From the fountainhead to art for art’s sake discussion

Until the clock moves closer to 6.30, I was still hesitating, curling inside the usual thick blanket and indulge in my very own pathetic self-pity which has somehow becomes a habit. Just to add up to the blues, I don’t forget to check with a friend

“Will you come?”

“Yes”

“Hey, do you think a person who never read Fountainhead will benefit from the discussion? Do you think it will be deep or just gibberish? Do you think the host really knows anything about the book?”

To that blizzard wave of skepticism, my friend just laughed. “How do I know? Just consider that a social meetup”. Will this be a meetup when youngsters boast about their ego, so-called freedom and selfishness?

Organized in the 8th floor of August cafe, a venue known more exclusively among friends via word-of-mouth, I found myself just on time when the leader and around 10 others are already set themselves up around a cozy line of tables. Within 10 minutes, around 6 others came, filled the space. The leader gradually introduce himself and the group before letting the guest speaker present and actively involve people in Q&As.

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From Fountainhead to “Suối nguồn” in Vietnamese

Fountainhead was first translated into Vietnamese in 2007 . The contract with an American publisher requires the book to be translated within a certain time limit, leading to collaboration of  a group of Vietnamese translators overseas. Being in charge by a female young author, the book in local language possesses a surprisingly smooth word flow and structure. The title of the book itself transcends original “fountainhead” to a word more relevant to Vietnamese (“Suối nguồn” – the source of stream) without losing its most important meaning.

In an interview with Tuoi Tre magazine in that very same year, Phan Viet, the leading translator said

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I (Interviewer)Why did you choose Fountainhead to translate and introduce to Vietnamese audience?

V (Phan Viet) – We can use a number to illustrate this. In a poll conducted in 1998 by Modern Library publisher to vote for the most influential novels in 20th century, Ayn Rand wrote 4 out of 10 leading ones.

However, to look closer, Ayn Rand was very determined to create a world where humans being immersed in passion bliss, bring self and individual life to a sacred level and not settle for something different. Which, I think, is a world we all yearn for.

I – Ideally there should be only one translator for a book. Did you face any difficulty and how long did it take you in finishing the book?

There are obvious obstacles translating in group – the tone, vocabulary limit, as well as each translator’s living experiences. We divided into many steps. Initially, each person tried translating just one page to post in a website we devoted for this project. Afterwards, 2-3 pages. After each finishes their first 10 pages, we figured out a way to combine literature style and let them work independently with constant peer-to-peer review. When they finish, I edit the whole book one last time.

The whole project took us one year to complete.

Have you read “The fountainhead”?

Out of nearly 20 people participating, only around 8 read the book with a wide age range. When being asked about their perceptions, a girl in blue shirt started to open up, first shyly and become more engaging

“I started to read The Fountainhead 7 years ago, when I was 20. How to say, at that time, it was very difficult for me, but at the same time, really engaging. Like a mountaintop in reading list I strive for to absorb.

How do you think about the character in the novel?”, we asked.

“I was appealed by the world of the characters. To me, his idealism is like a push to yearn for something higher”

A lecturer from Vietnam national university then said

It took me only 8 hours to read that book

“Really?”, faces turned around, astonished.

“Yeah, I read at night and cannot put it down. It’s a page turner”

“That’s because the plot is smooth and easy to follow”, the facilitator commented calmly.

At that time, Hoang, the guest speaker, a 25 year old author commented

“I think it’s just like a Hollywood movie. We are attracted but we cannot relate to the characters”

His saying felt in a void when no one argue and at the same time, still keeping their sentiments. Eventually, people’s reactions to a book are very subjective, fixated in very personal mix of place and time.

Art for art’s sake or Art for humanity’s sake?

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We actually did not talk about impressions on Fountainhead until quite long after Hoang, the guest speaker (also author of a novel named “October girl”) gives a presentation about art for art’s sake or art for humanity’s sake. The talk was presented smoothly, revolving around empathy as the connection between the extreme artist and his audience.

“The artist may or maynot think about his audience when he created art. Roark in Fountainhead is an example – he only cares about his own standards, idealism and perfection (art for art’s sake). On the other hand, we may encounter authors like Maxim Gorky who always write for poor people (art for humanity’s sake). Their starting point in art creation is different, however, both kinds of artists and artworks can only survive thanks to the existence of empathy. If nobody understand and value Roark’s work, it will lose in dark black hole.

