. Tên thật : Trần Thị Thu Vân .
. Chào đời tại Huế, lớn lên tại Sài Gòn.
. Trước 1975 sinh sống tại Đà Lạt.
. Hiện đang ở San José, Californie, USA.


. Nước Chảy Qua Cầu (Bút Ký)
. Gã Cùi và Miếng Dừa Non (tập truyện)
. Một Truyên Dài Không Có Tên (I, II - tâm bút)
. Nhật Nguyệt Buồn Như Nhau (I, II -tự truyện)
. Tài Hoa Mệnh Bạc (I, II, III, biên khảo tiểu sử danh nhân)
. Trần Sa (tự truyện)
. Tài Hoa và Cô Đơn Như Một Định Mênh (tuyển tập tâm bút)
. Con Tằm Đến Thác Vẫn Còn Vương Tơ (tuyển tập tâm bút)
. Điệu Múa Cuối Cùng Của Con Thiên Nga (I, II, tuyển tập tâm bút)
. River of Time (bản Anh ngữ của Nước Chảy Qua Cầu, Trần Thy Hà chuyển dịch)

Tranh của cố họa sĩ Tạ Tỵ

If the road still stretches ahead, Where will it turn?

(Trần Thy Hà chuyển ngữ "NƯỚC CHẢY QUA CẦU" )


Trần Thị Bông Giấy was born in Huế, Central Việt-Nam, and grew up in Sàigòn, capital of the Republic of Việt-Nam.

Graduated as a violinist from the National Conservatory of Music in 1967; and B.A. in Literature from the University of Arts in 1972, she had performed with numerous orchestras and bands in Việt-Nam as a violinist before and after 1975. She moved to Paris, France with her family in 1982, and then to San Jose, California in 1986.

Her first novel in Vietnamese, River Of Time, was first published in 1989, documenting her music tours in Việt-Nam and life in Paris. This work has readily inspired deep appreciation in many readers worldwide.

Since then, she has been the Editor in Chief of Văn-Uyển Magazine, a Vietnamese quarterly literary magazine. She has also written and published 14 more books afterward.

The author is now living quietly with her unique daughter in San Jose, California.


Trần Thy Hà was born and raised in Sàigòn of Southern Việt-Nam. She moved to California in 1988 at the age of eleven and began to take private piano lessons from the author shortly afterward. As one of the best students, she appreciates the author’s artistry. This led to the translation project of River Of Time in 1996, and Hà finished the translation a year later at the age of twenty.

She earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of San Francisco in 1999 and was a recipient of the university’s Mel Gorman Scientific Award. Since graduation, she worked abroad in London and performed research in phosphate and oxygen distribution in the Northwest Atlantic through an oceanography program by Sea education Association and Woods Hole Oceanography Institute.

She currently works in clinical data management at Clinimetrics and resides in San Jose, California.


Mark Berkson received his B.A. from Princeton University, his M.A. from the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford University, and his Ph. D. from Stanford’s Department of Religious Studies, where he wrote a dissertation entitled “Death and the Self in Ancient Chinese Thought: A Comparative Perspective.” He has taught at Stanford University and the University of San Francisco, where he was the 1997-98 Kiriyama fellow at the Center for the Pacific Rim. He has also published and presented papers on topics including classical Chinese thought, comparative religious ethics, and interfaith dialogue. He is currently Assistant Professor of Religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he specializes in Asian religions and comparative religion.


The United States has gone through many stages in its attempt to come to terms with the legacy of the Việt-Nam War. In the immediate aftermath of the war, there was disbelief, anger, fingerpointing and grief. Then, for a while, there was silence. The pain of confrontation was repressed, delayed --but it could not be eliminated.

In order for healing to take place, we had to begin the processes of both individual soul-searching and a collective national conversation on Việt-Nam.

First in a trickle, then a torrent, writers and filmakers began to struggle with the issue of the war. Particularly through the medium of film, the issue was once again raised in public consciousness. The silence was replaced by dark, often wrenching films, The Deer Hunter, Coming Home, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, each in their own way trying to struggle with the meaning of the war and its aftermath. For the most part, however, the pens and the cameras have belonged to Americans. We have never really heard the stories, the poems, and the cries of the Vietnamese people. As great a physical and psychic toll as the war took on the United States, the suffering of the Vietnamese was immeasurably greater. Its land, the precious earth from which the Vietnamese draw food and strength, is still pock-marked with craters, filled with mines and slowly recovering from the assault of poisons. Over a million people, many of them noncombatants, were killed. Prosthetic limbs are a common sight. And yet we have not really heard the people of Việt-Nam speak.

