Friday 22 September 2006

In Rememberance of Pham Xuan An

I shall not call him 'the great agent'. I would rather call him 'the true patriot, the great art-lover, and the cultured spy'. I got deep impression from and would never forget what he said. "I have two loves, like Josephine Baker," he said. "I love my country, and I love the United States. When the war was over, I wanted them to get back together."

Those words must have come from a heart full of love.

During his time in America, Pham Xuan An fell in love with the 'enemy' country and he too fell in love with an American girl, Lee Meyer, a lithe blonde who helped him much in his double-faced work. "She knew I loved her, but I never told her," he recalled. "We Vietnamese never tell what we really feel." Pham Xuan An's sunny years in California were the darkest time in Vietnam's modern history, but may be they were the happiest time in his life I think.

When the war was over, Pham Xuan An lived (in loneliness I wish) in Hochiminh City like a "retired general". The rest of his life went on in peace, and I think that must be the rare time in life when he lived without anxiety or fear. Despite that all, I prefer thinking to myself that he was all alone, obsessed by the past, sunken in memories of his sunny years in the faraway western country which is now a part of his distant past.

His association with the press was restricted - I am not sure whether it was his intention or someone else's. However, in a very rare talk with Stanley Karnow, the author of 'Vietnam - A History', he spent time expressing his sadness and nostalgia. "You remember that old song by Josephine Baker?" he asked the journalist, and began to softly sing an old verse by the coloured diva, "American idol" of many Vietnamese in the early twentieth century.

There are times when I ask myself how Pham Xuan An could live the way he did. How could he, at the same time, love the United States and act against her? He must have been tormented more than once, I guess, especially when he is an art-lover. He admired western arts. He loved the wonderful singing of Josephine Baker. His heart, full of love for arts, must be that of a sentimental artist. How could he live such a double life? Was it a tragedy for him, after all? The final curtain has been lowered, and he was gone, taking away with him all the secrets in the life of a double agent.