Happy Birthday to me! and the New Blog

Ok, it's not my birthday, but we are approaching this blog's one-year anniversary. So it must be my blog singing that song.

Let's take a quick look back at the past year. The first blog I created got only two posts. That was before I found "blogger" and found out it worked with a google account. Click on the picture for a "sneak peek" of my blog - from last year.

Next came this blog, which has transformed in the last year from somewhat relevant to completely superfluous, but I love it anyway. Take a trip back into the past - take a look at the first post here.

Now, I've done it again. I've started another blog project, but this time my aim is a little different than blowing off steam or trying to be funny. This time I felt a pull to aim at building something of a community, something that reaches a larger audience than just my friends and family (I think this blog's readership may be up to 10 by now). As this idea sprouted in my mind, my wife pointed out an article on the Church's homepage: Apostle Urges Students to Use New Media by Elder M Russell Ballard. The transcript is here. After reading this great address, I realized that I could use a principle of the Gospel to form my idea into a tangible blog. So here it is - a sneak peek at what may become a thriving community of faith or just another failed attempt at innovation in a saturated market.


Make this Christmas Special

Please take some time this Christmas season to remember and cherish the loved ones in your life. Last week, I received an email from a friend that her sister had gone missing. After 6 days of exhaustive investigation and searching, her body was found in a landfill. Please keep the family of Ann Lisa Nguyen in your hearts and prayers this holiday season.

We are so blessed to be surrounded by friends and family - let us not forget that life is fragile.

The Nguyen family dedicated a Christmas tree to Lisa in San Jose's "Christmas in the Park" and plans on sponsoring a tree for several years to come. If you would like to show your support during this difficult time, please visit Lisa's Tree website to donate for the sponsorship of Christmas trees in the future. Lisa loved seeing the trees at Christmas time.

UPDATE: The Nguyen family created a website in memory of Lisa, here's the homepage:


Chinese Chess - never play after a 3-hour, late-afternoon nap

It was a beautiful day today, but we didn't take advantage of it because my cold from last week somehow made its way to my wife and she was in bed all day. However, after napping for several hours this afternoon, we decided to try a rematch at chinese chess, our new "thing to do" at home. Last time she whipped me two matches to one, but this time I put up a better fight. The only problem is that we got down to a few pieces and we're both too stubborn to surrender, so we just played and played until we were blue in the face. Literally. We both went a little wacko at that point, pushing the pieces extraordinarily long distances and capturing three pieces (including the general) in one swoop. Click here to see what happened next:


November Rain (and Decemeber, too!)

It rained last Friday and it rained again today. I love it.

I believe my blog has now fallen into the "Boringest Blogs in the World" category, if it ever left that category in the first place. No pictures, no thought-provoking thoughts, just me blabbing. And not even very often. Pitiful.

It is election season, which makes it difficult for me to blog at work (don't tell my boss) and homework is adding up (finals are coming soon) so I don't have a lot of time. I've been busier, but I'm getting old so I can't hack it like I used to. And I just got sick, so anytime I move too fast I feel like my head is caving in. Let's see... anymore lame excuses...??? Nope, that's it.

So much has happened in the last few weeks, I can't fit it all in here. I've sworn off drawing (oh yeah, that's another lame excuse for not blogging) because it takes me too long and then I either get discouraged and quit or I think it's a work of art and drool over it when really it looks like crap. I've finally written out the text for my storybook (by the way, I've been trying to write a storybook) and my original intention was to illustrate it myself but that's gone down the drain. By the time I'm talented enough to do that I'll be 50. Plus, I'm trying to pick up an extra income somewhere (and praying for a promotion!) to recharge our monetary reserves, so I don't have time to practice. I'm looking for someone to illustrate and I think I've found an artist whose style I've really taken a liking to, but I don't know how to get in touch with her. So that's that.

I have started playing the piano again. I try to get a little bit in each day so that I might be able to play the hymns when our regular organist is not at church. My fingers are starting to remember how to jump from key to key without me prodding them too much. It will take awhile but I hope in a year I'll have several songs down. My wife enjoys the background music much more than the click click click of my laptop or the scratch scratch scratch of my pencils on paper so I think I'll stick to this hobby. Mutually beneficial. That's what marriage is all about.

I was talking with my friend on Sunday about "the fire." You know, that massive force deep within your soul that moves you to action, the feeling that something inside you is bursting with light and you can almost see it coming out of your fingertips, the burning desire to be perfect and pure. The feeling that is followed by focused, poignant faith and vision that opens all doors and clears all obstacles in your path. The power that radiates from your eyes, that demands attention and belief from bystanders, that crushes opposition and invites success. The sense that whatever goal you're aiming at has already been accomplished and you just have to go claim it, the result so tangible that you can almost feel it before you even see it. That's the fire. At times, it's all-encompassing and exhausting and absolutely perfect. At other times, it's gone. Like, all gone. That's when depression sets in. We came up with some good stuff on how to get it back, how to rekindle the fire, but you had to be at our joint FHE last week to get it. :) The most important thing is to keep on going and never give in, to not stop dancing just because the music is gone, and to remember that before and after any great moment the opposition will mount almost to the point of collapse (please read this great address from which we find the oft-quoted line "...beware the temptation to retreat from a good thing. If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now.").

Thôi, viết tới đây đã dài quá rồi đấy, ngừng nhe. I'm stopping here, this is way too long.


Note on the bathroom mirror

If you're not happy today, what will make you happy tomorrow?

If you're not satisfied with today, how will you be satisfied with tomorrow?

If you're not content with today, will you be content tomorrow?

More so than my surroundings, my environment, my friends or my family, my trials or my blessings, it is my choice to be happy today that will make me happy today. If I'm doing something - or not doing something - today that prevents me from feeling joy or contentment today, or if I'm waiting for that "thing" that will make me happy in the future, what guarantee do I have that tomorrow I won't still be doing that something or waiting for that thing? The only sure way we can feel happiness is to choose it... today. I once had a missionary companion who would ask this question when faced with a difficult choice that was easier to put off until tomorrow than dealing with today:

If not today, then when?


My Glory Days are Over

How fitting. My wife and I watched The Incredibles Sunday night as we folded clothes and I was struck at how fixed "Mr Incredible" was on his former, glorious identity. Now it's my turn.

I was riding my bike home today when this other biker came speeding past me as I tried to maneuver myself safely onto the sidewalk. Now I have this thing when I'm riding my bike or running - when my adrenaline is already pumping - where if someone passes me, I automatically speed up to catch them. I can't help it. Even if I'm on a ten-speed and they're on a beach cruiser, I still try to overtake them and I feel pretty accomplished when I do so. I guess that's a vestige from my glory days, back during high school when I was at the top of my game and passing people like crazy. But that was ten years ago. Since then I've done a little training, but mostly sitting and sleeping. Anyway, today when I saw Mr Whiz fly past me I felt my legs kick into "go get 'em!" mode and I found myself flying towards him. I caught up and even passed the man without even the slightest glance back. I felt pretty good about myself as I watched him grow smaller in my rearview mirror (yes I'm a nerd with a mirror on my bike), until I felt my legs turn to mush. Luckily he turned instead of going straight, therefore missing me slouch over my handbars, gasping for breath.

