in saigon, again.

two things.
1. people can be cruel, life can be quite unfair.
you can play victim and whine incessantly about how the world owes you something, spreading negativity
or you can just not.

2. the term “việt kiều” is used to describe vietnamese from overseas.
dad once told me there were generally two types of việt kiều who return to vietnam:
the first, to brag.
the second, to make the country a better place.

i’m not the first of either, but i will try to do both the latter.

veanne cao
[shooting from a dippy little truck with rice creative and truc-anh.

vietnam

sàigòn.
5am street corners on little red plastic stools with dad and his childhood friend.
i miss these mornings, dearly.


 

aunt chau and uncle phuong’s,
where i spent summer 2007 scriptwriting in afternoon thunderstorms.



 

i was introduced to relatives i’ve never met, including uncle thanh, on the left.


who regaled me with war tales of when grandpa moved the entire family of a hundred into one home
to keep everyone safe and united.
(mom said this number was grossly exaggerated, but i’d like to believe him anyway.)
 

iPhone timelapse on tristyan’s motorbike.
nose, cheek pressed against his back, swerving through districts, perfectly intoxicated.


 

vũng tàu.



 

i had originally planned to add a lot more pictures with weeks of stories,
but ever since i met tristyan, my enthusiasm for blogging has waned
because i’ve been sharing my narratives with him.

but i will say, i see my parents about once a year
and every time i see them, they get a little bit more tranquil, a little bit more eccentric.

with this trip, i was reminded of how hilariously funny they are,
how sweet and affectionate they are to me, to each other.
and there was a sadness, a heartache, a longing to move back to california
when they saw me off at the airport.
 

currently listening to:
the recording is rubbish and the camera guy has the sniffles,
but i was so obsessed with his performance that i had this on repeat my entire trip back to saigon.

mùa thu cho em – tiến nguyễn

translation here.

After thirty years, they found my grandfather.

During the Vietnam war, tens, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians became M.I.A.

My grandfather was one of them. For thirty years, my family has tried to track him down.
Last they heard, he was in Cambodia, but after thirty years,
they came to conclude he had passed away.

Recently people have been using the help of psychics to find their missing relatives in Vietnam.
My uncle Doanh decided he would try it out.
Now of course, my family believed this was all hooey and discouraged it,
but uncle Doanh insisted.

He flew to Vietnam this summer to a small village in the North.
There, lived an old psychic who wanted to take care of his village.
In order to see him, you had to stay with a household in the village.
They’d take care of you, feed you, house you.
In return, you’d give them, I think, 30,000 dongs (which is about less than three USD) a day.
The psychic felt that if you wanted to find your dead relatives,
you shouldn’t be staying at posh, fancy hotels.

In order to see the psychic,
each morning you’d go to his house with a piece of paper with your name and simply the phrase,
“I am looking for someone.”
That afternoon, he’d pick a slip of paper and help that person find their missing relative.
It usually takes about two weeks before your name was called.

The evening my uncle arrived, he had a really bad fever and became really ill.
The next morning, he turned in his slip of paper. That afternoon, his name was called.

When he went to see the psychic, the psychic told him,
“You are looking for your father.
Your family believes this is nonsense, but if you want to find your father,
you have to follow me to the very end.
If you bail out on me halfway, I won’t do this for you.
You have to follow me to the very end.”

My uncle agreed. The psychic began scribbling a map of mountains and oceans and told my uncle,
“Your father didn’t die in Cambodia. He’s in the South of Vietnam. Take this map,
go to the South of Vietnam and look around until you find a place that resembles this map.”

So then my uncle went on this wild goosechase with this scribbled map the psychic had given him.
Each time he came to a place that resembled the map, he’d call the psychic,
“Am I here?”
“No, keep going.”

For almost a month straight he did this.
Finally, he arrived at a little fishing village.
He called the psychic, who then told him,
“You’re there. Now ask around the village for the names of these three men.”
My uncle went around asking, but no one seemed to know who these men were.
He finally went to the main office in the village.
The workers there informed him that two of the men were deceased,
and gave him the address to where he could find the third man.

When he arrived at the man’s house, the man said to my uncle,
“How do you know my name? No one calls me by that name.”
(In Vietnam, people are often called by their nicknames throughout their lives, not by their real names.)
My uncle explained to the man his situation and why he was there.
The man told my uncle,
“In 1981, my two friends (the other two names the psychic had given my uncle), and I
found three bodies washed ashore. We buried them on top of the hill by the village.”

