Tuesday 26 December 2006

Resignation Speech by The World's Most Ridiculous Guy

This is a resignation speech, written by me, Trang the Ridiculous. I write it for fun, so please don't take it seriously or think me mad. I'll be back to normal after you read these lines.

Ladies and Gentlemen, and Distinguished Ridiculous People all over Vietnam,

Here I stand on this rostrum with a sense of deep humility and great pride – humility in the wake of those great ridiculous men who have stood here before me and whose ridiculousness mine shall never catch up with; humility in that today I must close my career of being the World’s Most Ridiculous; and pride in seeing that there are and will be thousands of candidates for this noble pedestal so that I would not leave behind me an empty chair.

Here are centered the spirit of ridiculousness of all people living in this land. Yes, there’s no exaggeration in saying that our beloved, revered motherland is where ridiculous men of all times come together to build up a stunningly brilliant example of ridiculousness for the world to follow. To put it in a shorter way, which is not our habit, the place is where the ridiculous meet.

Audiences: Hooray, hooray...

(to each other) How ridiculous! Oh, gosh!

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, and Distinguished Ridiculous People all over Vietnam,

May I call you for short as My Beloved Comrades? Well, I know for sure that it’s not like a ridiculous person to say something short, but allow me, please, on this special occasion, to do something that goes against our tradition of giving long speeches with long sentences and structures and meaningless phrases. Yes, My Beloved Comrades. Today, however, we gather here to witness the resignation of a person who has devoted his own life to our common cause of building a country of the ridiculous, who has helped founding the Association of the Ridiculous Vietnamese, ARV, who has done everything he could to earn himself the title of The World’s Most Ridiculous. Yes, that prominent figure is ME, Quat.

Audiences: Hooray, hooray...

(to each other) How ridiculous! Oh, gosh! Oh, bravo, bravo!

Silence, silence, please. I am really moved to feel the enthusiastic admiration you have given me, for which I thank you. With all humility I now say that I have constantly tried my best to gain and to hold strictly the noble title of The World’s Most Ridiculous. I believe that to some degree, I deserve it. I have not done anything to be ashamed of. I have not let anyone deprived me of this pedestal, although big efforts have been constantly made to distort my position. Don't you believe it? Really. I couldn't count how much effort they have been making to remove me from the position. However, today, I must close the career, and I do it not because I lost the game, but because of my true wish that I could find myself in a new position, and that there will be other, more ridiculous men to be in my current place.

Audiences: Hooray, hooray...

(to each other) How ridiculous! Listen! He has tried his best. What a pity that he cannot be with us. Gosh... Psssss...Listen!

I know my decision of resignation might hurt you, calling tears from you, evoking fear that the title of The World’s Most Ridiculous, the title that a Vietnamese has proudly gained and Vietnam is now taking pride in, will be lost to a citizen coming from another country. But may you rest assured please. I would love to say, with much and firm belief, that our force is now growing in number. There is a Vietnamese saying that can best describe our current situation, that goes as Những tấm gương lố bịch đang xuất hiện ngày càng nhiều hơn trên mọi miền Tổ quốc. Who of you here can translate it into English? Who? None, huh?

Audiences (embarrased) Well, eh, eh...

OK, you’ll see, we are making brilliant examples for the world to follow. In fact, they have a long long way to go before they can catch up with us. So don’t worry, My Beloved Comrades. No one can take away from us the noble position of The World’s Most Ridiculous. What we should do now is to reinforce in a trim line-up to show the world that they can never expect to be ridiculous as we are now. They can never dream of that. Let’s show the world that we are number one in ridiculousness, and will always be the same. I am closing my years of service, and I am calling for reinforcement to build up a stronger alliance. Come on, My Beloved Comrades, go forward!

There’s one thing I must tell you all, that is when I look at you, I am convinced that thousands faces in here can be my follower, and will efficiently replace me as The World’s Most Ridiculous, and they will even be shining in it much more than I did.

Audiences (weeping)

May I express my sincere esteem for you, My Beloved Comrades? And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my career and just fade away, a soldier who has tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.

I salute you, My Beloved Comrades. Good Bye.

Audiences: Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah...

Monday 25 December 2006

When I...

When I was small and went to school, if I came across any mistake made by teachers, I called them fools.

When I was at university, if I got bad marks and bad comments from teachers, I called them sons/daughters of a bitch.

When I saw some people (some but not all) weep at my father’s, my cousins’, and my friends’ funerals, I called them hypocrites.

