Tuesday 31 October 2006

All Comparisons Are Lame

In a previous post, I included my personal “review” on the way our renowned historians did their job so that traditions, customs, stories, and lessons of history, or experience, could be passed down to us over generations. As I said in the post, with lots of efforts I skimmed through “The Complete History Book of Dai Viet” by Ngo Si Lien. I felt I can understand why aged scholars of our time say young generations are bad at what they call “national history”.  It is because nothing is so boring as the so-called “national history” told so far in every history book of ours. The writing style is boring, the facts are scattered and often exaggerated, the presentation in short is unacceptably poor. As for me personally, I find all these books contained just emotionless letters and words. They failed to show any link between young readers of our time with “our glorious ancients”. They failed to present to our eyes the beauty of time, or the priceless lessons of history. 

When we come to our historians, none of them think of issues which forever are of concern to human race, such as leadership, cult and religion, politics, progress and decay, etc. Take religion and sociology as an example. None of our "thinkers" ever questioned why people had to pay worship to some supernatural force called "ancestors" or "Buddha". None of them ever asked why man should be superior to woman, or why the Vietnamese should honour a stranger from the alien north, Confucius.

I can’t restrain myself from making comparison between the preachs our glorified historians gave us with what their western workmates wrote:

“To those who study history not merely as a warning reminder of man’s follies and crimes, but also as an encouraging remembrance of generative souls, the past ceases to be a depressing chamber of horrors; it becomes a celestial city, a spacious country of the mind, wherein a thousand saints, statesmen, inventors, scientists, poets, artists, musicians, lovers and philosophers still love and speak, teach and carve and sing.

If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children. And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life.”

(Will & Arient Durant)

Didn’t they show us the beauty of history?

Did any of our HISTORIANS (in capital letters) and teachers ever succeed in convincing us that we should sometimes look back on the past? Did any of them ever succeed in helping us stand straight to face the world, to enjoy life and to expect unawsome death? In short, was any of their words true? I believe that only when the words they said came from their heart could they convince us about something, or even go further to give us advice, as did the Durants to their American readers. Ngo Si Lien, Le Van Huu, Nguyen Trai... no, thanks.

Yes, I am fully aware that all comparisons are lame. But I can’t help comparing the lessons of history that I was taught, or crammed, at school with ones I got from the net - my Western teacher.  

But I don’t blame any historian or teacher. They themselves were taught to hold older generations in high esteem. I just dislike the way they, through boring and unconvincing preaches, brainwashed us into believing that our duty is such.

Saturday 28 October 2006

Eyes Wide Shut

Throughout history, there are thousands of verses, compositions, plays, films, stories, novels, etc. that tell us not to carry the world upon our shoulders. Intelligent ones will choose to live in a way that helps them enjoy life.

“When I’m tired and getting cold,

I’ll hide in my music, forget the day…”

Apprently the best solution always is to enjoy life, or to play the game of life. But ultimately, as human beings we can’t. We keep living with all our human emotions of joy, sadness, envy, jealousy, anger, love, or hatred. Our emotions and desires stay the same for centuries, no matter how progressive mankind gets. Perhaps our original sin is that we can’t put away our emotions and desires. Even when we all are made as dumb as rocks, I believe that never can we live happily, turning turn our blind eyes to annoyance around us. There may be times when we keep our mouth shut, because we know we, as grains of sand on earth, cannot make changes, or because we feel things are none of our business. But, generally speaking, inside each human mind there is a mutinous soul that will linger to our final breath. We just can get our eyes wide shut.

"When the universe has crushed him, man will still be nobler than that which kills him, because he knows that he is dying, of its victory the universe knows nothing." (Pascal)

Hey, hey. You stop contemplating, please. I am not a thinker at all. In fact, I know well that there are lots of people who can live happily without any troublesome mutinous soul. Rebellion is clearly a luxurious joy and a costly choice.

Thursday 26 October 2006

Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed

In retrospect, there were thousands of examples of the inferiority complex inside each Vietnamese mind. Nguyen Du, the great poet whose “The Story of Kieu” was a good proof of Berne Convention infringement, ended his masterpiece by saying that his works was just for readers’ fun. For sure he did not dare to say he had tried to do something more than fun. No wonder why none of his followers got out of his shadow to publicly speak out their mind.

What? What prevents us from speaking out what is really going on in our head? I think there may be a few main reasons why we choose to live this way.

Firstly, it is because of our inherent complex of inferiority, which leads us to the fear itself. We are afraid of being criticized, of being belittled, of being isolated. Therefore deep in our mind, we have a tendency to evade responsiblities, saying, “Hey, hey, I (must admit right now that I) am not a professional in this sector. What I am saying/ writing/ doing just aims to contribute one more idea/ work on this issue. Hopefully someone with better understanding than me regarding this problem will do more to make things clear…” The words might be different, but the message is the same in almost every case. A very effective way it is to elude responsibilites and protect oneself from being attacked.