There is still another problem. To most Americans, "Việt-Nam" means "The Việt-Nam War". Because Việt-Nam has always been an object to us, a painful part of our story, its relevance is usually seen in terms of the twenty years of violence and mutual distrust that marked the relationship from the 1950's to the 1970's.

However, even if we see Việt-Nam simply in terms of war, we must realize that the Việt-Nam war was a war that extends back to the 50 years struggle with the French that began in the mid-19th century, and still further back to Việt-Nam's ongoing attempt to preserve its own identify in the face of a Chinese influence that was, by turns, philosophical, political, cultural and often military. In the words of one scholar, it has been a "2,000 year struggle".

Although war has had an enormous impact on Việt-Nam, Việt-Nam is much more than a battleground, a fact that many Americans are only beginning to discover. It is a country with a history of its own, a culture that has produced beautiful poetry and literature, and as we learn from the author, a musician able to bring notes to life through written words, rich traditions of music and opera.

Việt-Nam is also land, rice paddies and bustling cities, farmland and villages. And most of all, it is its people. People who are both in Việt-Nam rebuilding their country and their lives; and people who are scattered across the globe feeling, in varying degrees, either like citizens of new lands or an exiled people still waiting to return home. In order to understand, we must begin listening to their voices. Trần Thị Bông-Giấy's is a beautiful voice with which to begin this journey. Her perspective is shaped by time spent in three places, three cultures intertwined in a tragic story, now struggling to find reconciliation, Việt-Nam, France and the United States. Trần Thị Bông Giấy is an author who doesn't spend much time on explicit political statements, diatribes, arguments or theory. She is very much a writer of the particular and concrete, not the general and abstract.

Here is an intimate journal of meals shared and concerts remembered, of conversations, images, personal encounters --open this journal and both Việt-Nam and France come to you in all of their sights, sounds, textures and smells. She brings to us numerous people whose lives have been shaped, in many different ways, by the conflict. We see connections being made across cultural boundaries just as we see the divisions that still exist within them --Vietnamese, like Americans, still split passionately over the war. Her diary is filled with stories and characters that stay with the reader long after the book is put away.

The author's experience of Việt-Nam is particularly revealing, for she is describing the world she was away from for years and then returned to. There is an extra vividness that comes out of seeing one's old home with new eyes --it makes the experience both richer and more painful. But there are really two journals here --for she not only shows us Việt-Nam through the eyes of one who has returned, she also gives to us the experience of a Vietnamese making a life in Europe.

The author's personality shines through in the book. She is a fiercely proud and deeply sensitive woman; she is a person of tradition facing a world of change and uncertainty. Above all, she is an artist, and her words can be so lyrical that the line between prose and poetry begins to disappear.

In conversation, as in music, it is often the quiet but strong voice that holds one's attention. Trần Thị Bông Giấy's is such a voice. Slowly, through a moving story or memorable character here, a reflection on a poem or thoughts about an opera there, the motifs are woven; the piece comes together as a whole. The effect builds up as you keep reading, until you feel you have come to know this person and her country better.

True understanding can never occur between a subject and an object. It only emerges between two subjects. In order to understand the Vietnamese people, people whose lives are intertwined with ours, we must not simply talk about them --we must genuinely listen to them. We are very fortunate, then, that Trần Thị Bông Giấy's book has been translated into English-- and that the translation was done with such skill and sensitivity by her brightest former piano student, a twenty-year-old who is so close to her –Trần Thy Hà.

The book teaches us again an important lesson about literature --that while it is always about the unique and particular, it also speaks universally to all human beings; for in the voice of another, we hear back, in a new and powerful way, our own speaking about loss, struggle, and hope.


PhD., University of San Francisco

SF. May 1998

When you return, where is your place?

The river rushes down in white foams

A friend’s old wishful tune lingers

A magic string to seal memories!

