Tuesday, December 9, 2014

5 Vietnamese Things I will still do when I get back to the US

We're coming home to the US this summer, from June 19 to July 15 (or thereabouts). I've heard that when you go home again, you may experience culture shock. It doesn't take long for the culture you live in, even briefly, to normalize. So while your old culture is still familiar, you need a period of reintroduction before you settle back in.

So here are five things I anticipate doing the Vietnamese way, initially at least, when I go back.

1) Step into traffic, while saying, "What traffic? This isn't traffic!"

2) Use two hands to pass things to people. Even small things. Especially money.

3) Faint at the price of everything. (Except chocolate.)

4) Save all the 'disposable' bottles and cups I get that are of any halfway decent quality. I used to do this anyway, sometimes; now I do it even more regularly.

5) Get the urge to go grocery shopping every two days, and then only buy as much as I can carry a km.

There will probably be additional little things, like mentally converting prices from USD to VND, or craving unsweetened iced tea and referring to it as "trà đá." I'll know when I get there.

I hope you all have patience with me. Especially with the traffic thing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tiếng Việt Tuesday - snow!

I was joking with a friend on Facebook that the Vietnamese have no word for 'snow', but many words for 'summer'.

But there is a word for snow! It's tuyết.

 Ice is băng, or nước đá which means 'water rock', or just đá if it's in your drink.

Summer is mùa hè, and even though all the seasons here are a type of summer, that's the only term in the phrasebook.

But then for 'hot', we get:

dâm dục: lewd, bawdy, lustful, hot, libidinous, lubricous
dâm đãng: hot
nêm gia vị: hot
nóng: hot, warm, forward, heated
cay: hot, piquant, poignant
nóng nải: eager, hard up, headlong, hot, hotblooded
động cởn: hot
nồng: hot
hăng hái: eager, keen, buoyant, corky, dashing, hot
nồng nhiệt: warm, hot
kịch liệt: intense, vehement, furious, exquisite, fiendish, hot
nứng: hot
sắc tươi quá: hot

I have never heard most of those terms. The one I'm most familiar with is
nóng, as in cà phê nóng, 'hot coffee'.

My Zazzle.com Store

What have I been doing lately? Lots of things. Wandering. Drawing. Studying Vietnamese. Adding products to my Zazzle store.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Early Saturday morning in pictures

 I went out at 6:30 AM on a Saturday morning to enjoy HCMC with sleepy, quiet streets and sparse traffic.
 Ummm.... no.

 Across the river is HAGL, which stands for "Hoàng Anh Gia Lai." I don't know what that means, but it's a landmark that people use frequently on the expat forums. It's near the bridge; I guess that's why.
 An older couple on a boat. The wife is doing laundry off the side. I love seeing how people here combine traditional and modern lifestyle elements to carve out niches for themselves. Boat life is a time-honored tradition around here.
 A bigger boat getting ready to head off to get itself a load to carry. It will probably get filled up with sand or gravel and then go upriver to Cambodia, where land development is really taking off.
 Blue uniform means security cop. He is headed off to work. At 6:30 AM only a few security cops have settled into their posts already.
 A vendor selling breakfast from her motorbike. One of the security cops bought coffee from her. I don't know what else is on the menu.
 I don't even know what kind of flowers these are.
 An English sparrow on the path. English sparrows are actually native to Asia - but probably not to Vietnam.
 Lovely coconut trees.
A tiny lizard hiding in a bush.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My day in shopping pics

Today I went down the street to the Korean pet boutique to get some of that gourmet cat food the kitties love so much. Just before I got there, it started to rain, and when I left I found a heavy downpour.

So I dashed across the street, through the narrow park, and across the other street to the Highlands Coffee on the other side, because I hadn't had lunch yet, and they sell a bành mí for only 19,000Ð.

I also got a cá phê sua ða (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk), because, hey, it doubles as a dessert.

Highlands Coffee has a pretty tame, Western-style menu, but it does
have this one regional novelty:

A green tea jelly freeze. With real cubes of jelly floating around in it and real whipped cream on top. This thing is the very definition of Vietnamese fusion cuisine. Now, most Vietnamese cuisine is fusion cuisine. They top their rice dishes with Korean BBQ pork. Pho bò contains beef, which is not an animal easily raised in this terrain. But, yeah, I think the green tea jelly freeze is the coffee shop's way to bring in customers who don't have an emotional attachment to Starbuck's.

The American equivalent would be, say, Chinese chicken fingers, which is not a food that really exists in China.

Then, on my way home, I encountered a vendor selling mangoes from his motorbike. I asked for two mangoes. Just then an orange vendor pulled up, and I came home with this:

That's 7 mangoes and 6 oranges, all for $5.00 (or 100,000Ð).

Yeah, I'd say it's a good deal.

