29 August 2008

Les Nuits Masquees

What does "Les Nuits Masquees" mean?

I've mentioned it here.

It evokes masked balls. Anonymity. Which is the idea behind this blog.
As Oscar Wilde would say, "Give the man a mask and he will tell you the truth."

So that's what I do. I put on a mask and share not the truth, mind you, but my version of the truth. That's all "Les Nuits Masquees" means...

Ah yes, if you want, there is this allusion to the clandestine pleasures of Madame Bovary. But that's purely a coincidence.

And as for that mask, don't think for a minute that I would be afraid to speak without it. Of course not. I stand by my ideas and what I believe. But it's much easier this way. There are no interruptions and no distractions.

Who Reads this Blog?

I think it's time I share some of my Google Analytics findings. Remember this rant? Well I still use Google Analytics to make sense of my visitors. So let's see if we have some sort of pattern going on...

To begin, I was amazed that this blog had 175 hits on 28 August. I wondered what happened there and it turns out the Tran Genealogy pages attracted the most hits on that day. Either way, this sharp peak stood out on the Google Analytics' time graph and made me feel slighly famous for a moment.

But only for a moment. This blog's average daily hit is only about 50 pages with 25 visits. Not bad but could be better.

I rate dismally on Technorati. I'm sure it has something to do with the wide ranging topics and the lack of links referring to this website. This blog fits no category and readers never know "what they are going to get". Life is like a box of chocolate right? Now who said that...:)

But seriously, who are you people? And what are you looking for?

Popular Posts

Well the number one post which has consistently had the most hits over the last year is Narcissistic Men or Women. In fact, you could even imagine that this post is the only thing worth reading in this entire blog when you consider the disproportionate amount of hits it receives alone.
This is a worry. Am I such a bad writer?
But either way, bless you. I'm glad I could help. In fact it bothers me that there are so many people who need help in this department. What a monstruous dating world this must be. Is there no end to it? No respite for those in love with self-serving vampires?
The search keywords that visitors used to reach the post speak for themselves:

narcisstic men
narcisstic women
dealing with narcisstic women
narcissistic men in relationships
childhood of narcisstic men
coping with narcisstic women
dealing with female narcisstic wife
how narcisstic use women
how to change narcissistic men?
how to recognise insecure men
men who crave attention from women
narcissistic men and how they hurt women


Third most popular this year is the main page of Les Nuits Masquees. I'm assuming some of these visits may originate from random Blogger references. Having said that, if you are returning directly to this blog on your own volition, then you must like something. Always nice to know!

Now you see, I'm starting to notice a pattern. Because in the Top 10 and currently at 7th place for the most popular post, is The Passive Aggressive Boss.
You'd think that happy workers all over this planet were accidentally stumbling across this post and were blissfully unaware that there was such a thing as a manipulative boss... But you'd be wrong. The corporate world is, indeed, ugly. No need to be so professional about it!
Here are some of the keywords that people have typed and which led to this post, (don't worry I have no idea who you are, rest in peace you tormented souls):

dealing with a passive agressive boss
covert passive agressive men
how to deal with passive aggressive boss
how to deal with a passive agressive boss
passive agressive boss
gaslighting passive aggressive
feedback for the passive aggressive
how to deal with a jealous, manipulative boss
how to deal with gaslighting
how to manage petty insecure boss
my boss is passive aggressive
etc... etc...

Such a pity that there are no real solutions to this ever increasing problem. Insecurity, narcissism, loneliness, alienation, the me-generation...there are all symptoms of one and the same thing.

Visitor Location

That most of my visitors are from the US is not a surprise given the media platform and the English language. Australia comes in second place which is reassuring as it means at least a couple of friends find interest in my ramblings (and that doesn't include the couple who subscribe via Google Reader).

Following closely are visits from the UK, Canada and France (not all relatives, I assure you). Overall, this blog receives visitors from 55 countries, including the less likely, Senegal (finally!), China, Brazil, Lebanon, Algeria and Oman.

Visitors stay an average of 1 minute which means they do get past the post titles and the images. I'm relieved.

Overall, what do the visitors tell me. Based on the most popular content, there is a thirst for French lyrics translation, an urgent desire for self-help material and keen, sustained interest in my Vietnamese family genealogy.
I will keep that in mind.

25 August 2008

Piaf Mood

I'm exhausted today. Everything aches and I can barely type.
My mood can best be described as nostalgic. I caught myself singing songs in the shower. Familiar songs.

Do you have songs that you naturally turn to when you are feeling drained and when your psyche is wasted? Songs that are not even your favourite songs but whose lyrics you thoroughly enjoy singing? I've heard of music therapy so perhaps there are some tunes that my brain intrinsically seeks to soothe me when things go a little awry up there. In Planet Laura. I wonder if there is a music psychologist that can explain my choice of songs to me.

So now the rundown. The songs are mostly in French. There are songs that I learnt as a child while being raised in a mostly French household with a mother and several aunts who were proud fans of Edith Piaf.

Due to its popularity in the English speaking world, you'll probably think of the ubiquitous "Noooon, rien de rien....Nooooon, je ne regrette rien..." I suppose that would be befitting and would suggest self-introspection and nostalgia. Wouldn't it? If you're thinking about that one then you're wrong. I'm much more complex than that. (Although oblique is more the word.)

I could have picked so many Edith Piaf songs for my twisted brain to latch onto and sing in the shower when I'm down. I love the majority of her work. She's a great artiste. "Tu me fais tourner la tête... Mon manège à moi c'est toi", I love that song. Or "La Foule", that would probably be my favourite along with "La Goualante du Pauvre Jean".

Oh, and "Ah Ça Ira Ça Ira Ça Ira, les aristocrates à la lanterne..."
I like that one too except that we had Vietnamese royalty in the house and my grandmother would get all indignant about me calling for their execution... It didn't make a difference when I explained that this song was merely referring to French aristocrats, she was still pursing her lips at me. So I ended up not singing this one too frequently!!

Anyway, I've dragged this for long enough. I sing "Milord" and "L'homme à la moto". I'm very good at it. It's easy because the lyrics are so visually evocative and they fit my mood. I feel every part of them and as a result, my voice sounds great. It even acquires that distinctive nasal quality. I could do the street urchin thing, believe me I could. And it feels so right singing those lyrics. Why, I don't know. But they speak to me. When I sing "Milord", it's as though I've worked in a cabaret all my life and I know this man only too well. I know his story. I also feel as if I know (or knew) this man from "L'homme à la moto". I'm sure there are lame English translations out there if you care to Google them. If not I'll add a translation later on this blog.

I mentioned they were mostly French songs. One of them isn't. One of them is an annoying English song that I can't seem to get out of my head and that's been the case, ever since I was in high school.
Here it comes: "Rain drops are falling on my head..." What's worse is that I don't even know the full lyrics!! I stand under the shower, with the jet in my absent minded face and I'm singing like an idiot: "But there's one thiiing, I know...bla bla bla...crying's not for me...bla bla bla...because I'm freeeee, nothing's worrying meee!!!!"
I mean seriously, WTF!!!

Endearing, really.

21 August 2008

Dark Times

For the last two nights, I've dreamt about cars.

Dream One

I am a figurehead in some sort of prestigious school and wearing a long blue velvet gown with a plunging neckline. I am dressed for a ceremony. I step on top of a podium and make a speech. Initially, I'm hesitant because I have only just realised my role in this school and so the responsibility weighs down on me. I feel like an impostor as everyone encourages me to speak. But I speak. And it's easier than I thought. I win them through my voice and my choice of words.

Straight after this, my dad picks me up in his car. We drive off away from the elite school. And it's then that I realise how chaotic and rundown the outside world is. There are no real roads. Cars compete for space in the cramped butimen lanes devoid of traffic signs and lights. There are abandoned construction grounds everywhere.

My dad is driving faster and I feel tense as he narrowly misses first one, then two and then several cars speeding in his direction. We manage to weave past all of them. He is keen to drive us to safety. The area all around us is filled with cars moving and crashing in every direction. It's an absolute carnage. We are stuck as everyone, without exception, has suffered a collision of some sort. There is a bus / car collision ahead of us, barring our way and my dad is still speeding...

In an unexplained twist which I am now familiar with, my unconscious instinct kicks without warning. I feel myself drift out of my body and step outside of the car. It means that something is about to happen. I don't know how I know but I know. I am safe now, apparently. I am no longer in the car in spirit, only in body. I follow my dad's car. I can see it avoid the impending collision with the side of the bus and veer sharply towards the left. My dad's car disappears from view into a side road. I can no longer see. So I float higher up, towering the mass car wreak. I move like a ghost towards the road that he took.

It's not a road. It's a deep precipice. It's the steepest slope I've ever seen and it leads to nowhere. I can not even see the bottom because it's so deep. There is only water and clouds of mist with glimpses of steel that betray the content of the crevasse. The car must have fallen instantly. He did not know that it wasn't a road. And now they are dead.

The End.

I've looked up this dream but I'm not convinced by its supposed meaning. The dictionnary tells me that my life is out of control. Bizarre. It says that the person driving is the one I wish was in control of my life. Hardly accurate.
Death is a good symbol though.