Secondly, if one keeps their mouth shut about something, that might be due to either of the following reasons:

- they are not sharp enough to see the problem, or
- they are not courageous enough to raise their voice, or
- they see no profit, or even worse, they see punishments that follow their opinion, or
- they see no change that may come afterwards, or
- they see no connection between the matter and themselves; they are simply not concerned enough.

Many people hold the view that living is easy with eyes closed and mouth shut, and they are right in most cases. Most frightening is the case when we face punishment after speaking out our mind. As for me personally, I bite my lips and turn away (not with a sigh) so many times as I know quite sure that nothing will change after I shout at that man/ woman’s face. The situation will evidently stay the same. More importantly, many of us would not voice our opinions when the link between us and the place we belong to has become loose. We don’t feel we are a part of it anymore. We don’t share its success or failure, we don’t even think of its future with us being part of.

I have worked for several organizations, and I know that members shall raise their voice if, and only if, they still feel attached to the organization. People feel a strong attachment for their country only when they share common future plans and thus inspiration to work the plans out.

What, and how an organization can do to keep the attachment of their members, if it is important or not, is another matter that goes beyond this blogwriting. After all, maybe the attachment of people with an organization or a community is not trully important. In this modern world of trouble and speed, these links keep loosening without anybody being affected.

“Living is easy with eyes closed,
misunderstanding all you see
It's getting hard to be someone
but it all works out
It doesn't matter much to me…”

(Strawberry Fields Forever)

For me, anyway, blogging is just a gaaaaaame. Image

Tuesday 24 October 2006

Lovable Extremists

One of our last year TV programmes, “Non-stranger”, was an unsuccessful acount of the career of Do Hoang Dieu. It left almost no impression on me at all, except for this: The woman writer, author of the controversial erotic story “Incubus”, said firmly enough to wake me up from sleepiness, “For me, writing is just a game. My major is laws.” By that she meant writing was just her secondary job which she did just for fun or for some experiment of her gift.

I got out of sleep, and said to my workmates, “Crazy woman. How can she be so arrogant?” But my workmates said, “No, that’s not arrogance. She is trying to evade any responsibility one may have to take in writing. If some audience, having read her book and felt no sympathy for it, hear what she says now in this program, they will agree to her that Do Hoang Dieu’s book was not a success because she is not a professional writer. Look, writing is merely her secondary job.” I thought my workmates seemed right to some extent.

I would later on notice many cases in which highlighted the author of an idea, a review, a comment, or an analysis, “I am not a writer/ critic/ professional/ ect. What I write here is just to express some personal ideas about…”. It is clear that all of them have set “safety barriers” for them to be protected from any possible attack.

Then I’ve realized recently that I myself am setting safety barriers for myself. In every writing of mine on this blog, I include these words, “I am not a dissident,” “I am not a political thinker,” “I am not an economist,” “I am not an artist,” “I would rather stay on the ground,” something like that.

In my recent writing about the battle of idea between government and market, I took into account the story of managers and staffs in my office. Then I stopped there, leaving it off without reaching any conclusion, or suggesting any solution.

Yes, like many others, I am setting safety barriers. And I am clear that I will keep doing so.

Why? Why do many of us set up safety barriers to hide from attacks? Can the safety barriers serve as our shelters? Or is there any other reason that keeps us with many untold things?

Why dare none of us speak out our mind even when that may at times make us extremists? Where are all the extremists?

The answer will come along in the next post. Image

Monday 23 October 2006

Quote of the Day

"The others leap, shout,


The moving water will not show me

my reflection.

The rocks ignore.

I am a word

in a foreign language."

"We are all immigrants to this place..."

(Disembarking at Quebec, Margaret Atwood)


The poem is the writer's lament for her loss of the native soil. They were immigrants to the heaven of freedom. But the price they had to pay for that freedom was loneliness. While some of the immigrants leaped and shouted joyfully for the freedom they had years longed for and found at last, the woman in the poem felt she had lost something precious. She looked around, finding herself in a dead silence where even water did not show her reflection and rocks ignored her presence. She was not who she had been; she was not herself anymore. From that moment on, she found out that she was just a word in a foreign language.

Loneliness. It may be the treasure, or the price we have to pay for freedom.

Modernist poetry, it might be a bit difficult to read and to comprehend.


Below is the poem in full text:

"It is my clothes, my way of walking,

the things I carry in my hand

-a book, a bag with knitting-

the incongruous pink of my shawl

the space cannot hear

or is it my own lack 

of conviction which makes

these vistas of desolation,

long hills, the swamps, the barren sand,

        the glare

of the sun on the bone-white

driftlogs, omens of winter,

the moon alien in day-

time a thin refusal

The others leap, shout


The moving water will not show me

my reflection.