My uncle then traveled to the base of this hill and called the psychic,
“Am I here?”
“Yes. There are three bodies, one of them is your father.”
“From here I see five tombstones.”
“Two of them have already been dug out. Go to the top of the hill.”

When my uncle reached the top of the hill,
there were two large holes where two of the bodies had been.

He called back the psychic,
“How do I know which one of these three graves is my father?”
“Ask your father to help you find him. When you place your hand in the dirt,
you’ll find something that’ll tell you it’s your father.”

My uncle then asked out loud,
“Dad, please help me find you.”
He dug his hand into the dirt, and pulled out a bone.
He said he felt this overwhelming pressure in his chest and immediately knew it was his father.

The way people were buried, their body was placed on a wooden plank
and covered with a white sheet before dirt was placed over them.
After over thirty years, there was no flesh left, only a few bones and teeth.
But my uncle was absolutely convinced that he had found my grandfather.

There’s a bunch of theories to this whole situation.
For example, that the psychic was a fraud, just trying to make money out of wealthy foreigners,
but if that were the case,
wouldn’t he have insisted on more money for staying in the village households?

And then my mom told me about this other theory,
that there are a lot of lonely spirits in Vietnam, who want someone to properly bury them,
to love them, to pray for them, and might have gone to the psychic pretending to my grandfather.

My family, being the skeptics that they are, insisted on a DNA test.

 
The results:
I was told you need certain parts of the body in order to get 100% accuracy on DNA tests.
Because they were only able to use the bones and teeth my uncle found,
they were able to verify that it’s 87% my grandfather,
which to me, basically means, yes, it’s my grandfather.

The best part about this whole story? My uncle documented his trip on a little camcorder.

 
The map that started the journey.

0830

 
I think this would make an awesome documentary.
A man’s relentless journey to find his father,
the interviews, images of Vietnam landscapes, oceans, mountains…

Sadly, this isn’t the sort of story investors are interested in tossing their money into.
It’s usually about returned profit for them.
Don’t suppose you guys know anyone with 15k lying around collecting dust
and wanna be listed as Executive Producer on this project?

goodbye saigon!

i don’t have a camera with me,
but my macbook has a webcam that records video.
a tiny bit of my life in saigon:

afternoon thunderstorm in my cousin xiu’s bedroom (trt: 00:21):
(if you look closely, you can see a little gecko crawl across the wall in the background)



 
while on the front porch of my aunt’s house (trt: 00:17):



 
last night was my last night here,
and the saigon entourage sans tommy (who had to shoot until 2am)
took me out to dinner at ngoc xuan’s and club barocco to bid me farewell.
thanks davey for setting everything up. you’re the best.

here are some pics from dinner.

two months later,
one hundred and fourteen page first draft of screenplay done.
tonight i fly back to california.

see some of you very soon! <3
 

currently listening to:
my heart belongs to the breakbeat,
but i’ve been diggin’ house here at the clubs.

film making in vietnam

during lunch on tuesday,
johnny suggested i stop by the set of his new film, “nu hon than chet”
to see how productions run in vietnam.

it’s not much different than in the states,
except the nazi assistant director running around
like a headless chicken squawking, “quiet on set!” was no where to be found.

 
johnny plays the good guy aka little miss sunshine.

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and tommy plays the devil.

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i am an idiot.

i got into a fight with a hooker at the club.

exhibit a: shiner (still slightly swollen and discolored, but healing nicely)

0752

 
i paid the dentist 200,000 dongs (apprx. $12.50) to yank out the remaining half of my tooth.

exhibit b: hole in mouth

0753

 
the washing machine here doesn’t wash clothes; it spreads filth.
and so my aunt washed my clothes with the rags she uses to mop the disgustingly dirty floors
and now all of my undies have yellowish-brown splotches on them that resemble caca stains.

exhibit c: oh hell no.

 
i am all kinds of messed up right now,
but check it:

exhibit d: prescription-free fizzy fun. :)

0754

where have you been?

i couldn’t access livejournal in beijing,
but i could still access tubgirl mirrors.
dude, haven’t we learned that censorship doesn’t work?

now back in saigon.
i was teaching my aunt’s english class before leaving for china.
it’s so awesome to come back and see that the students still remembered
it’s pronounced “happy birthday”, not “happy bird-day”
and that it’s “good”, not “goot.”

davey, tommy and their entourage have been taking really good care of me
like finding me cheeseburgers and taking me to clubs that don’t suck.
so when they asked me if i could do a test shoot for six of their models,
i was like sure.

except wtf do i know about shooting fashion models?
not much, but i figured it couldn’t be too different from shooting anything else.
totally different style than i’m used to, but it’s fun to try new things.

 
tommy. switchout.
i’m realizing i like his test shots more than the ones from the actual photoshoot.