When I went to work, and witnessed the management system in state-owned institutions I’ve been to, I called them embodiment of mismanagement and corruption.

When my ex-lover said he was too busy to spend more time with me, I called him a liar.

When I saw the closedown of VNN TV, I knew that I would be the last person on earth to shed even the tiniest tear for it. When I saw my workmates cry, I called them kids.

When I saw that all and kept my mouth shut, I called myself a coward.

When I spoke all that out, I called myself a fool.

And so on.

My friend asked me: “Trang, will you ever write something good?”

I think he should rewrite the question as, “Trang, will you believe in something good?”

Can’t remember since when I have become such a person of no belief, who always keeps in mind ill thoughts about people. Though I know it’s bad, I failed to think another way.

When I write all these down, I don’t know what I should call myself.

Monday 18 December 2006

A Big Challenge

Many would say it’s rash to talk of a Vietnamese culture because the country actually does not have a distinguished one. But personally I think we do have our own culture, only that it is not characterized by enough distinct features as are other long-standing ones like Chinese, Indian, Arabian, or European cultures. The cultural difference can be found, for example, in language and music.

In music alone, I dare say with all my poor knowledge and considerable humility that there are profoundly Vietnamese sounds. A friend of mine, a guitarist who lived most of his golden day in Saigon before 1975, once performed an arpeggio on his guitar. “I’ve played the style of Japan,” said he, “Now do you want me to play the same arpeggio in a Vietnamese way?” He then played it on the six strings of the guitar, and the instrument gave an arpeggio which was undeniably that of Vietnam. He went on playing it in a Chinese and an American style, and I saw that there was actually a distinct difference between them all, although he was playing the same arpeggio. So, put aside all nice words on his talent and I must admit that Vietnamese music has its unmixed identity.

A songwriter who deserves much credit for Vietnamese-styled music is, in my opinion, Pham Duy. Many of his songs (or, more exactly, all the songs by Phm Duy that I’ve heard so far, and they are not many in number) are truly imbued with a Vietnamese spirit.

Sông này đây, chy mt dòng thôi,
Mây đ
u sông thm tóc người cui sông. [1]

In terms of language, it is likely that national language is the mirror that reflects a people’s culture, which is why a translation is forever a translation in itself if its targeted readers do not share the culture from which the original arises. There is a wide and colourful vocabulary that belongs only to a country under communist influence like Vietnam, whose meaning no foreigners can grasp. “Báo cáo”, “ngh quyết”, “văn kin”, “quán trit”… are just part of a whole big dictionary. I challenge any best translator to convey their full meaning, with tone as an integral part, to an English speaking audience. Impossible to translate, isn’t it? They are not just nouns or verbs; they have become adjectives, too.

Also there are words and melodies that can conjure up in our mind different moments and times of a whole country. People living in Vietnam in the times of the planned, centralized command economy, or the times of economic subsidization for short, may find so many distant memories of their old springs awaken everytime they hear Here Comes Spring [2], or A Quiet Spring [3] on air before Tet holiday.

May I call those songs “lasting reminders of the past Vietnam”? May I hope that there will be pieces of music that are reminders of the present Vietnam, the Vietnam that we are now living in? And you, I feel sure that you each hold in your heart songs that may take you back in time, too. When people in a country share the same memories of hard times they have gone through, we will see a culture. People who lived in pre-1975 Saigon shared memories of their life then, by that a culture was formed and we've got no excuse to exclude it from Vietnamese culture. A part of our national culture, it marked its existence with splendid works in such art forms as music and poetry. Art is guiltless; besides, many would agree that those were real masterpieces that could touch millions of hearts.

Yes, when people share the same visions of the past, we will see the making of a culture. And when they share the same future plans, we will see a nation-state, though not necessarily in a political sense.

Foolish generalization, isn’t it? Well, that’s enough. Rarely do I philosophize.

[1] Golden Flower Hill (Đưa em tìm động hoa vàng), music by Phm Duy, lyrics by Phm Thiên Thư
[2] Em ơi mùa xuân đến ri đó
[3] Mùa xuân nho nhỏ

Thursday 14 December 2006

"We Will Be Back"

As I said in the last entry, of all languages of the world I will love Vietnamese best as I always do. I do not attribute this love to any form of “nationalist spirit”; rather, I think the only reason is that I was born and will die a Vietnamese, and the Vietnamese language is an inseperable part of the Vietnamese culture in which I am embedded.