The other reason why I don't believe that the person driving has any significance in terms of control issues is the next dream.

Dream Two

This time it begins with an argument with my mother. I run away. I have no home, no money. I end up turning to an ex. His name is Damien. I go to his house and he shelters me.

The next day he drives me to the stores to buy food. I feel like a dag. I'm wearing a gigantic white tracksuit and I feel terrible. I don't like it when I hate my clothes. I see people in the store who remind me of my unhappiness. I tell Damien that I'd like to go and change.

We return to the car. It happens to be a 4WD that my father used to own. But it's much larger, almost colossal. The dashboard is made of marble. It's heavily chromed on the outside. Damien manoeuvres the car out of the park and I step in. I have a fleeting thought, "This used to be my dad's car. Now he is dead."

So I know that my dad is dead. (Outside my dream, he still lives)

Incidentally, Damien is definitely not the person I would want to 'control' my life. So it's bizarre.

Then an old man in a white singlet appears from nowhere and talks to Damien through the side window. I realise it's Damien's dad. He is crouching forward and looks pained. He speaks imploringly in a sad, broken tone and I feel that he wants to speak to his son. But he dares not ask him to wait. He doesn't want to impose.

I can see that Damien is getting the hint. But he is hesitating. Should he drive away with me and take care of me or stay awhile to speak with his dad?

I understand. So I step out of a car to indicate that I'm not going anywhere. I feel terrible for the old man. I tell Damien to stay with his dad and speak to him.

The END.

Maybe these dreams are telling me that my dad needs me. I really think so. Might have to visit some time...

I also think the school side of the dream means that I'm living a cocooned existence, oblivious to the troubles of others. I'm living in my little pristine world and have forgotten those who care about me. Like my parents for example.

That's the best way I can interpret the dreams.

30 July 2008

China Olympics: Let the Games Begin!!!

Remember this? It's a French political cartoon which appeared during the 1890s.

Post Opium War: (left to right)
Britain, Germany, Russia, France and Japan slicing out China

And they're off!! And it looks like Queen Victoria is in the lead...William II of Germany is coming a close second...hold, no...it looks like Russia's Nicholas may just get into the action...tight game we have here. What's Japan's emperor thinking? I think there may be strategy at play...as you know this game is very important...it's all about strategy now...and, oh! France's Marianne is now close on Victoria's heels...yes, she's catching up...will Victoria let herself be beaten...

Aaah, the good old days!!

But seriously...I can't wait until the London 2012 Olympics. The sudden new wave of libertarians and human rights advocates has left me holding my breath, eager for more.

It's just that I'm terribly ignorant and I need a refresher course on global humanity, or lack of it.

2012 promises to educate me like never before. I am bound to read fascinating media articles about the Opium Wars, the Dispossession of Aboriginal lands, the enslaving of Africans, the exploitation of Indian and African colonies, the murder of Boer women and children in South African concentration camps...

27 July 2008

On Novel Writing and Other Things

I'm up to the stage where my novel is playing games with my mind.

At the moment, it inspires dread. It horrifies me that I may have taken an Orientalist approach to one of the characters. The prospect of historians dissecting my novel also horrifies me. I imagine them as sparrows pecking out little snippets from the story and leaving it a bloody mess.

I've become moody. I alternate between grandiose illusions of literary achievements where I silently beam with pleasure, and moments of confusion in which I spiral out of control into some paranoiacal vortex where nothing is certain except for failure.

I don't even remember what the book is about. There are at least six subplots and most are unresolved. The writing style varies from mildly poetic dribble to presumptious prose. All the characters vie for attention and the main protagonist is being bullied from every direction because he can't think for himself. Some of the characters have not even been named yet because I'm purposely deliberating on something authentic and meaningful and as a result, there are Xs throughout a number of passages. X did this. Then X did that. Am I writing a novel or algebra??

I also wonder whether it's unnecessarily graphic. Why all the details? Am I playing with sensationalism and taboo topics or am I painting truth?

The last week has been interesting. I wake up dreading the thought of writing. I feel as though the characters are becoming impatient with me. They are waiting to pounce on me to impose their personality, their wills. They are agaced at my indecisions. I'm not even in control anymore. Which is just as well because uni has begun. I need a wait out. I haven't stopped ingesting Ming history for 6 months now. I need to get out and breathe the 21st century. It is mentally exhausting to wade through 400+ pages and juggle the plot, the passing years, the historical context, the different cultures and sequences of events while keeping the characterisation in perspective. And there is yet more to research...

I definitely need a break.

So why all the anxiety? It's just that there are so many unresolved passages in my novel. And I usually finish what I start... Leaving the novel in this state means that I feel edgy and dissatisfied. There is some dissonance from not meeting the requirements of my own value system. I want it completed and I am impatient to pen the vision that I've maintained and nurtured in my mind for what is now two years, yet I'm torn because I do need a break and I'm now eager for uni. In fact, I'm already addicted to two of the psychology subjects!

These days I'm always running around getting things organised. The irony is that my health is still in a precarious state. I'm on prescription drugs and vitamins. I've only just stopped coughing after two months. On Friday, my doctor was telling me that "I've had a stressful year and I need to take it easy because my immune system has been affected." But I just have so much to do...I'm now a full time student and I demand 6s or 7s. Nothing else will do. I've just booked a week to the Whitsundays for mid September which will be nice for relaxing. I also have another trip to China to organise. This one is more of an adventure rather than a holiday and it will take time to organise. Meanwhile my mandarin is going nowhere and I can't get my tones right so forget about talking basic Chinese with the locals. Won't happen.

I often think there are not enough hours in the day with everything I want to do and achieve for myself. I'm sure I'm not alone with this realisation. I create the anxiety because of the enormous expectations I place on myself. I've known this for years. But I don't know any other way to be.

To be continued...

20 July 2008

Tran Trieu Duc

Tran Trieu-Duc, the fourth of Tran Sy Ich's thirteen children was born in 1776, in the village of Minh-huong. He was about 11 years old when his father confided in him that "being less intelligent than his other brothers, he would be more useful if he stayed home to take care of the ancestral cult."

However, Trieu-Duc became a scholar as well as an artist. He composed two collections of poems but unfortunately, we have never encountered a copy. He would draw and paint with much delicacy, finesse and sensibility. At 16 years of age, his general culture was already so extensive that he had the capacity to share his knowledge with others. This was how he became the Schoolmaster in his native village.

It is also at this period of time that Lam-Nhat-Thang, the chief of a rich and well reputed family who was also the Director of Education of the sub-district offered him for the first time, the hand of his daughter, Lam-Thi Phuc-Chau. This proposition along with the second one formulated a number of years later, was respectfully and courteously refused.
Trieu-Duc was 28 when Lam-Nhat-Thang's offer was renewed for the third time. Since his parents observed that a new refusal on his behalf would result in Lam-Nhat-Thang's humiliation, Trieu-Duc accepted, for the honor of his family, to take the offer into consideration.

Following the death of one of his uncles who previously occupied high mandarin functions, officers of the court intervened and obtained from the emperor the permission to integrate Trieu-Duc into the mandarin corps such that the reputation of the TRAN family could be perpetuated. Trieu-Duc was then 46 when he was incorporated in the royal administration and had to leave for Hanoi to occupy his first post.

During his absence from Hue which lasted three years, the ancestral cult ceremonies which he had been responsible for initiating, were diligently passed on to another relative.

In 1824, that is, the fifth year of emperor Ming-Mang's reign, Tran Trieu-Duc returned to the capital and was promoted to serve in the Ministry of Rites or "chu-su".

At this time, two highly ranking officers, one which also worked for the Ministry of Rites, forwarded a report vouching for Tran Trieu-Duc's merits. As a result, in October of the same year he was named Tri-Phu (Prefect) of Tan-Dinh. This was located in the same province as Gia-dinh (Saigon).

He therefore regained Saigon, accompanied by his wife who arrived a year later. She had entrusted the care of her son, Duong-Don, to one of the family's great aunts who was widowed and childless.

In 1825, Trieu-Duc died following a short illness.

He was 50 years old.

His wife was now a widow at 41 and apart from Duong-Don, she had five other children to take care of. She returned to Hue and set up a commercial enterprise in the district of Cho-dinh (this district later became known as Gia-hoi).

Several times during his reign, emperor Tu-Duc honored the parent of one of his most loyal and close collaborators. He gave Trieu-Duc numerous posthumous honorific titles:

First title, during the 12th year of his reign (1859):

Second title, during the 22nd year of his reign (1869):

Third title, during the 26th year of his reign (1874):

Fourth title, during the 32nd year of his reign (1879):

His cult name is TRANG Y TRAN TRIEU-DUC.

His wife, Lam-thi Phuc-chau (1785 - 1872) gave him six children:

Four sons
Two daughters

She was also honored by emperor Tu-Duc in the 22nd year of his reign with the title:

Back to Tran Genealogy Index

17 July 2008

Tran Tien-Thanh - Regent of Annam

When I introduced my Tran family genealogy, one of the things I promised you is foul murder. So now, I will deliver.