(But what am I going to do with seven mangoes?! I hope AwesomeCloud develops a taste for mango slices real soon.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tiếng Việt Tuesday: ordering a banana coffee smoothie

We went to the Can Gio Mangrove reserve last weekend, where as soon as I got off the bus at Monkey Island, a monkey ripped my plastic bag out of my hand and ran off with it. The bag contained a water bottle, which fell out and got claimed by another monkey, and my Vietnamese phrasebook.

Photo credit: Rick Silva

Photo credit: Christine

The first monkey tore my phrasebook to shreds. So this week I went out and bought another phrasebook. A bigger one with more phrases and sentences in it. And I set about studying my new phrasebook, and studying and studying it, and watched some YouTube language lesson videos to help build up my vocabulary.

But I don't think I really retained any of it. Not yet. Language acquisition is a long, hard road.

So I decided to aim lower this morning. I went to Fun Fruit World, which makes excellent banana coffee smoothies. I often get one for breakfast. A banana coffee smoothie is the perfect food - all the nutrition of a banana, plus real Vietnamese coffee.

(If you don't like bananas or coffee, that doesn't make the banana coffee smoothie any less of a perfect food. It just means you are unfortunate enough to dislike the world's most perfect food, and I will pity you, but also be annoyed at you if you whine.)

There's a new guy who works at Fun Fruit World, who does not speak English. And even though I order the same thing every time I go there, he always struggles to figure out what I'm asking for. He has had plenty of time to just memorize the order of the white chick who keeps ordering in English every morning, but he has failed to do so. So my goal was to make it easy on him. By ordering in Tiếng Việt.

Coffee is Cà phê.
Banana is chuối.
Smoothie is sinh tố. 

I always have trouble remembering the pronunciation of "chuối." It's a lot like "joy" with a lift at the end like it's at the end of a question. "Joy?" But the emphasis is mostly on the u. And the ch sound is halfway between ch and j.

When I'm reading it, I can remember all that. But out on the street, I tend to mangle it and no one can understand me.

Oh, and the last phrase we need is the phrase that tells the server you are ordering something. In English, we say "I want..." or "I'd like..." But the Vietnamese come right out and say "Give me..."

Give me is cho tôi.

Cho tôi một ly sinh tố cà phê và chuối.

Google translate reminds me that "một ly" is the modifier for one smoothie. I forgot that part this morning. But I successfully ordered without it.

("và" just means "and.")

One thing I did to help me along, though... especially to remind me of the tough, tough pronunciation of chuối... I found the banana coffee smoothie listing in the menu. :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My neighborhood and the local park

I haven't done "Tieng Viet Tuesday" this week, and there are other posts I keep meaning to make, but for now, here's a photo collection of my neighborhood and the park, which I call "Wedding Shoot Park."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tiếng Việt Tuesday - the verbs "to want," "to need," and "to like."

Today's Tiếng Việt lesson introduces three common verbs that allow us to play with the basic subject->verb->object sentence structure.

muốn = to want
cần = to need
thích = to like

 I like these verbs because they are useful for studying nouns. One of the problems with learning a new language is that to practice verbs you need nouns, and to practice nouns you need verbs. So I start with a coupe of serviceable verbs, and then when I've built up a vocabulary of nouns, I can expand.

So let's do a few.

Tôi muốn sữa = I want milk.
Tôi muốn gà = I want chicken.
Tôi muốn ghế = I want the chair.
Tôi muốn bút = I want the pen.
Tôi muốn trà = I want tea.

Tôi cần chuối = I need the banana.
Tôi cần xe buýt = I need the bus.
Tôi cần chìa khóa = I need the key.
Tôi cần nước = I need water.

Tôi thích mèo = I like cats.
Tôi thích xe hơi = I like cars.
Tôi thích trái cây = I like fruits.
Tôi thích cà phê = I like coffee.
Tôi thích những người = I like people.

If you keep doing this exercise, the nouns won't all stick in your memory, but the verbs hopefully will. Repetition is key.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tiếng Việt Tuesday

This is my new feature. Every Tuesday I will post something I've learned from my Vietnamese self-studies. Aside from the fact that I live in Vietnam, I'm not using any out-of-the-ordinary resources - just a pocket phrasebook and dictionary, and YouTube. I also have some Pimsleur files that I will occasionally tap into. Everything I use is for beginners. I'm hoping that after I squeeze everything I can from the beginner materials, the cultural immersion will take care of the rest.

Today I will address pronouns. Pronouns are hard. There are many of them, and they cover different age groups and combinations for speaker in relation to addressee. I'm a woman in my 40's, which means I don't have a lot of age groups above me, so it's a little simpler for me. Younger people have it tougher - they can't use the same pronoun for someone their mother's age and for a retiree, but I totally can.

There are also some little quirks, like the pronoun for one's mother, me, which you use to address your mother and which your mother uses for herself when talking to you.

