translation class at the Sorbonne University)
Teacher (giving back the first translation test): Well, some people (looking at me) must recently have arrived in France, so their command of the French language is understandably not very good... 
Me: I was born in France... I just didn't know what to do with that text... (I just hated the text and didn't feel inspired at all)
Teacher: mmmmm

(after the next test)
Teacher: You really did improve in French! It's so much better! I was amazed! You Asian people study very hard! I gave you a score of 18 out of 20! Well done!
Me: ...

X. (in Taiwan)
American Guy: So, An, where do you come from?
Me: I was born in Paris.
American guy (studying my face): But... You don't exactly look French....
Me: I'm Vietnamese born in Paris
American guy: Oh I see... Because I thought you didn't look French...
Me: I'm Vietnamese
American guy: So where were you born?
Me: In Paris
American guy: But... that's not in Vietnam, right?
Me: Paris is in France, indeed.
American guy (confused): But... you don't look French!
Me: (I like to fool White foreigners)

Girl: So where are you from?
Me: I'm Vietnamese
Girl: Oh I LOOOVE spring rolls!!!
Me: And I love Mireille Mathieu!
Girl: ???
Me: Yes, she is very popular in Asia. We consider her as the ambassador of French culture
Girl: NOOOO! NOOOO! Not Mireille Mathieu!
Me (laughing to myself wickedly): I assure you. She is very popular. You should be proud of her and your culture!

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Documentary or fiction

Working on the Bruce Lee documentary... To compose for a documentary is of course totally different from writing for fiction films. And then, there are so many kinds of documentaries. I particularly like those that are based on facts but allow the audience to think, hope and imagine. Lee Yong Chao's Blood Amber, Wang Jiu-Liang's Plastic China or Hendrick Dussolier's Last Days in Shibati are some fine examples. The characters are real life characters, however, the audience cannot help but enpathise and identify with them, and somehow, reality becomes fiction - despite the film being a documentary, isn't it fiction, when facts and events are filmed a certain way, when framing, light and cinematography have to be taken into account? It is my belief that once something has been lived and is being told, whether in words or images, then processed and edited, it can no longer be called 'reality'. But when the documentary tackles on a topic of a legend such as Bruce Lee, there's little room for interpretation. One has to be as truthful as possible. One has to give facts and organise them in such a manner that they feel like a faithful account of what has happened. Perhaps that's why I never really liked the biopic genre. To see an actor trying to channel somebody else may be interesting for drama students, but the film is seldom arousing as a piece of cinema. There are exceptions, Leto, being one. Serebrennikov transcended the material and gave us a stark and beautifully lensed black and white film. But then, Viktor Tsoi is not a world famous rock legend, so it was easier for me as an audience to just let myself go with the flow of image, story and music. The case of Bruce Lee will be a challenge. What can Bao say about it that hasn't already been said one million times? Bao told me that he wanted to focus on the Asian perspective, and Lee's struggles as an Asian in 60's America. From what I heard, Bao has filmed lots of interviews of people who had worked with or been involved in Bruce Lee's life, co-stars, colleagues, martial arts students and... lovers. "Bruce Lee was a womaniser... But the most interesting details won't make it in the final cut, because they may shed a negative light on Bruce Lee" Bao said at some point. "Those things were said, but after the camera stopped rolling." I argued that this would indeed be more interesting than hearing the usual facts that other documentaries had already given. "His legacy is very well guarded by his daughter Shannon" Bao replied. "There are lines beyond which we cannot go". A respectful (and authorised) documentary it will be then - even more of a challenge to me.

I have tons of ideas even if they may be more suitable for my own interpretation of Bruce Lee. So I'm moving forward very tentatively, step by step.
There's this crazy piece I nearly finished, that describe the craziness of Hong Kong of the 70's, a mixture of erhu, big beats, a jazz combo and taigu drums - without sounding like a period piece.

I wonder what Goh Nakamura will be composing on his side of the planet - he lives in Los Angeles. I only heard a few notes from a tearful mini-documentary Bao directed about his life and condition as an Asian American. But that wasn't enough for me to have any idea of his musical style. 