I can't believe it. 400 yards of exertion and my legs gave up. Whatever happened to crashing through the wall and pushing my VO2Max and letting the monster out and "Head for the barn, babycakes!" Whatever happened to all those times I pushed myself beyond human strength, all those sprint hills and Roger's Road and the Lake and the Peak... all that and I die at after .25 miles? Sickening. I guess my glory days are over.

I just pray that I don't live my spiritual life like this. I hope I don't meander down life's paths and hope I'm blown the right way, then suddenly kick into gear when a challenge - or what I consider a challenge - comes my way. I heard a great speaker expound on this a few years ago:

I have titled my talk “The Dedication of a Lifetime.” I borrowed this title from something said by Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois, who was the Democratic Party candidate for president of the United States in 1952 and 1956. He was a fine man and would have been president if he had not been running against a very popular opponent, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In speaking to an American Legion Convention, Stevenson gave a wise statement about patriotism. He said that what we need “is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime” (speech given Aug. 27, 1952, quoted in John Bartlett, comp., Familiar Quotations, 13th ed. [1955], 986). I like that—“not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” I will use this description of patriotism as a formula for how we should live the gospel.

Read the talk here or download the pdf.

Tranquil and steady. That sounds like "mundane" to me. It's in the everyday that we shape our character. Mr Incredible learned it, now it's Mr Not-so-Incredible's turn.


Inkscape and me

Well, here's my first real attempt at vector graphics. I've been using AI at work for fliers and such, so my taste for vector graphics has improved as I learn more about it. I'm using Inkscape at home, a free vector graphics-based program which has proven to be very cool. I will become a master at this, some day. For now, I must be satisfied with mediocrity.


VDict - and other Online Vietnamese Dictionary Resources

Well, I should be asleep right now but I've run into a very cool internet dictionary tool. I've been a faithful follower of Hồ Ngọc Đức for the last several years and still use his dictionary on a daily basis because of its ease of use. He gives me the option to search different dictionaries at the same time, which saves me a lot of time when I'm translating and proofing at work. Thanks Mr Đức!
I occasionally cruise through the list of online Vietnamese to English dictionaries, and have come across some interesting ones (to see a list I compiled last year of my top dictionary resources plus other interesting sites relating to Vietnam, please see my wedding website) but nothing to compare to Mr Đức's work. I do remember coming across VDict a while back, which claimed to be the best dictionary online and had hopes of becoming a whole community based on internet dictionary lookup for Vietnamese. It sounded nice, but the site looked far from it. Until now.
VDict has become a high-functioning Vietnamese-English (and French and Chinesedictionary tool that has several nice "tiện nghi" that come in handy. Though it does not implement multiple dictionary lookup, it does support searching for the term in the definition, which I have yearned for with my current online dictionary. It also allows exact, broad or fuzzy lookup, as well as providing IE and Firefox toolbar and search plugins. It claims to have the "one and only free translating service" which works well for titles and occupations but has problems with phrases (just try "reading log"). But my favorite part is the forums.
The community they have built is great fun. It consists of just over 2000 members who are constantly volleying different Vietnamese and English phrases to see who can come up with the best translation. I've posted a few things and it's great to converse with people who are as interested in the mundane aspects of language as I am (but not too technical because I get lost in linguistics). Unfortunately, as I've seen with other Vietnamese language forums, there are several posts where non-Vietnamese-speaking men are requesting a translation of the text message or email they received from a Vietnamese woman. Or they want to translate their message into Vietnamese. I don't like that, but I try to keep my mouth shut. Or at least my hands off the keyboard.
Lastly, the great folks over at VDict have opened their script up for webmasters to integrate the dictionary into a webpage. Like right now, did you know that if you double-click any of the words on this page (besides the links) that a definition will popup? How about if you select a multiple-word phrase and press Ctrl+Shift+A (try tiện nghi)? They have done a great job at debugging this tool and I think it's so great that I've added it to my website. So from now on, xanghe.blogspot.com will have a built-in dictionary (both Viet-En and En-Viet), including an actual dictionary input box where you can type in your word like a regular dictionary (on the right-hand side). This probably won't turn out to be incredibly useful, but it was way too cool to pass up.
Good nite all

I posted a question about east and west in the VDict forum and I had a good discussion about how to translate it, but it ended with such a funny post that I had to share it here. I was basically told that I'm a bit confused with all my examples so here's a diagram, drawn by one of the
discussion members, to "làm sáng tỏ mọi thứ."
It ended with "Happy Halloween!"


Weather cools but we won't forget

As with all big news, the tantalizing reporting starts to wain within a week or so. The newspaper articles have gone from terrifying stories of generations-old ranches burning to the ground to mundane stories of school kids missing homecoming because of the fires. At the same time, the harsh, surreal heat of the Santa Ana winds has died down to nothing, and even as I type I hear raindrops pattering on our porch. Here in my kitchen things seem pretty cozy, and the memory of a raging wildfire seems like yesterday's news.

But it's not. Even though the predictions are aiming at Tuesday for full containment of the fire, the lives of those involved have been burned to the ground as well. I've heard a lot of hush hush talk about those rich people shouldn't be living on the hillside in a place like this and other types of complaints. I don't feel that's the emphasis at this point, maybe we should focus on the people who started the fire and why.

As an asthmatic, I'm feeling the repercussions of the fire. Every morning still smells like smoke and my lungs have been constricted for the last few days. It's a small price compared to what others are going through, but it just reminds me that this is not over yet and there is a very human aspect in this disaster that lies deeper than the reports can show.

images courtesy of:


A Little Autumn Part 2 - I spoke too soon

Well, all that rubbish of coolness and gray from the last post seems like something from another world right now. With 99 degrees and 40-50 mph gusts of hot, dry wind, it feels like autumn might never come. The air is like a furnace and I'm not even in danger of the flames.

The term "Santa Ana Winds" refers to the annual week of h-e-double-hockey-sticks caused by high pressure systems in the inland deserts (as far as Colorado). The winds blow across the desert sweeping up dry hot air then are funneled through a series of natural wind tunnels in the mountains on their way to the coast. Those winds hit our coastal plains and fan out to create a climate much like that of the inside of a convection oven. The heat is enough, but inevitably these winds are accompanied by lightening and/or arsonists which lead to fires in the mountains. Every year trees are blown down by these winds and every year our hilltops are peaked with orange and red flames and every year we breathe ash for air even as we wipe off the layer of ash on our cars. I thought we might have escaped it this year because it usually happens much earlier in October or September. Oh was I wrong.