This is a long post. It took me a couple of days to put together. I could have spent those days writing my novel but I thought the time had come to do justice to a man scarcely mentioned by history. I have divided this post into sections so that you will hopefully take courage and not be too overwhelmed by this wordy account.

This post is special. It concerns Tran Tien-Thanh who during his long service to the 19th century Nguyen imperial court, ascended to the very highest Mandarin rank. To give you an appreciation of Tran Tien-Thanh's scholarly and political achievement, consider that my great grandfather, Tran Thien Thuoc , the imperial library's Chief Archivist was only a third rank mandarin which is itself quite an achievement.

Tran Tien-Thanh is a man I greatly admire. And this, regardless of his rank or his intellectual achievements. I admire him because he showed dignity and courage to stand up for what he thought was right even in the face of powerful and often ruthless opposition. As is often the case, Tran Tien-Thanh was murdered for his ideals.

A glimpse of Tran Tien-Thanh can be found in some history books. For example The Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao Dai by Oscar Chapuis, briefly mentions Tran Tien Thanh. During this post, I will often quote from Chapuis' book and then supplement with more details from the Tran Gia Pho. This will allow you to situate this story within the history of Vietnam, notably during the reign of emperor Tu Duc and the treacherous events immediately following his death.

Early Childhood

On the December 14 1813, Lam-Thi Phuc-Chau gave birth to the first of her six children. Her husband, Tran Trieu-Duc, upon learning that it was a boy, was indeed very happy. The little boy was the recipient of careful attention which recalls the popular expression "nang nhu nang truan, hung nhu hung hoa" meaning "to take as much precaution as though holding an egg in one's open hand; to handle with as much care as one handles a flower".
For example:
- The newborn's room was kept permanently closed to avoid chills
- strangers were not admitted to his room, so that the any evil spirits could not compromise his health.

Only 22 days after his birth, the baby became gravely ill. So that when this illness had subsided, his father attributed the recovery to the fervour that his grandfather, Tran Sy Ich, had shown in praying to the heavens.

To this date, the boy had no name. As in China, the parents were in no great hurry to name their child soon after birth. The custom, both in China and Vietnam was to use derogatory names for newborns. This apparent disdain for the baby was aimed at deceiving evil spirits hence keeping them away from the child. The name given for the boys was "masculine sex" (thang cu) while the girls were called "little prostitute" (cai-di). The children would only receive their true name after a period of time, at the discretion of their parents.

When the boy was in his eighth year, his father began to then call him Duong-don which funnily enough means "obtuse spirit". In fact, during his first years of study, the boy had distinguished himself by his slow, obtuse spirit.

During 1821, the boy's father had just embarked on his mandarin career and was transferred to Hanoi. He hired a tutor to visit his son at home and help his education. One day, this tutor became so exasperated by his pupil's slow acquisition of anything he was trying to teach that he hit him violently until Duong-don lost consciousness.

May I pause here and say that this is a form of child abuse and I do not condone it.
But psychological research has allowed for great progress in the way we now instruct our children (at least one should hope so). What was normal behavior in those days is not admissible today.
But I return to the tutor...

He was so frightened by the consequences of his actions and was about to flee from the house when Trieu-Duc assured him, saying "If you have hit your student, it is for his own good; if he were to die from it, be sure that you will not be troubled for it."

Meanwhile, Duong-Don regained consciousness. Hitherto everyone was amazed to discover that his intelligence had not only become much sharper but that he was now able to easily catch up and compensate for the educational delay that he had acquired during the previous years.

When he was eleven years old, Duong-Don's father was named "Tri-Phu" of Tan-Dinh in the province of Gia-Dinh. His mother and siblings came to live with Tran Trieu-Duc the following year. However Duong-Don remained in Hue under the supervision of his great auntie who was herself childless. Even when his father eventually died and his mother regained Hue in the Cho-dinh district, he continued to live with his great auntie and work assiduously.

During his early teens, he often took advantage of the scholarly lessons that his uncle, Minister of Rites Nguyen Koa-Minh organised at home for his children. As a testimony to Duong-Don's intelligence, this master decided to change his name to Thoi-Man which means "lively intelligence".

Studies and Early Career

In 1834, Thoi-Man was 21 years old. He entered the Royal College "Quoc-Tu-Giam".
This was the new name that emperor Minh-Mang had given to the national college created by his father, emperor Gia-Long. While studying, Thoi-Man was noticed for his ability to create "Phu" or poems consisting of rhythmic prose.

Two years later in 1836, Thoi-Man married Luong-Tien-Tuong who happened to be the daughter of Minister of Rites, Nguyen Koa-Minh. He however continued to live with his great auntie to pursue his studies while his wife lived with her mother in law.

In 1837, he obtained his License (cu-nhan) in literary studies in Hue. The following year, after participating in the Palace competition, he obtained his Doctorate (tien-si). This degree had been created in 1828 by emperor Minh-Mang after he establishing regional and central competitions in 1822. These contests, similar in nature to those held by the Chinese emperors since the Ming dynasty, occurred three times a year and were opened to all without class distinction.

In this same year, Thoi-Man began his career as a mandarin with the grade "Clerk in the Institute of Letters" (Han-Lam-vien bien-tu). Not long after, he was promoted as apprentice in the Emperor's Private Council (Co-Mat-vien).

I Want to Be a Mandarin...

During 1842, when emperor Thieu-Tri was in the first year of his reign, Thoi-Man became Mandarin, Section Leader in the Ministry of Administration while still conserving his functions in the Private Council.

Then in 1844, his great auntie, who he considered to be his adoptive mother, died. Thoi-Man solicited a period off work in order to personally take care of her funeral.

In 1845, at 31 he was promoted to Chief of Section in the Ministry of War and later named "Chief of Judicial Affairs" or An-Sat-Su of the Thanh-hoa province, a function he continued to exercise until 1853. It is while serving this post that he took a first concubine, Nguyen Thi-Trac.

Later, he was transferred to Hue to occupy the role of "Chief Officer of the Royal Stables", as part of the Minister of Finance. Thoi-Man was then designated to take part in an embassy leaving for China. He went to Hanoi in order to prepare for this journey but the embassy was cancelled and Thoi-Man had to regain Hue. When he arrived in Hue, he was accompanied by a young girl of 17, Huynh-Thi Gam who he designated to be his second wife.

In 1855, he works as an Assistant Governor in Gia-dinh (Saigon) for 6 months. This time as part of the Minister of Works, he is responsible for government affairs.

Change of Name to Tien-Thanh

Emperor Tu Duc was in the sixth year of his reign, when, admiring Thoi-Man's filial piety and high moral standards, he decided to change his name from Thoi-Man to "Tien-Thanh" (to walk in loyalty) so as to encourage him to follow the example of Tô Hiến Thành, a high dignitary of the LY dynasty. It is under the name Tien-Thanh that our ancestor becomes known and gains posterity.

Fighting off the French...or Trying to

At this time, Tien-Thanh was also appointed to direct military operations in the Quang-Ngai province, aimed at repressing dissidant rebels. Due to the excellent results of this operation, emperor Tu-Duc confered him with the title "Vice Minister of War" (Huu tham-tri). It was in this role that Tien-Thanh was charged with organising the defence of Danang (Tourane under the French) and Thuan-an against a large fleet attack led by Admiral Rigault de Grenouilly (this was the bombardment of Tourane in October 1856 by the "Catinat").

Tran Tien-Thanh's Achievements

In 1859, Tien-Thanh becomes Minister of Works while still preserving his responsibility as defender of the capital.

Three years later he becomes Minister of Finance and also acquires full membership in the Emperor's Private Council.

Then in 1963, he heads the Ministry of War.

At 50 years of age, Tran Tien-Thanh has reached the highest mandarin rank and is named Grand Chancellor 2nd Class (Hiep-bien dai-hoc-si). This effectively makes him the Prime Minister of the Court.

But for all his achievements, Tran Tien-Thanh does not depart from his self-imposed rules and lives simply. He eats frugally, abstaining himself from the rich meals offered to him by the emperor and his subordinates.
This penitence was his manner of expressing his regrets about not having been present or capable (due to remoteness and young age) of taking care of his father during his last moments and at his funeral.

Tran Tien-Thanh's Troubles as Diplomat

In 1868, Tien-Thanh is sent to Saigon to negotiate with French Admiral Ohier, a representative of Napoleon III. Tran Tien-Thanh tries to obtain certain concessions regarding a treaty which had formely ceded the three provinces of Cochinchina to France. Unfortunately Tran Tien-Thanh's mission is not successful. Upon his return to Hue, he loses a rank as punishment. However he quickly reassumes his functions as Prime Minister and Minister of War.

In 1870, Tran Tien-Thanh is engaged in discussion with a Spanish representative. The envoy has been sent by Queen Isabelle II who is very keen to obtain the authorisation to open a Spanish Consulate. The negotiations led by Tran Tien-Thanh result in total failure. This provokes the emperor who immediately signs an edict pronouncing Tran Tien-Thanh's dismissal from the role of Prime Minister.
Funnily enough, this edict is immediately followed by another edict, this time confirming Tran Tien-Thanh's function as Prime Minister...
I suppose that even emperors throw tantrums every now and then!!

