Tag Archives: Vietnamese

Vietnamese Friday the 13th

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese
Age: 25
Occupation: PhD Candidate
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/11/2020
Primary Language: Vietnamese
Other Language(s): English

 Main Story: 

The following is transcribed between myself and the informant, from this point forward the informant will be known as TT and I will be MH. 

TT: Are you familiar with Friday the 13th? 

MH: Yes, I am. 

TT: In Vietnam we also have Friday the 13th, but it has a different context then the commercialized one in the United States. The story goes, in the early 2000s there was a storm in a city in Vietnam and that city was semi-destroyed in the storm and many people were displaced. The people in the surrounding regions banded together and came into the town to deliver aid and help out. Then one day, well Friday the 13th, two busses carrying people who were supposed to be delivering aid crashed and almost everyone died in the collision. And now the day is cursed. 

MH: Is there any relevance of Friday the 13th as we know it in America, or like are the two ideas completely separate? 

TT: From what I remember the two are not linked but purely by coincidence. 

Background: 

The informant grew up in south Vietnam, however he moved here for school alone when he was sixteen. While adjusting to America he found this to be an interesting coincidence and parallel between the two vastly different cultures. 

Context: 

The conversation happened over FaceTime during quarantine. We were talking about tattoos and how tattoo parlors do “flash tattoos” (pre-designed tattoos that clients can pick from that usually only cost no more than 50$) on Friday the 13th,  and how often they are spooky themed. This then got us talking about the concept of Friday the 13th and the odd parallel between the culture of it here in the USA versus in Vietnam. 

My thoughts: 

I think the concept of the unlucky number 13 is fascinating as it centers from the western christian ideal of the 13 disciples – the 13th being Judas the traitor of jesus- so there were really only 12 proper ones. The fear around the number  was popularized in the 1890s in England. This trickled in building codes as most western buildings, especially in the U.S. omit the 13th floor. However, my friends and I are familiar with the fear of 13, and Friday the 13th, from popular slasher films in the 1980s-90s. It’s interesting to see the presence of fear surrounding Friday the 13th in a non-western culture.

Vietnamese Mid-Autumn Festival

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese
Age: 25
Occupation: PhD Candidate
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/15/2020
Primary Language: Vietnamese
Other Language(s): english

Transcribed from my friend telling me about an event from his childhood memories. 

There is a festival that happens in Vietnam in the autumn, or mid-fall. It goes according to the lunar calendar, it is on the 15th day of the 8th month, which is usually somewhere between september and october according to the western gregorian calendar. I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty lit. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures, it has the mooncakes and the fun red lanterns. It seems to mean something different for many people, but what i have always gleaned from it and what my family and surrounding area focused on was the simplicity of it. A lot of people are poor, so these lanterns are made out of paper and it is just a fun thing for kids to run around and play with. It was never a super fancy thing, but the moon cakes are great. As kids we would literally just run around with our friends and our lanterns. Sometimes you could use this as an opportunity to flex on the people around you by bringing a cooler or more complex lantern than your friends. People could make lanterns there. There was this giant dragon that people would get inside of and dance in. It was just a really lovely time to be a kid and hang out and families were all cool with each other for the most part then and outside things didn’t matter, just the quality time with the people around you. 

Background:

The informant grew up in south Vietnam. While he hasn’t been back to Vietnam since he moved here for school nine years ago, he still has found memories of moments like this. He really appreciates the more family-focused and genuine interactions the culture there can promote versus the often isolationist  and heavily commercialized culture he experiences in the states. 

Context: 

I asked my friend about his favorite memories growing up at home. We were just eating dinner before quarantine was in place in Los Angeles and reminiscing about our childhood and simpler times in the world. 

My thoughts: 

Growing up in Southern California in the U.S. I often feel I did not necessarily get wholesome family experiences as they are not as attainable in the culture here. The closest thing I can think of would be going to Disneyland with my family, but that was more or less a financial burden on my parents for my sibling and I to have fun. Nothing ever really joy filled for us all to come together and just vibe, outside of maybe 4th of July. 

Veganism for Buddhism according to Lunar Calendar

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese
Age: 25
Occupation: PhD Candidate
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/2020
Primary Language: Vietnamese
Other Language(s): English

Main Story: 

The following is transcribed between myself and the informant, from this point forward the informant will be known as TT and I will be MH. 

MH: Are there any food specific traditions you and your family or area would partake in? 

TT: Well, I really am not sure if this is outside of where I grew up or not, but according to  the lunar calendar on the 15th and 30th of each month we would go vegan.