For now, I am reuniting with my partners in crime, Emily, Edric and the two Allen. 

I did some photo tests with dancer/actor Benson Lee. My new short film, Rừng will be the second part of a diptych I started last year with Yet Untitled [redux] about time and memory, particularly the mental meandering when the memory has lost its way. And its necessary reconstruction as fiction, in creation.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Found this musical sketch that I scribbled down some time ago, and I have no idea what it was about, although I remember it was in Saigon in a noisy coffee shop....

Lots of projects this coming month: the score for the Bruce Lee documentary, songs to write and/or arrange for an album by a mystery Taiwanese singer - Sam only told me that he is a very good singer..., one first song to pen for Ash Mayfair's new film project Skin of Youth, as she will soon be filming a demo to get more funding, and ... my second short film. 

Why do I suddenly feel like going to bed...?

Sunday, 25 August 2019

I saw my nephew and my parents in my dream last night. Miss them very much. Hope to see them in Paris very soon - should be next week, if all goes well - on ne sait jamais avec moi...

Thursday, 15 August 2019

into the realm of Bruce Lee

The month of August has started, and so have the new projects for the second half of 2019. Now I'm deep in the world of Bruce Lee (reading his writings, watching some of his films, listening to the soundtracks) for the documentary by Bao Nguyen an American director, also one of the producers who came during the post-production time to help finalise Ròm and get it off the ground.
The documentary will focus on the years when Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong. At first, when Bao asked me, I wasn't sure I'd be the right person for this kind of project. Bruce Lee is such a legend that I was wondering what and how my music would fit in. Bao seemed to think that I could, because he wanted to focus on his inner struggles as an Asian actor in the 60's America. 
I knew Bao had a very good visual sense, that it could be interesting now to tell that kind of story. Still it took me some time to make up my mind. Bao had mentioned certain things that put me off a little: the use of songs like My Way - apparently a Bruce Lee's favourite,  how he wanted to capture the aound and flavour of the area. Once again, I thought, if he wants that why does he ask me?
Then the challenge appealed to me. "Why not?" as I would often say. 
On the second week of June, Huy organised a get together for the Ròm team after I finished my work on Thưa mẹ con đi. I was sitting next to Bao so I told him that I would be interested in working on his Bruce Lee project. He seemed a little embarrassed. "It's just that since you said you weren't sure you wanted to do it, I asked my friend Goh to write the score" he explained. Goh was a friend of Bao's and had worked with him on his short documentary projects.
"Could you both do an arrangement of My Way, then the producers and I could decide between the two of you." he added. I didn't quite like the idea of auditionning for it, but I understood that saying yes to me would put him in a tricky situation with Goh, so I suggested that we both would write the score together. "Brilliant idea!!" Bao was overjoyed and relieved. 
I never did any arrangement of My Way, but there's already one first piece in the making...

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

It's quite a humbling experience when the whole house is shaken left and right as if walls and ceilings have become like rubber. The second shake was frightening.

For a second I really thought everything would collapse.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

On being Asian (continued)

(at a cousin's birthday party - everybody in attendance was Vietnamese)
Girl (speaking in American): Hey!
Me: Hello.
Girl: I was wondering... Where are you from?
Me: Erm... It's my cousin's birthday... and she's French-Vietnamese, so...
Girl: Yeah I know, but I thought you look Mexican... Are you Filippino?
Me: ... That girl, my cousin who invited you. You know she has Vietnamese blood, don't you? And everybody here is Vietnamese
Girl: Yea I know... But you could be, you know... adopted, and Mexican, or Filippino...
Me: Now that I think of it, you look Filippino too!
Girl: NOOO! I'm Vietnamese!
X: What's your name?
Me: An.
X: You mean Anne?
Me: No. It's An. A.N.
X: Ann?
Me: It's a Vietnamese name. It is spelled 'A' 'N'.
X: Anh? 
Me: Anh means 'bigger brother' in Vietnamese. 'An' means 'contentment'
X: I see.... And how do you pronounce it already...?