It is reported that over half a million Southern California residents have been ordered to evacuate due to the fires. 1,400 homes have been destroyed. This video looks like something from an action movie: Modjeska Homes Burn. Below is a link to the map that gives details on the location of the fire:

View Larger Map

We are praying for those who are in danger of this fire and empowered by the efforts to help them. My wife and I are blessed to be safely distanced from the danger, but have experienced some of this extreme weather in the last few days as well:

Sunday night we found ourselves street-locked between two fallen trees. I later heard that a man had been in his camper, which was parked on the road, when he heard a crack and found himself running for shelter as the tree crashed a hole in his ceiling. The winds had been shaking our little condo so we knew they were very strong, but stepping out in the road and being met by the sight of trees, now dead, laying in the road was quite eerie. It too looked like a scene from a movie. Later that night, I went back down to the road and looked off into the distant hilltops. The wind was so harsh that it whipped at my face, but if I squinted, I could see red and orange drops leaping on the hillside. The next day I saw a horizontal column of red and gray smoke laying across the sky, turning the sun and air red. Today the smell of smoke permeates even into the house. In addition to the heat, the sky and air have taken on an eerie red haze. I took this photo an hour ago as the sun was nearing the horizon; no filter, no editing, just a little saturation shows the depth of red in the sky right now. It's much more surreal seeing this in person. It happens every year, but each time I have a sneaky suspicion that it's the end of the world. Plus I know a lot of people who believe the apocalypse will begin in Southern California anyway:), so it's always a little unnerving when these things happen.


A Little Autumn

Things have been a bit melancholy around the house this week, and I'm thinking it's because of the impending change in seasons. I've always felt that Orange County doesn't have much of an Autumn, just a lot of hot, dry Santa Ana winds followed by an immediate jump into the cool monotony of an OC winter. But it seems like this year we might be graced with something like Fall, a little Autumn to top off our summer.

Things are winding down around our place as well: Prophet, our pregnant praying mantis, has gone missing for a few days now. She's probably off spinning one of those mantis webs for the eggs. Ally, our new Southern Alligator lizard, is spending more and more time hiding in her corner under the bark chips - I think she feels hibernation right around the corner. Our hoa giấy (bougainvillea) is just about to drop it's last bunch of flowers and all the other plants are slowing any sign of growth to a halt as the days get shorter and sunlight becomes a scarcity. The ash tree is about to drop it's leaves and I think our banana tree is done sprouting for the year. The mornings are overcast, days are cloudy and evenings return to overcast as we tilt oh so slowly from the sun. My wife mentions that she's feeling a little down lately, perhaps because her moods happen to follow the sun more than the moon. It's as if the lush, green, sun-drenched, ocean-lined "OC" that the media perpetuates is going to sleep for awhile, probably planning to wake back up around the time Ally does.

But I like it. I'm always too hot in the summer and this weather is perfect for riding my bike to and from work. For some reason, the cloudiness and unshakable gray of winter here seems to rejuvenate me from the oppressive summer sun. I should be deep asleep now, but I feel more energetic in this cool weather. Things at work are picking up - who would have thought last year when I was hired as a Vietnamese specialist that I would be doing graphic design and database management now, in addition to my actual "job" - but I've decided that I'm not going to come home exhausted anymore because it seems to wear on my wife's morale. She's having a hard enough time with the weather right now, the least I can do is not make it worse by bringing work home. We just finished a great General Conference and Stake Conference and I'm feeling pretty enlightened despite the dreary backdrop. I've always kind of blossomed this time of year; especially now amidst the melancholy season I'm feeling more alive than ever.

Good thing God made my wife blossom in the summer and me in the winter or else we'd be in trouble. If we were both feeling down, who would cheer us both up? That's the magic about marriage - two individuals who are willing and able to lift the other up during the Falls of their life... even if it's only a little Autumn.


Time for new strings

I hate it when this happens. :) Mid-song, too...


General Conference and the tender mercies of God

Well, here's the post on our Utah trip. We decided to go from the airport to the mountains to see the autumn colors. It was beautiful. The weather was ideal, but by the time we got to the top the afternoon wind picked up to about 60 mph. It was strong enough to blow me over if I didn't dig my feet into the rocks. In fact, as I was taking this picture (), the wind actually blew the General Conference tickets out of my pocket!! Thanks to the tireless efforts of my parents, we procured enough tickets for all 8 of us, plus an extra one. 5 of them were in my shirt pocket at the time, and all of them just blew out and down the mountain side. Ah!! Luckily my dad kept his head and told me to go get them. We clambered down the mountain and ended up finding 4 of the 5 tickets, plus both parking permits. I believe it was the tender mercies of God that found those tickets for us because I might have been seriously injured if I had returned to my friends without those tickets. Once we finally got to Conference we were so worn out that most of us fell asleep but it was still worth it.

Ahhh, the Temple. It doesn't matter how many times I've been back here, and how many groups of people I've taken through Temple Square, it's still shockingly beautiful to me every time. Perhaps it's the spiritual significance of the place that strikes me. Anyway, here's the full slideshow so take a look:



Magic Music

I came home from work today with a long list of things to do like cooking and cleaning and homework, but I somehow ended up writing a song. It's been ages since I've written a whole song in one sitting, but that experience only comes around once in a while anyway. Lately I've been thinking a lot on heaven and how to get there, and I think since I haven't been writing down the little epiphanies as they come it just came spewing out in one musical expression. Phew, it's rather tiring, actually. I've always felt that the music and lyrics act independent of the musician, they present themselves when you're not ready and if you don't write it down at that instant, they get offended and leave. While I was feeding Ally today, I caught a wisp of an opening riff and felt the lyrics inside gurgling their way up, so I figured it was time for a song.

The first riff sounds a bit like Live's Dolphin's Cry, and the chorus chord progression (esp at the end of a stanza) kind of sounds like Collective Soul's Forgiveness. The lyrics are based on a loose version of the Prodigal Son, perhaps on his walk back to father's house. The funny thing is, I sat on the couch with my guitar for two hours and the song just came, lyrics and music and all, without me even thinking about the above comparisons. I made those just now as I was playing the song through my head. It's a very simple song and probably quite unremarkable in most aspects, but I've come to appreciate my music for the affect it has on me (now that's an ego!) because my songs are like a journal of sorts. But the music packs 100 times the emotion that plain words do, and every time I sing it, I relive those feelings.

I lost my recording equipment to a thief so I probably won't be recording this one, or the other two I've written since the last "album," but I am planning on putting together another project sometime in the future. Probably when I'm retired.

Well, I should go to bed. The next blog post on my list is about the trip I took to Utah last weekend, but that list might fall prey to another unforeseen event. Hopefully I'll get it out soon. In the meantime, here's some of my friends pictures of our trip...


The Power of Gratitude

I am very grateful for my garden right now. I was about to go to bed after a long day at work (finishing a project that doesn't really have much to do with my actual "job," feeling the stress slowly run from my shoulders and neck, then sensing the stress return as my boss says "Oh, since you're so good at this kind of stuff, how about doing this as well? I know it's not part of your job, but...") when I remembered my ớt (chili) plant was wilting a bit this afternoon. I grudgingly started watering the back "yard" (if I can call a 7x11 porch a "yard") and halfway through felt 100% better. Had I neglected the thought to water (or if I didn't have a garden at all), I would have gone to bed with my neck and back just as stiff as it was when I left work at 5. Now, instead of going to bed, I'm blogging about gratitude.