The rocks ignore.

I am a word

        in a foreign language."


And my translation is as follows:

Là qun áo ca tôi, là dáng đi ca tôi

Là nh
ng gì tôi mang trong tay

n sách, chiếc túi thêu,

màu h
ng xa l trên chiếc khăn choàng

không gian không nghe tiếng tôi

Có phi chính tôi thiếu

m tin tưởng đã to nên

ng phong cnh cô đơn này

ng ngn đi dài, nhng đm ly, cát trng,

ánh sáng mt tri

trên nh
ng ngn xương trng

driftlog *

u ám ca mùa đông

t trăng xa l ngày dài

t s t khước mong manh

Nhng người khác đang reo vang:

T do!

Làn n
ước chy kia không cho tôi thy

hình bóng tôi

Đá cũng l
ng câm

Tôi ch
là mt t rơi rt

trong th
ngôn ng xa l này.


* Driftlog: I cannot look this word up in any dictionary available, and I cannot figure out its meaning. Image

Anyway, on the Vietnamese translation, sure you will find me influenced too strongly by Vietnamese modernist poetry, right? I know, I know... "từ khước", "lặng câm", "rơi rớt"... None of them is my true word. Well, I have tried my best not to be influenced by modern Vietnamese language, but it is really hard to create new words or new ways of expression. Where is my white flag??? Image

Friday 20 October 2006

Who Wins in the End?

So who wins in the end? Maybe from what I have written, a conclusion might be reached that I am a strong supporter of governmental intervention. But, again, no thanks. I am aware that human beings, for some unknown reason, tend to go to extremes and will always be extremists when not prevented. “Something in between”, or an elaborate combination between poles, is impossible to get. In terms of marcoeconomics management, all kinds of combination have finally failed in the sense that the “in between” thing fell into either extreme. The US adjusted economy, the mixed economy in Britain and part of Western Europe, all has turned closer to a model in which corporate sector is put under the command of government. Once the government plays an important role in the national economy, they will have the tendency to swell out instead of shrinking.

This is true even in micro cases, that is in corporate manegement, and I say this from what I have seen right here in my office. I work in a small television station, “an online and cable television company” as many of us should like to put it out of true or false pride. Theoretically, a television is devided into two sectors, the input and the output. The input sector, or the production sector, comprises subsectors dealing with sight, sound, and text… well, it needs not be too detailed. The output sector includes many subsectors, say, marketing, sale, broadcast (on-air and online), after sale, etc. To make sure the system work well, there certainly must be a supportive sector in charge of supporting production teams and broadcast teams.

I see in here the similarity with a much larger macro system. The input sector in our television is similar to the corporate sector in the economy, the audiences play the part of customers and prospects, and the supportive sector - the miniature copy of a real-life government. Based on market needs, production sector produces and provides products and services, and the output sector will have them consumed. TV producers and editors, based on what audiences need, shall produce TV programs, then the output sector makes them available for sale, while the supportive sector serves as assistants. My boss has many times said to us, “I hereby emphasize, once more, that the supportive sector is in charge of supporting production staffs”.

However, ignorant as many of us are, we see without any suspicion that whenever we ask for support from the supportive sector, we should be cautious about using words. We should be very careful before saying or writing anything, because any misuse of word may lead to unpleasant consequence(s). Sponaneously and automatically, all of us use very courteous words, sometimes more courteous than needed, say, “my very dear Miss…”, “would you please grant us the favour of…”, “oooh, thank you a lot, dear”, and so on. We must avoid annoying them, we can’t do so or else we will face tough “embargo” not just from them - we might suffer from embargo even from other teams of production; we might be isolated.

I appreciate politeness, and I would be very happy to live in a place, or a community, where people treat each other as if they all are honourable guests. However, I doubt that all the politeness I see is true. The doubt grows bigger as I see the supportive sector grows more and more aware of their responsiblities. They don’t just support us in our work, some of them would rather think for us, too. No matter what we might say, things are unchanged. Corruption, or "crony capitalism", has therefore become an indispensable part of such system.

Come back to the story of "the battle between government and market". To have a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of governmental intervention into economies, a good way for us is to look at and make comparison between liberal and planned model of management. We have in hand an index to measure, or more precisely, to let us know how much a government intervenes or give loose to the economy, that is the Index of Economic Freedom, IEF.

More concepts and words are needed to discuss on this index. However, when looking at charts showing economic freedom and indicators that it entails, we can see that countries and territories standing top-list are more likely to be wealthier ones - Hongkong, Singapore, Ireland, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, United States of America. And bottom-listed economies, meaning under tight control - Zimbabwe for instance, are often poor ones, or at least their people prove to be less satisfied and less open-minded than the westerners.

