The Eating of Phở

The other day I was eating at Phở Vĩnh Ký and for some reason the experience was more profound than at other times, all the details standing out a little more than usual. It's quite an intense experience, the eating of phở. Below I try to conjure up the experience in words, most of which was penned in my brain while I was eating. Tổng mời...

The Eating of Phở
the beggar man asking change - I'm not a street person, this is only temporary
the door hidden between sliding bars
the cramped coziness of a family dive that offers several dishes but serves only one
the older brother with the see-thru shirt who sees through my stomach and knows what I want and puts a dish of rau on the table before I even open the menu
the little sister in the corner snatching bites of lunch between seating guests
the little mother shooting orders to the cook and smiles to the new-comers
phở tái nạm tô trung breaks the uneven silence and the waiter's away and back again before I can wipe clean my spoon and đũa of thousands of lickings and a handful of washings
the smell of fresh beef and red turning brown is smothered by the smell of too many herbs whose names aren't important as long as they're rau
vắt chanh, thêm ớt, now the rau leaf by leaf
and I bend to the bowl in the perfect position, elbows on the table supporting the back and bent to 45, wrists resting lightly on the layer of air above the lip, muỗng limp in the left hand and đũa posed in the right, head centered over the bowl at the precise distance to avoid the splashing and fogging of glasses
the first bite is the đũa catching thịt bánh rau all in one swoop, backed up by three spoonfuls of steaming nước lèo, burning tastebud and tongue and priming throat for the rest
the motions are effortless - catch, lift, suspend to cool, slurp, spoon, return to step one
an occassional breath while adding spice, thêm chanh thêm ớt thêm mắm thêm muối
then done.

the body deflates and the mind tries to hold on to too many tastes I did not taste but smelled as they went down
the chair creeks at familiar movements, back against back and lax feet now laying flat instead of tense on the ball
the sweet chè I slurp rinses my mouth of the essence of memories forgotten and futures remembered, but not my hands
the growing clock makes known the time
brother, sister, mother haven't stopped, only I
the floor, the walls, the silence
I leave my tip and return to life.

The "official" xanghe blog

Well, I guess I'm official. Triết posted a shout-out to me on his blog. I hear once someone links to your blog, you all the sudden become noticeable to Google. I guess the old-school meta tag contents doesn't cut it anymore. Anyway, a big thanks to Triết, and I think he'd be pleased to know that the first blog I ever remember reading was actually his, while he was in Vietnam. I had a question about something, and he referred me to one of his blog posts.

UPDATE: I just checked my web stats and yes, I have become noticed. I got a hit from Hanoi yesterday. I hope I'm not black-listed now because I've posted one article about labor protests in Vietnam. No kidding, I know of sites (which are run by people I associate and even hang out with) that are filtered by the government and can not be accessed in Vietnam.

Also, along the lines of being noticed, my friend from UCI told me that she was searching the library catalog and came upon my name. I guess my senior thesis is now available in the library. It even has a call number, which is cool even though they spelled my name wrong in the title. Oh well, it's not the first time. I look back at it and realize that it's not that great, I can't believe I spend a whole year on that thing.

If you're interested in what I do for work, we had an interesting day in regards to the recount in Nguyễn vs Nguyễn, which was filmed and later posted on YouTube. Everyone is pretty wowed at the electoral process in our office, but it's pretty much run-of-the-mill. Take a look here (IE users, please hold a moment while the video loads):

Click here for more (many more) video clips.

Mosiah 3:19 - The Natural Man

The other day, I heard my coworkers talking about their 21st birthdays. The youngest one of them all mentioned that she didn't go out drinking that night because she spent it with her family. Then one of the ladies said, "What! It's just unnatural to be sober on your 21st birthday!" I about tipped over in surprise (can you imagine that sight?). Still today I can't believe she could say something like that, something that sounds so ignorant and insensitive to others standards and intolerant of lifestyles different from hers. I understand she was just joking, but as a friend of mine says, "A joke is always half true."

The first thing I thought after collecting my thoughts was this scripture:

For the anatural bman is an cenemy to God, and has been from the dfall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he eyields to the enticings of the Holy fSpirit, and gputteth off the hnatural man and becometh a isaint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a jchild, ksubmissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

(Mosiah 3:19)

This verse - this whole sermon - inspires me more with each reading. This natural man is the one who leads me to do stupid things, or not do smart things, or just do nothing at all when only a little effort is required. I look back and realize that most of the bad things that have come into my life have come because I am not doing the things listed in the last part of that verse. Recently I've seen a resurgence of that mentality in my daily life, and I think this experience helped me to realize that I was beginning to slack.