(Hoàng Trúc Ly)


Paris. It is very windy. The wind whirls madly, pounding on the windows and bending the tree branches around the house cruelly. Autumn has come. A thin sweater can barely keep one warm. In the chilly kitchen with that faint burnt smell of wood in the stove, I suddenly feel a deep stir in my soul: something so dear like the sweet smell of smoke from ages ago...

September, 1978.

As part of the performing tour, the opera company stopped at Central Việt-Nam. Our first destination was Mũi-Né, a small village right next to the sea near Phan-Thiết City of Hàm-Thuận District, Thuận-Hải Province.

Right from the first afternoon when stopping by a store at the village entrance with some friends, I was drawn powerfully to the dramatic melancholy of Mũi-Né, a sadness that lasted throughout my five-day visit. The sky always kept a gloomy shade. Red soil hugged the sloping sand hills in a tight embrace. Puffs of cloud hung low, tempting one's hand to touch it. The fresh, cool air breathed in a rich scent of the warm sea.

Five short days here left enough memories to remember for life. By a corner on the sand, Hạnh and I lived temporarily in the run-down wooden shack of a woman whose husband was a sailor. Late at night after the show, I lay on the bed and listened to the pleadings of the sea. Dawn greeted me with the sea's moaning. The walks in the evening dusk from the shack to our stage were filled again with the sea's wild screeching. The everlasting sad melody from ages ago touched my heart to the core. I love the sea madly though I was born in Huế, grew up in Sàigòn, and spent a great deal of time on Dalat's foggy slopes. I still cannot figure out why I love so much those crazy and wild sounds, sounds of such tragedy and power that no piece of music could possibly capture them fully; no song could portray tenderness as well as the kiss of the waves on the smooth sand when the sea was calm.

Night at Mũi-Né was sad like teardrops. The sobbing waves from afar echoed continuously throughout the nights. Their melody groaned as if some restless ghosts still lingered by the black sea, soothing my soul and lonely sleep.

Paris. The wind screeches every once in a while, rushing through the window and freezing the room suddenly. Autumn in Paris is not as sweet as in Việt-Nam (even though my native land did not really have four distinct seasons). Here, autumn is only beautiful in appearance with bright coats and golden showers from falling leaves on every street. After all, Paris still does not bring that sudden sweet vibration within my heart, the way the sky of Việt-Nam turned gray unexpectedly to signal the coming of autumn.

End of September, 1978. Tour at Phan-Rí Area of Bắc-Bình District, Thuận-Hải Province.

Once again, Hạnh and I lived together in a rickety thatch house like a hut, hugging feebly the slope that runs from the beach to the market.

Waking up in the morning, I looked through my window as people anchored their boats outside and dragged nets onto the sand. From afar, the fishermen’s shadows resembled little black dots moving across the blue background of the vast sea. The bustling market stayed busy all through the early morning. Women with tanned skin sat in front of fresh fish baskets; their faces showed a complete exhaustion. Seeing the members of our company, they perked up slightly before bending down again with indifferent glances at the swimming fishes in the baskets.

September fog hung low. A few old carriage drivers sat to wait for customers, chatting with each other at the thatch store near the market entrance. The delicious smell of coffee blended with the pungent fish and sea odors of the fishermen; the tanned skin of women and the booming talks of carriage drivers brought out a unique warm flavor to mornings in Phan-Rí.

The distant horizon of Marseille Port in southern France, as mentioned in Fanny by Marcel Pagnol, had captured my deep love during school days, and materialized again today in this thatch store of a foreign, dismal town. The innocent dreams of long ago rose up, stirring strange thrills and soothing away so much discouragement of life.

I hid among the old carriage drivers while sitting on the long bench, listening to their stories, and waiting for my cup of hot coffee. I was a mere stranger to them, but for me, this sky, this store, and even these people seemed to have lingered in my distant memories.

The September morning sky in Phan-Rí remained desolate. My heart sank along with that mood as I walked alone on the smooth beach. The sea called out to Marius, the lover in a novel by Pagnol, filling him with regrets for a lifetime. At certain times, the sea brought out vague regrets in me as well.