On a more serious note, I received an email from a friend that reiterated the power of gratitude in changing one's life for the better. She recently experienced a great loss in her life and is still trying to cope with the feeling of sadness and pain and even guilt. However, despite the darkness that seems to encompass her, she ends her email with this: "But I know everything will work its way out somehow. I am grateful for everything that God has given me..." [including the opportunity for growth that this experience provides.] It struck me how much effort and courage it takes to articulate that statement when resolution and healing seem so distant. But it is that very courage that positions a person beyond the limited human capacity to cope. It is the acknowledgement that there is a higher power steering this human experience, that it's not up to fate but that the trials we face in life are there to make us stronger. When we understand that principle, we are imbued with the power to overcome, and I've felt that power and it's beyond anything I could ever muster myself.

I think the underlying principle here is faith. According to Alma, faith is "not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." So that means that we've got to bring ourselves to hope for that end result, to hope for the future blessings that will come as a result of our current suffering, push past that human tendency to become bitter and cynical and forget our gratitude for what we have. Think of the power that is lost (sounds like physics, maybe it's not that far off) when someone says "I'll believe it when I see it." or "My life will never heal." They are instantly cutting all connections to the power that comes with faith. Why do I keep saying power? Because that person who says "Things will work out somehow" is equipped with the power to act without the baggage of doubt or fear.

Thanks, my friend, for reminding me (by your example) that gratitude is the best antidote for suffering. I pray that you will have the power to make it through this difficult time and that you won't have to put on a happy face to hide your sadness inside anymore, but that your happy face will be a reflection your happy soul.

Ok, now time to water the front yard...


Why I love my wife

She was out doing errands when I got home so I did up a little dinner and ended up eating it alone because I was so hungry. Why do I love my wife? Because when she got home, instead of getting a new bowl for her dinner she just grabbed the one I had used with out even rinsing it and piled it high with salad and pan-fried pork. One bowl to clean. Man, I love that woman.


Music and Nephi

Music has a power to move me that very few other things have. Often, my most profound thoughts and promptings, those things that transcend my own level of knowledge or experience, come to me while I'm listen to powerful music. Either that or when I'm in the shower.

This song is called "I Love the Lord," which I first heard last April during General Conference. The lyrics are based on Nephi's great soliloquy (2 Nephi 4:16-35) which I've always found incredibly powerful anyway, since he's lamenting about the sins that so easily beset him and I think I spend most of my life doing that. The great Nephi who builds a bow and a boat and a whole nation out of nothing but the Lord's guidance suddenly becomes human in this chapter, and the raw emotion he expresses makes me feel like I'm reading his personal journal. So when I heard his words put to music, and to the tune of Be Still, My Soul which holds a place close to my heart anyway, I was transported.

I've added the song to my playlist, please take a listen:

I Love the Lord, BYU Men's Choir, April 2007 General Conference

p.s. The lyricist for the song has commented on the song here. Definitely stop by - it's great.


Little life lessons for Aug and Sept

When you go to hold your wife's hand, always take a glance to make sure it's her standing behind you instead of her friend.

It is impossible to buy bananas at Costco and eat them all before they go bad.

Orange County can get as hot as Vietnam, but that doesn't mean you can grow na bơ or măng cục or chôm chôm.

Just because you've done it one hundred times before doesn't mean you can bunny hop your 30-year-old road bike off a curb without repercussions (pictures to follow).

Even though you think no one reads your blog, there might just be someone who does. And they might start their own.


"Identity là khỉ gì?" or "What the monkey is identity?"

I was just talking to my friends Hetty and Chi and they said that my blog could put them to sleep. So in that spirit, I'm going to write a really long, boring, non-visual text-heavy post just to prove them right.

According to TheFreeDictionary, identity is:

The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known; The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group.
But what does that mean in English? Well, I have my own theory as I'm sure everyone else does, but I don't like theory because it's too abstract. If I had to articulate it, I suppose it would go something like this: Identity is who and what you construct yourself to be (whether or not that is consistent with who and what you truly are) and how you choose to represent yourself. I'm not completely convinced about the search to "find myself," which I've seen go around in circles and end up closer to where you began than anywhere else, but I think that the real life journey is to forget trying to solidify our own "identity" and refocus on how we fit into the fabric of humanity. By positioning ourselves between our God and our fellow beings, we attain much greater depths of self worth and identity than by trying to reach inward all by our lonesome. But that's off my topic.

I started thinking about identity when my wife dropped this concept on me today in the car: ethnicity is negotiable. I love this topic, but it was kind of startling to hear it randomly uttered while on the way to pick up a new union membership card so I can buy movie tickets for $6.50 instead of $10. But it was the spontaneity that thrust my mind back into the internal debate I haven't entertained since my good ol' Asian American Studies classes. It all started like this:

I was sitting in a Vietnamese American Experience class and a grad student came in with a stack of papers and announced that she was doing her dissertation on Asian American identity. Part of her research included a survey to be taken by college-aged young adults. She then said these exact words: "I will pass the surveys around, please take one if you self-identify as an Asian American."  I didn't even really hear her say that, I was thinking about something else at the time, but I just remember realizing that as the stack of papers was passed to my hands, I almost took one before passing it on. I hesitated for a moment, then just handed it to the next student without taking one. It was only a small thing, but my mind began racing around and around trying to figure out why I tried to take one when I knew they were only for "Asian American" students.

For a long time, I had hoped that I could "pass" as Asian. I thought that maybe if somehow if I could claim a tiny bit of Asian America, I would then speak better Vietnamese, understand more deeply the culture, enjoy the food more completely. But it's not magic like that. The more I tried, the stupider I felt - I felt like a desperate man chasing his dream woman. I finally gave up and just focused on life, trying to live as best as I could. I just came to terms with the fact that I would never be Asian and therefore never be... well... never be Asian. Several months went by before I had that experience in class. After pondering the experience, I finally concluded that since I had stopped "trying" to be Asian, my life had unintentionally molded more thoroughly to the environment around me, which was mostly Vietnamese. My mind subconsciously affirmed that fact, to the point that when she mentioned self-identifying Asian American, my subconscious automatically categorized myself in that group. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was difficult for me to separate the parts of me that were uniquely Asian and uniquely non-Asian. I came home and pondered on the implications - I had always, always, always categorized myself as white, Anglo-Saxon, whatever it's called now. I had grown up white, and though I have some Asian blood in my veins, my life was practically culturally and socially and emotionally void of anything Asian. Is it possible to just change one's identity? Just like that? One question in a class and boom, I'm now converted from white to Asian? And that's when the epiphany gently floated down from the sky to my head (I'm sitting on my porch next to my ash tree and I kid you not, immediately as I wrote that last sentence, a leaf fell and about hit me in the head). No, it doesn't happen in a moment. That change has been working on me for a long time and now finally I realize that I'm as deeply Asian as all my classmates who took the survey.

I don't go around flaunting my new-found Asianness (maybe that's why God made me wait) because I'd like to keep it quiet, like a secret between me and myself. I don't lull myself to bed at night thinking, "I'm finally Asian, I'm finally Asian." In fact, I don't even think about it anymore, until something reminds me that at some point in the past, I had a change come over me. I don't feel Asian, but when I was white I didn't feel white either (I just looked it). I don't try to do Asian things (like eat everything with chopsticks - come on, cơm tấm and chè were not made for chopsticks!), but I just do what I do and I guess it's now a mixture of white and Asian because I can't tell anymore what's what. That's my identity - mixed. Not mixed blood, but mixed life.

