In a rainy afternoon

The boy in the balcony of one of the houses opposite, in the sight from my window, is stretching his arms to catch the rain. The sound of the rain is mixed with that of music, Philip Glass, Duport and Schubert and many more. I can see blankets of cloud far away still reflect the sunlight of the afternoon, that makes them shining brightly white like bales of cotton. I have no clothes on but a black boxer, lying on my bed to watch it raining hard outside.

Sometimes I am dying to write H. a letter to tell him that I have been learning Spanish and about my obssession with D. Even though H. knows nothing about D. Yet I did not write a word, and the letter is just a product of my imaginative mind.

The dusk is falling and life matters no more.

… when I was around 7 or 8 years old, an uncle of my paternal lineage came to live with us. And I had a huge crush on him. He is gay I believe. I spied on him, found every occasion to watch him take a bath. I would sneak in my parents’ bedroom, where windows would be opened during the summer to alleviate the heat, from which I would have the vintage point to watch him perform his ablutions, under blossoming Tonkin jasmines. Once he caught my eyes, and he smiled back, almost invitingly. I liked to sleep with him, to hug him and feel his warmth, and to rub against his body. I thought he liked me too. And he got married. As every guy in my village. My father got married at my age now, my mother bore me when she was 27, the same age as me now. My uncle came to live with us when he was 27 too. He got married, as my first love is going to do, thinking it is what needs to be, that it is inevitable, that it is one of the must-do-s in one’s lifetime. He got married and has two sons, among whom the elder is going to college. He, the son, must have gone through a lot of difficulties, having a gay father, with the fact known in the neighbourhood. He is turbulent, and quite handsome the last time I saw him, about 6 months ago at my sister’s wedding. How has he, my uncle, seen his life? I wonder.

And after the span of 10 years from now, which flies, I will be at the same age as my father when I first went to school. He would take me to my class, on his bicycle. And I would wear a short and a T-shirt, which would make me stand out among my peers, because I was the only kid who wore a short at school. He would play football with me, just two of us, in the playground in front of my house, with a red plastic ball. He would hug me so often and I would tell him everything I experienced at school.

Once he got angry at me and my sister for something wrong we had done. He took a rod to punish us. “How many rods do you think you deserve?” he asked my sister. “Three.” replied she. Then she got three. He repeated the question when it was my turn. “One hundred.” I said. Then he dropped the rod and hugged me deeply in his arms. He could not do it. I knew it. It might be my trick at the time. I was somehow sure that he could not do so. But what if he could?

When I was 22, I came out. And since then we rarely talk. Sometimes, like this time, I want to write to him so much, when I am young like he used to be, drink much and get drunk. I am like him, at least in the way that we can consume a lot of alcohol. At least…

When I was 12, I had an injury in my leg that I had to have a plaster cast. My father took me to and fro to the local hospital, also on his bicycle. He also had me bathed, with all the awkwardness as I was already in my early teenage years, when I started to be able to turn on and had pubic hair, when I learned to yearn for a male body. Then I had a very close friend, who had been my academic foe for years. We would spend summers to naughtily swim in the public lake which was used as a source of water for residents in our neighbourhood, and in the stream so far away from our homes that we had to ride our bicycles for hours in scorching sunny days to get there, where we would enjoy ourselves in the water, naked.

Once when I was in high school, during one of my visits home, after dinner while I was having a walk in the garden. It must have been cold then, and the night fog was falling, my father suddenly came and hugged me from behind. I did not remember exactly but it was not after numerous quarrels I had with my parents during tumultuous years of mine, when my bad performance at school was a headache for them. Perhaps then he had some shots of liquor…

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 cover 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…

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.

 

The dark frame

It is the dead of my last night in Saigon, I am sipping beer, thinking about what I can do during my time on the train back home for Tet, which will take me nearly two days before I arrive in Hanoi, after that I will take the last leg of the journey by a bus, believed to be cramped, to reach my hometown. It can be a long time, fatiguing and tedious… But I can always look out the window and watch the scene passing by before my eyes, as if in a fast-played film. I think the journey will change me, as other, long ones did. It is somehow inexplicable, unfathomable, but I feel like I have been different every time I take a long journey.