Hoang’s quite succinct observation closes our discussion and at the same time, open it up to other doors. In a series of free talk, Life of Pi, classical music, culture preservation and Van Gogh was gradually mentioned in a spontaneous, vibrant exchange.

When we were about to leave, I notice a girl who is still reading “Fountainhead”

“Hi, you don’t go home?”, I asked, remember clearly that this bookworm read this novel at least once.

“No, I will go back later”

She replied shortly then immersed in the thick book with an interrupted, intense attention. I suddenly got my Kindle out. The Fountainhead items says “2 %”

Hmm, it’s a long way to go

 

Tản mạn duy mĩ

Mình thích giọng văn của Thạch Lam và Nguyễn Tuân. Nếu Nguyễn Tuân kiêu kì bóng bẩy với một vốn từ vựng ngồn ngộn tuôn ra như thác qua cái tôi mạnh mẽ thì Thạch Lam se sẽ hơn, nhẹ nhàng, đi vào lòng người qua những mô tả chi tiết cuộc sống chầm chậm và đầy ý nhị. Nguyễn Tuân đẹp đến lóa mắt, rực lửa khai phá còn Thạch Lam thì đẹp buồn và đầy lòng trắc ẳn. Phong cách khác nhau nhưng cả hai đều duy mĩ, đầy tình yêu và rung cảm với cuốc sống, đọc rất sung sướng.

“Mặt giời nhú lên dần dần, rồi lên cho kỳ hết. Tròn trĩnh phúc hậu như lòng đỏ một quả trứng. Lòng đỏ trứng khổng lồ đặt lên một cái mâm bạc rộng bằng cả một cái chân trời màu ngọc trai nước biển hửng hồng. Y như một mâm lễ phẩm tiến ra từ trong bình minh để mừng cho sự trường thọ của tất cả những người chài lưới trên muôn thuở biển Đông. Vài chiếc nhạn mùa thu chao đi chao lại trên mặt bể sáng dần lên cái chất bạc nén. Một con hải âu bay ngang, là là nhịp cánh”

Chiều, chiều rồi. Một chiều êm ả như ru, văng vẳng tiếng ếch nhái kêu ran ngoài đồng ruộng theo gió nhẹ đưa vào“.

Trời đã bắt đầu đêm, một đêm mùa hạ êm như nhung và thoảng qua gió mát“.

Một kiểu văn khó dịch, đẹp kiểu đặc trưng ngôn ngữ việt, nếu dịch hẳn sẽ bị mất đi rất nhiều qua lớp màng lọc văn hóa.

Do you know what you don’t know? A Carl Jung symbol discussion in Hanoi

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Tuan got to the stage which in this case is the front line of a co-working space cafe in West Lake. “I don’t know how to do a presentation”, he said. “But I know how to put words in some funny pictures”. Then the guy continued with a parallel of Zizek and the handsome character in Games of Thrones before explaining

The known knowns is what we know we know. Like this piece of paper“, he grabbed a random piece of paper on the table, quite spontaneously. “We know it’s white, right?”.

The guy then continued with simple and clear explanations before we interrupted with questions and drag his supposed to be 20-minute-talk into a vibrant hour of Q&A and role play. Majored in philosophy in US, Tuan is taking a break in Vietnam before coming to South America and back to his study further this year. Vietnamese studying overseas often create the impression of being arrogant and distant, yet Tuan neatly breaks that stereotype by funny, easy to approach speech delivery.

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A new emerging philosophy community

It seems ironic to join a philosophy group being aware that people are gonna talk about Freud and Carl Jung. “Are they supposed to be…psychologists?”, I was curios when Hung, the leader of another philosophy group told me about the event just 2 hours before it is supposed to happen. Without nothing particular in mind to do, I decided to push my bicycle like a soldier under the sun to get to where they meet. “I hope it’s worth it, otherwise it’s exercise anyway”, I told myself. Having been to several philosophy communities in both main cities in Vietnam, I cannot wait to see how a new one unfolds.