Anyway, wealth and equality are not necessarily going together. Equality does not go with poverty, either.

We can argue, with firm belief, that the government takes the responsibility, not the right, of supporting the corporate sector. But it is really hard for them to stay just there. They will unavoidably identify responsibility with right. In fact, it is easy to identify the responsibility of managing and allocating limited resources with the right and power of taking command. It is nearly likely that power will always swell out more and more. After all, government is just a group of ordinary people whose greed and thirst for power are inherent and hereditary characteristics. What can we expect from ordinary people? The non-stop melody keeps repeating itself. "How much power is enough?" "I want that power, yes, that's good enough, plus a bit more."

So who will win in the end? I don’t know. I am not a dissident. I need, and will always need intervention from a “third party” to guarantee equality in allocating sources, in providing support, and so on. The problem is, as we have seen, that third party has never restricted their roles to just “support”. The solution to this problem is still a secret. Maybe with this secret, our life becomes more significant and interesting, doesn't it? Who knows? Life is always a struggle, sometimes a hard choice.

Forgive me making a lot of spelling and syntax errors. The illustrative picture is a painting by my favourite artist Kandinsky. There's no specific link between the illustration and the writing.

Remember, please, that I am not a political thinker, either. No, thanks. I'd rather stay on the ground, listening to music playing in my head.

Monday 16 October 2006

"Dear fellow-citizens, this is what we need"

In 1922, when he first read Marxist-Leninist documents, Ho Chi Minh was touched so fiercely that almost immediately he thought of embracing these philosophies under Vietnamese circumstances. Maybe he cried a little, and, as he wrote later in his memoirs, “Sitting alone in the tub, I yelled as if I was speaking before the public: Dear fellow-citizens, this is what we need. This is the path to liberation for Vietnam!”, he was determined at that moment that Vietnam would go into the track.

In 1974, shortly after Magaret Thatcher became leader of the British Conservative Party, she attended an academic discussion among the nation’s chief economists. Someone delivered a speech, saying the party should adopt a neutral line which is more like a central wing than a left or a right extreme. Maggie Thatcher, ‘the Steal Woman’ as people called her, reached into her briefcase and took out a book. It was Friedrich von Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty. Rudely interrupting the speaker, she held the book up for all of them to see. “This”, she said sternly, “is what we believe”, and banged the book down on the table.

It must be a foolish thing to think ones can turn back the wheel of time, and I know well enough that The Constitution of Liberty was written by Hayek in 1960, i.e nearly 40 years after Ho Chi Minh got to know Marxist-Leninnist philosophies. Yet I had a foolish thought. How I wished Ho Chi Minh had taken The Constitution of Liberty (or any other book giving the same philosophies) and talked to his imaginary audiences, “Dear fellow-citizens, this is what we need” instead of doing so with the Marxist thesis. If only our bible were The Constitution of Liberty or some other kind of book that advocates liberalism, things might not have gone this way and Ho Chi Minh would undeniably have been the great founding father of the nation. Anyway, I am going banana with this rubbish argument of a “postwar Kong Minh [Zhu Ge Liang]”. History is a stream that keeps running, and at that very moment of time, maybe Ho Chi Minh had no other choice but Marxism - Leninnism. Given the contemporary world panorama, we can see now, though with little confidence, that Ho Chi Minh possibly fell into the drift of unfavourable events. After all, it was not he who chose our path; it might be that we were destined to take this way. That was our destiny.

All of what I am saying may lead you to think of me as a fan of Hayek and his doctrines of liberty. No, thanks. Actually, I am not a believer in classical liberalism, for I know absolute liberty fostered in a society would surely lead to social chaos where some people are “more free” than the others. Liberty and equality cannot go hand in hand, as stated by US historian Will Durant, “Nature has never read the Declaration of Independence. It continues to make us unequal.” People are born unequal, some with beauty, some with genius, some with defect, some with lethal deseases, and so on. (In terms of physical life, the only thing they have in common is that they all will die sooner or later). If people are let live freely as they wish, they will definitely be divided into the ruling and the ruled class, and this devision usually takes place quite cruelly. So there always needs be a neutral force standing in between to guarantee equality and stability. The temporary power is given to a body called ‘the government’. (To whom does permanent power belong? I don’t know.)

Those who support liberalism - now we have enough arguments to say they are born with more favour than the others - advocate a policy of liberalism because they are more confident than the others that they can live in freedom and happiness without any control from any outside force. But it is likely that they would change their view quickly if they were born with defect, in poverty, or if they were disabled people.

