A note from the beach

March 31

This is what I need: some shots of liquor, after which the reality could become some kind of an illusion, or it is not exactly as it is supposed to be; a good table, with good lighting would suffice.

I was sitting alone in the restaurant. There was something kitsch about the décor. I stared at colour-changing globes for a while. It was inexplicable. I could feel my heart beat. And, out of the blue, I touched the covr of the lamp, in the manner as if it was a moribund leaf. In fact, I could feel it that way.

These day I have become somewhat disillusioned about the world around me, and the future. I don’t really care about anything, myself included.

The golden rice paddies brightened in the scorching sun are running fast before my eyes, so fast that in the end it would only form an still image of what my eyes received and perceived at that time…

The sound of the sea has not the power to lull me into going to the beach just to hear it, any longer. It could be sad, but I have no desire to go to the beach, to feel sand under my feet. What do I need now? I do not really know.

… I would, and should, think about the plot of a dystopian short fiction that I have mulled over for months now.

The waves are rolling beneath. I can hear the sea roar, the sun and the wind are playing on my skin. It is strange, so strange that all my philosophical questions have ceased to pop up in my mind, nor the sudden, inevitable pang of fear of the death occurred. I would jump… and nothing would matter anymore. It is the way I would die. I would go to sleep, and never wake up…

It was a month ago, I was sitting in a hotel room after the dinner with my collegues during the two-day vacation we were taking. Some hours before, a cover designer in the publishing house, who had helped me with the cover for my debut novella published in French last year, had a performance in which he dressed as a girl. The performance itself was incredible, and he was really beautiful by any standards of female beauty, which was also stunning. I was very surprised. And it made me think about the politics and philosophy of clothes. Do clothes signify anything? What is all about body and clothes? And my thinking was brought back to the short fiction Story of your life, on which Academy-nominated film Arrival was based, in which heptapods were described as a species who use a non-linear language and have a mind that enables them to know everything before it happens. Consequently, their actions are much like a performance on a stage of theatre. By drawing analogy from this, I have been thinking how clothes play a part as a gender performance of human beings, as other dispositions determined by the society in which a subject lives. For example, when one is born, one’s sex becomes known by his or her parents and doctors. Then he or she will be dressed accordingly. When the one is grown enough to have some kind of perception of the gender they want themselves to be, one can act and/or try to act as the very one and the rest of the society think that fits for that gender role. Why and what makes a man think that he feels more like a woman? Who is the woman in his mind after all? The woman who will wear a skirt, high heels and lipstick. The woman who must have a vagina and breasts? I am somehow very distressed to know that by looking for some measures of surgery to change ones’ sex organs, they are unhappy with the current sex organs they have at the moment. And once again, a man wants a vagina and all female clothes to feel fully as a woman, to perform what a normal woman does by social standards. All he does is just to imitate the image of woman set by the respective society. Why ones need to think of themselves as a specific gender? Can ones be, and become a gender? As regards genders and gender roles, it seems to me that human beings, like heptapods, are just performing the roles set by the society and traditional thinking. And I have been wondering that if it is our binary sight that helps build up our binary mind about the world: right and left, right and wrong, male and female, black and white; that in our world there is nothing like a blurry and heterogenous system of conceptions in which we can think. A man who feels himself like a woman will dress like a woman, and may be transgendered to be a woman. A woman who feels herself like a man will dress like a man and may be transgendered to be a man. Even in homosexual world, they categorise and characterise themselves as masculine/effeminate, top/bottom, active/submissive, husband/wife, seme/uke, and so forth, which fits perfectly into the binary system of gender roles by old standards. So why is that?

*

I have been learning Spanish for two weeks with an instructor who is also a Mexican nun at a foreign languages centre named after Alexandre de Rhodes, a French missionary, whose major book Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum, based on works by previous Portuguese missionaries Gaspar d’Amiral and Antonio Barboza, laid the very foundation for modern Vietnamese writing system. The language sounds very breezy and sexy. And I believe I have a head start for I have learned French before and the two languages have so many similarities. Though I do not think that Spanish is as easy as many people claim. The verb system and conjugation must be as complex as in French.

I have been listening to Alvaro Soler (a singer based in Barcelona, born in 1991) long before the first thought of learning the language ever came across my mind. And it was incroyable for me today when I played a CD by him and could understand some words of what he was singing. I come to realise that while in French textbooks you can easily find materials by and about Camus and Sartre, French famous writers in 20th century, both Nobel laureates, who happened to be philosophers; cuisine of course; and clothes; along with their obsession about politics, labour unions, elections and demonstrations; you can find also, in Spanish textbooks, many topics from cuisine (of course), and literature (García Márquez and Pablo Neruda, both Nobel prize winners, yet they were not philosophers for good!), films too (Pedro Almodovar) and so much about music and how to spend free time. It seems to me that Spanish-speaking people have some kind of a movable feast, which is safer to conclude after watching some Spanish music videos. I find that Spanish has the most vivacité among the languages I have learned, perhaps mostly by the spirit of those who speak it.