Language is one area where the culture of a society is most evidently seen. In this sense, as there is a profound difference between cultures the gap among diffirent cultures can never be bridged. I can hardly imagine a Westerner, no matter how excellent his Vietnamese is, can feel the same way as we do when he listens to such lyrics as follows:

Ct bước ra đi chiu năm xưa
m dài kháng chiến quên ngày v

i đường trườ
ng chinh pha mái tóc
t nh khi đi ghi li th
Ngày mai, s
v th đô đp xây chn xưa.

When small I used to love this song, We Will Be Back, (very bad English translation for "Sẽ về thủ đô"), very much. It was sung almost every fall to celebrate the resistance day of Hanoi. A song written by a witness of the beginning of the 1946 savage war, it evoked emotions in every Hanoian’s heart, even called tears from eyes sometimes. The song was attached to my mother’s childhood, when she was a little Hanoi child living seething days of a city on the threshold of war. As she now recalls of those days, allthough the specter of war was then looming over Hanoi, almost nobody was frightened; instead people were seething with patriotism and in the mood for a life-and-death fight to defend the country. A child as my mother was, she also tried to do everything possible “to make contribution, however slight, to the cause of national defense”. Presently, everytime she listens to this song, it brings back to her memories of such bygone days. It too reminds me of a war-torn Hanoi in those flaming days, although they have nothing to do with me now. I believe that no Westerner can feel what we feel when listening to this song, even with the best translation into their native language. Even the best translation cannot convey implicit emotions behind the melody and lyrics I am sure. Each piece of music is a storyteller of the time it was written, and Westerners, sharing none of our past and seeing none of the song's context, cannot understand the meaning of the story told.

It’s like when all of our efforts to translate Norwegian Wood into Vietnamese failed because words cannot cover the stark difference between cultures.

And when I awoke, I was alone,
this bird had flown.

So I lit a fire,
Isn’t it good,
Norwegian wood?

Westerners are characterized by their communicativeness and outspokenness, correspondingly the lyrics in their love songs are often outspoken words. Unlike them, the Vietnamese tend to be quite secretive and reserved, and this national character has much influence upon our songs. Songwriters are always asked to avoid writing straightforward and truth-based lyrics if they want their works not to be considered “commercial music”. As I said once in the entry “Viet Lyrics” there is actually an obvious difference between Vietnamese and a western language like English, and this difference has turned into an obstacle that our songwriters have to overcome before they can make any innovation.

Next post: More on this subject

Tuesday 12 December 2006

Why Blogging?

Blogging has been a trend in Vietnam for the last several years. There is a variety of reasons why one blogs. Some write blog for fun, or to put it another way, for entertainment. Some view their blog as a mean to make more friends, or more exactly and in a more literary way, to convey their feelings and attitudes toward life. Others go further to consider blog as a new mean of communication or a new genre of journalism. Some get into this cyber world for no particular reason, perhaps merely because they feel the need to follow a trend.

What about you? What do you write blog for?

And me, I started writing blog when I suddenly realised that I had not written anything for ages. I told myself that I should choose blogging as one way to develop the habit of writing and should not take it seriously as “chasing a stupid trend”. So I began to “play” with my blog until my dearest friend told me in a gossip: “You know, my male ex-classmate has launched a blog, too. An idiot as he is, hahaha, he has nothing to put in his blog except a few salutes and idle talks. Empty-headed. Hahaha…” We burst out laughing. Then I decided to update my blog regularly and keep it in a always-present style so that readers shall not think of me the way we think of my friend’s ex-classmate. ImageThis later turned out not to be easy at all because it required me to think of what to write everyday, and in so doing it makes blogwriting sometimes no longer a sort of entertainment to me. But I like to use the blog in such a way to refresh my sluggish mind.  

And why blogging in English?

It’s not because I am a “Western Vietnamese” or I love English. The truth is that, of all languages of the world, I will love Vietnamese best as I always do. As I was born a Vietnamese no languages other than Vietnamese can express my feelings, my beliefs, and after all, my true self. And that’s the very reason why I don’t blog in Vietnamese. I don’t want anybody to read the real me behind the words. Also for this reason I would prefer writing on subjects far away from realities – you must have noticed that most of my blog entries are about music, painting, and sometimes economics and politics. Forgive my poor knowledge of these subjects. (In fact I must confess right now that am not strong in any particular field.) But if I choose to write on subjects closer to life, or closer to my real thinking, I would inevitably let my self go through it, wouldn’t I?