Now that the planned command economy has failed on a global scale, “more free” people raise their voice, once again, about the necessity of adopting liberal policies, which will clear the way for development and growth. They argue that each step backward that the government takes means a step forward of the whole economy. Despite that all, I am not yet totally convinced that the closer we get to individualism, the more progressive the society becomes, for individualism is one of the favourable conditions upon which the inherent inequality of the society may grow.

And we must take into account the circumstances that postwar governments worked in to see why almost all nation-states embraced a planned economy after World War II. Perhaps history is a flow of unresistable events that washes away every obstacle. Under the very circumstances after the savage second world war, when the whole world was haunted by looming economic recession, chaos, and unemployment became a burning issue, perhaps governments did not have enough options. A planned command economy was probably the only choice they had to take, which they thought was the only way to guarantee full employment. In other words, it was history which drove us to choose, it was not truly someone’s decision. For this reason, any blame on Ho Chi Minh and contemporary leaders goes wrong, and redundant.

We too should not deny the role that governments played in the postwar world economy. Without governmental support, Korea might never seen the huge growth of chaebols (big corporations) which would later become world-known. Without governmental support, women in many Asian countries, including Vietnam, might never have any access to school and education. Conservative heads in Vietnam formed such a strong citadel that none other than the government could give women just a little chance to receive education. Unequality can otherwise expand much further not just between men and women, but also among mountainous, rural, and urban areas.

So if asked to chose between absolute liberalism and a form of “less absolute” freedom, I may hesitate a lot. It takes time to discuss on this matter. After all, what I’d like to lay stress on here is just that it was history which drove us to choose. We are destined to go this way. We are in the hand of fate.

Not yet concluded. Next post: Who Wins in the End?

Forgive me making a lot of spelling and syntax errors. The illustrative picture is a painting by my favourite artist Kandinsky. There's no specific link between the illustration and the writing.

Sunday 15 October 2006

First of all, it's the battle between Keynes and Hayek

A look back on the 20th-century history of economics shows us that it was an almost-100-year battle between two lines of economic managements. Standing out in this battle are two prominent figures in economics philosophy: John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich von Hayek. Following is a brief summary of the 20th-century history of economics.

“… A global economy, energized by technological change and unprecedented flows of people and money,  collapses in the wake of a terrorist attack... The year is 1914.

Worldwide war results, exhausting the resources of the great powers and convincing many that the economic system itself is to blame. From the ashes of the catastrophe, an intellectual and political struggle ignites between the powers of government and the forces of the marketplace, each determined to reinvent the world's economic order.

Two individuals emerge whose ideas, shaped by very different experiences, will inform this debate and carry it forward. One is a brilliant, unconventional Englishman named John Maynard Keynes. The other is an outspoken émigré from ravaged Austria, Friedrich von Hayek.”

Keynes is remembered by governments in both the US and the UK for his philosophy in favour of governmental intervention into national economies. It takes time (and, of course,  great command of economics is needed) to interprete what his policies mean, and I doubt that Vietnamese economists grasp all Keynesian theories. (In Vietnam, Keynes must have received the same treatment as did other thinkers. Readers just have limited access to a small numbers of philosophers, among them were Karl Marx, Engels, Nietzche, and recently, Kant and Hegel. I haven’t seen any works by Keynes on booksheves here). Anyway, we were taught at university that in general Keynes advocated interventionist government policy. (Well, honestly speaking, it's not what we were really taught, but it's roughly what we would know later when we have finished shool, and it's hard to recall who taught that to us).

The desultory knowledge of economics that we gained from university lecturerers does not tell us anything about Hayek.  So it is all the more difficult for me to say anything interesting about him.  I just know, very dimly as usual - that Hayek is an enthusiastic supporter of liberalism, by that he went totally opposite to Keynes. (Did he?)

“… But a worldwide depression holds the capitalist nations in its grip. In opposition to both Keynes and Hayek stand not only Hitler's Third Reich but Stalin's Soviet Union, schooled in the communist ideologies of Marx and Lenin and bent on obliterating the capitalist system altogether.

For more than half a century the battle of ideas will rage. From the totalitarian socialist systems to the fascist states, from the independent nations of the developing world to the mixed economies of Europe and the regulated capitalism of the United States, government planning will gradually take over the commanding heights.

But in the 1970s, with Keynesian theory at its height and communism fully entrenched, economic stagnation sets in on all sides. When a British grocer's daughter and a former Hollywood actor become heads of state, they join forces around the ideas of Hayek, and new political and economic policies begin to transform the world.”

You know who they are, don’t you? They are "Steal Lady" Maggie Thatcher and the handsome action film hero Ronald Reagan.


Source: Some parts of the writing above are excerpted from the transcript of a six-hour television program produced and broadcast by PBS television.


Next post: "Dear fellow-citizens, this is what we need"


Friday 13 October 2006

Who'll Win the Battle of Ideas?

