Lotus Flower in the Mud

Informant: “So there are these Vietnamese ‘Ca Dao’ which are almost like these miniature-ish stories or poems. I think the best translation might be ‘proverbs,’ except for the fact that these are typically longer, like four or five sentences long. Anyways, one really well known one is

Trong đẩm gì đep bẵng sen
Lá xanh bông trắng lại chen nhụy vàng
Nhụy vàng bông trắng la xanh
Gẩn bùn mà chẳng hôi tanh mùi bùn

Also, sort of similar to poems, there’s a sort of lilt or rhythm to it.”

Collector: So like a rhyming scheme?

Informant: “…We don’t rhyme that much. we’re a monosyllabic language, and we’re a lot more vowel based than English is, so there’s not really rhyming, but there’s a sort of a sound to it so you know that it’s not really just a normal conversation piece, but instead one of these Ca Dao. Anyways, the closest literal translation… It doesn’t exactly translate very well, but the closest translation is

In the mud, what is more beautiful than a lotus?
Green leaves, white flower covers a yellow center
Yellow center, white flower, green leaves.
Close to mud but never smells as mud

It’s supposed to mean that if you have something as beautiful as a lotus flower, and it grows in the mud, it is still beautiful despite growing in the mud, and it never smells like the mud. So the lotus blooms in mud, but it’s still pure. Now, people will milk that a lot of different ways, but … how I’ve used it is like, you can surround yourself with a lot of bad friends, but you are still able to remain good yourself. It’s sort of like, your environment can not be good, but you can still stay good yourself.

Informant is a student at the University of Southern California. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam after the Vietnam war. She was born in the United States, and was raised bilingually by her parents (though she says that Vietnamese “Is definitely [her] primary language at home”). Most of her knowledge of Vietnamese culture comes from her upbringing in he Vietnamese family in an area where a lot of immigrants from Vietnam settled. Additionally, when she was growing up, she learned a lot about her Vietnamese heritage through “Temple School” which she described as “Like Christian Boy Scouts, except for Vietnamese Buddhists”.