Plus, I saw some hope in it as well. The 21-year-old didn't go drinking for her birthday. Perhaps that long-time tradition is fading out. Or maybe not, but I can hope, right?


Romney in Presidential Race -- Ah!

Mitt Romney
Errr.... the thought makes me queezy. I didn't post this at the beginning of the week when Romney first announced that he'd run for president because I was hoping that he would maybe change his mind. I don't know why I'm so uneasy about it, I think just because I've been around politicians enough to know how their world runs. He's rich and powerful and is gaining all the support of the anti-McCain big-wigs, but my worries are more in regard to his beliefs than his chances. Already, he's receiving serious negative media about being LDS, in addition to the on-going, funny-the-first-time side note, "Oh, by the way, did you know he's Mormon?" We all know that whatever media or bloggers say about him will be taken as fact and generalized to encompass the whole LDS Church, right? I'm a bit disenchanted with politicians because of the system under which they work. High-profile politicians are often backed into situations where they have to make a certain decision, even if it is against their policy or even moral agency. I'm not an iconoclast nor am I into anarchy (blah!), but I'm not completely convinced of the presidential power alone in effecting much change in the government because the system, the machine itself really dictates the whole. That's his format: innovation and transformation in the government. But I don't think someone can just walk in and transform the system. It's deeper than that. That's all. And I'm not really worried about him winning anyway because he's way behind according to the polls. His candidacy just made me think about all that stuff.

On the flip side, I think some positions in the government can initiate great change, and maintain it as well. Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, is over 67,000 nationwide employees - an army of good-doers helping less fortunate citizens, especially in times of need such as Hurricane Katrina. He's not in a position where everything he says will be on YouTube within 5 minutes and everything he does will be dissected on hundreds of blogs by evening. He's behind the scenes, literally unknown unless you know him, and working a small miracle everyday. If I ever get into politics, it will definitely be on that side of the curtain. But, lucky me, I would never make it in politics anyway. Thank goodness.


Quí vị không phải là người duy nhất bị khói thuốc lá làm hại

Back in the good ol days, I remember seeing this phrase on a billboard (or something like that) and writing it while sitting at a stop light, and then that night cracking open the Viet-English dictionary to figure out what in the world it meant. Now I joke with the guys about it, back then when every idiom or saying in Vietnamese was a secret code waiting to be pored over and cracked. I guess it means something like "You are not the only one at risk of cigarette smoke" or somewhere in that ball park. I read another one the other day, again on a billboard: "Nếu quí vị hút thuốc, khả năng con cái bị nghiện thuốc sẽ nhân đôi." It's funny because now that I've studied the language for several years, I guess I think I'm pro or something because instead of trying to figure out the meaning, I just nitpick the translation. This phrase means something like "If you smoke, the chances that your children will be addicted are doubled." The word "chances" in this context really evade a good translation in Vietnamese (I think) because most terms of like meaning (cơ hội, cơ may) are in regard to good luck or opportunity, like the chance to win the lotto or the chance to meet a celebrity. The word used in this particular translation is khả năng which could mean something close to chance (more like potential) but could also mean ability. "If you smoke, the ability of your children to be addicted will be doubled" doesn't really fit their meaning, as I see it, but it might be the best bet for lack of a more direct translation. Ahh, translating... the more I do it, the more I feel I lack.

The reason I thought of this today was because I woke up to my neighbor coughing. (Note: "Neighbor" in my neighborhood means any one of the 5 households adjacent to mine, so all the sounds from the other units reverberate and amplify through the walls into ours, and vice versa) He's a big-time smoker and he lives right under us so we're constantly opening our windows and doors when it's hot or when we're cooking with nước mắm, then closing them again when the smoke drifts in. I would be upset about it except that I feel so bad - every morning he coughs for a full 5 minutes before his lungs calm down. Not the little coughs, but the kind of cough that I thought was the furnace hiccuping for the first few months I lived here. It was especially bad this morning, he went on for a good 15 minutes or more. I said a little prayer for him (after which he stopped immediately :) and wondered, as I often do, if he could have possibly imagined what his life is like now when he smoked his first cig. That's why I can't bring myself to mumble under my breath when he's filling our porch and doors and windows with smoke, because I'm sure that under a little peer pressure or depression or desperation or whatever drives someone to fill their lungs with soot, he thought that smoking was something he needed at the time, or at least wanted. It makes me wonder about what I'm doing right now that I think I need or want, and what will the consequences be in 25 or 50 years. Ultimately, I should be thankful for my condo above a smoking neighbor because of the lessons I learn from him. But it is difficult on those hot summer nights when I can't breath for the heat and I can't open the windows and doors because then I might be able to breath better but I'd be sucking someone's second-hand smoke.


