I’ve been meaning to write about why I think I am Ngoc Lan’s greatest fan. This has required reaching down deep into my soul. My recollections have brought me to a time of golden innocence, and since you were part of that time, I will write this letter to you, which, I must apologize first, must remain unsent.
It’s been almost 14 years when I heard the voice. Unexpectedly, it took my breath away. Ngoc Lan’s voice came from a tape, with her sweet voice, singing Cat Bui Tinh Xa—Dust from a Distant Love. Do you recall, how I laughed at your innocence, for being so devoted to “some singer” that you had a mini stack of her tapes that you took with you wherever you went, and for “forcing” me that day to listen. “You must, oh you must, listen to Ngoc Lan” We were on our way to do a fitting for your bridesmaid’s costume. We thought longingly how it would soon be our turn, to swear to love, to hold, and to respect each other “until death do us part”. Later you declared to all our friends, how I fell in instant love with Ngoc Lan listening to just one song. You had that triumphant look in your eyes, and in my rose-tinted glasses of love, you looked like an angel.
An angel who opened my eyes (and ears) to another angel, and love was instant.
After that first introduction, Ngoc Lan became ever-present in my life. I fancied myself a bigger fan than you were (one time I made you so mad, when I kept “taunting” you about how I got Ngoc Lan’s newest CD before you had a chance to). I stopped spending money on other singers, and now started to collect Ngoc Lan’s music and videos in earnest. It was fun doing all those things with you, as we joined the public stampede to get the newest CD or tape of the Princess of Music, Ngoc Lan. I had a job in Phoenix then, and we settled down to a long commute relationship. In those long late-night phone calls we exchanged, love words were interspersed with many “Listen to this” excited whispers. “Listen to this…, how about this…” then you or I would turn on our CD player, loud enough for the other to hear over the telephone line. As the angel’s voice filled my small apartment, it also filled the longing I felt for my other angel. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was nearly as good. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can just see my room, all those summer nights when the dying sun still managed to invade every corner of my kitchen. Maybe I was having dinner while listening to Ngoc Lan telling me that she would always wait for me. Or perhaps you and I were on the phone to each other, telling each other about our day, sparing no details; each and every going-on of one was a significant milestone for the other. We’d turn up the volume when we got to the song we loved at the time, and a discussion would ensue. Sometimes we would go on for an hour to “analyze” Ngoc Lan’s voice in a particular song. I would hear you take in a deep breath, “How on earth did she hit such a high note?” But over all, rather than discussing Ngoc Lan’s technical prowess, we’d talk about the wonder of her voice, the magic of it, how it really must have been magic since everyone was absolutely head over heels in love with her. Eventually our conversation would return to the matter at hand, how we missed each other and wished we didn’t have to live apart.
Yet we lived through that separation with our love intact for each other, and in the background, like a golden thread weaving our two fates together, was Ngoc Lan’s angelic voice telling us to overcome our challenges, not to give up, but instead to strengthen our commitment.
Do you remember one weekend when I went to California to visit? You had bought tickets to the show in Anaheim (you said you were spoiling me because I was such a high-maintenance man). That was the first time I saw Ngoc Lan perform live. How beautiful she looked, how much like a “princess” she seemed, all powerful, all seeing, yet at the same time a vulnerable human being, who laid bare her soul, wanting to please her “subjects”, yet also wanting to be comforted by their presence somehow. It was not your first time attending Ngoc Lan’s live show (here again, you tirelessly pointed this fact out to me, as proof that I couldn’t be Ngoc Lan’s #1 fan). After the show I noted a certain sadness on your face, a fleeting look of regret or despair. You worried about Ngoc Lan, as “through the grapevine” you had heard something about her health. Our angel was a human being after all, and the fact that her health could fail her kept you awake and on the phone, many a lonely night.