Emperor Tu Duc Distinguishes the Tran Family

In 1874, to thank him for all his services, Tu Duc raises Tran Tien-Thanh to the rank of Palace Grand Chancellor.

In this particular period, Cochinchina was entirely and definitively occupied by France. The situation became particularly intense when France began an expedition under Francis Garnier to take over multiple towns in the delta.
Given the political climate, the functions of Prime Minister and Minister of War were extremely difficult to carry out. Tran Tien Thanh was trying everything that he could politically and humanely do to put an end to conflicts. Emperor Tu Duc understood this and in general was very satisfied with Tien Thanh's work. In particular, Tu Duc wanted to congratulate him for the excellent organisation he had put in for the defence of the Thuan-an port.

Actually, it was not until 1879 that Tran Tien-Thanh was officially titled as "Palace Grand Chancellor". He was 66 years old.

The following mention was made of him:

Even though it is inevitable, due to his great age and his deficient health, that his activity has slowed down recently, and even though he can not sufficiently answer to all our requests, nevertheless his unflinching loyalty has strengthened while the greatness of his soul and farsightedness have rendered him highly capable as a decision maker in the gravest of situations.
- my translation, Tran Family sources

I quote, "the greatness of his soul". Note that well. How many political or organisational leaders, today, are rewarded for the greatness of their soul? Worth pondering over...

In this same year, emperor Tu-Duc awarded posthumous titles to all of Tran Tien-Thanh's parents and grandparents.

Finally, emperor Tu Duc gave him the title "2em Colonne de L'empire" which I have no idea how to translate from French! The original title was apparently created by Lord Chua Thuong (1635 - 1648).

The Death of Emperor Tu Duc

In 1881, Tien-Thanh is 68 years old and believes himself incapable of efficiently fulfilling his functions as "Minister of War". He sollicits from his emperor, the authorisation to discharge himself of these duties and to pass these on to the Vice Minister Le-Huu-Ta. Emperor Tu Duc agrees with this suggestion under the condition that Tran Tien-Thanh continues the general direction of the Ministry's affairs.

A couple of months later and following Tien-Thanh's proposition (BAD MOVE!!!), Ton-That-Thuyet is designated to assist him as "Interim Minister of War" and is admitted to the Private Council.

Tran Tien-Thanh's health was much weakened. He coughed frequently and often had to request periods of leave to manage his chronic dysentery. These leave periods were rarely accorded.

On the other hand, he was authorised to make use of the physicians who were attached to the emperor's private medical cabinet (Thai-y-vien).

But even though he was well treated, Tran Tien-Thanh was obliged to continue participating in state affairs. These were approaching a difficult phase. In particular, a French military detachment under the authority of Henri Riviere had just taken Hanoi and the worse was expected.

It was at this unfortunate moment that emperor Tu Duc died on 17 July 1883. (Strangely enough, I have submitted this post on 17 July...)

Tu Duc's Testament

On 15 July, two days before his death, the emperor had convened the Dignitaries of his Private Council and communicated his testament through which he designated:

Ung-Chan, his first adoptive son, as his successor (Emperor Duc Duc)
Tran Tien-Thanh, as First Regent of Annam
Nguyen-Van Tuon and Ton-That-Tuyet as Co-Regents.

Parts of his will included negative mentions about Ung-Chan. When the three regents read it, they asked the emperor to have these removed as such remarks shed doubt on the honour and prestige of the future emperor. But emperor Tu Duc refused under the pretext that the aim of these remarks was to encourage Ung-Chan to change his ways.

It seems that the Regents later took matters into their own hands:

Duc Duc asked the three regents to delete from Tu Duc's will the incriminating part and they agreed. But instead of reforming himself, Duc Duc ingored court etiquette and neglected mourning rules inviting to the palace the dubious acquaintances he had recruited among professional gamblers, cabaret singers and popular magicians.
- Chapuis, Oscar. The Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000.

The Co-Regents Plot

No sooner had the emperor's death been announced that prince Ung-Chan (later called emperor Duc Duc) entered the Imperial Palace. The two Co-Regents, without having referred to the First Regent, addressed themselves to the Empress Dowager Tu-Du asking that prince Ung-Chan be replaced, with as arguments, the following three points:
1. the successor aimed to modify the testament, removing the warning statements regarding his poor character
2. the successor continued to wear colorful garments during the period of mourning
3. the successor was debauched and only seeked pleasure

The Empress Dowager agreed with the Co-Regents, indeed, the defunct emperor was well aware of his successor's defects. However due to the difficulties marring the Affairs of State, a royal successor seemed to him indispensible to lead the country. Having said this, since the prince refused to amend his evil ways it was important to direct him away from the throne.

Ong-Chan was immediately locked up inside one of the palace pavillions where, deprived of food and drink, he died after an atrocious agony.

Chapuis mentions two stories regarding Ong-Chan's death:

Duc Duc was sentenced to death for failing to observe mourning rites and having had intimate relations with his father's concubines. He was forced to take poison. He was not even provided with a grave but was simply tossed naked into a cavity. [..] According to Professor Trinh Van Thanh, Duc Duc was not forced to take poison but was left to die of hunger in confinement.
- Chapuis, Oscar. The Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao Dai

Chapuis also alludes to a possible underlying motivation behind one of the Co-Regents' behavior:

In retrospect, the manner in which Duc Duc was treated might rather stem from personal vengeance, for he had interfered in the intimate liaison between Regent Tuong and Lady Hoc Phi [an imperial concubine].
- Chapuis, Oscar. The Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao Dai

The two Co-Regents took the initiative to organise a reunion between Princes and Mandarins so as to impose to the court the justifications for deposing of Prince Ung-Chan. A this reunion, the First Regent, Tran Tien-Thanh wanted to intervene on the prince's behalf but Ton-That-Tuyet, with a bitter tone, ordered him to keep quiet. The entire court followed suit.

Tu-Duc's younger brother, prince Huong-Dat was therefore chosen to ascend to the throne. He was crowned under the reign name of Hiep-Hoa. Following his crowning ceremony, he promoted First Regent, Tran Tien-Thanh, to Grand Dignitary of the Palace and gave him a plaque of jade as reward.

The First Regent was still frequently ill and was now suffering from rheumatism. He therefore asked to be dispensed from being present in the palace. This request was granted.

The Persecution of Tran Tien-Thanh

Now that the First Regent was no longer present in the Palace, the two censors Hoang-Con and Dang-Tran-Hanh presented to the emperor their report, in which they accused Tran Tien-Thanh of having voluntarily modified certain passages in the imperial testament while carrying out the formal reading. The court, under the order of Hiep-Hoa examined the affair.

In response to this accusation, Tran Tien-Thanh addressed himself to the throne, exposing his actions in details and in conclusion, asking humbly that he be allowed to bare the consequences of his act if it avered that he had indeed committed certain reprehensible actions.

The court proposed that he be beaten with a stick and made destitute. This was the punishment which the law prescribed for all those mandarins who committed errors in the transcription of imperial edicts. However the emperor, having taken into account the eminent services that Tran Tien-Thanh had delivered to the country during four imperial reigns (i.e. Thieu-Tri, Minh-Mang, Tu-Duc and Hiep-Hoa) decided to show clemency.

Tran Tien-Thanh was therefore retrograded by two ranks as a warning. He was dispensed from punishment and was to be reintegrated to his previous rank only by imperial grace.

At this stage, Tran Tien-Thanh asked that he be discharged from pursuing Affairs of the State and left to get medical treatment in his natal village.

Tran Tien-Thanh and The French

We are in August 1883. Tran Tien-Thanh is 70 years old.
Admiral Courbet's troups are disembarking at the mouth of River Thuan-an.

Tran Tien-Thanh is immediately recalled to the Palace.

Tran Tien-Thanh is asked to approach the religious man, Montseigneur Gaspar, to ask that he intervene with the French Authorities regarding an armistice.
He is also responsible for discussing the conditions required for a truce.

This peace seeking intervention eventually led to the signature of the Harmand Treaty on 25 August 1883.

Unfortunately this treaty was only the beginning of a number of concessions to France.

Article one read: "Nam recognises and accepts the protection of France. France controls all Nam's relations with foreign nations including China." Article two read: "The province of Binh Thuan is attached to Cochinchina." There were the two main clauses aiming to subject Vietnam to French control [..] The Nguyen Dynasty had just lost its Mandate of Heaven.
- Chapuis, Oscar. The Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao Dai

Tran Tien-Thanh's Illness and Discharge

The First Regent then sollicited another period of rest to nurse his dysentery.

After multiple requests for leave, he was finally discharged from the Private Council and from the Ministry of War.

However the emperor asked him to preserve his existing functions as Director of the Annals and Director of the Calendar.

He was also authorised to leave the official residence attached to the Ministry of War and to regain his own home.

Tran Tien-Thanh therefore moved to the house which he had had built in Cho-dinh. It was a one storey house built on the land where his own mother had established her business decades ago.

Hiep-Hoa's Political Manoeuvres

With the Harmand treaty signed, emperor Hiep-Hoa became a pathetic public figure.

