Saturday, February 26, 2011

More learning.

Dear diary,

Family history lesson time again.

One of the first things I noticed when I arrived to my family's neighborhood was this thing:

It's a little altar of some dude named Vincente. It belongs to the community/neighborhood, so anybody who wants to come place flowers there or clean up is free to. There are even 2 benches in front of the gate with a locked box for donations. (About the benches, you will see these things ALL over the place here in the neighborhood, perhaps even the city - not too sure. But, a lot of companies that deal with any stone or other minerals build these benches and put their company name and # on them. Then, they donate it to various businesses or even families to leave out front to lounge on. Quick & easy marketing!)

So, I was eating dinner with my aunt inside and about a dozen or so people lined up chairs in front of the altar for a mini-mass/prayer session. I start asking my aunt about the whole deal, and she tells me whenever people feel like praying, they go there and do it. I also asked why she wasn't out there and she told me that she dislikes a lot of them folks. 

Apparently, over a dozen years ago, some of those folks, along with others in the neighborhood, started harassing my family over a plot of land we owned. Those people made a big fuss over a house my grandfather acquired and demanded that we sell it to them at some dirt cheap price for some reason (I'm still unsure about why). Eventually, they brought the issue to the court and after a tumultuous 4 years, it was confirmed that the land was ours and it our prerogative to do with it as we wish. It cost my aunt several lá vàng, gold bar/leaf that many people in VN, for various reasons (very small & portable = easy to smuggle when escaping VN, steady prices, etc.). I think she ended up paying the lawyers 4 or 5 bars over the course of the trial.

But, back to the altar. The land this altar is built upon once belonged to my family. My grandparents owned quite a bit of land here; all the siblings live in their own place and many of their children live adjacent to them as well. Anyway, I found it quite odd where this altar sat. It's between my 2 aunts' houses, directly in front of what would be considered a shared yard. And the walkway that leads to the doors of their houses is very narrow (their mopeds barely pass through, with maybe an inch on each side left). 

As it turns out, my grandmother donated this plot of land to the neighborhood! Sort of. My aunt tells me that one night, when my grandmother was out uh, nhậu...-ing, some dudes asked her for the land. They made a case about how they wanted to build an altar so the people could share it and pray and blah blah blah or something. My poor grandmother, after some beer or liquor or cognac, drunkenly agreed! She didn't remember the next day, but everyone took her word for it and soon, the altar was built. Oh, grams! Maybe that's where I get it from, haha.

So, that's the story of the altar and why some of those praying are dicks. 


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Happy belated birthday, G-Dub!

This is a bit late, but I forgot to add this in before (as if any more proof were needed to prove this guy was totally legit). Just watch and bask in the amazement that was George Washington. Them bears didn't stand a chance.

Oh yeah, sorta semi-NSFW. Don't get offended, just laugh at the ludicrousness, ok?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wait, what?? A boat, you say?

Got some knowledge dropped on me!! Got back from my cousin's house not too long ago. My aunt, Cô Dân, (#5 of 9) was over here earlier and wanted me to get out of the house with her. We walked towards my uncle's, Chú Hỏa, (#6 of 9) house and stopped by his son's, Công, place with his sort-of-recent wife, Vân. I thought we were going to just visit a bit, but they decided when I arrived that we should all "nhậu." I won't try to explain to y'all what this means, because my head's not all that right to get into teaching mode, so I'll link an article my buddy Patrick wrote for De-Bug magazine about the cultural meaning behind it and the places Vietnamese often find themselves in to go about it: Quán Nhậu. Not necessarily the type of nhậu...-ing we did, but similar idearrrr.


Nothing too fancy. Just some garlic fried chicken wings & legs, battered & fried calamari, veggies and of course, 333 bia off to the side (4 for me!). Mmmm, I sure do miss me some good fried chicken right about nows. Not to say that tonight's fare wasn't great, but boy oh me thinking about some Clucks or 99 for sure!