These days I have been quite productive (or at least I think I am), going to work, washing and cooking, which I had not done for such a long time, submitting scholarship applications, reading several books that I am not paid for and putting the finishing touches to the interview I conducted late last year, which will be featured on the next issue of Mekong Review. Someday, unusually, I would wake up at 7 in the morning, make a huge mug of coffee, sit at my desk, and work. It has been so hot and dry. And I have had strange, unpredictable sleeps, which I have so many, and from which I cannot tell dreams from reality, which, in turn, can be hazardous for me in some way I do not know.

I attended an awards ceremony held by the Youth Union of Ho Chi Minh City more than a week ago, during which I believe I was having a nap, interuptted by intervals of noisy and annoying speeches and propaganda songs. In my reveries, I have had the illusions that something like trees’ roots or an octopus’ tentacles were gradually spreading and taking hold of my brain and at the same time I felt like I was high on top of a canopy in an African jungle, and from my vantage point, I could feel the foggy breeze was playing on my skin, my face, and that I was about to fall, into an unknown void, yet I was not scared, but just falling freely. I could smell the fragrance of grass and leaves, and a faint whiff of slightly bitter dung of local animals, the fresh damp of the jungle, as fresh as the beer I am drinking.

… The imagination is voluptuous, and its products are juicy fruits of an everlasting summer garden, which is itself a delusive fantasy… The dark frame that looms over the window before my eyes lulls me to sleep in which I am… the sound on the floor haunts me… I do not know how dangerous the mind is…

… I have long wondered why some of the best novels revolving around women who committed adultery were written by men, Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina are examples. Why did the protagonists commit suicide at the end of the books? Is it the unavoidable fate of an adulterer/adulteress? Can it end the other ways around? Can the women live and have a fufilling life? Can it be possible?

The night is deadly silent, and my mind is buzzing with those questions… I come to my bookshelf, running my fingers through books, on which lies a thin coat of dust… Sometimes in an afternoon, when it is so hot that I cannot do anything but drinking something cold, no matter what it is beer or water, I stare out of my window, just to see our apartment building enveloped in the golden sunlight of the dry season (and I think about old brick buildings deeply soaked in Mediterranean summer sun in Italy, which is also hardly inexplicable) and I have a feeling like this neighbourhood withstands time. Though I am not so sure by the way.

Is there anyone that is totally free?

Calling out names

The night fell, and is going to rise, gradually uncovering its envelope over the Earth. The dawn is breaking for a while, yet I do not want to go to bed. I had enough sleep in the previous evening when I almost fell down as I reached my room.

… It was a cloudy, gray dusk when I was on the bus from Hanoi’s centre to the airport more than a week ago. I was looking out through the dusty glass window while making up in my mind a dystopian world in the future where I would wear some kind of uniform, sitting on the same bus with many others who would be also dressed like me. It might not be so overcrowded like it is today on Earth, since the Government is applying numerous measures of birth restriction and gene selection. Some chemicals are added in drinking water to make nearly all women and men sterile while babies are born in vitro. It sounds quite like Brave new world.

I am fatigued, by the side effects of the drugs I am taking. I have been sleeping a lot. And tonight, it dawned on me that what I love most about sleeping is that I can live while dreaming, and in dreams we can be whatever, do whatever the subconscious wants us to be and to do. The possibilities are wild, but it is also interesting, and important, that we cannot have absolute control over how the twists and turns show up and all the complexities of the dreaming world, just like in the “real” world. And we can die, in dreams, again and again, yet we will wake up sometime the day after, again and again, as we are growing old. To be more accurate, we have no control over what we will dream, it is another reality within fiction, impregnable and inexplicable.

I wondered what the death was like. I supposed it would be something totally black or white, bearing resemblances with plasma, in which ones cannot see their body parts, and there will be nothing, and from which ones calling out names, and broken ideas and thoughts.

*

I have moved into the new apartment for about two weeks. And as I came back the empty room I used to live, I could just not remember exactly where I had put my belongings, and at the time the room seemed to me that of a stranger, that I was visiting it as an option on the way to find accommodation. What I had done there, living, breathing, bathing, making love, drinking and writing, I was then forming a motion picture of all these mosaics in my muddled mind. How it is strange this time this way!

I studied my face in the mirror and was quite surprised that it was me, myself. I have been trying to match the face with the voice I heard and re-heard a lot of times in the interview I conducted, all in vain, for no reason, and good for nothing, just to be landed on another strange realm of awareness of my existence. Ones become different all the time, I think, in one moment.

… The night is eerily silent that I can hear the tick-tock of my clock. The wind bell chimes relentlessly, against the seemingly moribund air of the night. I do not know what to do next. I feel like I am suffering from anhedonia. Perhaps it is also caused by the drugs.