Coming late, I sneaked in and let the recording mode ready. Surrounded by around 16 people around a long table, we shift the attention to a western guy with a warm, intellectual voice. My body starts to be stiff. “wow, very academic”. The guy articulately presents concepts on Carl Jung and Freud similarities and differences with neatly organized powerpoint slides, shown in a big enough screen.

Quickly move from one point to the other with a poised posture, he overwhelmed the current space with an intellectual aura. I scanned all over the room – most have their notebooks on, phone off. A young Vietnamese university student even print out the book we use to discuss.

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With each event, people are informed at least one week before with access to materials. To my surprise and quick generalization, this is not a cavern of expats. Out of 15 people sitting around the table today, more than half are Vietnamese. After the initial silence, the Viets start to raise questions and engage in Q&As, which to me, as a Vietnamese person, a delightful thing to observe. Blending with expats who are willing to share is an emerging local group who are proactive enough to explore the essential thing that is not taught that widely in schools.

“What do you think about the talk? Critical thoughts, I mean”, Jon asks.

“I think everyone prepares very well”

“I think in a way it sets a bar, an expectation for the following presenters. People know (subconsciously ? ^^) that they need to put a certain amount of preparation to make it work”

“I don’t want to be the center of attention”

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As the leader of any group, one should expect people look up to him/ her. However, that’s not what Jon really wants. “What’s your motivation in setting up this group?”, I attacked him with probably a FAQ. “Do you study philosophy?”

It’s interesting to know that most people joining are not majored in philosophy yet willing to invest time and effort in participating with serious attention. So is Jon. Out of a bunch of people, we have Tuan (Ted) and another girl who used to teach philosophy in South Africa. Other than that, the knowledge spectrum varies. As facilitators, the ones organizing the events have to balance between motivating people to engage without shifting people’s attention to their presence.

“I actually don’t even want to stay in the spotlight. I prefer being in the back, you know”

“It’s a fine line to balance”. I commented.

The 2 hour discussion soon came to an end. In a corner Jon and Tyler are preparing for their meditation session while we Vietnamese stand in a corner and discuss about why we are interested in philosophy recently.

Do you study philosophy?”

No“, most shake their head.

And yet we are here, motivated by the collective conscious- or unconscious, depending on how you wanna name it.

Battlefield reporters – the souls behind Vietnam War

1When Peter looked up, I asked:

“So what is your favorite picture?”

He stopped for a moment:

“Favorite? No not “favorite”, but I think the ones that impressed me is the ones showing the brutality of wars”

Upon saying that, Peter was referring to the collection of war crime pictures exhibited on 2nd floor of War Remnant Museum, Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam. This 35-year-old Museum has been an excellent bridge connecting the gaps of history awareness (or lack thereof) from  both sides. Despite some criticism of being biased, I felt touched by various pictures shown here, taken by the brave men behind the cameras. Today I want to explore their stories, what led them to the battle fields, their impacts on public and the reverse impact on their own lives after fame.

Troublesome Risk-Takers

Tim PageBritish, the danger craving man

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War is hell

I should not have chosen “War is hell” photo to present here since my eyes are glued at this solder’s mesmerizing look and not the tiny sentence on his hat, but it is good attraction leading me to an interesting War Reporter called Tim Page.

 

As the person behind haunting photos of Requiem Exhibitionin War Remnant Museum, a collection of pictures from photographers who died in the Vietnam War, Tim Page is also the inspiration for the journalist played by Dennis Hopper in the famous film Apocalypse Now. However behind the glory he also suffered from PTSD and attempted suicide 2 times. At the later period of life he shifted his focus to portray war veterans and wrote about their stories, mainly as a self-therapeutic act.

