Tag Archives: vietnam

It’s like carrying wood to a forest

Although she is from Vietnam, my informant attends college in Finland. When I interviewed her, she was at USC for a semester abroad. Even though she has been living in Finland for the past few years, the folklore she is familiar with is very strongly influenced by her Vietnamese upbringing.


Below is one of the folk similes that she says her family regularly uses. (picture of text in Vietnamese attached)


Translated, it means “It’s like carrying wood to the forest.”


This simile’s message is one of redundancy. A forest is already filled with wood. It would be pointless to bring more.


My informant also gave me a hypothetical situation in which this simile would be used. “My mom has a seafood store. If I was to go to the beach, and bring food from the ocean, she’d use this expression, because we already have plenty of sea food, and I don’t need to bring more.”


I asked her why this particular folk simile centers on wood as being abundant, and if Vietnam is particularly forested. She said it wasn’t.


This simile is similar to the English simile of, “It’s like carrying coals to Newcastle.”


The Legend of Saint Giong

Although she is from Vietnam, my informant attends college in Finland. When I interviewed her, she was at USC for a semester abroad. Even though she has been living in Finland for the past few years, the folklore she is familiar with is very strongly influenced by her Vietnamese upbringing.


The following is a legend she recounted to me over dinner.


“A long time ago, there was an old married couple living in a small village. They were married for a long time but still did not have any children. The woman did not have pregnancies. One day the wife got up and went to the rice fields to work and then she saw a huge footprint on the ground. She was curious, and she tried to put her feet on the footprint to see how many times it was bigger than her foot, and then after that she came back home and she got pregnant the day after. Then 9 months were over, and nothing happened. After 12 months she gave birth to a boy. He was strong and grew quickly, but did not speak, laugh or cry. The parents did not know what to do, so the neighbors usually let their children come play with him, but he did not laugh or speak any words. When the boy was 3 years old, there was an invasion happening in the country, and they destroyed all the villages. The king sent someone, a messenger, to the village to call for help to go to the army. When the messenger came to the village and declared the king’s words, the little boy sat up and told his mother that he wanted to serve the country. The mother was surprised to hear her son’s first words. She invited the messenger to come to her house, and the little boy told him, “Come back to the king, and tell him to give me an iron horse, iron stick, and iron armor, and I’ll push the An invaders back to their homeland.” The messenger left for the capitol hurriedly, told the king about the little boy’s orders, and they prepared everything he wanted. So, since the messenger left the village, the boy ate too much, so that his parents didn’t have enough food for him. He grew so quickly that clothes that had just been worn for a short while became too tight. His neighbors, and all the people living nearby, brought rice and clothes to him. He grew with the help of the people around, and after some days he looked like a 20 year old man. So when the messenger came back to the village, the little boy had become a strong man. He wore the armor, took the stick and bowed his head to his parents and all of the people as a goodbye before riding the horse to go out to battle. He rushed into the aggressor, used the iron stick to beat them. His horse breathed fire to kill enemies. Suddenly, the iron stick was broken. He pulled out a clump of bamboo trees, and used it as a weapon to continue fighting. So the enemy was too scared and had to run away. After pushing the enemy back to their homeland as he had promised, the hero and his horse went to the top of a mountain named Soc. He bowed his head to say goodbye to his parents and village and all people again. After that he rode his horse to fly up to heaven, and nobody saw him again. The bamboo used in the battle now has special yellow stripes on its body as a mark of the fire which the horse blew when fighting against the enemy. Many ponds were left as marks of the horse feet. They use the name of the village he was born to call him Saint Giong.”


This legend has spurred the creation of a festival, which is held annually in the village of Giong, on the outskirts of Hanoi.  My informant has never been to this festival, but she has read about it in the news. Although a lot of tourists attend the Giong Festival, it still remains primarily for locals, in which they reenact the story of Saint Giong.


The primary message of this legend is one of self-sacrifice for the country. For a country that has been attacked by invaders multiple times in its history, this message is particularly poignant. The legend of Saint Giong is now taught in schools, and is an integral part of the Vietnamese identity. I think the Vietnamese government is using this legend to instill a sense of national pride in a shared hero, and thus and create national unity.






Put some salt in it


Although she is from Vietnam, my informant attends college in Finland. When I interviewed her, she was at USC for a semester abroad. Even though she has been living in Finland for the past few years, the folklore she is familiar with is very strongly influenced by her Vietnamese upbringing.


Below is an example of folk speech that she uses. (picture of text in Vietnamese attached)


Translated, it means “Add some salt into it.”