James Allen claimed that a person is in control of their thoughts as well as environment. Well, we're in control of the environments toward which we gravitate, but those environments have a stronger pull on our identity and subconscious that many of us realize.

And what the khỉ is identity? I don't know. I was hoping that typing this would sort things out in my mind. It didn't.


Blogs of Interest

In the last two weeks I'm come across two great blogs that I like to share with all five of you (or maybe it's seven now, counting Sharon and Amy :) Here they are:

Brent and Jennie's European Experience Blog
I grew up with Brent, as our respective parents ran marathons or made cookies or played Nerts together. I looked up to him because he liked Pearl Jam and went to church at the same time. I haven't seen him forever (ok maybe only a year but it seems like many) but I ran into his blog today and found it fascinating to see him running around Switzerland and Germany, hauling two kids around and being hauled around by his wife. There are some beautiful pictures of castles and things so everyone definitely stop by the Cowan Family blog.

Phố - Thoughts of a time in Vietnam
Here is a blogger who commented on my blog a while ago. I just barely replied, and in doing so took a look at the blog attached to the profile. It looks like she just got to Vietnam a few weks ago to commence her year-long stay in a country that hasn't necessarily "welcomed" her. Yet. It's been a month since she's blogged, so I hope that she's backpacking the mountains of the North and will have many stories to tell when she gets back to a computer.

I love reading about people's lives, the intricacies that make up our mundane moments and how fluidly our lives connect with others' then separate. We're in constant flow, in and out of each other's experiences and with each intersection we take a little bit of that person with us. Sometimes I try to contemplate the vast world in which we live, the network of souls that make up human kind, the endless array of individuals that I come in contact with each day... then sometimes I remember that I have dirty dishes in the sink. Like now.


What I'm doing instead of blogging

A few weeks ago, I decided that my wife is more important than my blog, and my wife decided that I'm more important than Goong, so we've now been spending our free time with each other and friends instead of sitting at home with the computer (I guess that's what we get for having two computers). At home, I've reinvested myself in the garden, since all my plants will die in this heat if they don't have constant water. I haven't posted about my garden for awhile, but it's gone through a gradual transformation, which I've tried to capture in photos and have posted on Flickr (click here for complete slideshow, or click image for a few photos).

What I'm really excited about is my wife's new bike. We're amateur cyclists now. We've found out that we both love to bike and it's good for us too, so why not do it together? Plus, since we both hate riding on the sidewalk (or the road for that matter), we've been searching for little bike paths in our area and have been surprised to find so many. Here's a few pictures of our latest journeys, including this morning.


So what kind of people are those Communists raising, anyway?

While we were staying in Saigon, we were graciously housed at my sister-in-law's place, which was situated in one of the numberless hẻm (alleyways) that make up the city's residential areas. It was a quaint little arrangement, us sleeping upstairs while the renters - two students from Biên Hòa currently studying in the city - stayed in the downstairs quarters. My wife and I ran in and out several times a day, never saying more than a few words to the students as we went out the door or up the stairs. But there was one day that we stayed home because of the rain and the two students, Khôi and Ngân, had gone home to visit their family. I took the opportunity to get to know them a little better, behind their back.

I've heard horror stories of the educational system in Vietnam as it is run under the Communists, brain washing the children and other forms of cruel and unusual punishment. But what I found in Khôi was not a walking zombie, not a brain-washed robot training to be government spy... I found a self-motivated, fun-loving, study-holic young man who lived within the "regime," but without the slightest hint of allegiance (or displeasure for that matter) towards the government of his country. His focus was good grades, family unity and preparing for a global economy that is pushing its way into Vietnam even as we speak.

He's studying to be an architect. His desk fluctuated between two and three computers at all times, and the clutter on the desk and bookshelf was constantly shifting. But what really impressed me were the notes he hung all over the place. He ran himself through a strict schedule, as this image shows: 5:30 am - wake up, put a pot of rice on, brush teeth; 5:45 am - move around, morning exercise; 6:30 am - go to the store, make food... 7:00 am - rest, read... and then it's studying for the rest of the day. Not only did his hand writing impress me (and that is his writing, not a font), but his desire to push himself forward, to set goals for each day, to increase his capacity to accomplish by working by routine. I found myself wishing I could work like that...

Over the next few days I watched him as he worked - yes, he actually followed that routine. I also found more notes scattered throughout the house, in places that he would frequently pass by. I found some sticky notes taped to the wall, probably stuck up there after a particularly frustrating lazy phase. "No TV, no games, no sleeping in, no wasting time, no staying up past 11pm" is listed, in bullets, on one of the sticky notes, prefixed by an underlined admonition: "Cast away frivolous fun to focus on accomplishing your higher dream!!!" (notice at the end he actually writes "of" instead of "của" hic).

There's too many notes and lists, some even framed, for me to detail each one. Quotes, "Plan of Work and Goals," a sketch of his 9-out-of-10 point (why not a full 10 I don't know) project... and below is a nearly-finished example of what he's creating now. Click on it to see all the pictures I took of his stuff. I know, it sounds like I'm obsessed with this Khôi person, but I'm not. I'm just wishing I could be like him.

Oh, and by the way, we just got word that he graduated recently... valedictorian.


Netlore - I just can't get enough virus email!

I love urban legends and folklore. Actually, I hate urban legends because they're usually scary and then I can't sleep at night, but I love folklore. I didn't really know what that term meant until I took a humanities class where the professor was obsessed with folklore and told us all to forget Paul Bunyan and Washington's cherry tree and start looking at everyday superstitions and oral traditions. It changed the way I viewed life (I'm not being cheesy, it really did!) and the stories I hear buzzing around me day by day.

The idea for this post popped into my head 3 minutes ago when I was reading an email from my beloved friend who is always so kind to forward me email warnings about the virus that will destroy the Zero Sector of my hard drive and then crawl out and plug my toilet. (That's the best part about folklore, or "netlore" as it's evidently called: the story somehow stays intact throughout a plethora of retellings) The advent of email turned folklore into a tangible, trackable medium of expression - it's not so formal that everyday speech and stories are inappropriate, but it's not as fleeting and fluid as oral communication. Anyway, I'm reading my bud's email and as I read the virus' name ("Olypmic Torch") I think "Wait, this seems very familiar, maybe I got one just like it before..." so I look. Lo and behold, on April 12, 2006 I received not one but two emails titled "Fwd: READ AS SOON AS POSSIBLE" They were followed up on May 26, 2006 by an email from my beloved sister, entitled "FW: Fwd: Fw: Fw: READ AS SOON AS POSSIBLE" Yes, this is a hoax, a piece of netlore that has been circulating since early 2006, spreading panic and higher blood pressure throughout the United States and beyond.