0747

0748

 
tam.

0749

 
phuong.

0750

 
how awesome is our lighting set-up? :D

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currently listening to:
been pretty obsessed with this song recently.

phuong took us out to dinner last night.

the taxi dropped us off in front of this dark narrow alley.
at the very very end, was this total dive, swarming with people.

we slurped down fresh oysters, clams, crabs and escargot in a myriad of colorful shells.
omg it was off the hook.

saigon is dirty and you’ll probably get a tummy ache a least once while you’re out here,
but like i said before, no fancy upscale restaurant could ever make me happier
than this little hole in the wall,
with its little blue plastic stools and sticky floors covered in buckets of food residual.

i told phuong she was the best. for real.
because no tourist will ever find such a gem of a place.
it’s a shame we’re are always told to stay away from dark alleys.

another eight hours in two hours.

so like i told kalli, i’ve developed this shyness of taking pictures of random strangers.
like they’re minding their own business, doing their thing
and then i feel rude coming up to them and snapping away,
like they’re spectacles or something.
so i’ve been shooting a lot of random, non-human pictures recently.

printed two rolls today and mailing out thirty-five of them as postcards
to those of you who requested them.

 
here are a few:

0729

0730

0731

0732

0733

0734

0735

0736

da lat, vietnam

ba.

0727

her children bought her this house in da lat where she lives by herself.
she’s a tiny eighty-year old woman
and the house is so massively huge that she can’t clean up everything
and she doesn’t want to hire maids because she’s afraid they’ll steal from her.

so i spent yesterday
sweeping, mopping, dusting cobwebs and killing various critters around the house.
i hate cockroaches. especially the flying ones. die biotch!

 
vi wants me to post pictures of cute vietnamese boys,
and omg i met the cutest boy yesterday.

0728

his parents named him “lucky.” how cute is that? :)

 
the idea of sleeping in mosquito netting seemed awfully romantic..
until i pulled down the netting and half a dozen dead flies dropped out.

0737

but of course, i had to sleep with it anyway,
otherwise the mosquitoes would have gotten to me again.
i feel so dirty.

greedy mosquitos.

no matter where i am,
there are two places in the world where i always feel at home:
ranch99 and billiard halls.

last night,
chi yen took me to a dingy, dirty joint hidden in the side streets,
congested by cigarettes and men.
i wasn’t intimidated because i’ve been living in billiard halls since i was sixteen.
and one by one by one, i beat them.
i got too cocky and got schooled by the fourth guy.

had he been cute,
i think it would have been a great start to a fleeting, summer romance.

 
shortly after the thunderstorm.

0726
 

currently listening to:
my aunt and uncle took me to a night club on friday for a history lesson in vietnamese music.
the vocalists sang songs by trinh cong son.

this recording from 1967 is one of my favorites.

ouch.

“you’re pretty by the standards here,
but the way you carry yourself is not very attractive.
you walk like a duck.
and you’re a little fat.”

wow. if i never had any insecurities about my weight, i do now.

the zoo

hello i am super proud of myself.
my cousin tu taught me how to ride a xe hong-da (honda scooter) on sunday
and i drove him around his little town across the river.
still too chickenshit to make left turns,
but hopefully i’ll be brave enough to venture off into the main streets soon.

 
i told huong i wanted to check out the zoo,
and she wrote back,
“i heard the zoo here is really dilapidated and the animals are starved
and it smells like everything died. i’m so down.”
:) she’s so funny.

 
he’s smiling at me, isn’t he?

0723

0724

 
is this not the scraggliest little thing you’ve ever seen?

