Monthly Archives: June 2017


The sky is the same

I look up at the sky. It’s the same bright, limpid blue sky that promises of possibilities. It gives me the same overwhelming feeling, as its height is emphasized by the tall building made of glasses that draws perfectly parallel vertical lines. Yet it’s not the same sky. How can it be the same now that I’m here and not there anymore? How can I leave that place and still carry its sky with me? Do I only see the sky in memory? I’m here, and yet I’m not here. I’m not there, and yet I’m there.


I started a new novel and now I’m half way through it. I’ll probably finish it today. It reminds me of The curious incident of the dog in the night-time. The protagonist is a kid with schizophrenia, but it’s not clearly stated in the story because it’s told in first person. Like the dog in the night-time, the mental condition of the main character makes him blamelessly anti-social and brutally honest. But I like his voice. It forces you to have understanding (and not sympathy) of the subject. It’s not your version of the story, but it’s about how they see their world. In that world, it’s not them who are mad. “the only thing I have control over in my entire world is the way I choose to tell this story”, wrote the protagonist. It makes me think about victims of deeply traumatic events. You can’t judge whether they’re telling the truth or not. Because they were affected by what happened, you can’t expect them to provide an objective account of history.

Take it slow, I tell myself. Maybe when I finish all these books, I’ll be healed. Right now, I’ve decided to be in a state of numbness and stasis, that is, stagnating in the present moment, not reminiscing the past, not projecting myself in the future. I can’t participate immediately. Everything here brings back the person that I used to be, and that I didn’t like. Maybe if I hang about on this campus often enough, I’ll finally get attached to it, even though it’s not mine. Feeling familiar, knowing my way around.


I feel nervous when I step in this university’s cafeteria for the first time. As if I returned to my first day of being a bachelor’s student, unaware of how it functioned. The sociolinguist Pennycook talks of “passing as a local” in a second language (besides, I find this term more sensible than “foreign language” which denotes a stronger sense of ownership), i.e. making yourself credible to your interlocutor so that they would believe that you actually are a “local” from somewhere else. You don’t need to be fluent in that language. It’s not a matter of authenticity, but of legitimacy and perception. In the end, authenticity may be less about turning inward and being true to oneself, than about putting on a convincing performance to an audience. So every time I feel vulnerable in a new environment, I observe people and, not imitating them, I try to act as if I was a “local”, an insider. I get so self-conscious about it. Of course nobody cares. I guess I do it for myself. I surveil myself before anybody else could. Is that a way of claiming ownership over one’s own image, by subjecting oneself to the imagined gaze of others? Of course, if they ever watch me, it doesn’t matter what they perceive. It’s what I think about their perception of me. Then I wonder if we ever do not perform. Maybe we’re constantly performing to ourself, looking at ourself as if we were somebody else. Anyway, I only want to find the the place to get tap water. And I guess all this can be summed up in one word that is meaningless to me because imprecise and abused in CV: adaptation.

The feeling that it won’t last

The lunch meal in the cafeteria reminds me of the lunches I shared with my classmates last year, in the common room of the information and communication department. That was where we gathered every noon between two 3-hour lectures or seminars to eat, talk, do projects and revise for exams. I recall this because we didn’t have a cafeteria there, and I’m trying to remember the last time I had a lunch meal in the cafeteria of a university that was mine. Last year was the first time that I was constantly surrounded by people and belonged to a group, but then again, none of that lasted longer than the academic year. It was an affiliation born out of convenience and necessity. But can we talk of permanence even when it comes to people with whom we’ve been deeply emotionally involved? Because now my thoughts drift to him, as I think about the novel that I’m reading and how it’s similar to the dog in the night-time one, because I gave him that book last summer. I thought he’d love it because it was peculiar like us, but he never showed me any sign of appreciation. Like with everything else I gave him. I’ve settled on the conclusion that, it’s not that the story is lost, but that there has never been a story. All those years, I was chasing an ideal. How ideas are dangerous. They can kill.

Longest day of the year

I find my shelter on this campus. These days, by “shelter” I mean shelter from the heat. It is nestled in a passage between two blocks, and has benches shadowed by the thin and scattered foliage of some newly-planted trees. Sometimes, a slight breeze flirts with the leaves. I lie down on the bench and look at the sky. Instead of being covered by vertiginous pine trees, my view is invaded by metal-and-glass high-rises. The sky is not the same as I thought. It’s lower and heavier.

People start to come out, so I move inside one of the building nearby where it’s fresh and empty. I crawl into a corner and press my body against the glass wall. People keep talking but their sounds can’t reach me. I’m sheltered from the heat and from human noises. Of course there can’t be absolute silence. There’s the elevator’s ringing sound. The bangs from the slamming door. But I guess it’s the empty space that keeps people away from me. I feel safe in a corner of a very large room that offers no point of reference.


