Author Archives: ChristinaTran

“Mắt to hơn bụng”

“Mắt to hơn bụng”

Literal Translation: His eyes are bigger than his belly

The informant first heard this from his mother when he lived in North Vietnam when he was a young boy, about age nine or ten.  The entire family of six had been eating dinner together for some time when the informant became full.  However, he still had food left over on his plate.  His mother then said to his father, “mắt to hơn bụng” and made him finish the rest of his food.  This proverb essentially means that the person wants more than he can handle.  The informant remembers laughing when his mother said this, because he had never heard such an odd saying.  The informant remembered this proverb until now because it sounded so strange.  “How can one’s eyes be bigger than one’s stomach?” he thought to himself.  So whenever his children put more on their plates than they can eat he reminds them not to have eyes bigger than their stomach and makes them eat it all.  He thinks this proverb is very popular in Vietnam where food is scarce because it reminds people who are blessed enough to have food on the table to not be greedy and wasteful when so many people are starving in the world.

Because the Vietnamese people are starving and hungry in Vietnam, they have learned to appreciate the importance of food and how hard it is to come by.  The Vietnamese people who generally use this proverb are adults who have experienced that hunger and try to convey that experience onto their children, who generally have not experienced hunger to the most extreme yet in their lives.  When people are hungry they tend to crave different types of food.  “I want this and this and this and that,” when in reality they want it but don’t have the stomach room to eat all of it.

Trapped in the Desert.

 Q:  There is a man stranded in the middle of a desert with no resources nowhere to go, no one to ask for help.  All he has with him is a water bottle with a small ping pong ball inside.  How does he get the ping pong ball out?

A:  He pees in the water bottle.

The informant first heard this at his work, where his coworkers like to tell each other jokes during their break times.  He was 42 when he first heard it, and retold it to his family that night.  The informant asked his family the question.  They came up with a variety of answers from “stomp on the bottle until it cracks, then rip it open,” to “suck it out with his mouth.”  However, none of these were the right answer.  When he finally told the answer to his family, they all groaned but then laughed for almost half an hour after because it was so original and pervertedly funny.  The joke was a great way to end the family dinner before they all had to return to their work, be it school homework, or things around the house to finish.  The joke had worked to bring the family a little bit closer together.

A joke like this would be inappropriate anywhere unless the people participating in the joke either knew each other or were in an atmosphere where talking about “peeing” would be appropriate.  However, it is a great tension breaker and would most likely cause a few chuckles at the least.  I think the informant retold this joke because he thought it was funny and that other people might enjoy it as he did when he first heard it.  He enjoys bringing laughter and happiness into others’ lives.   The American obsession with perverted ideas is an underlying idea in this joke as well, as with private things like going to the bathroom. Normally people don’t want to talk about things like that because it is uncomfortable, but jokes allow people to talk about these things without feeling awkward.

“When you toss a penny into a fountain you can make a wish.”

I first heard this belief from my father, who would always take me to the Placentia Library on Sundays to read books together, when I was in second grade, about seven years old.  Outside, there was a large fountain that was beautiful and I loved to play around it.  One day my father handed me a penny and told me to toss it into the fountain. When I asked him why, he told me that whenever I toss a penny into a fountain of water I can make a wish and it’ll come true.  At the time I believed him, although I soon realized that this wish was much like the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and making wishes after blowing away the seeds of a dandelion.  However, making a wish in a way lets me let go of something that I really want.  Now whenever I make a wish it is to release something I’m holding inside, and it feels like I’m lifting a burden off my chest.

This wishmaking is reflective of an optimistic, yet creative society where one can dream whatever one wishes.  It also goes along with the United States’ futuristic worldview, where one can do whatever he or she wants as long as he or she tries hard enough.  Dreaming and wishing is only the first step to achieving those goals.  I believe that this wishmaking is a very useful tool for helping people find out what their true inner desires are.  You know that what you want most is what you wish for, so all you have to do is wish, then work to make that wish come true.  I think this is also why it is appealing to many people as well, because the idea of wishing anything they want and having it granted without the work that goes along with it is a nice feeling, but it also help them figure out what they really do want in life at that moment.  I also think that the idea of wishing with water came from the idea of the wishing well where one could make wishes into a well but it somehow evolved into a fountain.

“Last one there is a rotten egg!”