0725

 
i’m sorry i didn’t not bring my camera with me this past weekend
because guess what i saw while driving through the city?
candy ravers.
imagine that, candy kids in saigon!
i got hella excited and wanted to yell out, “plur!”

when i asked my aunt about them, she said “oh those are bad kids.
they swallow these pills and dance violently for hours.”
i was like, “violently?”
she goes, “yes, violently. like this..”
and she throws her fists in the air and shakes her arms back and forth like beavis and butthead.

it was awesome. :)

greetings from the future

once you embrace the idea of living in a sauna,
drenched in your own sweat day and night,
sticky even after showers,
life in saigon isn’t too bad.

i’ve been leaving my camera at home
because like, how many times can you take pictures of people in rice picker hats
riding cyclos and pushing fruit carts
and misspelled shop signs like, “shoes and boosts.”

and also because i’ve been trying my hardest to fit in,
but everyone here stares at me constantly, like i’m a leper or something.
my aunt says it’s because it’s not proper for a girl to be sitting at coffee shops by herself.

this guy came up to me and said,
“cô gái nội một mình, hơi thuốc lá y trang đàn ông.”
i replied, “đàn ông nhiều chuyện y trang đàn bà.”

which basically translates to zero probability of a vietnamese guy ever wanting to marry me.

 
but the food here is amazing.

0722

 

currently listening to:
my parents video messaged me through ichat and dad was like,
“i know that song!” (that was playing in the background at the coffee shop)

it was so cute to see that little video box of him singing along on my computer screen.

5am post whee.

my flight leaves in a few hours for vietnam,
where i’ll be spending three months writing. prolifically i hope.
will also be in china for a few weeks.

i have a feeling this summer will be a magical time in my life.

 
essentials:
macbook equipped with final draft 7, cheap plastic camera, usb key and ipod.

0719

 
the new adventures of chor lau heung, dubbed in vietnamese
and the duke of mount deer, dubbed in cantonese.
so i can practice my asian speak during the eighteen hour flight.

0720

my cousin quyen said,
“if you’re gonna walk around talking like how they do in those kung fu movies,
people are gonna look at you funny.”

 
i feel kinda nerdy bringing all of these cables,
but i think they’ll be of more use to me than a pack of condoms.

0721

 
if you’d like a postcard (or love letter),
shoot me an email: veanne at gmail dot com
with your address and subject line: “show me some nubbins.”

i get along with little boys

because i too can pick my nose and eat it.

my relatives from vietnam are staying with my family for a few months until they get on their toes.

because their children are new to the country,
they have not yet adapted to certain customs and manners
such as knocking before entering closed doors and
for example..

i don’t know about you, but when i wake up in the morning,
the first thing i do, even before wiping out my eye crusties,
is liberate the bladder.

so anyway,
i wake up this one morning and
doot-dee-doo i’m going to the bathroom and i sit down and
“EEEWWWWW!!!!!!”

the boys had peed all over the toilet seat.

and i look to my side..

now, the plumbing/sewage system in vietnam is sort of.. primitive
so the people there do not flush toilet paper down the toilet.
instead, they dispose them in wastebaskets.

and so i look to my side and there in the wastebasket,
were little pieces of toilet paper with poopie stains on them.

the children are no longer allowed to use my bathroom.

my uncle, a short, somewhat obnoxious man who talks and acts like he knows more than he really does,
is attempting to teach the children how to speak english.
the other day i found him arguing that “idiot” meant someone who was lazy.
“um, no. idiot means someone who is stupid.”
“no, it means someone who is lazy.”
“um, no. don’t argue with the native speaker.”

i noticed that all words in vietnamese are one syllable words.
therefore, if you ever hear a vietnamese person speak english,
you’ll notice that they might have trouble pronouncing words with consonant sounds side by side
[ie, wench would be pronounced “weng”]

anyway, my uncle taught the children “eh-kew mee.” [excuse me]
and this frustrated me.
so i decided to dedicate an hour everyday to tutoring the children in english
(since esl is no longer a department in their elementary school due to budget cuts).

this evening, the boys and i hung out in the dining room with pencils in our mouths,
repeating sounds rhythmically,
“eh! kah! eh! kah! eh. kah. sss. kah. ew! sss. mee.”

at the end of the hour, i had accomplished something somewhat small.
nontheless, it was a nice feeling. :)

the little troublemakers.

0404

currently listening to:

a great track
to groove to while geeking out on the computer. [from movement in still life]