Requiem collection portrayed not only brutality but also humanity in this War:

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A communist being executed in Saigon Street

 

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An identified U.S. Army personnel wears a hand lettered “War Is Hell” slogan on his helmet, June 18, 1965, during the Vietnam War. He was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Battalion on defense duty at Phouc Vinh airstrip in South Vietnam. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)
Vietnam The Real War
In the first of a series of fiery suicides by Buddhist monks, Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death on a Saigon street to protest persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government, June 11, 1963.The photograph aroused worldwide outrage and hastened the end of the Diem government. With the photo on his Oval Office desk, President Kennedy reportedly remarked to his ambassador, ÒWeÕre going to have to do something about that regime.Ó (AP Photo/Malcolm Browne) FOR ONE-TIME USE ONLY IN CONNECTION WITH THE BOOK AND/OR EXHIBIT “Vietnam: The Real War” (Abrams 2013)

 

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A picture that caught my attention in War Remnant Museum. Is that a man/ woman, why is that one smiling? The strange moment may unfold an interesting story, reserved for next part covering Vietnam War reporters😉
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U.S Marines carry the injured during a firefight near the Southern edge of the DMZ, Vietnam, October 1966

To be fair, Tim Page is not a “Vietnam” war photographer, but rather an Indochina War & Middle East war reporter. His photography is self taught in the years he was in Laos working for AFP when he was only 17, which earned him a staff position in Saigon Bureau of the news agency in 1965. He was severely injured in war 4 times.

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Tim Page under fire with Martin Stuart Fox in Vietnam, 1966

What brought  Tim Page to this career was not burning passion at first for either war or photography but rather a string of incidents, notably his near-death experience following a 1960 motorcycle accident:

“I had died. I lived. I had seen the tunnel. It was black. It was nothing. There was no light at the end. There was no afterlife. Nothing religious about any of it. And it did not seem scary. It was a long, flowing, no-color wave which just disappeared. The mystery was partly resolved, all the fearful church propaganda took on its true, shameful meaning. I was content. I was alive. I was not dead, and it seemed very clear, very free. This was the dawning, the overture to losing a responsible part of my psyche. A liberation happened at that intersection. Anything from here on would be free time, a gift from the gods”

That incident might not be the only factor, but definitely an important one which helped Page to swing himself into brutal, exhausting, emotionally turbulent scenes he faced.

In this interesting interview by Talk Vietnam, Page shared about his reason why he came to Asia in the beginning

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– At 17 years of age, you decided to leave UK to come to Asia. Why did u decide that?

  • – I think my whole life has been a series of falling over, accidents, and then becoming lucky. When I was 16 I died. I was in a motorcycle. And I lost 6 liters of blood from here, I thought I was dead. I think when you see the other side, death, whatever this is, ended now, when you come back, you are changed. So I run from England and it was mind-opening.

– So you would go on to shoot your very first war photos eventually in Laos, and you never thought of becoming, you know, a photo journalist, let alone a war reporter.

-In Laos, I lived with a man who became a correspondent for UPI, United Press. The war in Laos, in 1963-1964 escalated, so they sent my friend to Tokyo to learn big time correspondent, and I am UPI’s Bureau chief in Laos. I am 18, I am bureau chief in Laos, right, so the bureau chief in Saigon comes in

“Hey kid, how do you like your job? 3 days later I am in Saigon”

Tim Page’s totally unpredictable life turn brought him to Saigon and War reporting in general, which pushes him to hone his skills as the requirement of the job and exposure brought after that, just like the characters in the book of Carl Newport . It is not the idealist image I have in mind about passionate people who believed in justice and meaning and looking for something to change the world but much more complex, and because of that, much more interesting. The stories of people with extraordinary works but very vulnerable and normal at the same time.

I can’t help thinking the lady interviewing him already having certain story in mind though, a polished plot for television.

The next war reporters I want to explore are Henri Huet from France, Kyochi Sawada from Japan, Larry Burrow from Britain and Luong Nghia Dung from Vietnam. How are their stories different from Tim Page?

 

 

 

“Vietnam from above”

From Thang Soi, the photographer/ director behind “Vietnam from above” video. Too amazed by a product whose obviously immense investment with the tagline “only for non-commercial use”, I traced back this professional hippy.

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“When “Vietnam from Above” was posted on Facebook, it was a personal record to me. With 200.000 views, more than 6000 likes and 3000 shares. Of course I was very happy and felt a sense of value (well, sort of) of what I am doing. In a way, it can be considered success, benefit, or something similar.

Yet, certain sadness lingers inside me. Most of the clip fans follow nationalism with such comments “omg I love it, I am so proud of Vietnam”, and only a minority understands that it is “Vietnam sorrow” from my perspective. On the other hand, my posts about environment, Formosa and society threats only attracted several hundreds of interactions.