The informant first heard this when he was in elementary school, about age six or seven, while attending the after school day care with twenty or so other students.  After school the students would be walking when one of them would spot the babysitter’s car and would yell, “Last one there is a rotten egg!”  All of the students then sprint to the car and upon reaching it, touch a doorknob or any part of the car.  The last student to touch the car is the “rotten egg” and is labeled the “rotten egg” for that round.  Nothing in particular happens to the rotten egg, but the student is singled out as the slowest one.  This is similar to the game “Duck, duck, goose” where there is a mushpot where the students who are too slow to catch their goose have to sit until someone can replace them.  The informant no longer plays this game, but believes it to be a good form of entertainment for kids.

Though it is a game played among children, it is often the parents or guardians who first introduce the game to their kids.  However, it is very rare that you can find a parent playing this game with their child, since the advantages of being an adult are obvious and the game would be unfair.  The informant is good with children and often uses this game to bring children together to play, and to keep them attracted to a focal point so that they will stay together in one group and not cause too much trouble by becoming out of hand.  This is also a useful tactic for babysitters and day care personnel as well.  The idea of a rotten egg probably came from the idea that nobody wants to be something smelly like a rotten egg, so they want to win the game.

Fukusui bon ni kaerazu.

Fukusui bon ni kaerazu.

Literal translation: Spilt water will not return to the tray.

The informant first heard this from her friend in the eighth grade after a mutual friend had just broken up with her boyfriend of several months.  She was fifteen.  Her friend was comforting their mutual friend, saying, “Fukusui bon ni kaerazu. It’s okay, everything will get better.”  Her boyfriend had broken up with her bluntly after a fight, saying, “I can’t stand you, I hate you!  Let’s break up.”  The informant thinks this is saying that you can’t go back so you should live your life without regrets, because once you’ve lived your life, there isn’t any way that you can go back and change it to be the way you imagined it.

This saying is very similar to the American version “There’s no use crying over spilled milk,” meaning that what is part of the past will remain in the past.  It already happened and there is no way that you can go back and fix whatever happened so there is no use wasting your entire life mourning for something that won’t come back.  Just accept it and move on with your life in peace.  I think the crying over spilled milk goes back to childhood, when children are of the age when many things upset them and they cry about everything.  This might be where the saying arose, don’t cry over spilled milk, because it isn’t a big deal.  However, over time it must have evolved into a different meaning.  Spilled milkd came to symbolize an unimportant matter, something upsetting that will soon fade away in your memory so there is no use stressing over it so much.  Don’t waste your tears on stupid things.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

The informant first heard this phrase in elementary school in the fourth grade.  She was being teased by a sixth grader about being in the G.A.T.E. program for gifted and talented students.  The boy called her a geek and a nerd so she came back to class after recess sad and near tears.  Her teacher, Mrs. Clark, approached her and asked her what was wrong.  When she retold the story, Mrs. Clark told her, “Whenever people say mean things to you or about you, just remember: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  This cheered the informant up a lot and she remembered it whenever she got saddened by others’ harsh words.  Instead, she learned to take those mean words and used them to build her own character to become a stronger person.  She believes that this saying is appropriate for such situations, when sad people need cheering up after being scolded or teased, and she continues to tell younger kids the same thing, knowing that it can help them as it did her.

Unlike many would initially think, kind and inspirational words such as these are not always effective unless the person saying them makes them so.  For example, in the informant’s case, the person saying them was her teacher, someone she could trust and believe in.  Often times it takes someone else to help someone understand the importance of self-esteem and confidence.  I believe that if it hadn’t been a person she trusted who said these words, the informant might not have been as influenced by them.  Therefore, this proverb is retold by people who truly mean the words and have the intention of helping a person in need of happiness.  People, in return, want to share the happiness they experienced with others, so they share what others have shared with them.

Vietnamese Rock Formation Legend

There once was a woman who lived in North Vietnam with her husband.  One day he left to fight overseas when the woman was pregnant.  She missed him so much that she waited for him every day outside on the cliffs overlooking the land and sea, holding their child.  No matter what the weather, she remained outside waiting for her warrior husband to return home, in the storms, sun, and the rain, but he still did not return.  So as she waited and waited until finally, she turned into stone, and is still waiting alone at the top of the cliff.

