A French connection

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 Guillaume Faugere (second from the right) in a scene of Tinh duyen thuo truoc (Love in olden time) play on Hoang Thai Thanh stage. Only appearing in a few scenes and speaks a handful of Vietnamese lines, but he's managed to please his director and audiences alike.

These days, Guillaume Faugere feels as though he's playing himself.

The 27 year-old French has the honor of being the first foreigner to be cast in a Vietnamese stage production of Tinh duyen thuo truoc (Love in olden times).

He has been praised in reviews he cannot understand. He performs every weekend to packed audiences at the Hoang Thai Thanh stage in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

During the performances, he is Pierre, a French backpacker who falls in love with a local girl and has to bumble his way through local culture.

"[Pierre], who speaks only a little Vietnamese, wears a guerilla bandanna and always carries a small notebook on stage is actually me four years ago," he says. "I wore that scarf and carried that notebook when I first came to Vietnam."

The Bergerac-born Faugere arrived in Saigon in 2007 with only a vague notion of starting over. Now he's married and teaching full-time in a city that once seemed like an exotic, far-off destination.

Writing him in

Thirteen years ago, noted dramatic actress, Ai Nhu, put on a play entitled Trau cau (Betel and areca). The production told the story of a young Vietnamese girl who had fallen in love with a foreigner. The girl worries that the young man will be disgusted by her grandmother's habit of chewing betel.

The play, which enjoyed enormous success, chronicles her efforts to get her grandmother out of the house on the night he comes to visit.

In the original play, the foreigner never appears onstage.

Ai Nhu, who also owns the Hoang Thai Thanh Theater, was first introduced to him as the future son-in-law of the theater's set designer.

When Ai Nhu discovered Faugere, she decided to write Pierre into the play. The new version is entitled Tinh duyen thuo truoc.

"The interesting thing about Guillaume is his natural acting ability," said Ai Nhu. "He is not a professional actor, but he has most of the virtues like creativity, an inquiring mind and carefulness. Not many local young artists have those qualities."

He only appears in a few scenes and speaks a handful of Vietnamese lines, but he's managed to please his director and audiences alike.

Fauvere, for his part, feels that the play is an important one, especially now.

"After many revolutions, young Vietnamese are struggling with colliding cultural values," he said, pointing out that today's generation is inundated by influences from television and the internet.

Overall, he feels that the play stresses that Vietnam should remain grounded in its rich cultural past.

"You can like or dislike the old custom, like the elders eating trau cau (betel nut) in the play, but still respect it," he said.

Beyond Pierre

When he's not performing, Faugere teaches film and video arts at the Arena Multimedia center in District 3 and organizes educational workshops at the French primary school in District 2.

He's moved beyond Pierre, he says.

On January 23, he married his Vietnamese fiancé, whom he met shortly after his arrival.

"After four years, despite likes and dislikes, good and bad sides, I really enjoy my life here," he says. "Sometimes, I still miss my homeland, but truly, I miss the things belonging to it, like my family, my friends, music, especially the culture. I am still French."

His wife, Thuy Lam, 21, argues that he's become rather Asian.

"He is French but has a very Asian way about him," she said. "He knows how to balance the life of a Frenchman living in Vietnam by partaking in both French and local activities. "

Lam said that Faugere has spent four Tet holidays with her family and this year will be no exception.

"The difference is that I won't get lucky money anymore (now that I'm married) and this is the first time my in-laws will join us," she said. "I think it will be an unforgettable Tet."

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