For decades, the greatest minds of human beings have been obsessed by the idea of freedom. It is evident that people, more or less, consider freedom as the right to do anything at wish without being hindered. Everyone tends to reach for freedom, that is to say everyone tends to get out of control. Even those who say they need guidance from someone else actually don’t. It is said that the world is forever divided into those who dominate and those who strive not to be dominated.

The idea of freedom has stuck in human mind as from the day human beings are divided into ruling and ruled class, and it comes along in a variety of forms. But the idea is essentially a set of querries about freedom: what freedom is, how much freedom one should have, whether freedom should be limited to some extent or be granted as a favour to all members of the society.  In socio- economic management, for example, the idea of freedom has grown into a seemingly permanent battle between the government and the market.

Apparantly, a dichotomization between government and market seems to be something hard to realize. A bias toward or against either of the two might be considered as an extreme view; and for us to avoid falling into such extremes, the best solution will certainly be something in between. In reality, though, societies in general and their leaders in particular are always confronted with a dilemma which compels them to chose either of the two. Nothing in between is accepted. And though “something in between”, or a wise combination between the two lines, is always the favourite choice of Vietnamese leaders, they are being put in a dilemma ,too.

Being government-ruled or being market-oriented? The problem is we have both market failures and government failures. We have also witnessed both market knowledge and government knowledge.

In the days that follow, I’ll post to this blog some articles I have collected on this issue - the battle of ideas between the government and the market. Unlike some previous post, this time my personal views will be reflected in what I choose to post here, I hereby confirm it. You’ll find nothing new - I’ll just repeat what others have said. Image


Next post: "First of all, it's the battle between Keynes and Hayek"

Final post on this subject: "Dear fellow-citizens, this is what we need"

Only on this blog Image

Wednesday 11 October 2006

Viet Lyrics

What’s wrong with modern Vietnamese lyrics? I’ve heard enough people raising their concern over this matter.

Recently, a new “star” has risen in the arena of Vietnamese modern music. His works, though popular with young audiences, evoke much controversy among different groups of audience. He is famous first of all for songs with easy-to-sing melodies and easy-to-comprehend lyrics.  The lyrics are particularly boring to me. It seems he takes them all from the daily conversations of people around him, and takes all events in the news as his inspiration. He even found inspiration in the scandal of Van Quyen committing football pools. Now that we get here, we all know who he is. His name is Duy Manh.

While a large proportion of young audiences shows fondness for Duy Manh’s songs, he receives equal hatred. The attacks mostly come from people with better taste of art, or at least those who consider themselves to have better taste of art than the rest. I hate Duy Manh’s works, too, but I wonder why I am so biased against them, especially their lyrics. What’s wrong with them? Or, to be more exact, what’s wrong with Duy Manh trying to put daily conversations into his works? Can’t he do so? He just does what many western songwriters have done long before him.

About lyrics alone, in the vast scope of pop music, we have seen a lot of songwriters who wrote image-based and beautiful lyrics.

“There's a lover's moon tonight

As I look back over my shoulder,

all the stars are shining bright

just like the nights when I used to hold her

She's out there somewhere under the lover's moon.

Lover's moon, won't you shine on me?

I'm dancing with a memory

I wish I may, I wish I might

have one last chance to hold her tight

Waiting, I know she's waiting

I know she waits for me under the lover's moon.

There's a lover's moon tonight,

shining down on half of this world

So many souls are in its light

But for me there is just one girl

And she's waiting, I know she's waiting

I know she waits for me under the lover's moon

under the lover's moon...

under the lover's moon...”

(Lover's Moon/ Glenn Frey)

Such beautiful lyrics!

But we too see other songwriters who write straightforward and truth-based lyrics. I usually do not pay much attention to lyrics; instead I would prefer a song for its melody,  harmony, and orchestration. Talking about pop genre, I like an old song by the London Studio band, “Give up Your Gun”. I am particularly interested in its flute and violon accompaniment. However, the lyrics, if translated into Vietnamese, would have been controversial: I guess the song might have been banned if it were written in Vietnamese.

“… I robbed a bank in Tampa and I thought I had it made

But the hounds picked up my trail within the Glades, so I ran

And I stumbled on this cabin, and she came to me once more

She said, "Give up your guns and face the law."

I don't wanna leave her, I don't wanna die

deep within the cold, cold grave with no one 'round to cry

But I got my pistol, now it's time to choose

shootin' here or hanging there, in either way I'll lose

And now I'm in this cabin, where my own true love should be

Instead there lies a note she wrote to me, and it says,

"Though you can't live by the bullet, but you sure instead can die

My love, give up your guns and say good bye... good bye"

And the sheriff now is calling with a shotgun at my door,

"Son, give up your gun and face the law!"”