Anywho, the night started off with just us hanging out and grubbin', watching In the Line of Fire with good ol' Clint & John Malcovich. Once that ended and some rom-com with Uma Thurman started, the talking commenced! The conversation went back and forth between talking about my family here in VN and life in the States. They asked about Vietnamese people in CA, how far away Texas was, house prices, things about Las Vegas, and on and on and on. They then told me about how my dad's younger brothers, Chú Hỏa and Chú Thuận, loved to drink...finish a bottle of whiskey betweens the two of 'ems they say. They told me about how my brother, while living here as a youngster, was a trouble-maker. He would chọc, or tease, his two-year old cousin and would mimic people in the village who would go around picking up/collecting leaves in the village. Yeah, he would actually grab plastic bags and go around picking up leaves to bring home for I don't even know what. 

Then, we go to the story of my parents fleeing VN. I was always under the impression that my father was sponsored by someone in the states and subsequently flown over. But, now that I think about it, things make sense. Considering the time they left and the city in which they arrived, I don't see how being sponsored could fit in. I should have realized this all before, but I guess some things just didn't click. I mean, this is something my brother had to have known since he was about 9 when they fled VN. My sister was a few months old when they left the Philippines to the states as well. So, there you have it: We be boat refugees, yo! I mean, knowing that doesn't really change much of anything. Regardless of how they arrived, they still arrived. And of course, then came Me! So, I guess it just makes me so extremely grateful that they made it safely. Being an AAS major, studying the different waves of VN refugees, I read about several different stories of boat people traversing the ocean and putting up with such horrifying conditions (pirates, robberies, rape & abuse, capsizing, death, etc...) to make it to America. So, actually, I guess that does change things quite a bit. Thanks for being such troopers, fam! I am forever indebted to you for what you have gone through to escape that life and to give us this opportunity for a better life in America. 

Boy of boy, that was quite a bit of info. Let's dial things down a bit, jeess? So, yesterday consisted of what I've mostly been doing here: eating. I haven't had the chance to go out and explore much so far. But, I have been getting to try lots of new foods, including this:

Bánh bột chiên (Fried rice flour cake)

Apparently a Chinese-influenced dish, it consists of a cake-like mixture made with rice flour or rice & flour, then fried on a pan. Throw in a fried egg, some greens, pickled papaya and a seasoning sauce made with soy sauce and chili and bam! You got yourself a meal. This has been one of the tastiest dishes I've enjoyed thus far. My aunt, cousins, and I drove to some random cart in a neighborhood about 10 minutes from ours for it. My aunt claims of all the places she has tried, this is the best because of the sauce. According to her, the sauce really makes the dish. And you know what? I have to agree. Now, I know I have no other experiences to base my opinion on, but I don't care. Shit was delish, yo! So delish, actually, that I ordered another one to-go for a late-night snack, Holla!

The to-go order, re-fried a few hours later. Not as good as fresh, but still yummss nonetheless!

After thass, we drove to the small fruit market down the street

to get me some of these:

Mận, otherwise known as a PLUM, or a "green wax apple" or "water apple"
 as I've read some places. 

Not the usual plum I'm used to. It looks like a cross between a bell pepper and uhh, a very smooth strawberry? But it tasted like a guava to me, but not as tough. Yeah, texture of a bell pepper for sure but taste of a guava. Also picked up some of this:

I have no idea what this fruit was. It resembled a longan, but a google search has me thinking it might be a Sapodilla or somethang. But, fast forward to night time and look what I got to do:

This if one of my favorite little dudes that I've met so far. He's my cousin, Chị Phụng's, little kid Quốc Minh. He's about 14 months old and he's a giant cry baby. This was actually the first time he actually let me hold him without crying or pushing away. And yes, that's us on the back of my cousin's moped. Before you get all worked up over how dangerous this may be, it's quite the common practice here in VN. The way he's sitting is one of the safer arrangements, I believe. I've seen people with wooden chairs seated in the open area, between the driver and the steering, where children are commonly placed. The record I've seen so far has been 1 (presumed) mother and 4 kids/toddlers/adolescents seated all around (1 in a wooden chair and 3 behind her on the seat).