It is obvious that the treaty had destroyed whatever prestige Hiep Hoa could have at the court and among the population. It was also a good pretext for the regents to openly oppose his authority. In the presence of the entire court, Ton That-Thuyet refused to kowtow and verbally abused the emperor.
- Chapuis, Oscar. The Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao Dai

Regent Ton-That-Tuyet of fierce patriotism, stubborn and brutal had at his disposition the entire army which he organised with method and discipline. Meanwhile Nguyen-Van-Tuong possessed both sharp intelligence and cunning. The Co-Regents enjoyed such power, that no one, neither at court nor in the provinces, dared contest.

But emperor Hiep-Hoa was no longer a child and he was not resigned to be a puppet in the hands of those who had placed him on the throne. He was waiting for an occasion to rid himself of his irksome tutors.

When accused of dictatorship, Ton-That-Tuyet, to diminish the hostility held in his opinion, proposed that his suvereign discharge him from his military position. This was the occasion that Hiep-Hoa had been waiting for.
He seized it and appointed Ton-That-Tuyet to the Ministry of Rites and later to the Ministry of Administrative Affairs as a remplacement for Nguyen Trong-Hop. Ton-That-Tuyet continued to direct the Ministry of War until a successor was designated.
He was now very wary of his emperor.

But now remained Nguyen-Van-Tuong.

One day, the emperor's two close advisors, Huong-Sam and Huong-Phi who had just been elevated, the first to the rank of Secretary General of Noi-cac and the second to Vice Minister of Administrative Affairs, dared to publically criticise the politics of the Co-Regents during a court gathering.

In a secret vote addressed to the throne, they asked that Regent Nguyen-Van-Tuong be condemned to death. To give more weight to their proposition, they added a clause in the document indicating that they had the agreement of First Regent, Tran Tien-Thanh.

During this political exchange which involved several messages, the eunuch who had been asked to deliver a message for the emperor made an error of delivery. The emperor, furious about this error, condemned the eunuch to thirty blows. The eunuch decided to get revenge for this punishment which he found unjustified. He therefore informed the Co-Regents of the secret correspondence.

Chapuis also indicates that the emperor sought help from the French:

His increasing hostility [that of Ton That Tuyet] led Hiep Hoa to fear for his life and to seek protection from the French Resident Champeaux with whom he discussed plans to dismiss the Regents. Unfortunately, Thuyet got wind of the conversation and Hiep Hoa's fate was sealed.
- Chapuis, Oscar. The Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao Dai

The Revenge of the Co-Regents

At this juncture, Co-Regents Nguyen-Van-Tuong and Ton-That-Thuyet decided to immediately hold a court reunion with the aim of legalising their conjoined decision: to eliminate emperor Hiep-Hoa and his First Regent, Tran Tien-Thanh.

"On November 28, 1883, taking advantage of Champeaux's absence from Hue, Ton That Thuyet had Hiep Hoa arrested. In a closed session of the court, Thuyet accused the emperor of having squandered the national treasury, ignored the regents' advice and secretly plotted with the French by signing the Harmand treaty. Hiep Hoa was forced to abdicate. He was sentenced to death for which he had to choose between a sword, a three-meter-long scarf or a mixture of opium and vinegar. He chose the last one and died at dusk on November 29, 1883. All his supporters were murdered."
- Chapuis, Oscar. The Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao Dai

The Noble First Regent

What old Tran Tien-Thanh wanted most is to live tranquilly in his retreat; he remained well away from the intrigues and the factions in the palace. But the discovery of the plot against the Co-Regents had suggested an alliance between the two advisors, Huong-Sam and Huong-Phi, and the First Regent.

Proof of the First Regent's complicity would be difficult to obtain. Therefore, the Co-Regents considered his refusal to sign a document in favor of the emperor being dethroned, as a moral confirmation of their suspicions.

Effectively when Tran Tien-Thanh was handed this document and asked to sign, he merely appended a few lines in his own hand:

"Deposition and enthroning are two very important affairs.
How can such things renew themselves so frequently?
Being already retired, I dare not take part in them."
- translated from Tran family sources

By expressing so crudely his protestation against the Co-Regents' decision (and cynically alluding to their previous deposition of Ung-Chan), the First Regent knew that he had just signed his own death warrant. Because to refuse to bend to their desires would be interpreted as siding with their adversaries, notably the emperor and his advisors. This would not be tolerated by the Co-Regents.

Oscar Chapuis makes a note of this:

Because third regent Tran Tien Thanh protested against the treatment inflicted on Hiep Hoa's followers, he was killed by Thuyet's assassination squad.
- Chapuis, Oscar. The Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao Dai

The Assassination of Tran Tien Thanh

On the night of 28 November 1883, Ton That-Thuyet ordered a detachment from his personal guards to go kill Tran Tien-Thanh.

This group was composed of guards and armed with lances and sabres. It was headed by Huong-Hang, Huong-Chuc and Huong-Te. All three men were from the royal family, and were grand children of the defunct emperor, Minh-Mang.

It was past midnight when the detachment arrived to the private home. The house comprised a main building on the ground floor facing the border of Gia-hoi street. In the middle section of this building was a sealed door with two large pivotting panels which permitted access to a corridor on the left side of the inner courtyard. It was this corridor which led to a simple building where Tran Tien-Thanh was resting.

The cacophony produced by the guards as they began to violently hit the double doors with their weapons, awakened the neighbours in the district, who believing the intruders to be brigands, shouted out that "this was the house of the First Regent and it was not prudent for them to touch it."

During this time, Tran Tien-Thanh was in the building upstairs together with his favourite concubine Le-Thi-Nhu and a couple of servants which he had kept with him. Under his orders, all the other family members, had been sent to their home in the village of Minh-huong. He clearly knew the guards would be coming for him.

The attack is sudden. The guards break through the front doors and penetrate inside the house. They are preceded by a man who holds in his hands a red box, normally used to carry court documents for their transmission.

The three detachment leaders shout out in unison:

"His Excellency is invited, in the name of the Regent Council, to come down for an urgent affair!"
- translated from Tran family sources

The old man obeys. He dons the black robe that his favourite concubine presents to him. With the help of her left arm supporting him, he begins to descend the staircase.

He is only halfway through the staircase and has barely buttoned up his black robe that he is assailed by the guards who transperce him with their lances.

In an admirable demonstration of love, Le-Thi-Nhu projects herself forward to protect him with her right arm and is thus wounded.

Tran Tien-Thanh, collapses and expires, held in the arms of the woman who among all his concubines, was the one he loved most and whom he had wanted to keep near him to witness his last moments.

Aftermath of Tran Tien-Thanh's Death

The next morning, the servants took the news of Tran Tien-Thanh's tragic end to the rest of his family who came in haste. They brought back his body to the village. The scandal of his death was suppressed by terror. The Thua-Thien province governor actually knew who the authors of this crime were but he declared that it was an act of piracy or brigands and he failed to open an enquiry.

Tran Tien-Thanh's death had no disarming effect on his adversaries who promptly sought his posthumous degradation, relegating him to the mere title of "Minister of War".

An allocation of 700 bundles of sapeques was attributed to the family for the funeral. The Court did not take part.

The Court did, however, send a few hundred soldiers and marines under the commandment of two brigadiers and three squadron leaders. A large roofed
boat and four other small boats serving as escorts were also lent out.

The body was buried on mountainous terrain in the hamlet of Nguyet-bieu in Huong-thuy. It was a location that the deceased had himself chosen when he was alive.

His cult name is Van-Nghi Tran Tien-Thanh.

The Gia-hoi Home Curse

Following this gruelsome assassination, the family neglected the building on Gia-hoi street and rejoined their family residence in the village of Minh-huong.

Their old home, site of the murder, was rented out. Being highly supersitious, the Vietnamese refused to live there. The building saw a succession of tenants, mostly Chinese businessmen who did not remain for long. Ill luck, notably in the form of bad deals, illnesses, reversal of fortunes and brutal deaths seemed to plague anyone who lived there...

Tran Tien-Thanh's Children

First Regent Tran Tien-Thanh had two wives and four concubines who together gave him 23 children.

Luong Thi-Thuy (1817 - 1887) was First wife.
She was the daughter of Luong-Tien-Tuong who was Minister of Finance under the reign of emperor Thieu-Tri.
She produced 10 children.

One boy:
Tran Tien-Dan (1850 - 1881) - who is my great great great grandfather!!

Nine daughters including:
Thi-Dieu (1848 - 1905)

Huynh Thi-Gam (1833 - 1904) was Second wife. She was like him, descendant of a Chinese migrant family who had set up residence in Hanoi. He married her during his short stay there.
She produced 7 children.

Three boys including:
Tran-Tien-Hoi (1869 - 1929) - who became governor of Nghe-an
Four daughters including:
Thi-Nhu-Tien (1866 - 1900) who was chosen to be part of emperor Tu Duc's harem and was renamed Qui Nhan.
Thi-Co (1868 - 1927)

Nguyen Thi-Trac (1830 - 1913) was the first concubine he took.
She produced 4 children.