Today I was heard that around 10.600.000 Vietnamese follow a stand up comedian, which is more than 10% of our population (not counting the rate of people with better society awareness). How shocking is that figure, even with only 50% or 30% of 10.000.000, it is so huge. Meanwhile, many devoted, kind-hearted Facebookers let me know that they have only around 10.000 followers.

What a land we are living in. Such a comedy.

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When I read his status, I felt very happy. Of course the ones with awareness are always the minority, yet it is a powerful minority. Keep going Thang Soi!

Valley cafe in Sapa

Listing down some Sapa activity recommendations for my a friend of mine, the memories of the area kept flowing back. The period volunteering in Sapa Hope Center, when I moved out to stay in Cat Cat village and be a frequent guest of chi Lan and anh Chien in their peaceful cafe.

Mountain, clouds and a drip of caffein

Sapa may lack something but definitely not cafes vith views. As a town embraced by vast valley and mountain ranges from all directions, business people soon found out that they can just set up a simple cafe or hotel and name it a “view something”. From every corner, you can either see a lake, a vibrant market, a part of Muong Hoa valley. The higher the better, where drinks are devoured with a panorama.

What makes Gem Valley really special to me is of course, it used to be part of my mountain home. But had it been not so good, I would never set foot there in the first place. Located not very close from Sapa Center (at least for a lazy walker🙂 ) and close to the entrance of the touristy Cat Cat village, not many people discovered it because they are already satisfied with not-too-bad choices in town.

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As a cafe and a Homestay, Gem Valley is nearby entrance of Cat Cat, with first floor used as cafe and 2nd floor used a homestay.

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The unlimited balcony gives a 160 degree view to rice paddy fields, villages and part of Hoang Lien Son range

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Drip, drip, daydream while clouds float nearby

By artists, for artists, and us

The place was set up by a couple named Lan and Chien. Chien moved here from Ha Noi because the area gave him inspiration for paintings and after years, Lan gave up the idea of convincing him to go back to the city.

With just a bunch of regular guests every day, Lan and Chien can maintain a sustainable income aside from art, and always look calm.

The cafe has an interesting collecting of mountain life art, following impressionism.

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Guests can drink and borrow some great photo books on the tables to see.

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Chien is highly interested in mountain patterns.

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Part of his collection comprising 4 pictures on Spring, summer, autumn and winter. Can u guess which season is this one?

Guests can drink and borrow some great photo books on the tables to see.

“You will like it here. It is fresh and peaceful, good for your health and mind“, Mrs. Lan told me, when I told her that I was so confused about future.

And even though still confused about future as always ^^, I cannot agree with her more about health part.

How can you be stressed when life is so simple and nature is all around you, holding you from all corners?

P/S: The pictures were taken from their Tripadvisor site. I did not have a phone or camera when I were there, which is even better. I can just immerse in the landscape instead🙂

Nau da vs Sua da

Sitting in a typical cafe owned by an Old Quarter lady, I feel the urge write something for my only day in Hanoi before heading to Laos but feel so weird. After half a year it is still the “nau da” instead of “sua da” I know. Old quarter still has the same vibe. When the xe om driver drove me pass by red river, the vast farm there made my heart skipped for a few seconds but that’s it. My sense of nostalgia is lost.

For a few minutes the well-repeated “Hanoi is rude” slogan of Saigoneers pop up in my head which makes me notice some rude behaviours to confirm, but my own experiences are stronger so those external affirmations do not make any sense. It is partly right, but it also reflects a certain degree of fear and defense mechanism disguised in judgement when you fail to blend in. It sucks to feel like an outsider, but some even choose to be outsiders before observing.

I wanna miss it. I can’t. Too familiar to detach. Just comfortable but not curios. I am a bit disappointed of myself since I thought I have gained a certain vantage point, at least within this country to compare one region over another. I expected myself to be able to explain at least why the north behaves as such and the south behaves as such, but it is not black and white.

Even if the Northerners are rude as the Southerners say, I still feel nothing. Feeling comfortable and at ease increases my tolerance and overall, enjoyment. Yes I can complain “Hmm there is just one tra da”, or I can just sip the brown liquid in front of me and watch people go by. There is that great weird feeling after a few hours and you change color like a chameleon.