Boat in a stream on Cồn Tàu (Ship Island) in the Mekong Delta.

Unconditional Surrender (30 April 1975)

On the 29th of April 1975, helicopters evacuated people from the roof of the U.S. Embassy before the fall of Saigon. Twelve-year-old Luong La stood on a dock on the bank of the Mekong River and watched the entire Navy go out to the ocean that day. Here’s his story of the days leading to South…

Dangling Squash

Dangling Squash

Mướp squash grew over the water coconut leaf roof of the hut my husband’s family fled to during the Tết Offensive. Because he was small enough not to crash through the leaf roof, Lượng could sit up among the mướp squash watching the U.S. planes and helicopters retaliate by attacking a Việt Cộng base in…

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…

Rambutans or chôm chôms in Vietnamese.

Steal Steal Fruit

Rambutans—Their Vietnamese name, chôm chôm, means “pointy” for the soft spines covering them. My husband says chôm also means steal. Growing up he thought the name meant “steal steal.” “Steal steal” is the perfect name because that’s how good they taste.

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…

Backyard Chicken

Expensive Chickens

My daughter has a job babysitting chickens for our neighbors when they’re on vacation. A side benefit is fresh eggs. Last time most of the chickens were molting, so she said they were crabby. They didn’t want her to pick them up. Only the one chicken that wasn’t molting was laying eggs. She gets paid quite…