At the Citadel in Hue

Heritage Travel

Fun to see our family’s trip to Vietnam in this article on heritage travel: “Luong La’s family fled the communist regime in Vietnam in 1979. Now a father of three living in Santa Barbara, California, he and his wife decided they wanted to spend one of their family vacations bringing the kids back to his…

18th century Japanese drawing of people capturing fireflies

Asian Cha | Flickering Little Lights

My creative nonfiction piece “Flickering Little Lights” appears in the September 2015 issue of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. Cha is an award-winning English online literary journal based in Hong Kong. “Fireflies are called flickering lights (đom đóm) in Vietnamese. As a child in the Mekong Delta, my husband saw them darting around the …” Read the rest here.…

A package of wrapped dried salted pitted plums and an unwrapped one.

Chinese Medicine Balls

When I see the blue and white wrappers peeking out from the basket behind the rice cooker, I think it might be some Chinese White Rabbit candy. Not that my husband buys milk candy. He sees me looking. “That’s what medicine balls are like,” he says. Medicine balls like the ones the Chinese doctor used…

South Vietnam Stamps

A Short History of South Vietnam Through Stamps

When I was looking through old photo albums for pictures of my husband’s family in Vietnam, I found a collection of stamps. I could tell from the yellow flag with three red stripes on them that the stamps were from South Vietnam. Most were stuck on a piece of black cardboard, but some where placed…

The Monkey King (Tề Thiên)

5 Interesting Facts

Here are 5 interesting facts about Catching Shrimp with Bare Hands: A Boy from the Mekong Delta. 1. The islands in the Mekong Delta where my husband grew up are Ship Island (Cồn Tàu) and New Dragon Island (Tân Long). Next door was Phoenix Island where the Coconut Monk had his elaborate pagoda. 2. He watched Bonanza…

A relative painting the carved in letters of Grandfather's first grave.

Don’t Trust Gravestones

I thought a date carved in granite would be right, but my husband said the date of his grandfather’s death on the gravestone was wrong. “I remember it was a hot day in 1972,” Luong said even though the grave lists Grandfather’s death as 14 January 1971. “You can’t be sure,” he said. “It could have…

Fermented Soybeans

Vietnamese Names: Mr. Six Soybean and the Gecko

I wouldn’t have thought Mr. Fermented Soybean to be a common name, but two of my husband’s neighbors were called this. At one point both of the Mr. Fermented Soybeans or someone in their families probably made or sold the dish that earned them this nickname. Both neighbors are in my book, so to make…

Celebrating Tết with lì xì

Red Envelopes

Whenever I say Chinese New Year, my husband corrects me: “It’s Vietnamese New Year.” Lunar New Year is the same day as Chinese New Year, usually the second new moon of the year, but it’s Vietnamese New Year or Tết to us. To celebrate the Lunar New Year is to ăn Tết—literally to eat the…

Slicing young banana trunks for salad.

Eating Banana Plant Trunks

When we went to visit my in-laws for Christmas, they showed me a young banana trunk that they planned to make salad with. My husband’s aunt sliced it into tissue—thin pieces using a knife he made. I have eaten banana flower many times before—my husband often puts it in Vietnamese sour soup—but I don’t remember…

A family altar honoring ancestors.

Grandfather’s Death

I touch Grandfather’s arm. He still feels warm. I look for him to make the slightest motion to show his soul is around. There’s nothing. Two men place the coffin on sawhorses so that Grandfather’s head points west. The dead always face the setting sun. The date the monks said would be best for burying…