X: What's your name?
Me: It is An.
X: Anne? Like the girl's name?
Me: In my country, An is a masculine name.
X: Of course! Anne used to be a masculine name! In the 17th century. Anne de Montmorency for instance... 
Me: (Indeed. Give me a powdered wig and the costume that goes with it, and you will see a striking resemblance with that Anne de Montmorency....)

(At a Vietnamese rally) 
Lady: Good evening young man. I saw you standing there all by yourself. 
Me: Good evening.
Lady: It is the first time for my daughter... (puts her hand on a shy girls shoulder). It's her first year studying medicine. What do you study?
Me: I'm a musician.
Lady: (after a pause) Oh... a musician... That's interesting... Oh sorry, I see a very dear friend of mine over there. I will go to greet her! Goodbye!
[...] after a couple of hours
Lady: Oh sorry! Here I am again. I heard that you were Ton That Tiet's son...? The composer? 
Me: Indeed I am. I surprised that you know about him...
Lady: Don't be modest! Your father is famous!!! ... My daughter also plays music. She has learned piano for three years, haven't you, dear? (looks at the shy girl)

(At another Vietnamese rally
Lady: (with her daughter) Good evening young man! 
Me: Good evening
Lady: This is my daughter L. She shoudn't be here tonight, because she should be home and study! But it's an important event!
Me: Yes, the exams are near...
Lady: Absolutely! So what do you study? Medicine too? 
Me: I'm trying to graduate from high school for the second time this year.
Lady: (after a surprised pause) Oh...
My mother: And he will PASS this year! Won't you? (looks at me with a wink)
... Then you can study hairstyling as you have always wanted!
Lady: Oh well... Good luck! (walks away with her shy daughter)

(at the LGBT center where I was volunteering)
X: I would like to introduce you to our new group. It's for people who love Asian culture, Asians and their friends...
Me: (weird way to put it...)
X: Yes, we want to promote Asian culture and organise cultural events, go to see shows and exhibition...
Me: Is that so...?
X: Where are you from?
Me: Vietnam.
X: A beautiful country!!!
[...] later...
X: So I hope to see you at some of our events! Maybe you can wear a kimono...? (wink wink)
Me: (Me? A kimono? ... So much for the promotion of Asian culture)

X: Where are you from?
Me: Vietnam
X: But you speak French so well!!!
Me: I was born in Paris.
X: Oh yes, because you don't really look French... And is your family name Nguyên? 
Me: No. It's Tôn Thât.
X: Oh really??? I thought all the Vietnamese were called Nguyên.
Me: As much as all French people are called 'Durand'

X: Where are you from?
Me: I'm a French born Vi.... I'm Vietnamese
X: Do you speak Chinese?
Me: Do you speak English?
X: But I'm French!!!

(at the ticketing desk of a concert venue in Paris) 
Girl: Here's your ticket... Hey... aren't you... An? 
Me: (trying to remember her face as quickly as possible) Yeeeesssss.... I am. 
Girl: You don't remember me, do you?
Me: I'm afraid not... 
Girl: I used to work at [...] 15 years ago. 
Me: Oh you know... Since I have moved to Taipei, I find that all Caucasians look alike...
Girl: (burst out laughing) Ha ha ha!!!! That's great! that's a good one! We totally deserve it! 

Little black boy: 你好
Me: 你好
Little black boy gives me a super happy smile.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

As I'm slowly slipping out of my comatose state, I wanted to share a few words about what is happening to The Third Wife in Vietnam. The film has been pulled from the theatres only 4 days after its release. There had been a nasty campaign against the film before it even reached the screens, and the target was the fact that the leading actress, Nguyễn Phương Trà My was underage and had to perform intimate scenes. If it could have been understandable were the concern for her truly genuine, it was evident that those supposed self-righteous defenders of morality were only aiming at destroying the film by harassing the young actress online, spreading their venom when they had actually not even seen the film, thus totalling missing the point the film is making. Those who have seen it know that everything was more suggested than shown during those 'hot' scenes. There was no gratuitous nudity, no child abuse, nothing explicit as people have claimed. Trà My was well surrounded, her wonderful mother was there to make sure that everything was done for the safety of her daughter, both physically and psychologically. I was there during the shooting, and I can testify to that. Beside, there's something called ACTING. People who have seen the film know what a tremendously talented actress Trà My is. And again, I would understand if people really worried about her. But by the way they have attacked Trà My, accused the director and the producer of promoting paedophilia or whatever else, it's obvious that there were other reasons to all this trolling and harassment. Jealousy? (most likely) Old grudge? Propaganda in disguise?
The film has so far garnered ten awards, went to more than 50 festivals around the world. It would, should have given Vietnam something to be proud of... Any other country would joyfully celebrate such an achievement.
It was an honour for me to be part of this film. I'm proud of what we have done. We wanted to tell a story that has happened in a not so distant past in Vietnam and is still happening now in so many countries. Time will settle the dust and perhaps - hopefully allow those people to see more clearly. Hopefully...

