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.

 

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?

The faces of the past

These days I have been shutting myself in, from work; reading articles, books, book excerpts, everything except what I am paid for; sleeping; watching TV series, movies; daydreaming; searching for a new apartment to move into. I don’t really fret over the scenario of packing my stuff and moving, perhaps thanks to hosts of changing houses.

Today, I had my hair cut. Watching locks of hair falling from my head, studying them to discover that my hair has become thicker, wirier, grayer, less lively and less raven than before, I recalled when I was a child, I would love to let my hair grow so long so that I could tie it back or make a bun out of it. My hair was soft and straight, and shiny then. It was not until my final year in college did I have my hair cut as short as it is now. And it fits well to the hot climate here in Saigon.

The night is silent, after the torrential rain in the evening, which is rare in the time of the year. The silence itself is rare and exotic. It is somehow inexplicable, beautiful, and haunting. I believe it has something inherent that I cannot name properly but I feel it. I like to walk around at night, to see how the city transform itself from being overcrowded to falling asleep. I love its approaching peace and serenity.

The drops of water are falling in the water closet, making a distinct sound as each reaches the water body in the bucket. Sometimes I feel like I cannot differentiate between what is reality and what is possible version of my dreams, I have been much like a host in Westworld.

***

It has been more than a month since I came home for my sister’s wedding. I wanted to write about it as soon as I flew back to Saigon. Yet my procrastination is invincible, and I have had to struggle with the ease of writing in Vietnamese, my first language and the inclination to write in English, of which my competences have irreversibly dwindled with the velocity I myself cannot explain. It seems that I cannot do anything about the hopeless trend of my mind.

It was not until the wedding did I see my brother-in-law for the first time. It was partly because I do not come home to visit my parents and my sister often, since I have been here. On top of that, I and my sister have barely been on speaking terms for a long time. And yet, despite all this, whenever I saw her smile, I missed the old days when we were close, we would play together for hours, just two of us, or lie for hours talking, running around the neighbourhood to look for some strange insects, or to discover some un-trodden paths to schools or my parents’ workplace. She is my history, she is my past, the past that I can now only retrieve in broken and abridged pieces from my faulty memory.

At the wedding, I saw a lot of my neighbours whose faces I can remember, they are the older versions of those I lived with since I was much younger, but whose names have stayed forever on the edge of my tongue. I cannot match the faces to the names I have heard. They are the faces of the past somewhat lost to me. It was my feeling that my mind has been shrouded in such a thick fog that for me, they are ghostly human beings whom I find familiar and of whom I am scared, simultaneously.

***

[……………………………………………………………

……………………………………………..]

I am reading Fernando Pessoa, who was born in 1888 and died in 1935 at the age of 47. He was considered one of the most important literary figures of Portugal. He wrote prolifically, not only under his own name but also under a whole lot of heteronyms, whose characteristics and worldviews are various and, more often than not, different from those of their creator. He led quite a recluse life, avoiding much of the buzz of literary circles and lives and most of his works have been published posthumously only. Reading his most well-known novel, which is itself a collection of his notes and miscellaneous writings that would be a novel, and which is put into order by some Portuguese scholar, and what people write about him, I have grown to wonder how many authors out there have decided to live a life like him, to write for one own and not let others to read what they write. And how many trunks of manuscripts that have been destroyed by their own authors? (Imagine if Kafka had fired his own writings without any help, or if his friend (and the one to whom the famous writer bequeathed his properties had followed exactly what was written to him.) Yet, I think more about the man who was writing for his own sake, without the want of publication, of recognition and acknowledgement, of any prizes or favourable reception, anything but himself and the intrinsic need to write.

And with those fragments of the novel, many undated, we can have an apparently infinite possibilities of organising them into another novel, again and again. The thoughts have left me with an intense curiosity. What did he think, I wonder.

***

The night is coming to an end, as it must be. It is inevitable.

Travelling through the universe

It was final. My application for the last round of scholarship this year was unsuccessful. The email came yesterday, a beautiful sunny day with gentle fresh breeze, which was very rare during this rainy season. My IELTS certificate is going to expire soon while the test fee will be increased by the first day of November. It was about a year since I lodged the first application for funding to study for a post-graduate degree. A year of rejections. I applied five times for a scholarship, and two times for admission to universities, and numerous other submissions to major and minor journals and magazines. And in retrospect, what have I learned and done in a year of rejections?

In fact, the last year of bunches of rejections has given me time to read and to think, and to learn to stay calm. It was not until this year did I read novels George Orwell, Margaret Atwood and John Steinbeck (although I had read Orwell’s essays and Atwood’s poems before), all of whom I really like and admire. I managed to read Sapiens, which now becomes one of my most favourite non-fiction books, even though I have been so busy with manuscripts and classes of propaganda course, which is an obligatory requirement for editors in my publishing house. I have read Saramago, more works by Woolf, some gay novels and some philosophy (both Western and Oriental. I even took an online course in philosophy delivered by the University of Edinburgh) and some literary theories, and been reading Huxley and Antal Szerb, a Hungarian writer. The stack of books in my studio is getting higher and higher every week. Sometimes, I come to believe that if it takes years for me to get a scholarship to study abroad, I might end up reading all books on and beyond the syllabus. And on the bright side, I have total freedom to choose what I am going to read, and I am free to think about the text and the author, free from professors’ opinions. I once lied, self-indulgently, in my studio, thinking about what I might write about Henry James if I had to study him in a course. It would not be so approving, I think.

Over the last year, I have watched more films and television series than I did in the other 25 years of my life combined. And so far I have also translated 20 books, both in English and French, although they are all children’s picture books. I even self-published a book in French on Amazon as a submission to a writing competition in French language, though it did, like many other things I have done, fail to get wide reception and a prize. 😀 And I still have a lot of projects to finish, which I have delayed for so long. Some would have been so disappointed about me. Sadly, I still cannot do anything about that, which is all the more annoying and dismal.

In the last twelve months, I have studied every city I thought I would end up living in and every country where I thought I would go: the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Greece, Senegal, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. I have even gone further to print their maps and stick them in my work space. And by doing those things, I have acquired a sound knowledge of general history, geography, culture, cuisine, festivals, demography, climate and education in the cities where I would like to live and study. Every day, I can learn something new, which is good.

About a month ago I and my friends went out to a bar. There was a band of middle-aged people playing that day. Watching them singing and dancing, I have wondered what they were like in their prime time, when they were young and green. And I have grown to ask myself: what would be the meaning of life of the only person who had ever lived on Earth? Imagine you were the person, who lives alone on Earth, and dies alone, what then? I have imagined myself in the case, waking up every day, going around finding food, sleeping, thinking, or not even thinking anything because if I were the only Homo sapiens on Earth, and there would be no abstract concepts in my world, there would be no idea about birth and death, money and fame, ambition and disappointment, why would I need to think? The only thing I would do is to exist, to live and die.

And in the end, what is “meaning”? What is the meaning of the word “meaning”? What does “meaning” denote?

At this very moment, I am thinking about the bulbs placed around dragon fruit trees along the railroad, which would produce beams of light at night, making it like you are travelling through the universe.