The book À la Recherche de Monsieur Tan depicts my search for a man who once lived in my neighbourhood in Marseille. Monsieur Tan came to France in the late 1970s to escape the Khmer Rouge and genocide, to be allowed to remain, he made himself out to be ten years younger. Monsieur Tan made his living as a mechanic out of an old backstreet garage. In his mid-seventies and still working, he would reflect about life as he was fixing Vespas, sat on a stool he had built himself. He preferred using original parts, and, seemingly nothing was beyond repair for him. He lived his life quietly but with care and sincerity. One day, Monsieur Tan had to close the garage. He disappeared. My search moves from France and Italy, to Cambodia and Thailand examining the possibilities of a life.
From going to Cambodia to meet Monsieur Tan’s son and and to connect a place to some of his memories, my search brings me to Thailand where remains of old refugee camps serve as a reminder of a harsh reality, À la Recherche de Monsieur Tan is only partly a physical search but also an effort to gain understanding and closure.
My search remains unresolved to the public. Monsieur Tan’s fate remains somewhat ambiguous and moves from fact to fiction in an effort to respect his privacy. The project includes Monsieur Tan’s own words, his voice keeping authorship over his own story. To remain true to him, the dialogue with Monsieur Tan, has remained in its original language rather than being translated. My own writing and factual text are in English, this was done with regards to the audience, and to further understanding of some of the historical aspects of the project.

 

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