Paris. Once, Daniel asked me, "If now, one of your wishes could come true, what would it be?" I did not hesitate to reply, "To return to those days in Việt-Nam!" He was surprised, "Why those days and not these days when you still have the right to request for a return to the native land?" I did not answer the question, knowing that he would never understand the enormous loss in my heart ever since I left Việt-Nam.

True, I could still request for "a return", but it will be the return of a "different" person from my previous self, of a daughter abandoning the poor family to find her own luxury. Now, even if I return, those warm sentiments of old will no longer stay the same, and in my heart, I will never be able to fill up the bitter emptiness.

October, 1978. Tour at Tuy-Hòa City, Phú-Yên Province.

From Phan-Thiết, our company went straight on Highway I to Tuy-Hòa, a city next to a Rằng River's mouth with Tây-Nguyên Plateau as the river source.

Before 1975, Tuy-Hòa was the main town of Phú-Yên Province. After 1975, the two provinces, Phú-Yên and Khánh-Hòa, became Phú-Khánh Province with Nghĩa-Bình Province in the north, Gia-Lai & Kontum Province in the northwest, Lâm-Đồng Province in the southwest, Thuận-Hải Province in the south, and the Pacific Ocean in the east.

In the afternoons of that whole week at Tuy-Hòa, before arriving at the theater, the five of us from the Modern Music Division usually went together to the corner street bar near the train station. I did not really know why I joined the world of Vietnamese opera. Maybe an accidental bend in the road? I became bored with the dragging afternoons on the sidewalks of Gia-Long and Nguyễn-Trung-Trực Avenues, sip- ping black coffee while my life lacked a definite purpose. I disliked the uncertain life without any hopes for the future like those glasses of bitter wine my friend and I used to drink hastily each night at the street bar near Vạn-Hạnh University. Besides, Sàigòn did not have its comfort anymore with the coming of the Communists' gray uniforms; it did not stay interesting with those restrictive rules designed to chain the people to the government's system. Maybe the opportunity to enter the life of Vietnamese opera originated from that.

At least, the opera was still a relatively free society when compared to this world full of restrictions. At least in the opera company, we could still keep the label "artist", a prestigious term to the Communist government. And at least, the traveling desire could be fulfilled through many performances across the country.

During the afternoons in Tuy-Hòa train station, we sat and drank wine, drank space and time as well. In October, the city began to turn chilly with cold wind. Central and South Việt-Nam do not have a distinct autumn like the North. Nevertheless, in my opinion, this season of October is still always "the mid of fall"!

Fall in Tuy-Hòa during my one-week stay showed vividly the season of farewells. The train's whistle blasted forth gloomily. The train station was constantly busy with people coming and going. Stores by the sidewalks were bustling from the presence of customers and sales clerks. The dynamics of Tuy-Hòa breathed most vibrantly through these activities.

Fall also passed by the parched gravel roads, the church's roof near the train station, and the lonely, empty roads. What was that element in this city, full of death and life all at once? In the train station, the passengers rushed back and forth. At the end of the horizon, clumps of cloud constantly painted portraits for autumn. The clouds of fall always had a drained countenance: very low, very scattered. And one almost never had a moment to rest from the race with Time.

In those afternoons at the Tuy-Hòa station, I sat with my friends, watching the sunset drift to the bottom of my glass. The strands of wine did not warm my heart but only whispered sadness and loss.

The glasses of wine poured forever, but I was not drunk. It was the wailing of the frantic train's whistle, the gloomy church in the distance, and the sound of hurried footsteps racing to catch the train that intoxicated me.

Scenes of Việt-Nam by simple brush strokes were hastily stored in my memories, a strange inheritance that anybody could possess for oneself.

Paris. Claudia and Daniel call me on the phone around eleven o'clock in the morning and ask if I want to go to the coffee shop. In truth, Paris does resemble Dalat City in certain aspects as some of my friends have noticed. It has the same laid back atmosphere with people wandering from store to store for hours, people enjoying the same mindless boredom as they gaze at pedestrians passing by the windows.

A faint sadness passes through me, filling Claudia and Daniel with surprise. Daniel says to me, "You are so moody; I can never predict it. One minute, you're very happy, and yet, the next minute, just as sad!" Then, he smiles, "Like those cable elevators in run down hotels at Paris." (He gestures to imitate the up and down motion of an elevator). I broke down in laughter, "You should compare me to the tide instead. An elevator is used by human hands and only goes up and down according to the buttons being pushed. On the other hand, humans cannot control the tides." I continue, "The tidal waves sometimes turn angry and pounding, but sometimes peaceful and soft. And during those calm moments, nothing can describe the beauty of the sea, except pure artistry."