Three boys including:
Tran Tien-Huan (1857 - 1898)
One girl:
Thi-Nhan (1855 - 1929) who married the scholar Nguyen-Lo-Trach

The other concubines were:

Tran Van-Thi-The
Le Thi-Nhu
Ton Nu-Thi-Dieu

Back to Tran Genealogy Index

15 July 2008

Mecano's Los Amantes, translated

I've been a fan of Mecano since my early teens. My first Mecano encounter was "Hijo de la Luna" which has since been reprised in English by Sarah Brightman.

One of my favourite Mecano songs is Los Amantes from their album "Descanso Dominical".

In this song, Ana Torroja interprets the dashing elan of an enamoured troubador who leaps from balcony to balcony and sings his love to who will listen.

Mecano's unique sound lends itself so well to Anime that I couldn't resist this little cartoon clip:

The beat has a whimsical quality to it which underlines the protagonist's flirty nature.
Yet the wonderful Ana puts so much emotion into this song (as always) and the result is a sound so elevating that while I listen, I end up visualising, not some fickle flirt, but an intense troubadour neither man nor woman and always full of soul and love. And in this love, there is both naivety and vanity.

In the lyrics, the protagonist's behavior is traditionally male-gendered, at least, according to Spanish culture. So what I love most about this airy, passionate song is the fact that it is a woman who sings it. I love the fact that as a result of Ana's interpretation, I can identify with a protagonist whose gender remains undefined. I think this is why Mecano is so reminiscent of transgendered Anime characters.

Mecano is known for controversial lyrics, recall "Mujer Contra Mujer", and maybe this brings us to another meaning. As I mentioned, there is an ambiguity in the song's protagonist which forces us to question our perceptions of what is 'normal' behavior for a lover according to their gender. The final two lines of the song make it ambiguous as to exactly what sort of lover is being described all along. Their true nature remains hidden even though they seem ostentatious in dress and style. Musically, the suspended final beat leaves the melody equally unresolved.
Technically, this ending seems to mirror the discomfort that people feel when norms are challenged.

Overall I think this song is perfect in its subtle expression of the 80s anti-homophobic movement. I love it.

Here are Mecano's lyrics with my translation in italics.

Los Amantes - by Mecano

Yo soy uno de esos amantes
Tan elegantes como los de antes
Que siempre llevan guantes.

I am one of those lovers
So elegant, like in those days of yonder
Who is always found wearing gloves

Entre semana voy deportivo
Pero el domingo me pongo muy fino
Con mi chaqué de lino.

During the week I am sporting
But on Sundays, I dress very finely
With my linen coat

Y voy buscando por los balcones
Bellas julietas para mis canciones
Y hacerles los honores.

And I go seeking by the balconies
Beautiful Juliets, for my songs
And I do them the honors.

Y siempre estoy
Rompiéndome la voz
Cantando coplas
Bajo tu ventana, amor
Sal ya que este trovador
Se está asando de calor.

And I am always,
Breaking my voice,
Singing couplets
Below your window, my love
Do you know that this troubadour
Has enflamed himself from the heat.

Soy educado caballero,
Bello, cortés y amable compañero,
Un codiciado soltero.

I am an educated horseman,
Handsome, courteous, an amiable companion,
A coveted bachelor.

Y como no tengo complejos
Me miro siempre en todos los espejos
Antes de echar los tejos.

And since I have no complexes,
I look at myself in all the mirrors
Before making my advances

Si alguna vez cometo errores
Para que no llores pido mil perdones
Con un millón de flores.

If I were to make mistakes,
So that you do not cry, I would ask a thousand pardons
With a million flowers.

Y siempre estoy
Rompiéndome la voz
Cantando coplas
Bajo tu ventana, amor
Sal ya que este trovador
Se está asando de calor.

And I am always,
Breaking my voice,
Singing couplets
Below your window, my love
Do you know that this troubadour
Has enflamed himself from the heat.

Yo soy uno de esos amantes
Yo soy uno de esos amantes

I am one of those lovers
I am one of those lovers

9 July 2008

A Sunday walk through Brisbane

I took a couple of photos during our walk through Brisbane last weekend. It started out not far from QUT, in the Botanical Gardens.

The following shadow photos were taken along the river facing towards QUT...

I really like these for some strange reason. So I'm going to do what my photographer friend does and declare them copyright. So there. (Which reminds me I need to declare all the posts and ideas that I regularly spew out on this blog as copyright. Consider this a preamble to my legalese, to come shortly. Be warned, plagiarist!)

This is a great one. Has an eerie, cold morning dew feel to it. Almost looks as though we are lost in a magical forest and the tree branches are beckoning the traveller forward to his doom. Aaaaaagh!!!!

The one below reminds me of the kitschy special effects in some 70s Arabian adventure movie. Beware the play-do crawling branches that awake in the middle of the night!!!

Here is a photo of a peculiar but ordinary looking tree which I quite like. Don't ask me for the Botanical name. I never took high school Biology due to my deep dread for the famed insect collection assignment. You won't find me pinning arachnids and insects to some foam board, on any day. And it's not because I care for the evil little things.

After walking to the end of the Botanical Gardens we took the path skirting the river further to reach Eagle Pier.

What I love about Eagle Pier is the crimson bougainvilleas and the expensive boats. I also think that Boardwalk restaurant is the closest thing to Brisbane's version of the Champs Elysees. You know how people all along the Champs Elysees sit so as to be seen? That is, they sit on their rotund chairs with their bodies pointed away from their table and eat their baguettes while ogling the pedestrians? That's pretty much the idea on the Boardwalk restaurant, except the diners are staring at the river. I admit that the Storey Bridge views are gorgeous.

The Eagle Pier river walk is actually the beginning of a long walk that can take you right up to Newfarm via a moving/floating bridge. Scary stuff!

On Sundays, the Eagle Pier craft markets are on and there are two great food stands worth mentioning. The first is an authentic street style creperie with all the savoury and sweet fillings you may expect in a traditional French creperie. It even smells right too! The fact that it actually offers chestnut cream filling speaks volumes. (I'm still waiting for someone to post a comment on my blog accusing me of being pro-French in the same way I was accused of being pro-Chinese...waiting...waiting...)

Second is a large bakery stand which I think is Chinese owned but I'm not sure. It sells delicious croissants, danishes, filo pastry snacks, cheese twists, buns and breads. The bakery prices are very reasonable and their products are fresh and much better quality than some of the bakery products littering South Bank. Sorry, but someone had to say it!!

After having a delicious breakfast and admiring the Storey Bridge views, we doubled back to the Gardens, then across the spiky Goodwill Bridge to South Bank, took a left turn and headed up towards the Kangaroo Point Cliffs.

Brisbane's Goodwill Bridge links QUT and the Botanical Gardens with South Bank

For more information on the rock climbing (and walking) activities available in Brisbane check out the amazing Urban Crag website.

After walking past the Kangaroo Point cliffs, we reached the RiverLife adventure center where fun seeking visitors can do anything from rent kayaks/bikes, learn rockclimbing/rollerblading to take part in a mini river safari.

So anyway, further along the river and across from the Brisbane ferry stop, we ended up climbing up the short flight of steps and heading towards the long ogled Storey Bridge. This magnificent engineering relic only serves to remind us that QLD's infrastructure gets shoddier every day.

Good news it that you can now climb the bridge (much like the Sydney Harbour Bridge) or you can inhale Brisbane's ever increasing polluting particles (which never rest, even on a Sunday!) and walk bravely across the bridge until you reach the Brisbane CBD. Watch out for whistlers and car honks! All in good fun.

Brisbane City views from the top of Storey Bridge.

For nicer photos, check out my Facebook album. This is a photographic shoot through Brisbane's Botanical Gardens. Taken in mid 2008.

25 June 2008

Bring Back the 90s

I'd never thought I'd say this but I miss the 90s.

I think they've been ushered in once more with the resurgence of Vanilla Ice, the Spice Girls and New Kids on the Block.
But I didn't pay these acts any notice. I had a nauseating notion that the 90s were back but I didn't really feel it in me. When I think of the 90s, I think dance tunes, nostalgic rap and thumping beats. I also think of Lebanese guys competing for the biggest car subwuffer but that's another story.

So I was at the gym the other day, tuning in to the 9 plasma screens for something out of the ordinary. Suddenly, plasma screen number 5 grows dark and this menacing basey march begins to resonate. Meanwhile this bouncing black dude with gold chains appears from the ominous darkness, promising to rap away to the beat. Then without warning, I hear a frantic female voice in the background oozing out an "I've got the POWER!!!!"

I nearly had a heart attack. Man, that's a song that I was certain to have buried deep into my most embarrassing music crushes never to be mentioned again- area of my brain...but here I was, actually liking this song. Worse, I had this huge smile on my face and I felt like doing the running man and all that stuff.

After Snap, you wouldn't believe who else came on... Another black dude, this time no rap. It was Haddaway. You know, "What is love? Lady don't hurt me! Don't hurt me!" Admittedly one of my favourite 90s dance song mainly because I used to dig the caped girl dancing in her thigh high boots in the music video.

How could this have happened? I promised myself when I started my first IT job in 1998 to never go backwards to the 90s. Never, ever. The 60s, not a problem, the 70s and the 80s maybe, those are the 'classic' re-doable periods. You may go there. But the 90s??? Don't ever think about it.