My stubborn originality

Phew, I just finished a revamping of my blog design. Of course, it's based on the structure of the rounders4 template provided by blogger, but in the month I've been a part of the blogosphere, I've seen two individuals using the same template. That must mean it's a good one. However, since there are others using that same template (probably hundreds more that I'll never see), I still have to change mine because I'm original and unlike anyone else. When I was a kid, I was taught that I'm like a snowflake - similar to all my brother and sister humans but different is a very special way. I've actually seen snowflakes up close and it's hard to describe the intricate beauty of each one. I used to walk through the cold night air while the silent snow made its way down to earth and watch the ones that got caught on my sleeve melt away into little droplets of water. I always thought they looked cool. So now, in order for me to be cool, I have to reinforce my originality through my unique blog design.

I'm not really proud of this stubborn originality - basically being different just to be different - but it's part of me so I'm not really ashamed either. I just think its funny that I spend so many hours on a Saturday night redesigning my blog when I could be out with my wife, cleaning the kitchen, or enjoying my bed. Oh, well.


fyi I just uploaded some of my songs

Is the seed of faith enough?

For the last several months, I've been reading the New Testament for my scripture study and... oh, actually I think I read this in institute: Alma's perfect comparison of the word of God to a seed. Nurture it and it grows and yields fruit, neglect it and it withers and dies. (Alma 32:28-43)

I've seen Alma's comparison firsthand as I struggle with our little "garden" in our "back yard". Some plants have flourished and some have just died. The lesson Alma teaches strikes a chord in my mind because of the experiences I've had watching plants grow and watching plants die. But what about the time when our children don't plant seeds anymore? I doubt elementary school teachers will have time to plant seeds in class (don't pardon the pun) when there's continual pressure from the State to produce higher-achieving students under lower budgets. The growth process will become a subject taught out of a book rather than from hands-on experience, especially since less school children will ever need that skill to "succeed in the real world." At that point in time, will the seed-faith comparison be sufficient to open one's mind to a deeper level of understanding of faith? I suppose there will always be people who plant seeds since so much of our existence depends on it, but that industry is distancing the practice of planting seeds and the actual consumption of the product (probably to hide the conditions under which produce workers work) and the need or interest in planting one's own seeds is waning in tandem. SO... (deep breath)... the only people left who know about planting are produce workers and farmers-market types who will always remain marginal because it's meant to be a marginal industry. Perhaps those are the ones who will deserve a deepened understanding of the Word, as Christ himself spend most of his time with the downtrodden and "sinners" (publicans who collected tax for the Romans and who were definitely marginalized). This crowd might be more receptive to the Word, as the good soil receives and nourishes the seed.

Phew, that's a lot of blabbing. It's just been on my mind a lot lately. What's the next parable that will knock people off their feet when they hear it? Even Christ's disciples were flabbergasted when he taught the parable of the sower for the first time. "And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?" (Matthew 13:10) What comparison will bring a gospel principle out of the abstract and into practicality? Or, is the time for parables over? Is the dispensation of the fulness of time an era of finding one's own guiding light through scripture study, fasting and prayer? Is the focus leaving what has been taught and moving towards what can be taught on a personal basis under the tutelage of the Spirit? Whatever it is, I hope I'm on the right boat to find it. But I guess hoping isn't enough, huh?

btw, here's some pics of our garden in February, after two days of 70o weather:


Music That Moves Me

Have you ever heard a song that just takes your mind away? Something in the lyrics or the rhythm or the flow of words and notes just tugs at your heart strings? Your surroundings seem to stop... while you listen? I just found two new songs - which happen to be sung by two new voices in Vietnam - that move me. Enjoy.

Wow, posting this got me thinking about what other songs move me. Here's a few:

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)