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Just got a message from the Golden Melody Award staff for a make-up appointment before the ceremony... Things are getting serious now...

Thursday, 11 April 2019

On being Asian

X: Ha ha ha, how typical!!!
Me: What?
X: That you are eating Vietnamese spring rolls!
Me: I happen to eat that once in a while...
X: I love spring rolls! They're so delicious! I have to have them once a week!
Me: How typical...

French Lady: Oh you remind me of that actor I saw in that film!
Me: Which film? 
French Lady: The last Emperor!
Me: (I suppose it wasn't Peter O'Toole...)

French Lady: Oh I thought of you the other day, I saw that film and you really look like the actor in it!
Me: Which film? The Last Emperor?
French Lady: No! In the Mood for Love!

X: Do you do martial arts?
Me: No, unfortunately. Why?
X: Jet Li is soooo cool in Romeo must Die!
You should learn kung fu so you can be the next Jet li!!!
Me: Indeed that's my greatest wish...

X: How's life in Japan?
Me: erm... I live in Taiwan...
X: I thought you were in Japan...?
Me: I had a few projects and love it there... but I live in Taipei.
X: Yes that's what I mean! So how's Japan? 
Me: 素晴らしいです
X: ???
Me: That was Japanese. It means really great.
X: Oh? I thought you spoke Chinese...

X: Where are you from?
Me: Have a guess...
X: Japan!
Me: No...
X: China!
Me: No... try again
X: Thailand!
Me: No...
X: Korea...?
Me: No... I'm from Vietnam
X: Oh yeah of course! I knew it!!!

Girl: Where will you go next?
Me: Japan. I will go to Tokyo in two months, then Niigata.
Girl: Oh nice! I will be close! I will go to India!!!
Me: erm... that's just a few thousands of km away...
Girl: But it's in Asia, isnt it?

J.: Hello!
Me: Hello!
J.: So we are supposed to talk to each other...
Me: Yes, I know... You were in Vietnam a few months ago... and I'm Vietnamese...
J.: My mother told me to come tonight because she had met you the other day and she thought I had to see you because I had a trip in Vietnam last spring...
Me: So we have to say something huh? ... I don't know what to say...
J.: Me neither!!! 
(we both laugh)

MC: ... And let me introduce you to our wonderful pianist tonight, mister Ang Toon Ta... I hope I said it well!!!

(first day in primary school)
Teacher: Sellier? 
Sellier: I'm here
Teacher: Tavernier?
Tavernier: I'm here
Teacher: Thoretton?
Thoretton: I'm here
(long silence)
Teacher: ... T... Toôô... Tôôôô Taaah?
(all the faces turn to me)
Me: I'm here... (I wish I weren't...)

X: You really look like...
Me: ... that Asian actor in 'The Lover'. 
X: Yes! Did other people tell you so as well?
Me: Those who saw the film yesterday on tv.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019


Beyond the physical distance, the questions, with all the hope, prayers and uncertainties that are inevitable during such times, I'm glad I could have been of some moral support, to make make the day-by-day process a little less painful these last four months of your life. But the big Cancer Monster defeated you before you could return home... And I'm heartbroken. 

Goodbye, farewell, wherever you are, my dear.

What a week.

Friday, 29 March 2019

On being Asian

X: Where are you from?
Me: (I was born in Paris but...) I'm Vietnamese
X: Oh Vietnam!!!! I love the beef noodle!