We didn't go out in the main streets; just around the neighborhood until he started crying for mama, then we headed home. I was nervous, of course, taking him around. Even though I'd seen so many people do it, I just was a bit scared trying it myself. Obviously, we made it out okay, else I'd be posting some horrible photos, right?

Crap, this is beginning to be a long post. Anyway, to finish it up, my lunch yesterday!

Bún vịt xáo măng - duck noodle with bamboo! 

No photo of the actual dish on arrival as I just jumped in to eat. It happens. 

Anyway, that's enough for now. Expect many more posts of just food I eat. I think that'll be a lot easier and more common than recounting such stories as above. I'll throw those in every once in a while, I guess.


PS - Oh yeah, while at my cousin's place nhậu-ing, the next-door neighbors were also nhậu-ing and things started getting heated. I couldn't understand what exactly was going on, but they started throwing bows! 

I doubt y'all will be able to tell from these crappy photos, but apparently, one dude wanted to leave, but couldn't find his keys. And no one would take him, so he grabbed someone's moped and pulled out the fuel line and drained it around the alley and somehow it got lit. So yeah, you know those scenes in the movie where someone pours a line of gasoline and lights it up until something blows up? Yeah, it was kinda like that, only except no blowing up. But dude, all these cats were brothers, like, blood brothers. Homeboys be getting knocked down, picking up bricks to threaten one another and all sorts of stuff. My other cousin (whom I've yet to meet) was partaking in the festivities with them and got caught up in the heat of the moment and went into his house (right across from where I was) to get a kitchen knife, haha. VIETNAMEEEEEEEEESE!!!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Day of adventurous eats!



Soup...of meat.

I won't comment on what type of meat this was exactly. My family likens it to pork. Y'all can speculate however you'd like. And I won't confirm nor deny that I tasted said meat, haha. I'll just say that my aunt made a separate dish of mi xào (fried noodles) for me to eat.

A few hours after dinner with my family, my uncle invited me to have dinner with his side of the family, who happened to live down the neighborhood from where we lived. His sister's son is heading off for a year and a half for the army, so they had a huge dinner at their grandmother's house. I was still so full from... mì xào that I couldn't bear to eat any more of the food they had there. So, I saved my stomach for the copious amounts of 333 bia they were enjoying with dinner. That and this:

Cocunut wine!

I must say, that was some delicious coconut! I left my camera at home, so that's some random google photo of how the drink is served. I think one of the uncles was saying that this was about 55 proof , so that's about 27% alcohol only. I was asking them how this liquor was made and they told me that a hole is drilled into the coconut. Then, most of the juice is drained out. After that, they put in some enzyme (? - I looked it up and this site said a type of enamel and sticky rice is inserted) and a month to two months later, the ingredients mix around and become coconut wine! It tasted exactly as you would imagine - alcoholic coconut juice. A few sips out of a communal cup and 3 bias later, I'm a happy buzz. 

Never imagined I'd be ready to fall asleep before 10 p.m., but here goes. Chào các bạn!


Thursday, February 17, 2011


Yeah, check out these pants. I have a feeling these are the pair of pants I'll be sporting the most while here in VN. I was cautioned to always wear pants when going out at night, in the case of a mosquito attack of course. I found these in a box while packing up/moving my stuff a few days before I left. I reckon this pair is about 7 or 8 years old - all the way from my high school days. I like them because you can tie the bottoms at the ankle and can unzip at the knees to let them breathe, so they're good to protect from little crawlies but at the same time they let air in if it gets too hot.

Now, why am I posting about my pants? Cause they hurt me. They aren't necessarily tight on me. In fact, I have about an inch, almost two, of slack when they're pulled up and sit on my hips. The problem is getting them up there. See, these pants don't unbutton, so I have to wiggle them all the way up until they're completely on. And if you haven't noticed, I have a fat ass. Like, it's pretty big. Very juicy and plump. I bet some of you are reading this right now with a tear strolling down your face because you miss it so. I also have some chunky thighs. So you can imagine the difficult time I have pulling these pants up past my legs and ass. It gets to the point where I have to dig my fingers in and pull them up slowly while wiggling, and in the process, I've begun to bruise myself. And it hurts! Bruises all over my ass and thighs! They especially hurt when I go to bed at night because my "mattress" is so stiff and it's like lying on the ground with my bruises getting rolled over whenever I shift positions. 