MH: Every month? Is there religious value to that or just something that is done?

TT: Well my family is Buddhist and a lot of Vietnam is Buddhist so I feel it is something most connected to those values. The families my family was friends with would also partake in that. I’m confident it has something to do with being “pure” in the eyes of Buddhism. Even though I no longer live at home with my family and do not align with any religion, I instinctually find myself wanting to eat vegan a couple times a month out of habit. 

Background: 

My friend grew up in South Vietnam and often thinks about the more rigidly held traditions he and his family would partake in back home. He sometimes misses that familial, communal and regional duty to tradition experienced there versus the lack of heavily structured traditions that exist on the grand scale here in the states. 

Context: 

I often find myself eating vegan and I find I feel better, and I was asking my friend – who mainly seems to be extremely meat focused- if he could go vegan and then it launched us into this conversation. 

My Thoughts:

I think there is something to be said about cycling through being vegan. Many people who are not even apart of Buddhist cultures believe that being vegan cleans your body and can also in turn help you mind.

Vietnamese Funeral Traditions

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese
Age: 25
Occupation: PhD Candidate
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/29/2020
Primary Language: Vietnamese
Other Language(s): English

Main story: 

Transcribed from my friend telling me about an event from his childhood memories. My friend will be referred to as TA and myself as MH. 

TA: Funerals are a bit different in Vietnam than here. Honestly, it gets a little crazy with the amount of people. But essentially what happens is that when the person dies they are put in a coffin for people to come and visit- I don’t know do you guys do that here? 

MH: Catholicism does open caskets during the funeral service in the church but that is usually the extent. 

TA: hmm, yeah this is usually a couple days long. So the date is set for the main service and then the few days leading up to the service like every single person in the family, including distant relatives, come visit and pay respects. It’s kind of insane how many people roll through. And then, on the main day when the casket is on the way to the burial grounds people will line the streets to say goodbye. 

MH: Like the entire way? 

TA: Sometimes, but not all the time. It’s like here in LA, you wouldn’t line up along the 10 West but you could line up alone Jefferson St leading up to the freeway entrance. That sort of thing, obviously if you are super rural then you could I guess go the whole way; but yeah that’s the main idea. And if you have money then you like have to get live music to be played, but it’s not a party it’s like sad music but you should do it if you can afford it. 

MH: Does it end there? Are there any post burial events? 

TA: Yeah, kinda. You have to go and visit the grave sight kinda frequently after the person is buried and bring them things. 

MH: Anything? Or like their favorite things? 

TA: You bring flowers, and usually their favorite food. And then you kind of just keep doing that forever haha. I guess until you die and the cycle repeats. But I think it’s a nice way to remember the dead. It may just be me though. 

Background: 

The informant grew up in South Vietnam and finds himself questioning some of the funerary tactics found in western cultures. Such as the typical Irish wake where people drink and tell stories and sort of be both sad but also cheery at the same time. 

Context : 

I was chatting with my friend on a video call during quarantine here in L.A. and I was curious about things he finds really different back home in Vietnam compared to here in the United states. 

My thoughts: 

I am Irish and Italian Catholic by heritage. So I couldn’t help but laugh when my friend was confused by the seemingly celebratory funerary practices of the Irish. I do think it was interesting how he found it disrespectful to spend the day drinking and remaining once the funeral service is over instead of a more somber procession. 

Vietnamese New Year

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 22
Occupation: student
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

This is a conversation with my friend, identified as C, about Vietnamese New Year. I am identified as IC in this transcription.

IC: When is vietnamese new year? What is it called—is there a vietnamese name for it?

C: It’s called Tết and takes place on the first day of the first month of the lunar year, so usually late Jan or early February

IC: What kind of foods do you eat?

C: My family doesn’t celebrate super traditionally. We usually eat potluck style with a mix of foods. Someone usually will bring a pig, and there’s Gỏi cuốn, which is spring roll with peanut sauce. Also, there’s Chả giò, which is basically an egg roll, Bánh cuốn, rice flour with meat and Chả lụa, which is pork sausage. Most of them are eaten with Nước mam, a diluted fish sauce. We usually have that with a mix of maybe duck, vegetables like green beans or Brussel sprouts or a casserole, sometimes potatoes, a fried rice dish, fried chicken wings.

IC: Is there a reason for eating certain foods?

C: No, not that I know of. There might be but my family isn’t super traditional so I’m not sure.

IC: Are there any activities that you do?