The informant first heard of this legend from his mother when he was living in Vietnam at the age of about ten or twelve.  His loved his mother and followed her around everywhere and she would tell him stories about Vietnam and how it was created and about famous people or events in the past.  The day his mother told him this legend he was complaining about having to walk outside when it was extremely hot and humid, even more so than normal.  This is when she told him of the woman who would wait outside no matter what, heat or cold, just to see her husband again.  The informant believes this legend is a story that serves as a model to Vietnamese women, telling them that they must remain strong and loyal to the central nit of life in Vietnam, which is the family.  It is the woman’s job to hold the family together when the father is out trying to earn money to feed the family.  He retells this legend primarily just to little children, as a form of entertainment and to keep them quiet and attentive during family gatherings.

This rock is called “the Statue of the Awaiting Wife” and is very famous among the Vietnamese people.  It represents the strength and perseverance of the Vietnamese woman, as well as the loyalty and dedication that she contributes to the family.  Though it is hard to say whether or not the rock exists and really used to be a dedicated woman and her child waiting for their father and husband to return home, it is a form of Vietnamese folklore that has been passed down through the generations for so long that it is almost accepted as true, and that is the reason why it is continued to be told and retold.  I also think that in many Vietnamese legends, there are many things involved with nature and this story represents it, that we are a part of nature so it would be natural for a human to turn into stone.  The stone also represents strength and resistance, as the woman was strong and persistent as she waited for her husband to return home.

“When you tie the paper wrapping of a straw into a knot, if the knot breaks, nothing happens, but if you end up with an intact knot, it means someone is thinking of you.”

The informant first heard this in the seventh grade while out with her classmates at the local In-and-Out.  This occurrence normally happens at fast food restaurants, simply because these are the places that typically dispense paper covered straws.  Usually only the boys and girls who have a secret or not-so-secret crush that they are thinking about.  When unwrapping the straw, the paper is kept and a single knot is tied. The informant was told to tug firmly but not too strongly to secure the knot.  With the final tug, if the knot remains, then it means that your crush is thinking about you at that very moment.  If the knot comes undone with the final tug, it means that you crush more than likely doesn’t return your special feelings.  The informant just thinks of this as another way that teens take up their time thinking about their crushes and trying to figure out whether or not they return their feelings because they are too afraid to ask themselves.  However, she still plays along and performs the simple knot, just to see if someone is “thinking about her” because it is fun and amusing to ponder who actually might be thinking of you at the moment.

I believe that this is a cute way of joking around with one’s friends.  When a group of friends knows that one among them has a secret crush, it is simple and easy to tease the person.  If the wrapper ends in a knot, the group can easily tease the person about their secret crush, and often times among middle schoolers, the group can produce a blush in the person’s cheeks.  Although this may seem like a cruel form of school teasing, it is merely a humorous attempt at lightening the situation and helping the person have not take his or her crush too seriously, in case of future heartbreak.  I think the knot symbolizes the “knot” tied in marriage between a groom and bride, signaling a promise made between two people. This might be where the image of the paper knot came to represent feelings of love and crushes came from.

“It’s 11:11, make a wish.”

The informant first heard this phrase at the end of his 8th grade year in school, year 2000, from his female cousin.  It was 11:11 A.M., although this phrase can be said at either 11:11 A.M. or 11:11 P.M., and his cousin told him that if you spontaneously look at the clock and it is 11:11 A.M. or P.M., then you can make a wish inside your mind and then it will come true.  “It’s 11:11,” she said, “make a wish.”  The informant remembers it clearly because he remembered thinking, “What is this? I’ve never heard it before.”  It remained in his mind and he likes to use it whenever he sees 11:11 on the clock because it helps to lighten the mood and he believes deep down that everyone like to make wishes, even though they might not believe that 2 times a day a person can close their eyes and make two wishes that will necessarily come true.

Though being Vietnamese does not really have much to do with the 11:11 saying, the theme of making a wish does seem transcend different cultures.  Similarly, it does show that everyone has a child within them.  Though hardly anyone would admit to believing that making a wish at 11:11 would actually result in the wish coming true, many people still say “make a wish” and silently make a wish themselves, for fun or sometimes just for the sake of seeing whether or not it will come true.  Also, typically this type of saying is between a boy and a girl, though it is not restricted.  Generally, however, girls are more likely to say it to their own sex than are boys.  As in the informant’s case, family relation has nothing to do with the saying, though in some cases this saying can be used flirtatiously between boys and girls, when they can wish that the boy or girl that they like will like them back and maybe ask them out or something similar.