X: Where are you from?
Me: I'm French
X: Yes... but I mean where are you REALLY from. Because you don't look... French
Me: Vietnam
X: Oh!!! Vietnam! I have a Vietnamese friend!
Me: I have French friends too!

X: Oh An, I thought of you the other day!!!
Me: Oh really? How come?
X: I was walking on the street and I saw a Chinese restaurant!
Me: You mean the Chinese takeaway near [...] ?
X: Yes!!!! I love beef noodle!

X: Nice to meet you. What's your profession?
Me: I'm a musician
X: I mean, do you have a real job?
Me: (Talk to stupid people) Yes, I own a laundromat
X: Oh really? I thought you were working in a restaurant

X: You're a musician! That's great! You must meet my cousin!
Me: Is he a musician too?
X: Well, he plays some instrument... I don't know. Piano...? Oh no, he plays the flute. But that was a long time ago, when he was young... 

... and I could go on for a very long time...

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Conversation _ loop _ mother

 Conversation _ loop _ mother _ there's joy in repetition _ Vietnam

Mother: (looking around the streets of Saigon) "It's amazing how things have changed. It's much bigger now"
Me: "Yes, changes are noticeable by the year in Saigon"
Mother: "Saigon?"
Me: "Yes, we are, you are in Saigon!"
Mother: "C'est pas possible! (That's impossible) When? But it doesn't look at all like Saigon..."
Me: "You arrived this morning. We are in Vietnam. Look! Chợ Bến Thành is over there (Ben Thanh market, a very famous spot)."
Mother: "... I don't recognise anything..."
Me: "See all the people, the signs and boards in Vietnamese"
Mother: "Ah.... I thought we were..."
Father: "... in Paris Chinatown!"
Mother: "Exactly!"
Me: (Thanks for your help, dad...)
Mother: "It has changed so much since the last time I was there, not long ago"
Me: "Your last time you were in Vietnam was nearly 20 years ago..."
Mother: "No... it was just a few years. Ask your dad"
Father: "The year 2000. 19 years ago"
Mother: "Oh... (looks at a woman with a cone hat). The Vietnamese community has really grown! They're everywhere now! Even the signs are in Vietnamese!"
Me: "Because we are in Saigon..."
Mother: "What? C'est pas possible!!! I don't believe you... Ask your dad!"
Father: "Saigon, Vietnam. Arrived this morning!"
Mother: "Really? C'est pas possible! I don't remember anything!
Me: "Ah... is that so...."


Mother: (contemplating the garden of my grandfather's house) "This garden is so lovely. All these flowers... so peaceful."
Me: "Yes, I love this house"
Mother: "It's nice to have our own house with a big garden. I remember when your dad was in Vietnam and I started looking for a new house..."
Me: "It's grandfather's house, in Huê, mom"
Mother:  "Grandfather? Huê? C'est pas possible!"
Me: "Look at the house. Look at the furniture..."
Mother: "Oh... yes... Oh... yes. I remember... I love dad's house... and to go to the house you have to climb up the hill and pass a pagoda."
Me: "It's all flat around here. You're describing the way to your dad's house in Nam Giao (her childhood home)
Mother: "It's (my) father's house! Look!"
Me: "It's dad's father's house in Huê..."
Mother: "Huê? But it looks nothing like Huê!!!"
Me: "Look behind, it's grandfather's altar. And here, his furniture. And there is dad's room, when he was young"
Mother: (looking around, eyes drifting)We're in Huê... C'est pas possible! I don't remember anything..."
Me: "(ah...)"


(In a car, on our way to the family tombs)

Mother: "It's amazing how things have changed around here.."
Me: "Huê has not changed as much as Saigon."
Mother: "We can't be in Huê!"
Me: "Look at that sign board. It has Huê written all over it. And here's the Perfume River. "
Mother: "Chinatown has changed so much..."
Me: "This is Huê, mother. We are on a trip in Vietnam. We are spending one week in Huê and we are on our way to see our ancestors' tombs"
Mother: "We're in Vietnam??? Don't lie to me! When? How? C'est pas possible!
Me: "This is your school... look!"
Mother: "Oh yes. And if you go further, there's a street that goes up to our house in Nam Giao."
Me: (relieved) "Exactly! Aren't you glad to be back in Huê?"
Mother: "We're in Huê????? C'EST PAS POSSIBLE!"