C: Yeah, the older people give the red envelopes with money to younger ones. We call it lì xì. I think there are also other activities that people traditionally do, but we don’t do them so I’m not sure.

IC: That’s cool, Korea has a similar tradition where elders give money to younger ones.

C: Yeah, it’s probably a similar tradition in Asian cultures.

IC: Are there traditional Vietnamese clothes that you wear?

C: My grandma wears the Vietnamese dress called áo dài and people like the colour red, which represents good luck.

Background:

My informant is a 22-year-old half-Vietnamese and half-American who was my roommate last year. Although she doesn’t celebrate it very traditionally as she mentioned, she agreed to answer a few questions when I mentioned this project and asked her about it.

Context:

This was collected over a casual conversation on FaceTime, as I couldn’t meet with her in person since she went back home to the Bay Area amidst the current pandemic situation.

Thoughts:

I didn’t know anything about Vietnamese New Year and hearing about the foods they eat and traditional clothing they wear was interesting to hear. I found the similarity of the money envelope in Korean New Year celebration fascinating. It shows that while traditions are different around the world, some of them have similar roots.

The Vietnamese Creation Myth

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese
Age: 19
Occupation: Stage Manager
Residence: Portland
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/27/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Vietnamese

Background: My informant is a Vietnamese college student. Their parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam when their parents were around 20, for religious and other reasons. My informant’s identity and worldview is largely shaped by their Vietnamese culture and immigrant upbringing. One of my informant’s main life goals is to one day move back to Vietnam and be in their homeland.

Context: This conversation was recorded on a zoom meeting that we had on a Monday evening. My informant is a friend of mine, and the conversation occurred in both of our rooms. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. After our call, some other people joined the zoom call and the atmosphere was generally friendly.

Viet Creation Myths

A dragon called Lạc Long Quân came from the sea. And he fell in love with fairy from a mountain. So one day she travels down the mountain And meet this dragon, man. And she calls love with this dragon, man. And they’re like, Let’s have babies. And so you know they do the thing they fall in love and they have 100 eggs between them. Eventually those hundred eggs hatch into 100 men. But, and this was all like, not in the mountains or like in in the sea this was in Vietnam. So then they were like “I can’t be away from my home much longer.” And so They divide up their children. She took half up to her home and he took the others into the ocean. And it’s generally believed to be that the Vietnamese people descended from these 100 eggs. And it is generally believed that the 50 that went with the fairy to the mountain are the ethnic minorities of Vietnam. And the 50 that went down to the shore with the dragon they are the ones that are ethnically Viet or người kinh.

Me: And then like after the fairy takes the people up to the mountain and the dragon takes the people down to the sea. Do they like interact with the people, or is it just like did they just leave the eggs there and then like dip?

Yeah, generally generally it slowly like they raise their kids.

Also so the 50 people in the mountains there’s another iteration, saying that they were ethnic minorities,  and some iterations say that they were meant to leaders who eventually become the rulers or like the kings. 

Thoughts: I think this is the first creation myth I’ve heard about a racial-ethnic/national category of people, if we are not counting the story of Adam and Eve. It is certainly the first creation myth I’ve heard about a racial-ethnic/national category of people from a person identifying with that racial-ethnic/national identity. I was intrigued by the motif of fairies in this myth because I am not familiar with fairies occurring often in Asian folklore. Prior to this, I had believed that fairies come primarily from European or non-Asian folklore. Regardless, I think it is really interesting how the creation myth uses the geography of the area as well as two entities to express the multifaceted nature of the Vietnamese population. 

Lady Triệu

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese
Age: 19
Occupation: Stage Manager
Residence: Portland
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/27/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Vietnamese

Background: My informant is a Vietnamese college student. Their parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam when their parents were around 20, for religious and other reasons. My informant’s identity and worldview is largely shaped by their Vietnamese culture and immigrant upbringing. One of my informant’s main life goals is to one day move back to Vietnam and be in their homeland. My informant is interested in studying decolonization and has done so in college. Thus, this story about Vietnamese decolonization is especially important to them, although they did express that they are not certain about how this history of Vietnam being colonized affects their identity.

Context: Context: This conversation was recorded on a zoom meeting that we had on a Monday evening. My informant is a friend of mine, and the conversation occurred in both of our rooms. The purpose of the call was specifically so that I could gather folklore from my informant, and they were aware about that as well. After our call, some other people joined the zoom call and the atmosphere was generally friendly.