… Sometimes, the dusty glass window of the bus in Hanoi reminds me of the gathering dusk when I was back home for my sister’s wedding, the sun was shining its last gleams on the clear sky, soaking some wisps of scattered fluffy cloud in gold and purple. I was then thinking that my sister would become pregnant and bear her babies, and life would go on that way.

A couple of hazy eyes caught me on the bus…

Time passes me by while I am floating through the oblivion of sedentary office life.

Can a man do “woman’s business”?

I am drinking, and quite drunk. It feels good to be drunk, to be bolder and more loyal to your senses while the expected reality might be blurred a little bit.

From a far corner of my mind, I miss, and love the scenario of sitting by the window in my room back home, though it is not really a room in a proper meaning, watching over the garden with assortment of vegetables and flowers, and mountains and a peaceful river at the end of the picturesque panorama. There might be some fog, and some birds twittering around.

At the times when your inner is a chaos, from where you cannot tell what is what, and you cannot really know what you are thinking, when you even question your existence on earth and what is the meaning of all what you have done, Woolf and Pessoa can be salvations, at least it is the case for me. I often think of myself as a poignant thinking creature being in the middle of the mud of an office where I would stare right at the screen of the computer and find me puzzled by the question of what to do next, with what and for whom, for what. I would rather die those moments. Numerous trails of thoughts have been running through my mind simultaneously, so much as that I cannot process all of them at the same time. Voices, and the boredom of daily office work.

Then I think I am lying in a hammock under the canopy of a big tree, it is sunny and I will be reading everything in hand, forever. I will be hungry, of course. I will eat some fruits, drink fresh water from the spring nearby, and have a siesta. I will live and die, alone, in that manner of a recluse, far away from the hustle and bustle of a city, and of others.

Because of Pessoa, I even think about the possibility of learning Portuguese. I read a bit about the imperial history of Portugal. And I have come to wonder how a “trunk” of manuscript will be found in the modern age, and what the effects of such a discovery will be on the finder. Of course, there are something that we hide somewhere deep in a plethora of folders, with a password required to access our personal computer. Inevitably, there are ways to hack. But what if ones do not care enough even to think about hacking? The writings will be in caves of those folders, or in “protected” or “private” sections somewhere online, unheard, unread, subject to fall into a black hole and be lost forever. That is how thoughts, lives, and a mosaic of a life are lost. Sometimes, I imagine myself being an intruder into a stranger’s room, just to see that mosaic of a life, a room perhaps with dirty clothes on the floor, some textbooks dispersed around, a laptop, an exotic smell that cannot be described in existing words and concepts.

***

Once, during a lunch break, some female colleagues of mine were talking about another male colleague in the administrative and human resources department, who happens to be an avid watcher of “The face”, a TV reality show. They find it is disgusting and shameful and so “womanly” for a man who can be interested in a show that is designed for “woman interest and preference”. The show is said to be bitchy and replete with gossips and badmouthing towards each other. “What is it in a man who loves watching such a show about women having words?” they said. It was the same group of women who would criticise those men who were learning to cook, to make hair and to arrange flowers, “woman’s business” in their opinion, whilst they are keen to complain about the irrationality and the unfairness of Confucian view on women and their duties, which are deeply entrenched in East Asian societies. It is ironic that those women who think that they can do whatever “great” that men can do like becoming CEOs or presidents turn out to be those who also think that cooking, making hair and arranging flowers are meant to be “woman’s business”, THEIR business. In their way of thinking, it seems that bitchy and badmouthing are inherent characteristics in women, and that men should be ideally born with bravery, a bit indifference, and reticence when it comes to private lives of other people. It is the way of thinking that puts women in a negative light whilst promotes an apparently all-good approach towards men. I do not believe that a girl is born a terrible gossip and a boy is born not for cooking or doing nails. WHY on earth should a girl be raised to watch bitchy reality shows while a boy to become entrepreneurs and famous composers and painters and politicians? Why should making hair and doing nails be confined to the realm of women? What is a WOMAN’s business after all? Are women born for any kind of business? And men too?

It is in our agenda of gender equality that a woman is free to do what a man can do, so can a man do “woman’s business”, without discrimination, bigotry and criticism? Of course he can and then, why not?

***

Recently, I have been thinking about something like “thought infidelity crime”. Would it be a reality?