Cultural officers in Vietnam may possibly jump up on hearing this violence-related song if they catch what it says. It’s a story of a robber on his run from police arrest.

Even the Beatles, famous for many poetic and image-based songs, wrote lots of songs where violence and cruelity are present in every word.

“… He blew his mind out in a car

He didn’t notice that the lights had changed

A crowd of people stood and stared

They’d seen his face before

Nobody was really sure

If he was from the House of Lords…”

Cruelity and insensibility prevail in every cold word of the song which is written just like a piece of news. Despite that all, “A Day in the Life” is said to be an influential and groundbreaking song in pop music history. A modern pop song, it is orchestrated by a symphony orchestra. Strange, and innovative, isn’t it?

Make a comparison and we’ll see that Duy Manh does nothing new. He just put daily spoken language into his songs. But why are his works so ‘frightening’? I mean they can hardly be welcomed by the higher class of audience. For my part, I think there might be two reasons for this. Firsly, some of the audience prove to have a stubborn and conservative mind which resists to anything new and innovative. Secondly, there is actually an obvious difference between Vietnamese and western languages, especially English, and this difference has turned into an obstacle that our songwriters have to overcome before they can make some slight innovation.

So what’s wrong with what Duy Manh is doing, I wonder? In sum, I hate Duy Manh’s works, but I accept what he did. The audiences, the press, the critics, other sorts of listeners, and in general, all people but him, are those to blame instead. He is a music composer, or, in a narrower sense, a songwriter. That means he has the right to create, and we audiences always have the right to choose what to enjoy or to get off our mind. He might be a talentless composer, but who makes us listen to what he wrote? Why not get it off our mind? As he is a composer, writing songs is definitely his work, however badly he does it. We ourselves undertake the responsibility of improving our taste of art. Yes, it’s ‘we’, not ‘he’. And me, I accept what Duy Manh does with his songs, though I hate them. D’ooooh… my head aches…

Next post: Who'll Win the Battle of Ideas? Only on this blog Image.

Monday 9 October 2006

Quote of the Day

"The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That's one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population - the intelligent ones or the fools?"

"The minority is always right."

(Henrik Ibsen, Dennish playwright)

“One can never ever write or report anything totally objectively. In anything you write or say there is a piece of your subjectivity. Your self always comes through either consciously or unconsciously. You can play safe as far as the law is concerned, but readers are not fools: they pick up nuances in every word. You can't blame them for picking up the wrong or unintended things.”

(a friend of mine)

Sunday 8 October 2006

A Grass Leaf, or A Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes?

Trinh Cong Son, the melancholic songwriter whose music stays timeless in millions of Vietnamese hearts (except for some, including mine), once wrote, "Time after time in life I found myself to be a grass leaf soughing in freedom." (Đi ta có khi là lá c, ngi hát ca rt t do).

I think he might want to compare himself, or, broadly speaking, human life, with the life of a grass leaf. If that were true, I wonder why he should make such comparison. "You don't need to compare yourself with grass leaves," I thought to myself. "Instead you may think of yourself as a girl with kaleidoscope eyes." In fact this phrase is borrowed from some lyrics in the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". There's nothing important here except the difference between the two ways of expressing oneself. Trinh Cong Son, strongly influenced by Buddhist faith and doctrines, does not lay much appreciation on human beings, whereas the Beatles, a purely western band, leave no room in their heart for any supernatural force, neither Jesus nor Buddha. Their leader, John Lennon, once said (brazenly enough to call God back to earth and to conjure up all dead believers), "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock and roll or Christianity... Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary."

Anyway, put John Lennon and his quotes aside. What I'd lilke to say here is that the Beatles would always put themselves first, and by that they showed us their appreciation for human beings to some extent.


Saturday 7 October 2006

Strawberry Fields Forever

Let me take you down, cause Im going to

Strawberry fields

Nothing is real

And nothing to get hung about

Strawberry fields forever

Strawberry fields forever

Strawberry fields forever

The song, titled “Strawberry Fields Forever”, is one among three famous Beatles songs allegedly influenced by hallucinogen LSD experiences. The two others are “Across the Universe” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. The thing that matters most is that these three songs are all masterpiece of pop; they are listed in the group’s best recordings, and they are defining works of the psychedelic rock genre. To me personally, they are the climax of creative imagination, and to some extent they are associated with memories of a summer I had so long ago.

I remember that summer of 1996, when I had passed the university entrance examination. That was a bad experience as I always hated examinations. While relaxing after the harsh examination, I would stay at home, lying on the floor, and listen with neglect to some Beatles songs coming from a small radio at the corner. I was often asleep on summer days, feeling a bit tired with the hot atmosphere all around me. It seems very few Hanoians love the hotness and wetness of summer in Hanoi, especially when they are suffering from a heat-wave. But I remember how I was awaken and shocked by the slow introdution of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. A sad voice, accompanied on slow guitar, formed the sensation that it was not the notes nor the lyrics, it was drops of music falling down slowly, one by one.