To make it more complicated, North Vietnam and South Vietnam have different standards for whom each pronoun is used, and by which speaker. And different levels of forgiveness for using pronouns that are slightly off. Therefore, the tutorials each say something different about pronouns. For instance, Pimsleur uses "bá" for many of its exercises and claim that it is for a slightly older woman, up to the age of our parents. But I haven't seen much of "bá" beyond that. Foreign Language Institute loves to use "cô" for a woman about your age.  My phrasebook, however, assures me that I can limit myself to "em" for anyone fairly young (not just a child) "chi" for a woman slightly younger to slightl older than me, and "anh" for a man slightly younger to slightly older than me. I'm going to go with that set.

This phrasebook also gives me a handy-dandy age-to-pronoun guide:

Youngest to oldest male: Em - Anh - Chú - Bác - Ông
Youngest to oldest female: Em - Chi - Cô - Bác - Bá

I will try to remember to use the last two, Ông and Bá, for the elderly, and to address the very young like equals in appropriate situations, like a teenage waitress.

I can also 'cheat' when greeting people by just saying "Xin chào" which is a polite "hello" that does not contain any pronouns. Most times you say hello, according to all the study guides, you greet people using their pronouns, like "Chào em" to a child or "Chào anh" to a man your age.

You are also supposed to refer to yourself using the same pronoun that a person uses for you. I, as a woman in my 40's, could be expected to use "Cô" for "I". But because I am a beginner, and because my husband and son are learning from my example, I'm going to use the generic "Tôi" to mean "I."

It seems to be all right. The phrasebook uses "Tôi" in all its examples.

But because I'm only just beginning to learn the Vietnamese culture, my sense of appropriate pronouns is still very hazy. I probably won't get familiar with pronoun usage patterns in daily life until I speak well enough to have conversations with local people and can listen to what they say. And that's going to be awhile.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Things I've noticed about my neighborhood

  • There are a lot of gardeners and maintenance workers. The government pays a lot of people small salaries to keep the area looking nice. I wonder if they are livable salaries. I don't know what the unemployment rate is here, but it appears that Vietnam ensures that a large number of the poor are at least working poor, rather than desperately poor.
  • The greater neighborhood is called Phú Mỹ Hưng, owned and developed by a corporation called Phú Mỹ Hưng. Properties within Phú Mỹ Hưng seem to frequently have names that begin with "Mỹ." "Mỹ" means "fine" in Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese language) as far as I can tell. Our apartment complex is called "Mỹ Phúc*" which means "fine-being".... I think...
  • There are four buildings under construction in my block. None of them seem to be progressing very far. They have doors with locks installed already, though, so they don't need night guards.
  • Some other homes under construction have night guards. Nice gig if you can get it.
  • Our restaurant-per-square-km ratio seems to be one of the highest in the city, rivaling only the tourist areas of District 1, AFAIK.
  • There's a Dunkin Donuts a few blocks from my home, but it doesn't sell anything novel aside from Boston cremes decorated like footballs (soccer balls). However, I found some very tasty red bean donuts at Tous Les Jours. They are only 14,000Ð ($.70) each.
  • It is almost not worthwhile to cook at home, because the kitchen gets so hot and hard to clean, and restaurant food (or street food) is real cheap if you know where to look. 
  • The only real cheap cuisines seem to be Vietnamese and Chinese, although the other ethnic restaurants are still far cheaper than their US equivalents.
  • And anyway, with this heat, sometimes you only want a smoothie and maybe some crunchy rice paper snacks. I found a great place to get rice paper snacks - the Co-op - which is an easy walk through the quiet part of the neighborhood, but it's crowded and dingy so I tend to shop at Citimart (which is a small supermarket with some locations that are as small as a convenience store) instead.
  • Instead of starlings, we have mynah birds. I love mynah birds.

*Because of course it is! Why wouldn't I move into a building called Mỹ Phúc?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Grocery shopping in Vietnam

Some people were curious about what grocery shopping is like here. There are many ways to shop, including Giant supermarket, convenience stores, fruit vendors on motorbikes, and the mall.  I like to go to Citimart, a tiny grocery/department store, a short walk from my house. There are numerous Citimarts throughout District 7, of different sizes; mine is actually one of the bigger ones. They have a pharmacy, a produce section, a butcher, a wine department, clothing, housewares, and even toys. Everything is tiny tiny, but it's all in there.

I always try to limit my purchases to what I can carry home, although they are happy to lend a delivery guy on a motorbike for larger orders. and here's what I bought today:

I got a lot of produce this time. Nobody sells frozen vegetables, so I have to plan ahead and buy small portions of fresh veggies frequently. There are some familiar tomatoes and onions in there, a bag of what I think might be spinach, broccoli, an eggplant that I think might go well with the Korean barbecue sauce, and just for fun, I bought a dragonfruit. It's the bright pink thing with light green trim. It's a very cartoony-looking fruit.

I also bought some rice noodles, some Minute Maid orange soda, some packages of frozen chicken, and some Catsan Kitty Litter. The last two are for the cats.

I'll talk about the cats more in another post.