*

I stare out of the window to catch the sight of the national flag moving in the light wind. One of my cats has gone away, and I do not know if I am able to finish the story I started writing. While the night wears on…

like a song

Today I walked home from the office. I believed I had enough time, not to say that much, to take a stroll, thinking on the way. I always think about something while having a walk. It was not a long road though, just two kilometres. And along the way, I have seen several couples, who, in a flash, reminded me that I used to be like them. I was not nostalgic then, in fact. It was just like a French song that I really liked when I listened to it on a channel of RTBF devoting totally in French music, all old songs. The only words that I can remember, from the song, are “en Italie”. I told myself while listening to the song that I would try to remember the lyrics, to search for it in the Internet afterwards. But my memory was defeated. It was, perhaps, several weeks ago. And I has opened the web player almost every day ever since, just to catch the song. But I could not. And it was quite the same feeling when I recall some images from my previous relationships, in a moving collage that was sometimes played in my mind like a broken trailer of a bad film. It was that the song was beautiful, and you loved it, just like the way some moment was beautiful, and you were a part of it, you loved it. It was all that mattered. Just that. Like a song that you loved, but could not hear again. It was lost, maybe forerver. You can hear it somewhere, in the future, when, it is likely that you cannot even discern that it is the song that you’d ever loved long long time ago.

Sometimes I open the note in my phone, in which I scribbled something that came across my mind when I was in the bus, through the night, before we, I and my college friends, were on a ferry to the island where we passed a weekend, just to find out that my memory is hopelessly terrible, and to know that there was another me that had this and that thought. The note has in the least helped me remember that I once thought, or recalled, about the times my mother took me with her to the local market back home, when I was a child, on her bicycle. I would have some cakes in a stall, while staring at the opposite stall, where they were selling sweetened bean soup. There were butchers’, footwear shops, and so many more…

Sometimes I stare out of the window in my room and don’t know who I am.

The late afternoon, I watched the sea, and the islets nearby, and the stones beneath the water, with trash dispersed around and corroding parts of a long forgotten structure that was once promising to become a building, I was not sure.

… like a song…

the corpse

Last night I had a bad dream, in which I was attending my cousin’s funeral. He was drowned. My aunt and my mother were crying their eyes out over the shabby coffin. I was watching all this, without shedding a tear. The corpse was dark purple and drab, rusty brown, wrapped in a transparent plastic film, underneath droplets of water from his decaying body condensed. Suddenly, the corpse moved, its mouth opened in a fruitless attempt to go out of the bag. My mother and my aunt told the corpse, in unison, that it had died and it had better stay there in the bag in a disciplined way. Then it stopped moving and lied still, without making a sound.

In a flash, it dawned on me that this was a dream, but I could not say for sure, nor I could do anything about it. It was all the more harrowing that I could not even wake myself up from it, I was trapped in the dream. I was scared stiff because that was the corpse of my cousin, who was of the same age as me, and that I knew that some of my dreams would become true, somehow, if I did not tell it to anyone; all unfathomable. My phone rang, it was a call from my uncle, my cousin’s father. He cried and told me over and over again that he would revive his son then he hung up.

After a while, I found myself standing perplexed in the middle of the back court in my home where I had cried when a litter of rabbit kits died in my hand. It was sunny and dry, and I could smell a whiff of fetid odour in the air, supposedly from the coffin.

I woke up, in the end.

Hạt cát hay cục phân? :D

Có những ngày, dài ơi là dài, mệt ơi là mệt. Tưởng như riêng chỉ năm mười phút đọc đề thi tốt nghiệp chính trị của bà giám thị trường Học viện Cán bộ cũng dài như miên man không biết bao giờ mới hết. Thế rồi cũng hết. Chữ đã chép, thời gian cũng đã bỏ, bài đã nộp và người đã về nhà, nằm trên giường, có tí men. Mà cứ nhìn cái ánh sáng mờ nhạt từ khu đối diện hắt lên trần nhà, in bóng hai cái chuông gió, phất phơ. Đêm, gió ngoài cửa sổ thổi mạnh đến mức cả cái chuông gió nặng bằng đồng của Trung Quốc cũng đua nhau kêu với cái chuông sứ của Nhật.

