trains: a tryptich and coda. Market day in the hill town of Ba Cah
near the Chinese border (a radio in the background). Two train sounds,
one from the ride north, one from the ride south. The hiss that overlays
the clack of the tracks is the brakes engaging. Inspirations: a tryptich
by Boccioni (here
courtesy of fictional Geocities member Ashlea Ensro), Philip Larkin's
Whitsun Weddings, Reich's Different
fever, submersion. The irreality of drifting in Ha Long Bay; a day
on the water becomes a puzzle in indigo, periwinkle, cobalt, grey,
gray, green and diesel. At some point every traveler succumbs to fever.
Wind chimes dislocated from a Hanoi storefront. Swimming in the Bay.
Motorcycles lend their horns to the fog. I'm not sure what these Danes
are saying, but for me, in repetition, it becomes "we are outlaws
of the inner ear." Yes.
motion, or, a stochastic dérive. Brownian motion is the constant
unpredictable motion of motes under the influence of energetic (if
invisible) particles. A stroll
with no destination
in an unfamiliar city can be an exercise in serendipity. Guy Debord
as intentional drifting along the contours of psychological geography
(particuarly in an urban environment). A private hotel room is a profound
enfants en passant. A walking meditation in the terraced hills surrounding
Sa Pa, just south of the China border. Across the vast valley, the
highest peak in southeast Asia suggests itself behind mercurial clouds.
Infrequent houses below. Barefoot children and motorcycles (often
with engines turned off) are the only other traffic. The careful listener
may hear the sound of our camera once or twice, and determine the
source of the hunting horns.
unquiet mind. Source recorded at Thien Mu Monastary on the Perfume
River in Hue, the oldest surviving Buddhist monastary in Vietnam.
The quiet grounds were a welcome change from the predatory desperation
of Hue. I was told the city residents are still punished financially
for Hue's independent course during the War. Thien Mu houses as a
relic the blue Austin that Thich
Quang Duc drove to Saigon, where he immolated himself on June
2, 1963, to protest repression under the US-backed regime of President
Diem. Dukka is a term from Buddhist philosophy
often translated as "suffering," but a more accurate rendering
unseasonably strong storm rendered the famous beaches of Nha Trang
all but uninhabitable. When flooding closed the airport, we decided
it would be prudent to return to Saigon a day earlier than planned.
After securing train tickets, we spent a day running errands and sightseeing
in plastic ponchos. When our train arrived late we boarded, only to
fidget all night in the station. Non-Vietnamese speakers (such as
the few dozen drunken French, with whom I bartered poor conjugations
for fine chocolate) only learned in the morning that the tracks were
seriously flooded. Bits of my butchered French, the laughter it provoked,
the rain on my poncho, the click clack of checking email; the taxi
I waited in while my wife cashed her last traveler's check.
remembered, forgotten. The Tam Coc caves are a few hours south of
Hanoi. Karst hills like those of Ha Long rise from paddies and slow
rivers. For five dollars a local couple will row you through the impossible
landscape - literally through, for the hills hide caverns. The boats
are shallow, woven with bamboo strips and waterproofed with tar. On
the way back, the ducks laugh when you purchase linen from the wife
while the husband slowly rows. The caves are filled with unbroken
walk in the night. Source recorded over two nights in Hoi An, a fishing
village that survived the war. It makes toursist itineraries as a
relief from tourist-starved Hue and hedonistic Nha Trang; and as a
source of cheap overnight tailoring (e.g., fitted suit in wool and
silk for US$40). Beyond the groomed town center, bamboo and thatch
houses ring marshland. One night I listened to the river then walked
into the pitch black to find the frogs. Twice I was asked the perennial
question during this solitary wander: "where are you from?"
By street kids on their way home at 9pm from pedalling clay pipes
(one is played as they pass). By a drunk and angry young man outside
a pool hall catering to western tourists and their music.
dawn on China Beach. Nimbus, n. from
Latin, a rainstorm, a rain cloud, the cloudshape which envelops the
gods when they appear on earth (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary,
1913). Webster's New Collegiate adds, "a cloud from from which
rain is falling." / The organ drone is the result of convolution,
the mathematical marrying of two sounds - in this case musicians tuning,
and early morning waves not far from China Beach. The rain fell in
Hanoi. The chiming bells were worn by water buffalo in the Sa Pa hills.
americana. A canon of voices from the tourist experience of Vietnam.
I envy speakers of tonal languages. French sounds more musical than
English to my ear; I am deaf to the music of English. To answer the
question: I do speak English. Unfortunately I don't speak Vietnamese.
I speak enough French to get around.
A montage of scraps
I assembled while moving audio from minidisc to harddisk, which is
the Herculean labor of this project. The
rhythmic bits are mutated from the gurgling of a sink
in our hotel in Nha Trang. The flute was from a musician's rehearsal
in Hoi An. The gong-like sound is actually the bell I recorded at
the entrance to Thien Mu. I climbed inside it to record, to the great
amusement of the teenagers who found me when they saw my boots.
bells of water buffalo herded by; the cluck of a diesel engine in
a rock quarry in the distance; a snippet of conversation between my
wife and a passing Hmong saleswoman.