Yet I am convinced that even when I write blog in English, a part of my self is obviously revealed. Anyway, that I try to practise my English writing skill, making the most of the vocabulary and idioms and expressions I’ve known, has obscured the part of self revealed. 


Friday 8 December 2006


The day before yesterday I visited one of my friend, a cancer victim, who is married with a little baby and now lives in Van Dien. She is suffering from terminal cancer, and has lost her hair after radiology treament. Doctors said she must not breast-feed her baby, and be isolated from her so that the child is not badly affected by fatal chemicals and radiation.

During our talk, my friend sat far from me, trying not to look at me, probably for fear that I might be affected, too, by the chemicals she held inside her blood vessels, or that I may feel scared to see her terrible terminal cancer. But when I stood up, preparing to leave, she gave me a big sudden hug, and said in tears, “I promise myself that I will survive. I will, for my child.”

She put her face on my shoulder. Though I couldn’t see her eyes, I felt they were full of tears, the tears that she was trying to hold back. I whispered, or to be exact, I said in my tiny and husky voice, as usual, “I see, I see. Come on, friend, you will live. Surely you will live.”

What more could I say? I did not believe in my false words of comfort, though. I thought to myself that this was possibly the last time I saw her. I got her off, saying goodbye, walking out, and almost ran. Yes, I did run. I just wanted to flee, as quickly as I could, from this place of Van Dien – the rural outskirts of Hanoi. Dusty roads and trees on their sides darkened when the evening was drawing in. Winter night fell so quickly. I saw a little glowing light in roadside windows. I saw tens of worn-out faces of those exhausted by the soulless, tiring life in this quiet suburb. Cold winds blew my hair when I rode back to Hanoi, and shivered with cold and with fear. Now I saw more clearly than ever the unexplicit fear deep inside my heart. I had an underneath fear of death, seperation, tragedies, tears, and misery, which I have always scarcely put up with and for which I just wished to run away as quickly as possible. I needed to escape from this dark and destitute land, where hundreds of people has fatal cancer every year generally because of pollution and especially because they are “fated” to die young. It’s the land of poverty. The land of social evils. The land of enviroment pollution. The land of desperate illness. The land of home breakdowns. The land of tragedies. The land where I lived my childhood and part of my youth.

I remember how I felt creepy on sombre days, on hearing of my friends’ death, when I was a small child living with my parents in poor living quarters in the south of Hanoi. I remember women shouting themselves hoarse in fear and despair, “Child, my child…”. I remember tired faces of people hardly earning their life by hundred of nameless jobs: pedicab driving, bicycle bumping, shoe sewing, chopstick chopping, etc. I remember how I wondered why so many people around me died young for countless reasons; so that I asked my friend, “Why does human life cost too little here?,” and he replied, “Whose life? Do you think your life means much?”

Now I knew why I don’t feel like going to mountainous and rural areas in Vietnam. It’s because I hate to see tragedies. I have witnessed enough gloomy lives which can be found in great abundance in Vietnam.

It is lucky to me, however, that the friend of mine who has terminal cancer has never got access to the Internet, otherwise she would find these words a bell tolling her death. 

Thursday 7 December 2006

The Heart's Jewel

In 1906, the year before his death, celebrated violinist Joseph Joachim said, "The Germans have four violon concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven's. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart's jewel, is Mendelssohn's."

The fourth concerto that he mentioned is a famous composition by Felix Mendelssohn, and that's my favourite violin concerto. Its full title is "Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op.64". Composed some time in the 1800s, it has three movements, of which the first movement, "Allegro molto appasionato", is the most splendid, most famous, and most performed by violinists all over the world.

If there's anything that deserves the title "masterpiece of music”, it must be this violin concerto with its profoundly beautiful themes and fervid expression. I have listened to it hundreds of times, and I find in it a surprising characteristic, that is the concerto is suited to all shades of emotions. You can listen to it in whatever mood. Strange?

Want some stimulants that excite you for a kick-off? Or some softly passionate words of love? Or something reminiscent of memorable time you had in life? Try it once, you will like it at once.

I must apologise for my poor knowledge of classical music. The interpretation above is what I "cook up" based on my own perception of the concerto, so don't lay your trust on it. I just make it up. Image

Monday 4 December 2006

Isn't He A Bit Like You And Me?

I’ve said enough of the kind of people I call “bookworms”. In fact, I have a lot more to say about them, but one question has now arisen for me, that is what I really think of them. It certainly takes me much time and effort to give a satisfactory answer, because the matter itself I think should be seen from different viewpoints.