You can't be serious.

All this in vain because I'm digging every 90s song all over again. Ok, so EVERYBODY dance now. Give me the music....
I want to get seedy with Dirty Cash and Mr Vain, or catch the Last Train to Transcentral with the KLF at 3 A-e-A-m. I'm going to dance because Rhythm is a Dancer and Finally, it has happened to me, right in front of my face and I just can not hide it!!! Or how about 100% Pure Love? That was my ultimate, ultimate favourite. Crystal Waters dripped with cool. She was attitude, I wanted to be her and wear that hip white suit and those heels and move around like a snob.

And then there was Ace of Base...how many hours did I spend dancing in the bathroom in front of the mirror to Ace of Base? How many? I won't tell. I went crazy for Fashion Party in their main album.
Ok, ok, this is the bit I liked. It's when the guys belt out a rap with a deep warning voice:

Confess you look at her
Confess you'd like to be with her
Confess you look at her
Confess you'd like to be with her
Confess you look at her

Crack me up. Ok, how about this bit later in the song, when the girls get a little sassy:

Dance yourself mad
Dance yourself mad
You'll like it
You'll like it

Attitude!!!! That's what I'm talking about.

Which reminds me that nothing beats Groove is in the Heart for a song with attitude. I still know the entire song off by heart! Bless me. The chills that you spill up my back...
Strange. Come to think of it, I'm not missing MC Hammer. He said Can't Touch This but hell, I don't even want to...yuck.

Although, guess what, I did have MC Hammer pants once. You had to. It was the done thing... I'd put them on. Then I'd bounce up and down, rapidly moving my legs front and back in criss cross motion and spinning around. The pants looked so good back then.

But no,no,no, those pants are off limits. For the moment anyway...

8 June 2008

Sick of Being Sick

Take this test!
Like a meticulous collector, you've fed your brain a unique set of facts and figures over the years. Words, numbers, you've got it all. That's what makes you a Facts Curator.

Whether or not you intend to absorb every piece of information that comes your way, your mind has certain steel-trap qualities to it. You are a knowledge sponge. You have almost enough words in your head to fill a dictionary, and you're equally adept when it comes to manipulating numbers. You can also detect important patterns in number sequences, and probably remember the mnemonic devices you were taught in grade school.
You may feel comfortable in classroom settings where absorbing details is critical. You're also able to learn from example and piece together all the little facts in life to get to the big picture. That's why you never stop accumulating information as you walk through life.

Your strengths lie in both the verbal and math realms — placing you in the same arena as someone like Bill Gates. Gates has the ability to not only store and retrieve an especially large amount of specialized data, but to translate and present that information to the population at large. His entire empire is based on this unique talent. And to think — your brain works in this same way! When it comes right down to it, you and other Facts Curators can ride a wave of information to live a truly enriched life.

Because I was bored today and still ailing from a nasty cold, I decided to test my IQ for fun. I got 136 which isn't bad considering I didn't resort to pen and paper and completed the test in bed, at invalid pace. So ok, I'm not a genius like Sharon Stone (she got 140), but at least I have the social intelligence not to attribute May's Sichuan earthquake to bad karma.

I find it amusing how this profile draws similarities between Bill Gates and me (or anyone with similar test results as me). I guarantee you that Bill Gates and I have very little in common. I'm hardly business driven and have very little ambition. I also don't have a clue how to turn my many far-fetched ideas into profitable enterprises and wouldn't know how to begin to execute them if I wanted to. Most of the time, I sit there passively contemplating extravagant scenarios but I do nothing about them.

In fact, this IQ thing is completely retarded. It's very much a Western concept. It falls on its face in certain rural communities where social, spatial and naturalist intelligences are more important for success. I'm therefore not a strong advocate of Binet's IQ test for rating individuals' cognitive abilities. I think the validity of any cognitive test depends largely on what parameters are being tested and whether those parameters are relevant to that community's values and lifestyle. In general, I am more inclined towards Dr Gardner's eight intelligences:

Linguistic intelligence ("word smart")
Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart")
Spatial intelligence ("picture smart")
Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")
Musical intelligence ("music smart")
Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is also an attribute that I respect and value over IQ. Sadly it is hard to come by these days. Society still seems to raise IQ on a pedestal at the expense of humanistic aptitude.

I was reading a French forum a couple of months ago. It was my impression that French people seem to be understandably pro-Binet. Of course I shouldn't generalise (after all, I'm part French) but that's the impression I got from the posts. The forum comments were rife with vicious personal attacks on other bloggers' low intelligence or 'lack of logic'. There were several people being accused of 'having a low IQ' because their arguments were judged as not making any sense. Even poor grammar was seen as a good excuse for holding others with contention. The comments went on and on, with each blogger insinuating that they were more intelligent than the other, as if IQ mattered above everything, over social skills for example. In many French forums that I have encountered, there seems to be a general concern for who will deliver the most high-impact argument and assert their intellectual superiority as opposed to who will demonstrate the most regard for other people's opinion and communicate most diplomatically. The forum encouraged depersonalisation, aggression and objectification of other members. It was like a bunch of apes trying to show how clever they were by clubbing all the other apes. Very disturbing.

I've been sick for several days now. Fun fun fun. Just my luck that it's a long weekend and I could be out and about but I have no choice but to be in bed pretending to study.

Hence all that bitterness.

29 May 2008

Alarm Madness

Not too long ago, I mentioned the spanking new unit block next door to us.

It's the most bizarre robotic looking thing.
I think it wants to be dernier cri architecture but is trying way too hard. My feel is that it's overdone and screams for attention. All was progressing well, until the landscape designer decided to overload the entrance with an asymmetrical steel pergola structure just above the outside stairway. The central facade of the building is a brown tacky number, it doesn't even look painted. Standing back to look at the building, one gets an uneasy sense that the builders ran out of some materials and improvised in the best way they could. More distressing is that for some of the fixtures, it seems that the designer couldn't make up his mind whether he wanted chrome or steel.

And the roof... Don't get me started on the roof. There's enough sharp corners and manga style protrusions to believe that if the building wanted to take off and transform itself into a car or a spacecraft, it damn well could!
In fact since January, we have given this hideous unit block a nickname.
We call it Optimus Prime. :)

Optimus Prime units sell for no less than 730K. So that's a good thing for us from a real estate point of view. And ever since it's landed on our street, it has given the previously empty block of land next door, an eccentric face lift.

But there's been a couple of dodgy things happening.

One of them is a bit of a joke. Around the start of the year, the builders celebrated by taking a "secret dip" into the common swimming pool. My private investigator (aka Jason) told me that one afternoon, a bunch of loud, hard yakka blokes took a break from their hot day's sweaty labor by enjoying a cleansing splash in the cool waters of the backyard. Oh, they had fun. You can bet on that.
Not so sure that the new unit dwellers would be very thrilled to know about this...

Here's another dodginess. Ever since the new owners have moved in, my nights are often - say, around once a fortnight - interrupted by an obnoxious alarm. It usually goes on for about a minute and then turns off. We've never really sourced the problem until last night. Last night was the worst. It sounded three times in a row, each time lasting for at least 10 minutes and we didn't get to sleep until 1:30am. Around 1:00 am, Jason went outside for a reconnaissance trip. He discovered that it was not a car alarm as we had previously assumed but that it was the hyperactive security alarm from the building next door!
Bloody Optimus Prime was malfunctioning!!

This was confirmed when we heard the frantic phone conversation between one of the next door neighbours and her body corporate. Apparently, the tenant didn't know how to turn the damn thing off. She had already rung security and they were not responding. Who knows, perhaps, they too, were taking a midnight dip in some high profile swimming pool...

26 May 2008

Old People, Young People

I was recently telling a friend that working through my family's genealogy has been a journey in self-discovery. What I like most about delving into the past is coming face to face with the achievements of other people. I love the realisation that no matter what I do, know, achieve, no matter where I travel or what experience touches me, someone, someone in my past has already done this before me.

That realisation is profoundly humbling. It redefines one's life and gives it meaning, not as an isolated entity, smug in its uniqueness, but as part of a pattern, something greater, universal which has been shared by generations and will continue to be shared for years to come.
This is what my ancestors tell me. That I am not alone and what I have seen and done, they have seen it all before. The thought brings me much comfort.

But don't misunderstand, this realisation is not strange to me. I have never been the sort of person who looks down in disdain at the older generation with conceited thoughts about the superiority of my youth, neither was I convinced that I would live life as no one else had before me, that I would pluck each second and extract every moment, every adrenalin induced pulse, climb every peak and conquer every obstacle.

On the contrary. When I look at the elderly around me, I ask myself many questions. What was their childhood like? What were they like as a teenager? What have they seen in their life? What joys, pains, experiences, disappointments have made them who they are today? What was their greatest journey, achievement, love? I do this out of curiosity. I do this because in a way, it is an intrinsic part of the writer's mentality. I do this because I want to know where I am going and where I have come from. And, to some extent, I do this because I hope that when I too, am 80 or 90, someone young with a different culture and outlook from mine, someone at the prime of their life, without a wrinkle or grey hair, will deign look at me with curious eyes and also wonder, who I was and what I lived.