Main Piece:

For most of our existence as a country(Vietnam), we’ve been colonized, and mostly by China. So we have a lot of like … we have stories about warrior people who fight and like try to rebel against China, meaning that and a lot of these stories are usually women. Because apparently Vietnam used to be a matriarchy or something so a lot of our stories usually involve women fighting against China. 

Here’s this woman. Her name is Lady Triệu. Orphan woman. But she lives with her brother and his family. And her sister in law was kind of horrible to her. And so she killed her sister in law and runs away to the mountains and like starts mountain training. And her brother tries to convince her to come down and that sort of thing but she doesn’t because because she wants to train and so she enlists in the army. 

So sometime between like the mountains and her listing she gets married has baby or at least one baby.

And like in all the depictions of her. It’s like she’s a fierce woman with long boobs. And when she goes into battle she throws her boobs over her shoulders.

Me: So like, just for, like, so I can categorize this. Like do people actually think this happened?

Think of it more like like the story of Hercules where it may happen, but a lot of the stuff is exaggerated, all the time.

Thoughts: Thoughts: This was interesting to me because I was previously unaware of Vietnam being colonized by China. The first time I heard of this story was in friendly conversation and we made light of the fact that the woman is primarily characterized as having long boobs. This was obviously sexualized in our discussion and I wonder if that feature had the same context when it was told throughout history. Lady Triệu also plays into the tendency of warrior leaders in uprising who tend to become historical legends or folk heroes.

Vietnamese “Day of the Dead”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/2/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student at the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat alone at our own table, but were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, he talks about a Vietnamese tradition, similar to the Day of the Dead, that his family practices every year in order to honor and respect his family’s ancestors. My informant says he never officially learned this folklore, but rather that his mom “just started doing it… One day I woke up and there’s just this altar in the middle of my house.” This is a transcription of his folklore, where he is identified as N and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

N: Hello, so um, this is really similar to the Spanish Day of the Dead—I don’t really know what it’s called to be honest—but it’s kind of like an ancestral worship thing, so like…

 

K: But specific only to Vietnamese?

 

N: Yeah for Vietnamese people! So we have a bunch of pictures of our ancestors, and then we have a bunch of food that we put on the table… Honestly we didn’t do much more than that. I’m pretty there’s a whole other tradition that went along with it…

 

K: Okay but why did you do it?

 

N: Just to like worship your ancestors and stuff. Like, “pay respect to your ancestors” kind of thing, and we’d just have pictures of a bunch on them on our table and we’d like offer them, like, Vietnamese food offerings.

 

K: Were they supposed to, like, come back and visit you or something?

 

N: No… well, maybe, I don’t know! Yeah… so that’s it.

 

Thoughts:

In this account, it was clear that my informant didn’t know a lot about the tradition and was even slightly unenthusiastic about it. This may be attributed to the fact that he’s uncomfortable because he feels that he should know more about the tradition because his family has been doing it every year ever since he can remember. During our conversation, it seemed like he felt a little ashamed or guilty that he wasn’t as informed, especially when he knows it’s so important to his family.

In a separate conversation, my informant told me that his parents were immigrants to this country, but that he was born in Los Angeles, California. Sometimes, people can be embarrassed or shy when they tell cultural stories, especially if they don’t have strong connections to their culture, which seems to be the case with my informant. Even though he gets the gist of it, my informant seems disconnected from this practice because he was never the one to set up the altar, pull out the photos of his ancestors, or cook the food that his family offered. In this case, my informant seems to only be a passive bearer of this tradition: he can recognize the folklore when it’s performed or being created, but he doesn’t seem capable of replicating it. His parents, on the other hand, have clearly been the active bearers of this tradition in his family. This could be due to the fact that they are immigrants, and thus are much more strongly connected to its purpose.

This tradition speaks to immigrant status and identity; my informant is in a liminal state of being a part of a Vietnamese identity because he was born to Vietnamese parents, but also being American because of the fact that he was born and raised in America. Because of this, he loses a lot of the authenticity of his Vietnamese identity. Even from the very start, we can see that he introduces this tradition not by it’s Vietnamese name, but as a tradition that is “similar to the Spanish Day of the Dead.” Perhaps this is because in America, Day of the Dead is much more well-known and integrated into American culture than most other ethnic holidays. For example, when I took Spanish in high school, we would celebrate Day of the Dead every year as a way to immerse ourselves into the culture. As a child, it’s possible that he came to understand his own family’s folklore in the context of America. Thus, rather than thinking that Day of the Dead is similar to this Vietnamese tradition that his family practices, his mind was instead wired to notice that this tradition is similar to the popular holiday of Day of the Dead.