I talked my mother on the phone two days ago. She seems to have got back to her routine in her house in Paris. Conversation was our usual conversation (how's work / where are you? / what film I'm working on / she wants to have a copy of it etc...) My father said that she was asking what the luggage in the entrance were for.

She doesn't remember our trip in Vietnam at all.

Monday, 25 March 2019

I find it fairly ironic that in Thưa mẹ con đi (Goodbye mother), the next (Vietnamese) long feature for which I will write the score, the grand mother of the main character has the Alzheimer's disease...

For now, I'm sick, physically and emotionally drained from that trip in Vietnam and coughing - those damn a.c. pushed to the maximum... But I know what musical colour I want to give to the film now. Minh's film is a dramedy, more on the lighter side, though, with some slapstick elements - coming from the grandmother character...I think a score made of minimalist Scandinavian pop elements might counterbalance the local Vietnamese countryside flavour of the film, and open bring out hidden - or undevelopped aspects of the characters. On verra...     

I just talk to my father in the phone. My mother did not recognise her house when she came back in Paris.. If the flight back to France went without any issue, the first night at home was terrible: she thought people were coming to take her away. The next day, she asked my father what the suitcases were doing near the living-room...
Unfortunately, I didn't suspect, or didn't want to believe that such a trip would affect her dramatically. Being in Vietnam, visiting the tombs of her parents, going back to Huế and Đà Lạt must have had the effect of a cyclone in her forgetful mind. Deep down, she recognised and acknowledged what she saw and experienced, but the crash between that and the erected web of fractured memories must have been violent for her.   

Hopefully she will regain some stability as familiarity sinks in again. Hopefully. 

Thưa mẹ.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

It wasn't so late but I was tired after a whole day running everywhere in the city. I took a GrabBike to go home and it wasn't until I returned the helmet to the driver that I realised it was a Hello Kitty helmet. I shall need two moon cycles to recover from that!

Friday, 15 March 2019

Finally, after twenty-nine years, I'm back in Huế, the home city of my parents and my grandparents, the land of my ancestors, the place where I can hear people speak the same dialect that I speak. The home of my soul. 

I am staying in my grandfather's house, in the very room that belonged to my father.

O joy!!!

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Sài Gòn: We visited my maternal grandparents' tomb today. Neither my mother nor my father knew where it was, so we went with my mother's half sister - the daughter from a second marriage. 

I unfortunately never met my maternal grandparents. My mother never saw them again after she left Vietnam for France in the 50s. My dad was the last person to have met her father. I remember how in our newly bought house in Saint-Maur, one Saturday afternoon after lunch, the conversation between my parents got stuck on some topic I dont recall now. It must have been about family, for my mother asked to listen to a conversation that my father had taped during his first trio back Vietnam after the end of the war and the fall of Saigon. The trip was in 1982, one year before her father would pass away. At first, my father objected that it wasn't a good idea. But she insisted. "Don't I have the right to hear my own father's voice? Please!" My dad had to bow down to the demand and played the tape. Her father's voice began to fill the house. He was talking about his old years and his weak health. But he could joke about it. My mother said that he was a very witty and funny man, and I could feel some trace of it in what I heard. My mother's tears began to fall and soon she was weeping unconsolably.
That was the only time I had any physical connection with my maternal grand-father. 

The cemetery where my maternal grand-parents were buried wasn't well kept. It took time before we could locate the tombs. It was noon time. The sun was hitting hard. We first found the tomb of an older sister of my mother's, then her husband's and my grandfather's. My grandmother's tomb was the last one. The tone was casual at first. I was helping my parents to navigate from one tomb to another. I was looking at the picture of my grandmother taken when she was spending her final years at the Buddhist temple. My mother came and stood by me and began to address her.

"Dear mother.... I miss you so much.... Here's my first son... your grandson..." Her voice started to shake. "I love you so much.... I miss you so, so terribly..."