October 1978. Sông-Cầu city, Phú-Yên Province.

“Water treads casually through Sông Cầu

When will our pains end?”

Our group anchored at Sông-Cầu, a beautiful small city by the coast of Central VN with romantic scenery and beaches full of coconut trees and refreshing plants. The group raised up the stage at an area right near the beach, on Highway I.

A special memory arose from the midnight snack of our opera group at the bus station after each night's performance. The experiences in opera up until then still had not given me enough time to really understand that thearical life. Each night, the glamorous characters on stage stood in stark contrast to the exhausted faces without makeup in the day. The competitive life of long tours forced one to bury all emotions under a thick layer of lipstick and foundation. Everything seemed so strange and yet, so very attractive.

Halfway 'til dawn, the bus station of Sông-Cầu became even more active. The stores lit up brightly. The gulls lined up next to the food racks on the sidewalks, patiently waiting. The roar of engines called out to the passengers, and voices fought to overpower each other. At a table by the street bar, I sat with our entire opera group and listened rapturously to a blind man beating out rhythms and singing Bài Chòi Traditional Songs. The dragging voice with Tuy-Hòa accent echoed out smooth, tragic melodies in the middle of the night, a mysterious and thrilling experience for me. My soul opened up like a flower in full bloom, loving this poor dried-up land of Central Việt-Nam that I might never have a chance to visit again.

In this wandering life, I often saw bus stations and markets, but really, no place had the fire of life as blazing as the bus station of Sông-Cầu at midnight. It seemed like Time could not mark His boundary here, or maybe this bus station repre sented a special symbol of a ghostly world where in this ancient street bar, every customer was a Knight, holding a sword and leather jars of wine, and the old blind man became a poet singing rhymes of old amidst the steady drum beat. And then those yells for noodle bowls, the thundering footsteps, the calls for customers from the Underworld Inn nextdoor –everything combined in one mythical echo. At dawn, when the booming croaks of roosters sounded forth, this bar shrunk down, evaporating into thin air just before sunrise arrived.


Paris. Autumn is trully beautiful here, even if only in appearance. One has to walk on the bridge over the Seine River to really take in its entire grace. The soft sunrays dance on the branches; the silky wind caresses each golden leaf and twirls it down the sidewalks; kids from school rush out during break time and throw walnuts at each other for fun; thousands of doves rest in every nook and corner, daring as if no human is there. Another distinctive feature of autumn in Paris is the prostitutes with their coats, shivering by the corners as they waited for clients, patient and pathetic for hours in the cold afternoon wind.

October, 1978.

Passing by Cù-Mông Pass, the group arrived at Quảng-Ngãi, an ancient city of Nghĩa-Bình Province under Latitude 17, next to Trà-Khúc River with Quảng-Nam & Đà-Nẵng province in the north, Phú-Khánh Province in the south, Gia-Lai & Kontum Province in the west, Nam-Hải Sea in the east. The big water mills churned every moment to add flavor to the scenery as well as to bring fresh water to the rice and sugar cane fields.

.. .. ..

Our company stopped here for fifteen days. The trips to the East and Central Việt-Nam had already taken us away from Sàigòn for four months. All of us showed marks of exhaustion. There was no sign to indicate a return to Sàigòn. Everyone missed home.

In the Modern Music Division of seven people, I was spoiled the most, being the youngest and the only woman. The longer the tours, the closer we became. Even so, not everyone in our group was willing to stay up late, to drink coffee, or to drink wine. Complete agreement rarely happened; nevertheless, with different instruments, every one of us strove for perfection in performances.

Before 1975, Quảng-Ngãi was known as the Communists headquaters. Anyone with a native accent of Quảng-Ngãi could be suspected as a special agent for the Communists. Quảng-Ngãi had also acted as the burial ground of many young Southern soldiers during those thirty years of civil war. A close friend of mine, a military graduate from Thủ-Đức Academy in 1968, had passed away here in a fierce battle.