Wedding speech for my best friend


Based on a case study of two young adults engaging in an ambiguous relationship with uncertain outcome, this study investigates how computer-mediated communication (CMC), and more specifically the exchange of private messages on Facebook, could encourage greater intimacy between two potential romantic partners. Conducted by request of one of the two subjects studied who has been suffering from a chronic lack of affection, this study seeks to help her to better infer the meaning of the verbal cues sent by the male subject.

First, I will carry out a close reading of private messages exchanged by the two informants during moments of heightened communication on Facebook (identified by the female subject). The concept of online self-disclosure, i.e. the disclosing of personal information, thoughts and feelings that are not easily shared in an offline context, will provide the main theoretical framework for my analysis. In interpreting these messages, I will take into account the offline events occurring on the same days, events that might be referred to in the text. Second, the textual analysis will be completed by interviews with the female subject on the perceived intimacy between her and the male subject, as well as her memoirs of their offline interactions.

The purpose of this study is not to predict relationship outcome based on the degree of self-disclosure, hence intimacy, but to assist the female subject in her own evaluation. Ultimately, it could perform a therapeutic function by offering the female subject a momentary distraction from her agony through an engaging, insightful and completely rubbish reading.

– Work in progress

The signified

“there falls the rain, there comes the storm, darkens the sky
I wish to be with you on days like this and hold you tight.”

It’s a stormy morning, and these words return to my mind as I look at the gloomy sky. Despite the repeated creak coming from the stairs that are violently shaken by the wind, and the cascading sound of heavy shower, it’s brutally quiet. As if the rain has muted all human sounds. That’s my favorite part about rainy weather. The rain defeats us. It reduces us to vulnerable and fragile creatures. It extinguishes our arrogance.

I wrote the two above lines on a rainy summer afternoon 4 years ago, when I was in Vietnam. They were inspired by another person, but of course they are all about you now. Even the senses and the mood about that day are gone, no longer associated with these words. The signifier “you” remains the same, but the signified has changed. The old signified faded away, disappeared, and was rendered non-existent. You are the unique signified now, the same way you wholly inhabit my mind.

You gave me a book and said that it had a story, but I didn’t mind. In fact, not only your book, my words, or your dog (that you unconditionally share with me), and I guess everything else that makes up our own individual worlds, but both of us also have our stories. However, that should not matter. We are not owned by them forever.

I often think that essence is taken for granted. We actively attach meanings to things in our life. The structuralists have separated the signifier from the signified because their association is arbitrary. Meanings are not intrinsic or incorrigible. If we can’t control what happen to us, then at least we can decide what it means.


A love letter to Tilburg

This is the kind of song that you listen to on a summer night when you feel lonely and the road is yours. You see a stranger’s silhouette that you mistake for somebody you once knew. The warm yellow light from the street lamps and the windows is in a perfect contrast with the twilight sky. The moon is a faint spot of light brushed away by a thin veil of cloud. The sun lingers on top of the trees whose thick and dark canopy forms a rampart surrounding the sunflower field, above which the sky opens up like a canvas painted in an oneiric blue, the shade of blue that you’ve only seen in Magritte’s world. You chase the night. You keep going until it absorbs you and you can’t find the way back. Time stands still as the bicycle’s wheels turn around, and time is infinite. For a second, you wish that you were truly alone in this world: that there was no one to miss, and that you were one and whole in the uniqueness of your existence, just like a prime number.

This is happiness. I could very live like this until the rest of my life, but I’d probably die out of boredom and frustration. Which makes it a happiness, because it’s not meant to last. I only love this place because it’s not mine forever, and so it’s mine, in this present moment. Once I realize that, I feel liberated from the burden of anticipated nostalgia. Everything that I’m experiencing right now is precious. That dead trunk on the roadside. Those insects that hit my forehead, my glasses and my mouth, giving me violent kisses. The summer air that smells of smoke, animal’s excrements and fresh leaves. This timeless town untouched by the outside world. It will cease to exist as soon as I step on the train that will take me away from it forever. It will hibernate in a corner of my memory.

I’ve found where I belong in this world. I’ve always known the answer, but never quite understood it. Now I do. In my dreams, there’s only one place where I belong, but it doesn’t have a name, nor a shape. It takes on different shapes in real life, therefore, I must constantly move between places. Because dreams can be eternal in their own territory, but will vanish when hit by reality. I only belong to somewhere as long as it remains my dreamland. As long as it doesn’t last. As long as I don’t belong to it.

I listened to that song on a summer night many years ago, back in my hometown. I listen to it now, and it instantly brings me back to that night. Or rather, it brings that night here. The past and the present fuse together. I time travel. I am one. I am whole. I am here. I am alive. I am infinitely mine.