Chẳng biết từ đâu, hình ảnh một vũ trụ quay quay nhảy đến trong đầu. Rồi thì thế nào nếu hai vũ trụ va vào nhau? Hai thiên hà va vào nhau? Hai hành tinh va vào nhau? Sẽ vỡ ra và rồi chẳng còn gì ý nghĩa nữa. Thật sự. Cứ nghĩ nếu như trong một thứ bé tí teo như nguyên tử cũng có bao nhiêu là hạt, biết đâu cả vũ trụ cũng chỉ là một thứ hạt trong một nguyên tử, nguyên tử của một hạt cát dưới biển một thế giới nào, hay trong cục phân đang trôi theo dòng nước xối ở một bệ xí nào. Lúc ấy, rõ ràng là hạt cát ấy hay cục phân ấy, không ai ở đây hiểu được. Làm sao hiểu được thứ lớn nhường ấy, nếu cả vũ trụ chỉ là một cái hạt, trong một nguyên tử, trong một hạt cát hay trong cục phân ấy. Thực ra, hạt cát ở đại dương nghe đẹp hơn cục phân. Nhỉ?

Thế rồi, tự nhiên đầu óc lại lang thang nhớ lại buổi trình diễn thơ chỉ mấy tiếng trước. Rồi tưởng tượng: ta sẽ làm gì nếu lọt vào vòng trong ở Hà Nội? Thực ra, việc viết lách và bình luận, và chia sẻ với người hướng dẫn về ý tưởng, về cái gì làm đầu óc có những hình ảnh đó, ý ở chỗ này chỗ kia là gì, thì rất thú vị. Nhưng khi lên sân khấu, thì đã là một cái gì đó thật khác. Hết cả cảm xúc, hết cả tự nhiên. 😀 Chả hiểu sao…

Lâu lắm rồi mới viết bằng tiếng Việt. Khi bắt đầu viết bằng tiếng Anh, nó trở thành thói quen, các câu cứ thế nhảy múa trong đầu bằng tiếng Anh trước, viết ra, đôi khi tra lại từ điển, đôi lúc sai. Tiếng Pháp thì ít tự nhiên hơn, tra từ điển nhiều hơn.

Chả hiểu sao, một ngày dài ơi là dài, cứ nằm nghe chuông gió kêu rồi nghĩ đến cái vũ trụ là cái hạt gì đó trong một nguyên tử trong một cục phân, hay một hạt cát?

On ne s’aime jamais. N’est pas?

Je me couche dans mon lit, mes yeux fermé, il me semble que l’obscurité dans laquelle je suis plongé est interminable. Je resens encore le goût sucré de la bière persister sur ma langue. Je m’abandonne à la fête d’étoiles de l’intrus. Les bruits dans ma tête n’ont pas aucune forme, en train de mourrir à l’instant où ils sont nés.

On ne s’aime jamais. C’est pour le désir de posseder quelqu’un d’autre, le besoin de satisfaire son ego que l’on se tombe amoureux. Quand on entre une phase de l’amour non partagé, on est triste, pitoyable, on a beaucoup de chagrin parce que la personne qu’on aime n’éprouve pas les même sentiments à l’égard de nous. On est triste de notre part, pas de la part de l’autre. Même quand on a un amour réciproque, on ne dit pas “l’un que j’aime”, mais on dit “mon amant” “ma chérie” “mon petit ami”, qui attribuent un sens de possession, que, à son tour, on fait de notre mieux de toujours conserver, pour lequel des menaces sont inacceptables. Les escarmouches sont pour but de démontrer et rétablir l’ego et le sens. Et on a des attents, des déceptions et tous ça. Parfois, on se trouve qu’on est perdu, le passé déserté, les pensées interdites et délaissées, pour l’échange des plusieurs produits chimiques qui s’interagissent dans notres cerveaux et corps, dopamine par exemple.

Quand lui, la personne qu’on aime, il est mort, on pleure, à chaudes larmes, même si on ne comprend pas comment la mort importe à lui, mais on pleure parce qu’il nous quitte, et depuis ce jour, on est seule dans ce monde, on pleure pour notre angoisse, notre solitude et notre choc par la tragédie. C’est sa mort quand même, pas la nôtre.

Après tout, on est égoïste. Ce qu’on aime est soi-même seulement, sa position imprenable d’un gagnant, d’un vainqueur.

On ne s’aime jamais. N’est pas?

Est-on un seau de chair, moulé et marchant?

*

Sometimes, it is, in fact, how trains of thoughts are running in my head. Sometimes I would be wondering if there are any other ways around to interpret it. Yesterday evening while I was washing and then hanging my clothes, I stood upright for a moment or two, to watch the vault of the sky at night already to find out that it was not totally dark but there was some red hue in it, reflecting something mysterious. A breeze was drifting when I came back to my room to go to bed in some minutes that followed.