On the other hand, understanding that Day of the Dead is a much more understood and well-known celebration, my informant perhaps uses Day of the Dead to explain his tradition in terms of other peoples folklore to help it be better understood. His way of introducing it as a Vietnamese version of the Day of the Dead could be his way of saying “Day of the Dead is not a mainstream holiday, and neither is mine.”

 

White Headbands – A Chinese Folk Belief

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese, Vietnamese
Age: 49
Occupation:
Residence: Ewa Beach, HI
Date of Performance/Collection: April 14, 2019
Primary Language: Chinese
Other Language(s): Vietnamese, English

Item:

Q: Why can’t you wear white headbands?

H: 嗰啲 (go2 di1) white 係人地死咗人地 先戴白色吖嗎(hai6 jan4 dei6  sei2 zo2 jan4 dei6  sin1 daai3 baak6 sik1 aa1 maa3)

[Translation: People only wear white when people die, right.]

Q: 白色件衫定係 白色喺個 頭(baak6 sik1 gin6 saam1 ding6 hai6 baak6 sik1 hai2 go3 tau4)

[Translation: White clothes or white on the head?]

H: 個頭 (go3 tau4)  Like when the parents, like the- your upper generation, like your parents or your grandparents or something, yeah.  When they pass away, so wearing the white [gesturing a headband]. So Asians nope, not gonna wear the white headbands.

[Translation: The head.] (Rest of line remains the same)

Q: So the person who dies wears the white or when you have someone who passed away?

H: Mhmm. So the younger generation will need to put the white thing on their heads, so that’s why no Asians wearing white headbands.

 

Context:

I collected this folk belief as part of a conversation in both Cantonese and English about Chinese traditions and customs.  The informant, denoted by ‘H’ in the exchange above, is Chinese and was born and raised in a Chinese community in Vietnam before immigrating to the United States in her late teens.  She can speak Cantonese fluently but chose to speak to me in both Cantonese and English for my understanding.  It should also be noted that the informant likely meant East and Southeast Asians when referring to Asians in the text because these are the cultures that are most similar to her own.  She didn’t mention specifically where she learned about white headbands from when asked but only said that you just know this kind of thing growing up because you would see it all the time in Vietnam.  She also told me about how one of her daughters unknowingly wore a white scrunchie once and thus had to explain the symbolism behind it before making her take it off.  White headbands as a funeral custom is an inherent part of the culture in which she grew up, and as such, she will never forget about it and will always stay away from wearing one out of proper context herself.

 

Analysis:

This folk belief can be tied to a belief in sympathetic magic: since white headbands are worn as part of funeral custom when a member of your family has died, you could potentially cause death in the family by wearing them if no one has actually passed away.  The likeness of performing the custom during a particular event may evoke the event itself to happen.  Here we can also see an example of the difference in color symbolism between cultures, a difference that becomes apparent when one is removed from the immediate environment of their own culture.  The informant grew up around this symbolism, taking it as a given, and as such never recognized it as significant until coming to the United States.  In the United States and other western countries, white is often a symbol of innocence and purity.  On the other hand, in Vietnam and other eastern countries, white is a symbol of death and thus only worn during funerary rights.  This is likely why the informant’s daughter did not initially realize the bad omen of wearing a white scrunchie because she did not have the background of having grown up in Vietnam where white headbands were only worn for funerals.  Now with another example of the symbolism in the color white in Chinese and Vietnamese cultures, I can understand why it is also a bad omen to wear white during the lunar new year.  Since it represents death, you may bring death upon yourself.  All in all, this folk belief outlines the symbolism of the color white in East and Southeast Asian cultures and furthermore, it proves how one’s own culture is not immediately recognizable until taken out of its initial context.

Vietnamese Proverb

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Irvine, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: March 30, 2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Vietnamese

RN is the informant, PH is myself.

PH: Do you know any legends, jokes, proverbs that you especially like?

RN: Proverb?

PH: Yeah

RN: Can it be in another language?
PH: Yes

RN: I’ll give you the English translation and you can just write [that it is a] Vietnamese proverb

PH: Do you know how to spell it?

RN: [says the proverb in Vietnamese]

PH: I’ll let you spell it.

RN: It means there’s nothing like fish and rice, there’s nothing like mother and child.

The actual proverb in Vietnamese is:

“Không có gì bằng cơm với cá, không có gì bằng má với con.”

Translations of this proverb vary, and this translation was off the top of the informant’s head. The informant speaks Vietnamese, as it is the language primarily spoken in his home, but not at an advanced level.

For another instance of this proverb, see Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong.