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Doan Minh Phuong - A few thoughts about life experience....

Original title in Vietnamese: see original text
Translation by Anh Tho Andres

A few thoughts about life experience, on my homeland, on other people homelands...

I have lived in many places in the world. And I came back home. And left again. Some friends of mine told me writers need to travel to many places and live many lives, to have more life experience. How to live many lives? We all fear that too many things happen to our life, and yet, we are afraid to miss out things that happen where we are not.

As with many, I also have two wishes: the first is to have an eventful life, the second is to enjoy a peaceful life. We all are bearing both the desire to travel far away, and yet long to be home again.

In those days, I thought that real life happens out there. That in that outer world, in other places, people are making up life. I will go there to join them, to be able to say later on, that I have lived in America, in France, in India and that I know how life is in these places. I thought that if I knew about lives in many places, I would have had more life experience. I would have a lot more interesting things to tell about. As a matter of fact, it is not so. We only have one life, our life. Our travel experiences, different environments only provide another frame for the unique life of each one of us. Distant countries as well as our beloved homeland are all inside us.

Our generation have chosen to live in cities, and some can keep both choices – to go and to come back – in the same heart. Big cities look more and more alike. Small streets, familiar houses, people we know change fast and soon become strangers to us. If we need a homeland, a peaceful and long lasting place, we have to rely on things not fabricated by men, and would last forever: some showers, some stormy days, some windless nights.

One evening, my friend and I were looking down from our balcony to the city center. The horizon was embracing us. The last rain has not really stopped. The sky was still full of flying drops. And in between these watery lines, a thin smoke-like cloud just past by, and vanished. He said to me: “These brick houses over there, in the valley, will they still be there in a few years?” 
I replied: “I don’t know.” 
He then said to me: “Yes, but the clouds will still be there.” 
– “These fragile clouds?” 
– “Yes, these fragile clouds."
– “You mean, other clouds?” 
– “No, I mean, these same clouds.”

2. If two photographers were to take a photo of the same room, at the same time of the day, we would have two different photos showing a different message. According to Susan Sontag, the photo does not show the object being photographed, or what the photographer saw, but it shows the view point of the person who took the photo. In short, even though the scene was planned or was taken spontaneously, the photographer only used the photo to tell us what was inside him.

In art, there is no objective reality. There is only the reality of the photographer: whether that reality exists or does not.

Many people think writing is a lonely enterprise. The loneliness does not come from the fact that the writer sits alone to write, but it comes from the moments where the writer has to make a choice by himself, and cannot rely on anyone else. If his own reality does not transpire in his work, then his work is not real. Writers cannot borrow the reality from someone else, or from some other reality than theirs.

The writer usually starts with a story with few details. He would borrow from the world a place, a period of time, and would place some antagonists, and the journey would start. During the journey, readers would notice that, although the plot already exists and places the characters in a sort of destiny, the writer had many choices for each of the days or events happening to his characters. And in spite of his choice, the writer does not really have the freedom to lead the story in the direction he wants. The writer can only follows the essence of each character and let him have the appropriate reaction in a given situation. In fact, when the writer has made a sketch of his characters and put them in a certain environment, he already decided for their destiny, and the path they would have chosen. I do not mean that we are framed by our instincts, psyche or beliefs. Our essence is more that the three added together. Besides the predictable reactions to given circumstances, our essence sometimes unveils some mysteries, and therefore, our actions are sometimes logical but sometimes surprisingly out-of-logic.

3. Our ancestors used to say “Go out and discover things [...and you will learn a basketful of wisdom...]”. This year, sitting in the same place, watching TV, reading newspapers, surfing the internet, we can have the whole world shrinking in a small screen, both in time and in space.

Sometimes, in my travels to a remote city, a real one, not the one in my imagination, I do feel a vague sense of disappointment. In the evening, some places are still opened to tourists. Tourists expect some services in a standard and organized setting. The open doors which welcome me only present the face that tourists expect to see. What about the real life behind closed doors. How do I get to know the real life of the places I was visiting?

If I could open those closed doors, may be the lives of these people would not be any more different than my own people back home. They both experience life through a certain screen. All we experience from the outside world, be it through our journeys or through the internet, is only knowledge and facts, but is not the reality. Even our experience through interacting with others in life. Our own reality comes as a fruit of our own feelings and thoughts, it is knowledge. Not everybody decides to lie down their own reality on paper. On the other hand, people with rich life experience do not have enough material to be a writer. Life experience without contemplation will be flushed away, as objects without good maintenance.

Real life circumstances force us to make decisions and assume the consequences of these decisions. Life experience does not lead systematically to contemplation, nor does borrowed experience. So our own life experience will lead us nearer to our own reality.

If our own life experience is as necessary as rice seed is to cooked rice, so would be our choice of life experience be to our life philosophy? I do not think that having traveled to other countries would give us a richer life experience than staying at home, nor a peaceful life would bring poorer life experience than an eventful life.

The moments of reality sometimes lie more in the uncertainties than in a peaceful situation. A drop of water in the midst of the sky enjoys more freedom than a drop of water down in the well. The drop in the sky has a choice, it can become air and fly up in infinity, or it can turn into rain and fall down to the ground. But who can tell me if while I was sitting quietly in my homeland, I would not be the drop of water in the sky?


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