My favorite one, to which I took a considerable amount of time to respond, was sent to me (the first time) on January 20, 2005 under the seductive title of "Fwd: FW: PLEEEEEEASE READ!!!! it was on the news!" It assured me that if I sent this email on to my entire address list, Microsoft and AOL and Toast Masters (something like that) would track it and send me a check for 3 billion dollars. Click here to read the email text

This seemed odd to me, and since if I made a dork out of myself by sending this potentially dangerous email on (who knows, perhaps that email contained the Olympic Torch?) then I wanted my money, I did a quick google search which lead directly to an article called "the Microsoft email tracking hoax" or something like that. It was great. The author was a mathematician and figured that if it were the real deal then Microsoft would be paying out more than the United States national debt. Click here for my reply, which used that guy's equation. I received that email several times over the next few months, including from my dad and brother. Email has greatly expanded the potential of folklore to effect our daily lives, from the jovial/superstitious (if you don't forward this message to 7 people you'll lose love for 7 years!) to the patriotic (Red Shirt Friday) to the down-right scary (like my introduction to netlore in '96, right before I learned to drive: Gang Initiation - Flash Your Headlights and Die!)

I found a decent article in Wikipedia on Folklore, but a simple search on Netlore hasn't revealed any substantial research on the subject of email hoaxes and folklore. I've only found lists of known email hoaxes - no real look at the history of it all and no analysis of netlore as an expression of Internet culture. Is it that no one has pursued the subject, brushing it off as petty emails that go straight in the Junk folder? Or am I just too much of a novice at googling? It makes me want to compile all my old hoax emails and start a wiki article about Netlore, plumbing the depths of where they start and why they're important. I think the type of oral and email traditions we pass around really does reflect the society in which we live. It might not be worth my time, but I know at least one person would appreciate it: my humanities professor.


Ouch! Tagged! Twice!

Ok, I give in. I was first tagged by Susan (who calls me Phương) but I was in Vietnam so she gave me until I got home to do it. Em Linh đọc bài này thấy trễ ko? Trễ còn hơn không! hic Now I've been tagged by Jennie, who seems quite busy since she stayed up all night to buy Harry Potter and still hasn't read it. (I'm halfway done :) The rules I got from Susan and Jennie were different: Susan's said write 7 random facts and tag 7 people; Jennie's said 8 and 8. After much deliberation, I've decided to take the average: Susan wants 7, Jennie wants 8, and I only want to do 1, so 7+8+1 = 16 facts / 3 people = 5.333333333333333333, we'll have to round that one off = 5.  There. (giỏi ghê ko?)

The Rules of this tag:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. List eight (or seven or five) random facts about yourself.
3. Tag eight (or seven or five) people at the end of your post and list them (linking to them).
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving them a comment on their blogs.

Random Facts

  • I'm actually Harry Potter (according to some)

  • I love my guitar, even though I don't play it enough (tui cũng sáng tác nhạc nữa)

  • It had been scheduled that I get baptized right on my 8th birthday, but I cut my eyeball the night before while overzealously trying to break sticks for my new snake habitat (bark flew into my wide-open eyes). The doctor patched me up and told me that I couldn't get it wet. :(

  • I was converted from rap to rock while in middle school by two songs: What's the Frequency, Kenneth? and Black Hole Sun. Thank goodness!

  • I hate buying new clothes because I'm afraid of dirtying them. Còn 8 áo sơ-mi mới tinh, vợ mua năm ngoái, còn để nguyên trong gói luôn!

People I pick on to be tagged

Eating Our Way South - Saigon

Finally, a day off! I might be able to catch up on some rest today. Or catch up on some cleaning.... we'll see.

Now for the final installment of our gastrojourney through Vietnam, featuring dishes from the Southern part of the country. Now, I don't think that Saigon has any specialties per se, but the food there is great none the less. I don't have as many pictures this time, but here we go:


Bánh Mì - the sandwich that combines a French baguette with all kinds of interesting things to make a light, inexpensive breakfast meal (this place sold it for 5000 đồng, which is about 30 cents. At Lee's it's like $2.50 plus tax!) I already posted a bánh mì picture before, but it ended up that we ate here more than the other place, plus this picture came out better.

Next in chronological order (though not in Vietnam) are the dế chiên. These delicacies are sold in Cambodia and taste amazing like sauteed shrimp. The interesting part is how they catch the crickets: they setup a stick frame and an empty basin of plastic tarp at the bottom. Then they put a light at the top of the frame and crickets fly over to the light then fall into the basin and can't get out. (click for a visual)

Now, back to Saigon. The last restaurant of note at which we ate was called Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn. Not only to they have a one of my wife's favorite dishes (cơm cháy - baked/burned rice), but they do have a little performance to make things more interesting (luckily caught it on film). They bake the rice in a clay pot, then they just shatter the pot right in front of you and throw the lump of rice around, I guess to cool it off, or to show off. Fun! If you're interested in going, the addres is 6c Tú Xương Quận 3, TPHCM and we recommend the cá kho tộ (fish baked in a clay pot with sauce) with the cơm cháy. Here's the video of how they serve cơm cháy, and below is the finished product:

Well, folks, that's all. I'm off to clean the house. Sleeping can wait.


Vietnam 2007 in Pictures

Finally! I've uploaded our pictures from Vietnam and captioned them all (phew!) Enjoy:
Vietnam 2007 Slideshow

note: while the slideshow is playing, you can click on the picture to see info about each image


Huntington Beach Police Blotter

Ok, I'm going to take a short break from reporting on Vietnam because this was quite humorous to me (and I'm getting pretty busy at work as well). I just ran into this weekend police blotter in the OC Register and I thought it was... interesting. Are these the only kinds of calls that Huntington Beach police receive on a daily basis, or is the Register only publishing the entertaining ones? There are a few incidents here that are serious, so I don't mean those. But can you seriously read through this list without chuckling at least once?

Weekend Blotter: Lost taxi customer relieves herself in street

A taxi driver told police at 1:42 a.m. Saturday that a female customer had gotten out of the cab near Heil Avenue and Rhine Drive and defecated in the street.

The woman then got back in the cab and gave directions to her residence but when they arrived, the house wasn't hers.

Police arrived and assisted the woman in finding her home.

Saturday, July 21

Bluefish Lane, 19300 block, disturbance involving juveniles. A group of five drunken youths were toilet-papering a residence at 12:46 a.m.

Rio Vista Drive, 6900 block, suspicious person. A man with one shoe on was sleeping on a resident's front lawn at 6:48 a.m.

Pier, disturbance. A man in a bright orange jacket was making threats to people on the pier at 8:55 a.m.

Norma Drive, 7000 block, hazardous conditions. A caller told police that a portable toilet had been tipped over, 11:37 a.m.

Goldenwest Street, 15700 block, suspicious circumstances. A swap meet shopper told police he thought he had found a saw that had previously been stolen from among items being sold by a vendor, 1:55 p.m.

Beach Boulevard, 17900 block, disturbance. Three transients were yelling at passing customers in front of a store at 2:13 p.m.

Main Street and Garfield Avenue, narcotics activity. A caller reported that three people were smoking out of a "crack pipe" at 4:37 p.m.

Garfield Avenue and Newland Street, traffic collision. A Honda Element had flipped over during a traffic accident and a woman was trapped inside at 6:43 p.m.

Sunday, July 22

Countess Drive and Edinger Avenue, reckless driving. A minivan was seen driving around without headlights on the grass near Mother's Park, 12:05 a.m.

Ellis Avenue, 8100 block, physical fight. Two men were fighting outside with broken beer bottles and one man was cut on the neck, 1:22 a.m.