On this fifteen-day visit, Quảng-Ngãi left me with so many soothing images. Talking to the natives in stores or near the stage, I suddenly remembered a phrase from my old friend's letter: "People here belong to the Republic of Việt-Nam by day, but hang the Communist flag by night like nothing!" I wondered, "Could it be that I'm talking to a supporter of the Communists since before 1975?"

However, these thoughts disappeared entirely after a few days at Quảng-Ngãi. Nothing was different, at least in terms of physical appearance and ways of life. Most of the faces reflected a simple and patient air due to a harsh life of an infertile land. The thin children, pushing and shoving to get the nearest spot to the stage, the old withered mothers with their sweet smiles that lit up those eyes whenever we talked, the country girls with black simple attire and fresh, innocent faces --these people would most likely be foreign to the glamorous city life. They lived quietly in this barren land of Central Việt-Nam where battle after battle left their destructive scars. Even when peace returned, they had no happiness except a meager joy in the land crop, bulls, and fading gardens. Time and tears, war and pain had left nothing except a worn-out endurance etched cruelly on those faces. My heart suddenly sank like a music string losing its echo unexpectedly.

In the daytime before the show, I often took the bus to visit the neighboring suburbs of Quảng-Ngãi. I searched out all those famous landmarks including Mộ-Đức, Mỹ-Khê, Quán-Lác, Núi-Dẹp, Sông-Vệ Bridge that my friend used to write to me about. There were many bumpy and dusty roads as well as lonely and broken down cottages.

Many lands were left deserted without any sign of life.

Passing by a village one afternoon and stopping by a small store near the road for iced tea, I suddenly heard the echoes of a village mother's lullaby:

"La la, la la, wooden bridge

Rough walks on bamboo bridges

So rough, let Mother guide you

To school of letters while I to school of life..."

I was paralyzed with emotions. The glass of iced tea lost all flavor as I yearned for the carefree days of childhood. Despite the hopelessness, reality could not suppress the rich love tieing up between a mother and her child, the wise proverbs, and the strong patience in the people whose ruined villages had witnessed so many historical events.

During those late nights after the show in Quảng-Ngãi, the five of us headed straight to the bar by Highway I to sip wine; all felt homesick. Reaching the end of the lunar month, the moon grew sad and cold, like those scattering leaves toward the end of the season. Buses from Sàigòn to Huế always stopped by Quảng-Ngãi around two-thirty in the morning to drop some passengers off. The poetic flavor of that fifteen-day visit rested precisely on that point. At a small store late in the night, we sat and waited for a bus from far away, a bus with all the dear memories of Sàigòn, a bus with the delicious warmth for a wanderer's soul.


Since a long time ago, I have loved Paris through literature and pictures. Apollinaire's poetry during my adolescence has struck a dreamy image in my mind of the Seine River where wandering artists exhibited their talents, of shelter for beggars as they shivered in the middle of winter. The stories of Victor Hugo had created so many pictures. I chose to spend part of my youth in cool and foggy Dalat to make up for Paris.

Now, facing the real Paris, the old admiration has faded away a lot. Paris is still very beautiful as always in my mind. That "celestial capitol" status has not dimmed with Time, but somehow, the months have changed me too much. In my heart, there is no more room to welcome fully the beauty of Paris.

November, 1978.

We continued on to Tam-Quan, the famous coconut land of Nghĩa-Bình Province in Hoài-Nhơn and Bình-Định Districts. Land here had the fresh look of thriving plants, fertile ground, and vast regions of coconut trees, as mentioned in the old folk song:

"Oh, the vast land beyond belief

Who could water the coconut trees of Tam-Quan?"

We stopped here for six days.

One particular event haunted me throughout my performances. Our company set the stage right in the city's soccer field with a maximum capacity of two thousand people. To guard the theater, we had wire fences and armed guards all around. The entrance was only wide enough for two people to show tickets to our staff. For some reason, the entrance was broken down, and audiences rushed through like an angry wave, incredibly chaotic. A mother held her five-year-old son's hand as her husband follwed right after, carrying a younger child. The wave of people pushed the son down, brutally trampling on his slender body.