I wish there were more mainstream films or TV shows featuring older generations. It is unrealistic for our society to spend so much effort on maintaining a youthful appearance, building a nest egg, living longer, wanting to be healthier and any other activities associated with enjoying a longer lifespan when the media - and therefore, the social and cultural psyche - are not adapted to or accepting of old age.

What a farce it is that while society is now living longer according to demographics, and that the buying power of senior citizens is very significant, still, the media faces appear younger and younger. It is a joke that Western society plays on itself.

To truly enjoy old age, Western society needs to not just be physically and financially adapted to it. It needs to relinquish those absurd ideas that life is only worth living when young. And don't get me wrong, I love the images of youth. Youth is beauty. And I know that youth sells. What I am saying is that we are shooting ourselves in the foot if while we aim to live for many more years - at least according to the effort we seem to spend on this, especially medically - we continue to alienate ourselves from what it means to be old. It seems to me a contradiction. Shouldn't we be a little more curious and eager to know about old age? It makes no sense.

And so yes, I would like to see more about the older generation in movies, soaps, comedy shows. I want to know about older customers and what they think. Of course I am not saying I will be like them, since every cohort understandably differs. But I can still learn something.

In fact the more we ignore old age, the more prejudiced we are about it and the more afraid we are about it. I have something to shatter your stereotypes. My grandmother travels more than I do. Possibly more than a lot of young people. She is 85 years old this year. In the last 20 years, she has been to Spain, Germany, Corsica (more than once), Canada, Wales, Australia (more than once), Hawaii (more than once), the South of France, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Pennsylvania, Vietnam and she is currently planning a trip to Vietnam and Australia for September. She might also be going to New Zealand at the end of the year. My grandmother likes to play computer games. She still cooks and is still mentally sharp. Like me, she loves history. She also enjoys watching the Discovery Channel and other travel shows. She goes out often and does her shopping weekly, catches the tram to visit the dentist regularly.

Here's another thought. When Jason and I were in the Schwarzwald (Blackforest, Germany) in 2005, we stayed in a gorgeous Chalet-style hotel on the top of a hill. One night, we decided to dine with the rest of the guests, in the hotel restaurant. It was a friendly, warm environment and the hostess made a fuss of reading the extensive menu to us in two languages (she couldn't speak English very well and had to say a lot in French so that I could translate to Jason). She mouthed every item in the menu as though she were savouring it and salivating with anticipation. I could tell she loved her job. And she was good at it: we felt very pampered. The dinner was excellent, it had one of the best portions and food quality I've ever eaten in my life. I looked around the room and I realised that we were the youngest people there. The other guests were all about 50 years at least. It was not the first time in our travels that we found ourselves outnumbered by older people who were enjoying life, eating well and having cultured, interesting conversations (I eavesdropped a couple of times).

My experiences are probably different to those of others. Besides, not all elderlies can afford to travel, for example. But what I am trying to say is that old age is not ugly. In some ways it is more enjoyable.

In my psychology classes, we discussed prejudices about the aged. It was interesting to learn that according to recent studies, thinking positively about getting old can increase your lifespan by 7 years. For example, the mere thought that one is getting old and that one should just 'accept' physical ailments as a natural process of ageing, can often deter an individual from seeking proper medical attention. This way of thinking only worsens their medical condition and therefore potentially shortens their lifespan. Positive attitudes towards getting old are also associated with less hearing problems.

Overall, our own expectations about old age serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Psychologists have studied these old age expectations in several countries. They found that China has better and greater expectations about the aged group.

In China, for instance, old people are revered and expected to contribute much more fully to social and political life than is common in the West.
-Brown, Rupert. Prejudice: Its Social Psychology. Blackwell Publishing, 1995.

According to an experiment by Levy and Langer (1994) which tested several groups of people aged 59-91 years, Chinese subjects outperformed American subjects in four memory tasks. Similarly, Chinese subjects reported more positive attitudes towards ageing than did the American subjects. For this age group, the study found a positive correlation between memory performance and attitude towards ageing: the more positive the attitude towards ageing, the better the performance in the memory task.

If we want to enjoy old age, we first need to change our attitude towards it.
Let me extend this thought.
If we want to be serious about enjoying life, especially given that today, a lifespan of 80 years represents thirty or so years of being OLD, we need desperately to modify our outlook on old age.

This social change can be accelerated by featuring more aged people in films, television programmes and advertising. The media portrayal of the aged should cease to reinforce certain stereotypes (unattractive/grumpy/helpless/asexual). Take a look at how Europe portrays that generation, there is a difference. I personally find that senior European actresses seem more respected in their respective countries and are still allowed to be sexy for the camera. Think Catherine Deneuve, Marie-Christine Adam (particularly in Priceless/Hors De Prix), Fanny Ardant and Belen Rueda. Education needs to play a role in valuing the aged and most importantly, Western family values should again teach children to show more respect for the aged.

I applaud the long scene in the recent film "Love in Time of Cholera", which featured a 70 year old couple making love. The director did not attempt to hide the realities of life and by not attempting to hide them, he promoted them. The less we hide something, the more acceptable it becomes. The aged DO have a sex life, get use to it. More scenes like these would be welcome. In fact it seems ironic to hide that old people have sex when according to psychological research, old people report greater satisfaction with their sex life than young people.

Enough said.

13 May 2008

The Carnivorous Vine and the Monitor

If you think this title is corny just wait until I tell you about my dream.

It was actually a nightmare but after years of experience with terror filled visions, my unconscious is now adept at moderating nightmares and actively intervening at the right moment to achieve a PG rating rather than an R rating.

By intervening, I mean that I can, to some extent, control my dreams and lessen the horror to come. This implies that usually, I somehow know about the worst that is to come...
It's a little like a privileged preview of the dream. I sit there, watching the dream's frames flip by in fast forward motion, glimpsing the horrific climax and then I stop, rewind, take a deep breath and watch the dream at normal speed.

In an emergency, I can self-willingly fly, become invisible, shape shift, penetrate through walls, move objects through telekinesis...I'm very powerful. Through my touch, I can also pass my powers to others in order to protect them. So if I want to make you invisible, I only have to touch you and make myself invisible. When I disappear, so do you. That way, the boogie man (or something more out of the ordinary from Laura's monster catalogue) will no longer see either of us and we can be safe together. Or if I want to fly away and take you with me to escape an evil place, I can also do that by holding your hand.

The sum of all this, is that what usually threatens to be a nightmare, becomes just a dream.

So a couple of nights ago, in a potential nightmare, Laura borrowed a monitor from uni and placed it in a lab room. Who knows why I needed a monitor from uni but it's a dream and I'm sure there was a useful purpose behind it.

It was an Apple monitor by the way. Why do you think that is? I've never owned one...

It was haunted.

After placing the monitor in an empty lab room, I reached out to touch the screen (for some reason, don't ask). I then watched with great alarm as a red spidery web began to etch itself on the monitor's surface. The web spread into fine, hairlike veins and reminded me of a cracked mirror.

And that's when it happened. A leafy green vine almost five centimeters in diameter jutted out of the center of the web and began to extend and grow out of the monitor - yes, that's the Apple monitor, you haven't lost me - it continued to grow, reaching out to the four corners of the room and threatening to crash everything in its path. Think "The Fountain" when the tree of life shoots out of the conquistador and that's approximately the effect in the dream.

Except it was a carnivorous vine.

So there was a lot of carnage. The vine killed and devoured everything in its path with its many little green jaws armed with pointy little piranha teeth.

Being a lucid dreamer, I decided that I hadn't died and that I was somehow floating around the room avoiding the vine tentacles. A bit like in a computer game where you have to dodge things. I had already calculated that it was a plant and therefore needed light for photosynthesis and to grow. Whoever said that high school science was useless? It could just about save my life...

So I shut the blinds. What do you think happened? The monstrous thing was so sensitive to the absence of light that it soon retreated back inside the monitor, at a frightening rate. The red crack disappeared from the screen and everything went back to normal apart from the smashed glass doors (I forgot to mention that the lab had glass doors...) and the couple of dead people lying around the corridor outside the lab.

With my heart pounding, I decided to return this haunted monitor back to the university. Somehow, I met my current psychology tutor and returned the monitor back to her. That's where it becomes laughable. I expertly told her that she could use the monitor without any issues but that she would have to close the blinds and avoid touching the screen...

Of course initially she didn't believe me. Who the hell would. So I demonstrated. Leaving her office blinds open, I gently touched the monitor's screen until the red spidery web appeared. Then as soon as the demonic vine made its appearance, and I was satisfied that she had seen it, I quickly shut the blinds to avoid a situation. My tutor was now convinced that there was a carnivorous vine living inside her monitor. All she had to do was follow my instructions and she, along with the other people around her, would be safe.

I could do with some dream interpretation.
Now, just where is Joseph when you need him?


I guess this makes me a Natural according to this article on Lucid Dreaming.

"Naturals" are Dreamers that have been lucid dreaming since before they knew what lucid dreaming was, and before they attempted to have lucid dreams.
Naturals are a lucky few, who almost qualify as an entire subculture on their own.

Did you read that? I'm one of the lucky few!!! Go me.