Alabama Street, 1600 block, traffic hazard. A refrigerator was in the middle of the street, 2:36 a.m.

Billingsgate Lane, 20200 block, disturbance. Someone at a party was urinating off a balcony at 3:35 a.m.

Hillview Circle, 16500 block, disturbance. A caller told police that someone in a neighboring residence was watching a "porn video" and it was "very loud," 8:40 a.m.

Detroit Avenue, 200 block, burglary in progress. A caller told police that one of a group of teenage boys was being physically detained after they were seen attempting to steal something and the other boys had rode off on bicycles, 11:50 a.m.

Newland Street and Hamilton Avenue, traffic collision. A black Nissan Altima and a motorcycle were involved in a collision and the motorcycle was wrecked, 5:23 p.m.

Valley Circle, 18900 block, fireworks. A resident said that a group of guys was lighting off fireworks in the street for about 30 minutes. She yelled at them to "knock it off" and they threw firecrackers at her window, 10:20 p.m.


Driving in Vietnam

Think rush hour in Orange County is bad? Try Vietnam!

This is a little video my wife and I put together of driving through the streets in Vietnam. I was driving (most of the time we used her sister's Honda Future) and she was filming over my shoulder. It's terrifying at first, but it's not too bad once you get used to it. The trick is this: go with the flow. Seriously. There's a flow (or a groove if you will) in the traffic and all it takes is finding yourself in that flow, then driving is fine and actually fun sometimes.


Eating Our Way South - Huế, Hội An

After a great time in Hà Nội, we headed down to the central regions of Vietnam. Central Vietnam is known for its spicy dishes and unique accent - some Vietnamese just say straight out that they don't understand the central dialect.

We only stayed in Huế for two days, but tried to fit as much sight-seeing and eating in as possible. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take a lot of pictures (of the food anyway), so here's our report:

Here's a little food stall in the Đông Bạ (sp?) marketplace in Huế. The was pretty good, but the lady kept bringing stuff out and it ended up to be a bit more pricey than we hoped for. Usually food stalls offer less-expensive food. But it was good and we laughed it off.

We also ate at Tịnh Gia Viên, a nice place tucked in a beautiful garden. The head cook is from the family that used to cook for the imperial kings of Vietnam, so the food is intricately presented in the shape of dragons, turtles and other mythic animals. The presentation is great (I hear they will even dress you up in royal garb if you make the appointment!) but unfortunately, the foood seriuosly lacked in taste. Here's our favorite dish of all, nem which is a type of spring roll. Click here to see what it looked like when we were finished with it :).


To be honest, Hội An proved to be much more delightful to our palate than Huế. Here's our report:

Our first day was spent shopping, as Hội An is known for its inexpensive fabrics and countless tailor shops. The reason my wife likes it so much is because unlike the shops in Saigon, they are familiar with making clothing for "foreigners," which means they add a little to your measurements instead of take away. That means the Hội An clothing actually fits and is comfortable whereas most clothing bought from Saigon shops is ridiculously tight. Anyway, we spent longer at the shops than usual because we wanted to stay in that part of town until 8pm, for that is when Mr Noodles starts selling.

They call him Mr Noodles (that's my loose translation of "Ông Mì Quảng") because he is famous for his delicious noodle dish mì quảng which he sells in front of the fabric shops for a few hours after sundown. He has no restaurant, or even tables, but just sits down on the sidewalk with his wife and daughter amid stacks of plastic chairs (if you need a table, just put your plate on a chair!) and starts dishing out some killer mì quảng. Just get in line (which consists of a bunch of people sitting in random places - so basically just sit down somewhere) and he magically keeps track of who's next, as well as what you order and how much you owe when you're done. To me, Mr Noodles is a representation of how many people make a living in Vietnam - find your niche and work it. It probably won't be high paying or have any official position or title (in fact, he operates his business right under a sign that says "No food stalls," but it's night and the food's good so that makes it ok), but it's something.

The next day we started out for Cơm Gà Bà Buội, per recommendation of my wife's sister. It was raining and it took us 30 minutes of asking random people on the street to find it, but it was worth it. Bà Buội was is the founder of the place, which since her passing has been headed by her son. There is no menu - you just walk into the front room of the house, take a seat on the wooden bench (across the room from the dog, please) and say "I'll have what they're getting." while pointing to your neighbors. We were quite pleased. The chicken dishes are very simple - shredded chicken on rice, shredded chicken salad - but are delicious. Definitely recommended.

The locals will tell you that you have to try cao lầu, which is a noodle soup that can only be made in Hội An because they make it with special water from a special well that is only in their city. The dish itself isn't so special, just thick noodles in broth, like most other soup dishes in Vietnam. We actually went to the well and were surprised to see... a well. Tucked between someone's house and someone else's house, there's a circular hole in the ground with water at the bottom. A well. I guess I was expecting cao lầu noodles to magically spew from the well or something, but I was a little disappointed.

What locals might not tell you is to try the hoành thánh chiên (fried wontons), and even less will know where to eat them. There's a lot of places that sell this dish, but many are very disappointing. We went to one place that replaced the wonderfully sweet/sour sauce with ketchup. Probably because I'm white. Finally, on the night before we leave for Saigon, we start on a journey to find the real thing. We walked all the way down Hai Bà Trưng street until we found the place - Bông Hồng Trắng. Look at that picture - there lies the "real thing." It might look like nachos, but it's ten times what nachos could ever be.


Well, we're home. Got home on Sunday, back to work on Monday. I'm off today so I'll be cleaning the house. And blogging. Back to real life!!


Cambodia and Beyond

Well, Cambodia was a blast. We went right in the middle of rain season, but only got hit by a few drops. The rest of the time we just enjoyed the cool breeze of an impending storm. More (much more) on Cambodia later.

We're leaving tomorrow. It's been quite a trip and I'm a bit spent. But here's an interesting part of the story - at first I took pictures of everything I saw and I was constantly thinking about how to analyze each situation I saw. I viewed Vietnam as my subject and I studied it as such. But in just three weeks my perspective has done a 180 and no longer do I try to dissect Vietnam as a subject, but rather I've become the subject, living in Vietnam and becoming part of it.


Eating Our Way South - Hà Nội

It's raining outside so I'm going to blog again.

My wife once told me that she travels to eat. This is not completely true - she actually travels for family and leisure and a love of the seeing far away places - but she has shown me the satisfaction that comes from going out of one's way to ask the locals about where the regional specialty tastes best. And I have shown her how to put aside one's fears and dive into a narrow alley to eat the food many locals won't touch. We make quite the dynamic team when it comes to eating. Here's our report for Hà Nội.

The specialty in Hà Nội is bún. All kinds of bún. Bún is a vermicelli noodle dish served with different kinds of meat and lots of rau (leafy greens and herbs). It can be served dry or as soup. Everything is brought out separately to the table, then each customer gets their own little bowl to do the mixing in. Their bún is cooked and drained but not tossed so it sticks together, then it is cut into squares so you don't have to slurp it. In addition to the noodles, rau and meat, there's always a tasty mắm to go with it. Nước mắm (fish sauce) seems to be the thing in the South, but most of the bún we had in the North was served with mắm nem, which my wife always tells newcomers to eat first and smell later. Bún is one of my favorite dishes because it digests quickly and doesn't leave me feeling heavy after a big bowl. That's in addition to the delicious taste of fresh herbs, rice noodles and bbq-ed meat mixed with mắm. Yum!