So I will start first with the assumption that I am eligible to talk about marco management issues of a society. It sounds ridiculous for an individual to say “we Vietnamese should do this, while we Vietnamese should not do that,” etc. so I must express my opinion based on this assumption. IF I WERE someone in high rank and responsible for “building an advanced culture soaked with national identity”, as the CP often put it, I would do very little to especially encourage the so-called “culture of reading”. It’s not because I am against reading and those who read, but because there are always dozens of the same things that need encouraging for a better Vietnam: why not the culture of listening to classical music, of enjoying paintings, of communicating, of car driving, etc. that are given priority? By saying this I don’t mean that we should give top priority to these cultures over reading culture. I would rather treat them the same way.

Additionally, when we come to human capabilities, the undeniably fact is that each human is strong in one or two specific aspect while weak at another. That is to say, if someone dislikes  reading, thus feels uncomfortable reading books, it does not mean he is an incapable man at all. Who the hell are we to tell him, "Hey, you should read more. Your mind is pitifully poor for not reading anything." Indeed I have seen a lot of music composers and artists whose interest has never been reading. Their strength lies in the idioms of music and image, while languages, or words, are not their forte. They would find much pleasure in listening to music or watching a picture, not in reading a book.  I can’t tell how they are doing their work, partly because my knowledge of art does not allow me to give any judgement. I just can say they are art-lover, they are humourous, creative, and knowledgeble, and it’s always nice to talk with them. The mind is like a muscle that needs regular exercises, and reading is just one of these exercises; it's not all. On my part, in leisure time I would prefer listening to Mendelssohn rather than reading a book, no matter what kind of book it is - a classical novel or a US best-seller.

Elizabeth Taylor, the purple-eyed movie star, said once that the only things she read were scripts and books that would be brought to film in which she already knew she would play the main role. Obviously, we can always say that if Liz had read more than that, she would have done much better in her work as an actress. But the truth is that she didn’t, and this did not affect her career much. So did John Lennon - I hardly believe that he was a bookish guy.

If I held enough power to change anything in Vietnam, I would say that what Vietnam lacks now is an environment in which individualities are respected. Bookworms, meaning those who read a lot, (or, in my definition, those who are sunken in books and ignorant of the surrounding world) or any other kind of people of different interests and tastes, deserve equal respect. I hate people to laugh at bookworms' face, or ill speak of them behind their back. They are not worthy of being mocked at, or being isolated from the rest as if they were aliens to the place. But I also dislike to see people to be disappreciated by those who read, or bookworms to impose their bookish thinking on others and give preach any time they can. There’s nothing wrong with loving or hating books. People have the right to love books, and, on the other hand, people have the right not to do, just as everybody has the right to practice or not to practice some religion, as stated by the United Nations in their Charter. So mutual respect is always the best solution. A place would truly be heaven of freedom if anyone there can talk freely about Freud, or God, or food, or hairstyles, etc. without fear or shyness, especially without others turning round to see their face.

May I speak more shortly, that what Vietnam needs is actually more liberty for all individuals? If people were given enough freedom, (how much is enough is another matter that I would not mention here), they would spontaneously grow the need to do what is best for them. If one finds pleasure in reading, or if one benefits from reading, one will spontaneously love to read. On the contrary, they will not read if they don’t find anything good in it. After all, individual interests don’t need any direction or guide. Give people freedom and they will know what to love and to do.

That is my opinion as though I were someone in power and eligible to talk about the lack and the need of Vietnam.  To talk on the issue with a more personal view, I will say that I am not interested in reading, and I will try not to become a bookworm trying to impose what they read on the place they belong to.

But I am not much opposed to those who read as I may seem to be. In fact, I am quite interested in the term of “social previleges”. In economics, this term refers to the case when a whole community benefits from the act of a single individual. Education, for instance, can bring previleges to the society in this way. If a child goes to school, what she learns may benefit not just herself but also her family members, her neighbours, and her friends. So I have belief in the social previleges that the act of one reading brings. I am confident that those who read are less likely to be aggressive in comparison to those who don’t. The more the Vietnamese read books, the better-mannered they become I am sure. So, personally speaking, I don’t like to read, but I would be very happy if you do. Also I appreciate your interest in music, art, or money, etc. so long as your interest does not harm me or affect the community in a negative way, while it would be all the better if the society could benefit from it.