During the six days at Tam-Quan, I kept thinking about the death of that innocent child, and it reminded me of similar injustices endured by the Vietnamese. During war, death was inevitable. Peace arrived, and death was still inevitable in various forms, snatching victims indiscriminately; it was a death choked with tears and blind confusion, killing at the most unexpected moment. Performing at Tam-Quan, I felt as if I was dying with those victims, dying from haunting thoughts that plague my soul.


Two of my friends invite me to climb up to the Notre Dame Cathedral's roof with them. This is my first time in four years in Paris to face this famous cathedral as celebrated in literature. Three hundred and eighty steps of stairs swirl up from the ground; certain corner turns narrow enough to fit only one person. Statues decorated the cathedral everywhere. Art pieces cover the walls, turning this crowded cathedral hall into a museum rather than a sacred place for prayers.

From the top of the stairs, Paris looks lovely in that traditional and unique gown. The arrogant Eiffel Tower towers above the bustling city streets. The Seine River curls left and right beneath the cathedral. So many palaces, temples in addition to the celebrated Luxembourg Garden support the pride of France, not to mention, of course, the districts of Montmartre and Quartier Latin.

In a small corner on the top of the cathedral's roof, next to the bell tower, I gaze down at the church square, digging desperately within my memories for some emotional moments of childhood. Here, one hundred years ago, Victor Hugo's gypsy girl had danced gracefully. Here too, at this corner, the hunchback Quasimodo had glanced down with a silent and wild soul. How gorgeous Paris is! How romantic!

Why can't I become intimate with it after all these four years then? I lost part of myself somehow, just like how a character in a novel that I read long ago lose his shadow, always searching for his shadow no matter where or when. Through all the dangerous turns of fate during the four years in Paris, I still search hopelessly for that lost half of my soul.

November, 1978.

Tour at Hoài Nhơn District, Nghĩa Bình Province.

Next to the soccer field where we set the stage, a small restaurant by the main road opened from noon 'til seven o'clock in the morning.

Late at night after the show, only this restaurant remained as an entertainment spot in the whole district for artists like us. All kinds of faces could be seen here. The wine bottles, the delicious dishes continued to be carry out to table after table. A single lantern hung from the ceiling. The light extended outward all the way to the main road.

The most bustling time at the restaurant occurred when the merchandise trucks roared from afar. Waiters' footsteps quickened and became more nimble. The stove fire seemed to perk up in rhythm. One truck, two, three..., and then the whole troop stopped by the restaurant. The drivers leaped down easily, raising their hands in greetings to each other. This was the rest station for the truck drivers before they continued on to Huế. They stopped by here, ate, drank wine, and set up canvas chairs next to the trucks to pass the night.

To really understand the rich flavor of the traveling life, one had to see the restaurant in action around three o'clock in the morning in a dismal town. On the completely dark road, the visitor's heart suddenly swelled up with joy at the sight of a restaurant's flickering light --a temporary resting place to dust off the weariness and to refresh oneself for the new journey.

During those five days in Hoài-Nhơn, our whole division always spent time at the restaurant by the road around three o'clock in the morning. The later the time, the more romantic the mood became. The truck drivers stepped outside to set up blankets and canvas chairs. Some in our division had already gotten drunk.

This restaurant had a poetic and tragic air of restaurants in those unofficial historical stories of the colonial times, where the brave soldiers of old met together momentarily before starting the Revolution against the French.

Reality mixed with the dream world to make me fall more madly in love with the wandering life. That restaurant by the road of Hoài-Nhơn had painted so many unforgettable impressions.

Brussels, Belgium.

The weather turns chilly all at once. Snow begins to fall. Our band's performance ends in success. In the auditorium of Belgium National Music Academy, almost two thousand members of the audience applaud warmly when we finished. Daniel directs everything. He is truly considerate as he introduces each musician in our band with that humorous and witty tone. When requesting me to stand up, he tells the audience, "This is a girl from a land incredibly rich in pains." Of course, I receive loud applause, especially thundering when Daniel praises my red traditional gown as "having a graceful air, full of Asian qualities." He uses "delicate and fragile" to describe its beauty.

November, 1978.

Tour at Phù Cát District, Qui-Nhơn City.

"Once upon a time, in a small village, there was a poor couple with one son and one daughter. Each time when going out to work in the field, the parents often reminded the older son to look after his sister carefully.