Un autre

dans ma chair le temps passe, en soufflant

vers la vide le miel du matin s’écoulait

le soleil brille

en pente, les poussières volent au vent

les corps sombres rassemblant

“Est-il beau?” – il m’a demandé, un autre

Qui m’apportera les fruits d’été

pourrissant

dans le forêt au paradis

mes jours se fanent

tremblant, par terre

ponctuel, d’un éclair au rendez-vous dans la peau éphémère

 

Today morning, while I was riding my bicycle to the office, dans ma chair le temps passe, en soufflant came to my head and lingered. Et voilà, un poème! For me, a self-labelled Francophile, French is incredibly poetic, much more so than English, I believe. Even merde sounds cool. LOL Well, it is the first time I compose a poem totally on a computer, the task which I finished with a great maiden delight.

Anyway, I will read the poem in SLAMPoésie at Institut Français Saigon later in the evening. 😀 On croise les doigts.

a crumbled building

On the fifth day of the Lunar Year of Rooster I was on the southward train to Saigon. There was only me in the carriage when the train pulled out. Dusk was falling and the sky was grey. I had a little rice liquor and was reading Soseki, whose prose, I find, has something that resembles that of Pessoa. Soseki is a Pessoa with the delicacy of a Japanese. The train was running bizarrely fast, without much stopping at passing loops while I was daydreaming, thinking myself as a writer in, say, nineteenth or early twentieth century who would be writing on a train like this. It was perfect as I was alone in the carriage, I had the idyll, time and space of my own, not to be annoyed by noisy kids. Woolf was so right to insist that one needs to have a room of one’s own. Then in a flash, I conjured up images of two guys making love on a train that was gathering speed and wondered if there were many people that have such a salacious mind.

A person who is waiting alone on a village road that cuts the railway when the train passes instills a picture in my head, blurring. On the homeward train a week earlier, I had not thought as much as previous times. I just stared out the window, and watched the passing landscape. The mind had gone back to train voyages just seconds before it came to my home on the afternoon of the second day of the new lunar year when the sun was retreating from the room where I was sitting and reading. The room used to be my neighbour’s, whose son was my close friend since I was a child, yet we have not said a word to each other for many years when I went away from home to study in high school. The neighbour left for Danang, where her relatives live and gave the house at my parents’ disposal. It has become my hermitage almost everytime I come back home for holidays, when I need nothing but a brief stay from others. The way the sunlight was fading in the room had something inexpressibly haunting. All of a sudden, dozens of past memories were jostling around in my mind: the vegetable garden before my house where I would, every summer, spare some room to grow peanuts and some climbing plants and flowers, just to harvest the former in autumn and see the latter die in winter; the kitchen utensils that are even older than me, still used by my parents; the remains of the open shallow ditch in the front yard where I would, when it poured down with rain in the summer, play in the running muddy water which I would call a river, and on which I would make and push out a paper boat, and in the ground beneath the river I would catch worms to feed ducks, whose gargantuan meals I often watched with an uncanny euphoria.

Why is the flow of thinking called “trains of thoughts,” I wondered. Is it that because it resembles a moving train? And while I was sharpening the pencil, my flooding memories were hiding away…

If it could be like this, I could even go around the world by train. But it lasted only two hours before a party of people joined me at Nam Dinh Station. After being seated, they talked incessantly, and their conversations gradually became trivial, repetitive, garrulous and cantankerous. And it was all the more unrelenting that no one would hear another, they were all raising their voice, in chaos, with the dying need, in unison, to be heard, all in vain. I was perplexed at how on earth people could talk like this, and whether it was the way people communicate.

When the night finally fell, everyone in the carriage had been sleeping, I was watching the shapeless images running fast over the window. The sweet rice liquor was a salvation, and I recalled the talk I had with a friend from schools ealier in the morning, only to find out that my memories of the past, dwarfed in comparision with hers in clarity and exactitude, were just shamefully patchy, yet beautiful and shining, mosaics of the past of which I was a part.

… Every, this included, passing moment is a black hole, I feel. And at the same moment, from nowhere, a picture of a crumbled building was summoned up in my head…

The train arrived in Hue when it was raining hard outside. I was lying and wondering what I would do if I (with twenty-six years of age) managed to come back to pass, once again, every single moment of all previous years in my life. The squalid schools on top of hills and cold winters; the long, tedious summer days and nights; me playing in the moonlight with peers in the neighbourhood when the electricity was out; and so forth, all these with their own smells came to mind…

It was passing Quang Ngai while I was staring, blankly, at the dim sunlight swiftly squirting against the backdrop that was the wood ceiling of the carriage. I imagined myself in a train making its way through Swiss mountains, deep covered in snow, my eyes wide open. The magic mountain came to mind.

The night fell again, my last night on the long-distance, crowded train. I also fell, asleep, fast and sound, and in my dream, I was a young boy gazing at the clear sky in Tibet.