“Pic-ture your-self in a boat on a river

with tang-erine trees, and marmalade skies

Some-bo-dy calls you, you ans-wer quite slowly -

a girl with kaleidos-cope eyes.

Cello-phane flowers of yellow and green

tower-ing over your head

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes

and she’s gone.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds, ah….”

Clouds were drifting in the sky, and your small boat is bobbing in the river of myths. Nothing could be that romantic on such a hot summer day. I'm not a drug user, and I have not experienced hallucinogen. But I believe that the psychedelic sensation could be just like that. The melody, the style and tone and oblique lyrics seemingly opened to us a whole world of colours and myths, a stream of psychedelic music, a stream of consciousness.

The experience of enjoying "Across the Universe" is a similar one.

"Images of broken light

which dance before me like a million eyes

That call me on and on across the universe.

Thoughts meander

like a restless wind inside a letter box

They tumble blindly

as they made their way across the universe.

Jai Guru Deva om..." (Indian language for "O God the Great")

Some Vietnamese musical critics showed more responsibilities than needed when they strongly attacked these psychdelic songs, calling them "poisons for youth". I recall a famous music composer, To Hai, who wrote a long article saying, "Beatles, and some other fab four, fab five, fab six... All of them, without any qualifications on music as they don't graduate from any kind of music conservatory, have ruined music in a lot of different ways. The ways they ruin music are alike in that they deliberately ruin beauty with ugliness. They travel around the world, poisoning music audiences by distributing rotten ideas in their rotton songs."

These critics also called on young audiences to be watchful over toxic Western thinking hidden inside songs like "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "Across the Universe", or "Strawberry Fields Forever". I doubted, however, that they had spent time listening to Beatles music. An album title like "rubber soul", in reality, can possibly cause them to think of "rotten soul", I guess.

Tuesday 3 October 2006

No Time for Blog

My dreams keep me running all the time.

In my childhood dream, I saw myself in boots and jeans, wandering through vetlvet green fields in the sun, softly plucking my guitar strings and singing alone a beautiful melody. When I grew up and became a Beatles fan, I knew exactly what that sweet melody was: it should be ‘Norwegian Wood’.

Time went by and I lost the link with my childhood. All faded in the incurable dimness of memory.

But there were things that never faded. They were my life-time dreams. The dreams that keep me running all the time.

My friend asked me, “Kid, are you happy?”

And I replied, “I’m not sure. If happiness is a mean to an end, if it is a blazing path, then I must be very happy because I keep being en route. I keep going, I keep searching.”

“But if happiness is something at the end of the road, then I must be the unhappiest on earth, because I am forever on the road to happiness but never reach it. I keep going. I keep searching”.

So my friend said with a smile, “Dear, you bear the heart of an artist, or a scientist. You are born and live with too much ambition. The problem is that your mind, even your body or your physical strength cannot sustain such ambition. You will be in misery.”

Will I? Or am I? Or was I?

Monday 2 October 2006

Short Life, Short Art

In the climate of these times, rife with social defects and evils, arts, as the partial reflection of life, provides us with an elaborate panorama of the society we are living in: its people, its psychology, its common mental defects, its ideology, its educational level, its taste of beauty, and so on.

In painting alone, it is clearly seen that contemporary Vietnamese art stays somewhere unseen in the international context. Even Vietnamese artists can hardly tell us where they are in the world’s art map. They do not find any distinguished character in Vietnamese art. The fact is that in a length of time we have seen every period needed in art history: romaticism, realism, modern arts, and now post-modern art. We have art for art’s sake and art for life’ sake, or art with political motives. We have gone far enough to include even early 20th-century dadaism and surrealism in our 21st- century fine art. Everyday we see dozens of Kandinsky-styled drawings in galleries, museums, and art exhibitions.

So where does Vietnamese art stay in the international context? (This query is borrowed from the title of a round-table set up by disengaged scholars of the Talawas forum. Honestly speaking, I was not courageous enough to read all what these scholars said in the round-table).

Art corresponds with the life that it reflects, and we all know that our modern life is characterized by the advance of science and technology, and the road that links between a prototype and its product has been shortened. Contrary to the past when a product’s life must be lengthened as much as it can, the duration of today’s products should be made as short as possible. The cycle of present-day products are sometimes shockingly short: fashion, jewelries, cell phones, automobiles, homes, furniture, all of them are premature products. Today customers get more easily tired of a new product. And artistic products are not exceptions. Musical genre, performance style, CDs, music videos, paintings, all comes and goes before leaving any imprints on audience’s mind.

(more on this later)