One day, when the parents were not home, the brother took a knife to peel the sugar cane for his sister. Unluckily, the blade slipped out of his hand and struck the sister's head. Blood spurted out everywhere as the sister fainted. The brother ran away in desperation and fright. More than ten years passed by, and he didn't even know where he ended up. Finally, he came to Bình-Định, earned a living through fishing, and married an orphan girl who was talented in weaving fishnets. Each time the husband's boat anchored, the wife waited for him at the pier, then carried the fishes to sell in the market. Some time later, they had one child; the family life became even cozier.

One stormy day, the husband stayed home to help his wife mend the nets instead. After dinner, the wife asked him to catch lice for her. Seeing the long scar on her head, he asked about it. The wife related the whole story. He was miserable when he realized that he had accidentally married his own sister and determined to leave her quietly. When the sea turned calm again, the husband raise up the sails and went to the sea, but never returned.

From then on, the wife carried the child in her arm and climbed to the mountain in a lookout for her missing husband.

The two figures continued to stand there, gazing out to the distant sea; eventually, the dew turned them into statues. That rock still stands on top of Mô-O Mountain, near Khách-Thử Beach of Phù-Cát District, Bình-Định Province. People still call it Vọng-Phu Rock to commemorate this woman's devotion to her husband. Visitors from Nha-Trang or Đà-Nẵng Cities, coming for the beach, always saw the Rock looming up from inland. Sympathizing with the pains of a fellow fisherman, people created two verses:

"Crouches on the mountain peak with her child

The golden moon comes and goes while she waits."

… … …

One night in Phù-Cát after performing, two of my friends in the same division and I arrived together for a late drink at the train station. On the bustling station platform, all kind of people hurried about. Lanterns dangled in front of the food stands.

Sitting in a dark corner of the small bar with my friends, I observed the surrounding activities. Here and there, canvas chairs for rent were scattered about. People set poles, put up the mosquito nets, and rested heads on their luggage. They hugged as much of their possessions as possible and slept through the night. Each net represented a separate world; together, the different worlds coincidentally joined in the same space during a wet winter night. However, this difference was not always respected. Sometimes, loud echoes rose in the night from a distant net, "Hey, what's going on? Trying to steal my stuff?" A string of profanity followed.

In front of the bar's porch, a young woman squatted on the ground, arms hugging a little child who was sleeping off and on. Under the pale rays of the street lamp, her face was lined with pain, eyes glancing all around the station with a restless air. The biting wind of November hissed through the poplars near the station. The woman hugged her child tighter with continuously roving eyes.

Some distance away, right near the main entrance to the station, an old lady sat among the crowd; tears slipped down her wrinkled and withered cheeks. I knew her story of lost luggage since I just arrived at the station. The warm wine did not erase the gloomy feeling at the pit of my stomach.

.. .. ..

Very late in the night, the young woman with her child in front of the bar suddenly stood up. She leaped forward and attacked a man viciously. The abandoned child shrieked loudly. The crowd surrounded the man and this young woman. She yelled in Quảng-Nam accent, "You deceived me! Married me and had the child, then tried to run off secretly back North. I've been keeping a watch for you the whole week. I knew you'd have to show up at the station to buy the train ticket. Don't think you can fool me!" The man appeared to be a Communist agent, awkwardly trying to loosen the young woman's grip.

The more he tried though, the harder she clamped onto him. He whispered some phrases to her, but she only shook her head furiously and screamed, "How could I return to my husband? You tempted me, promised all sorts of things so I would leave him in the reeducation camp. Now you want to back out smoothly? Not that easy!" Meanwhile, she dug her nails into the lover's head and neck. Faint sounds of swearing rose up from the crowded men, followed by the women's voices, "The bastard, wife and kids all over up North and still tries to seduce Southern girl!"

I continued to drink wine with my friends. Night in Phù- Cát station wore a sickly yellow coat. The lanterns at the street rice and porridge stands seemed to pierce their dying rays into the deepest corners of my heart. The wind whispered coolly. The train's whistle screeched from afar, a tone full of despair.

I looked over at the old lady who lost her luggage and at the young woman who had again sat down on the bench calmly with her child and her lover. I wondered, "Why did I even feel so emotional at the numerous tragic scenes surrounding these strangers?"

"To be continued"

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