Yes, this is a pretty pointless post. I think I'm just taking it out on my pants because I'm missing MSTRKRFT right now. I just found out they were playing at a club in District 1 (40+ min ride away). The only way this can be made up is if I get to see Backstreet Boys in a month when they play Saigon, hahah.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

One week down, about 78 to go!

Hi, friends. I'm sitting here in a quán cà phê (coffee shop) sipping on a cà phê sữa đá at 9 p.m. with my Dad's youngest sister (Cô Vân), her husband (Chú Tai), their son (Thanh) and daughter (Chi). Not that unusual for VN as the place is bustling with folks. There must be at least a hundred tables here with no more than a dozen empty. Thanh claims this is the best coffee shop where they live (Hóc Môn District). Named Tri Kỷ: 

Not sure the photo does this place any justice as it's with an iPhone my dear buddy has graciously lent me for my time here. Several open floors, trees all around lined with lanterns, water falls, pools, and if you notice in the photo, a giant windmill! And they're playing some old school music from the States right now, but it's not all that surprising to me as I've heard it just about everywhere I go. Just glad it's one of the few things I can understand consistently compared to lots of the conversations people have been trying to have with me daily. 

So, about 12 hours from now marks exactly 1 week since I've been here. It certainly doesn't feel that way. And in some ways and some days, it doesn't even feel like I'm actually here in Viet Nam. I haven't felt the culture shock that many of you have said I would. Perhaps I'm just too easy-going and adaptable to even notice (or care?). The weather hasn't been as bad as I thought it'd be (about mid 80s the last week, mid 90s today.) 

In any case, I'm certainly enjoying myself thus far. Life where my family lives (about 45mins from the actual city/center/downtown) moves at a rather slow place. One of the things I've taken a liking to is the nap many people take in the afternoon. I sure love me a good nap! My body is almost adjusted to the time change. I haven't found myself waking up at 2 a.m. any more, which is nice. The only thing that does still bother me is the foam they have me sleeping on. I sure miss my giant bed and [side note: they just started playing Taylor Swift. <3] how cushiony and comfy it was. I'm too young to be sleeping straight at nights!

Anywho, since FB uploads aren't really working for me, I'll share some photos with y'all through here:

Say "NO!" to heroin!

Then, a few steps in front of this notice.

Those photos were taken outside of a building housing some sort of City or Government business. Still not sure exactly what my aunt was doing inside for me.

Mãng cầu aka Custard Apple

I've seen my cousin Nhi eat this in the states. They sell it at some Asian markets, frozen and imported. This was my first time ever trying it and I must say, it was quite delicious. You get a seed in every bite though, it seems. Only a matter of spitting it out, but the flesh is soft and sweet and quite juicy.

Not quite exactly our Magnums from Europe, right people? It's called Wall's here and I wasn't fortunate to find any Pistachio, Almond, or Jane's favorite of Strawberry Swirl. 

Vú sữa!

Literally translated as "breast milk." As you can see, the juice of the fruit is milky and very sweet. According to Danielle, the sexiest fruit ever! And after trying it for the first time, I must agree. I sure do loves me some breast milk, hah!

And this last photo was snapped my second night here after my cousin Thanh took me for a ride downtown. The trees in the city were still decorated for Tet with lanterns strewn all across.

It's a bit blurry since we were zooming through on his Xe Honda Wave. But for as busy as it appeared, my cousin mentioned that many people were still on vacation in other parts of the country. They only started to return yesterday. I can only imagine how many people the streets are filled up with now.

Well, that's all I have for now. Until the next chance I get for wi-fi, folks! 


PS: this post is dedicated to Rabiah Khalid, haha. Happy now?!