For soupy bún, there's several different kinds. Bún thang, bún bung... but our favorite is bún mọc. Our favorite place by far is called, well, Bún Mọc Số 1 - Number 1 Bun Moc (see above picture). "Number 1" just so happens to be its address, but makes a nice name, too. This type of bún must be pretty regional because I haven't been able to find it anywhere other than the North, including in Orange County.

Another type of bún that we stumbled upon is bún đậu, meaning noodles with tofu. It was in a little alley at the corner of Hàng Bạc and Hàng Bè, and is not for the faint of heart. Entering the alley leads you through a mess of people sitting on little plastic chairs at little plastic tables (very typical of road-side stands). You have to find your own seat, which usually means sitting on the empty side of a table that is already occupied. Then they start bringing stuff out, and you basically look at what other people and point to order. This little dive turned out to be our favorite surprise in Hà Nội, and this dish is probably very tough to find outside of the North.

For those of you who love the classic Vietnamese eggroll - chả giò - then the North might leave you empty handed and empty stomached. The Northern version of eggroll, called nem rán, is filled with cabbage and bean sprouts, with a little ground pork and shrimp if you're lucky. Of course, I love them both. :) This is a picture of some homemade stuff we had while visiting the relatives in the countryside.

Is your mouth watering yet? If it is, we'll tell you a secret. Ok, it's not a secret, but it is a buffet - a Vietnamese buffet - that offers all of the above dishes in one location, all you can eat. It's like 7 dollars to eat to your heart's content, and the atmosphere is "exotic," too. I'll post the address (somewhere in Hồ Tây) when I find the business card.

Phew, that's enough for now! Later I'll post our report on Central Food, from Huế and Hội An. Oh, sorry Triết, we didn't get your extensive restaurant list until we got back South. I guess we'll just have to go back to Huế again!!

The Changing Landscape of Vietnam

I'm trying not to make this trip a petri dish for blog posts. It's not working. But I don't have a lot of time to think and analyze and come to a useful conclusion with many of my thoughts so I'm just going to blog some simple stuff here and hopefully tie up all the frayed posts I've started to make something "good."

The one thing I don't want to do is paint Vietnam as something it isn't. I've only been here twice, but it's enough to see that the idea of Vietnam as a land of nón lá (conical hats) and áo dài (flowing Vietnamese dresses) and phở (noodle soup) is just that: an idea. But I don't want my conclusions of Vietnam to solely reflect positive economic growth and government policy either, which is just as shallow as the previous perspective. Vietnam is a country, consisting of endless peoples, places and things that all contribute to its meaning. I will never be able to capture the whole of Vietnam, let alone articulate it, but I hope that I can contribute a bit to redefining Vietnam as a country, not a war or a tradition or a monetary sum.

And hopefully by doing so I will learn for myself what Vietnam means to me.


A taste of Vietnam

We've been here for almost a week now. Both my wife and me are are sick, we happened to show up right in the middle of monsoon season so it rains everyday, and not the Southern California sprinkle but the soak-you-to-the-bone-in-three-seconds rain. The soaking happens even sooner on a motor bike, and we happened to be on the way to auntie's house (on a motorbike) when the big stuff hit. Then we sat and visited for 2 hours in soaking wet clothing and then got sick. But it's been fun.
I've had a ton on my mind as far as things to blog, but it will all have to wait. For now, I'll just give you a taste of some of the food we've eaten.

Our first meal in Vietnam - bánh mì from a road-side stand.

This is not from War of the Worlds, this is dried squid. Some people love it. Most people don't.

Here's our dim sum, half-way consumed, as a primer for fish noodle soup.

Here's some pho we had at a little place called Pho 24 in Quan 3. The interesting thing was that this place was quite fancy (they even plucked the basil for you!) and most of the logo stuff was in English only, even though it was far from the tourist center.

And this was lunch today, pad thai at a place called Highlands Coffee on the top of Tax Plaza downtown. Looks beautiful but left my tongue with much to be desired. But I met an old friend there who was on a volunteer trip to the Mekong Delta. Small world!

travel log
  • 02.13.08 - to the temple with Luan and his mom, good to be back
  • 02.14.08 - Mẫu's alive! and staying for the weekend
  • 02.15.08 - floor hockey and Thái food makes for some strange dreams
  • 02.17.08 - frisbee and swamp monster at the park: fun but I'm pooped!
  • 02.19.08 - just read Triết's response to my last post - game on!
  • 02.20.08 - raining and expected to continue through Sunday - thank goodness!
  • 02.21.08 - 3-hour nap is a bad idea right before bed
  • 02.23.08 - to the beach to watch kites, a baptism @ 5pm, and homemade bulgogi - what a day!
  • 02.25.08 - just gave myself a haircut - woo, cold head!
  • 02.26.08 - 75° and spring cleaning - couldn't feel better
  • 02.27.08 - fed the elders bún đậu tonight - think it's their first time
  • 03.01.08 - working on new background...
  • 03.02.08 - finalized javascript to change background without muffing up my other scripts
  • 03.03.08 - fhe: "In his strength I can do all things" (Alma 26:12)
  • 03.07.08 - some decisions are harder than others, but some are downright excruciating
  • 03.08.08 - there is life after work... i almost forgot
  • 03.11.08 - the distance between good and bad is much shorter than between better and best
  • 03.12.08 - conversion is sometimes a gradual process, so much so that we don't even notice
  • 03.14.08 - for some reason everything was a little harder today, looking forward for bed!
  • 03.15.08 - last night after blog reading, I missed OnlyBlue, today I find she's back
  • 03.16.08 - best day of my life!
  • 03.19.08 - "Pray for the answer that they've been looking for"
release notes v1.0 - FINALLY DONE!
  • 12.07 - first thought of starting a new blog
  • 01.08 - busy with election stuff but blog design still on back burner
  • 01.13.08 - first idea to imitate jk rowling with the "desk" theme
  • 01.28.08 - start sketching current design, breaking down development into phases
  • 02.02.08 - election only days away but still drafting final plans
  • 02.04.08 - v0.6 LAUNCH
    • main components (blog body, sidebar, header, etc) designed and implemented
    • styling for font, links, drop caps, etc. finished
  • 02.07.08 - v0.8 LAUNCH
    • image style to imitate polariod
    • moveability - post-it notes and static clings can be repositioned by drag and drop
    • release notes styled and written
  • 02.16.08 - travel log (beta) added in hopes of catching the mundane
  • 02.22.08 - lightbox 2.03 reinstalled and working fine (hopefully - let me know otherwise)
  • 02.26.08 - v0.9 LAUNCH
    • travel log seems to be working, so I'll keep it
    • lightbox also seems to have passed the test, so it's a keeper
    • some credits/info added to bottom (will expand)
    • keeping old Viet terms in archive for future viewing
  • 03.18.08 - v1.0 LAUNCH
    • installation and testing of time-sensitive background completed (for now)