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..."