My informant uses this phase when amongst her Vietnamese friends, after a particularly bad joke.

What she means with this phrase is that the joke was bland, or “tasteless”. It’s taken good-naturedly by her friends, who respond in kind when she makes jokes that weren’t funny.


My informant said that one of her American friends has also adopted this phrase. Instead of using it in Vietnamese, however, he uses the English translation. She finds this amusing, but is also perplexed that there was no English equivalent.

The Coconut Tree

Contextual data: My informant (my roommate) told me this story late at night when I asked him if he could think of any stories his parents had told him when he was younger. Another of our friends was present, and she was laughing for much of the performance. According to my roommate, his father told him this story about a coconut thief and two lovers–all of whom have horrible fates–as a joke when they were driving in the car a couple years ago. His father was goofing around and trying to make him laugh, so we can assume this story is usually told as an attempt to be funny. My informant’s father is from Vietnam, and he presumably heard this story there. The following is an exact record of our conversation:

Jackson (me): All right, why don’t you tell me that story that you just told me?

I (my informant): Ok, so once upon a time, there was a Vietnamese farmer. Within his backyard, or farm, or whatever you want to call it, he had a coconut tree. Umm, one day a thief decided that he wanted to steal some of the farmer’s coconuts, so he snuck into the backyard, climbed the really high tree, and . . . umm . . . used his knife to cut off a few coconuts, and put them . . . uhh . . . he tied them around his waist and held a few. And then, underneath the tree was a couple kissing, and when the thief had too many coconuts he accidentally dropped one and it fell onto the man’s head, and he bit off the girl’s tongue. So the girl eventually died of blood loss in her mouth, and the man died of concussion, from the coconut falling on his head from meters above the ground.

J: [Laughing]

I: And, ultimately, the thief was tried for burglary [laughing] and eventually put into jail. The end.

J: [Laughing] All right, do you remember who told you that story?

I: My dad.

J: Uhh, did he mean it as a joke, or like a—

I: I think . . . I think he was just like joking around, but it’s definitely a story that he heard in Vietnam at one point in his life.

J: Ok, so your dad’s from Vietnam?

I: Yeah, he moved over in the 70s—to the U.S. in the 70s.

J: Do you think that the story has a meaning behind it, or something like a moral?

I: Uhh . . . don’t kiss under a really high coconut tree?

[Both laughing]

I: Umm . . . pay attention to your surroundings. Like, if the farmer was actually paying attention, then the thief would have been caught before all this stuff happened and umm the couple would have avoided a tragic fate. And the thief shouldn’t have been so greedy as to grab so many coconuts and dropping them to the ground.

J: Does the story have any personal meaning for you?

I: [Laughing] Umm . . . don’t stand under a coconut tree . . . or any dangerous objects.

Even just judging by our reactions (and that of my other friend who was present), the story is meant to elicit laughter, but it does so through very dark humor. It’s all about people doing things with bad connotations–a thief stealing coconuts and a couple having a romantic rendezvous late at night–and then getting into trouble because of it. As is the nature of all contemporary legends, this story may or may not have actually occurred, but the details have undoubtedly changed as it has been passed on. I think my informant is right about the meaning behind the story; it’s about being aware of your surroundings, but, beyond that, I think it’s about not doing what you shouldn’t be doing. It’s definitely black comedy, and it’s entertaining to listen to, but, in the end, everyone has something bad happen to them almost as punishment for what they’re doing right before. And who knows? As a contemporary legend, it could have actually happened.

Vietnamese Full Moon

Transcribed Text:

“A full moon is like good luck. Cuz like the way they see it, it lights up their night.”

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. The informant says she learned this folk belief from her parents when she was younger and visiting Vietnam. She says that contrast to American belief that a full moon is bad, as it is often associated with werewolves, she says a full moon in Vietnam is good luck because in their perspective, a full moon lights up the night. She thinks it’s interesting how the two folk beliefs completely contrast each other in the two cultures with which she has grown up in. It is interesting how different folklore can be across regions, even when they are basing their beliefs on the same object; in this case, the moon. Many cultures have very different interpretations and beliefs about things such as the moon. Each culture bases their calendar on a different cycle or different concept. In Vietnamese culture, they base their calendar on the lunar cycle, which could be a large reason why the full moon is a very positive and big deal there, as they even have the Full Moon Festival in the fall, according to the informant. In contrast, Western culture focuses more on the solar cycle for the calendar, which could be why the moon isn’t represented in a positive way.