achup hoa

Che Cravings
January 28, 2010, 6:57 am
Filed under: Food, Vietnam

Dinner tonight was followed by the act of grabbing my computer, plopping into a giant green armchair, and searching for a fruit bread recipe, followed by muffin recipes, and then by this time, when I realized that I didn’t have enough ingredients in the kitchen, I wandered towards perusing Che recipes.

Compared to the culinary palettes of the French, Americans, European, and what other people groups that have existed in this world, the Vietnamese do not have as much of a selection of sweet treats or sugary concoctions. However, they do have Che, which comes in an array of flavors, if you can call it that. When I first tried to explain it to others (and then articulate it to myself), it did not sound appealing at all. Listen to this: “Well, it’s sort of a thick, sweet soup pudding and you can have different kinds of things in like fruit, or vegetables, or beans.” Sounds more like a stew gone rotten. Mais non mon amies. Au contraire.

Che–mingling with ice cubes, cooled a bit, harmoniously at one with the room temperature, slightly warmed, or steaming hot–is light or hearty, subtle or strong. A cold Che Trai will cool you down on a humid night, when there’s nothing to do in Sai Gon except sing karaoke and plop down on the side of the road for some dirt cheap Che. A warm Che Troi Nuoc will coat your teeth and gums with a pleasantly smooth and chewy texture after a meal of crisp vegetables and cold, slick noodles.

My little beating heart drooled away at some pictures during the bread and muffin-failed recipe search, and then I pined for that tiny little Che stop some friends and I went to in Hue. It was in a narrow alley near where we were staying. We sat on tiny kid-sized plastic chairs with cartoon kids plastered on the seats. The tables were tiny. The cups of Che were tiny. Everything was so tiny, but so good.

Cause for heart drooling (Disclaimer: I apologize to those who find this revolting. I am being culturally insensitive and ethnocentrist, or perhaps just Che-centrist):


War and Peace
January 27, 2010, 7:04 am
Filed under: Family

We don’t hug or kiss. We don’t say, “I love you.” We don’t talk about our feelings. And when it comes to the written word, the exchange of notes, e-mails, or letters, are fairly short or shallow. But, there exists a silent peace to the appearance of this outward war.


One time we were crawling through the tiny back window of the new truck Papa just brought home. We liked enclosed spaces, so I wriggled my body through the opening from the inside of the backseat to the bed of the truck. She followed my move like a faithful soldier. As her head went through, she bumped her mouth on the edge of the glass and then started to bleed. My feet might have had something to do with that depending on their angle and position in relation to her face, but I can’t say for certain the exact details of the moment. I just know I got through the window, and Papa forbid us from ever doing that again. She didn’t lose any teeth, so that was a good thing.


My parents used to own a video store. It was next to a Hispanic Roman Catholic Church and a Little Caesar’s, which I thought sold excellent breadsticks with just the right amount of garlic. The name of the store was Video Today, so if you went in, you could rent a video, literally, that day, and then pick up some breadsticks next door. And you could do all of that fairly quickly, that is, if it wasn’t Sunday, because if it was Sunday, then the parking lot was jammed packed with churchgoers.

After school, we typically headed to the store, where we did homework and ate snacks behind the counters, watched strange people come and go, and ran around the aisles of movie-laden white shelves. And then on special occasions, we stole quarters to crank into the red toy machine that stood near the toilet in the bathroom.

I don’t remember exactly what we were doing, but one day we were twirling rapidly in close quarters behind the counter. All of a sudden, she started crying, which was ruining the grace of the moment for me, so I stopped my twirling. She yelled at me, lifted her shirt, and showed me a scratch on her belly that was bleeding. I did not ever recall my spinning, flailing arms ever making physical contact with her.


Papa and Mommy had a minivan once. It had a grey, leather interior. I know this because I distinctly remember taking a blue pen and writing on the back seat and cup holder.

On a Sunday, we drove into the garage after coming back from church. The memory of our spatial orientation is not clear in my mind, but as I got out of the van, I rammed the heavy, sliding door onto her thumb. It took a couple of years for that finger to look normal again.


On a lazy weekend, Amy and I were trying to make a fort out of blankets by hanging them from a series of shelves that Papa had set up in the garage. Our fort was coming along quite nicely. Structurally, it was simply much more stable than the “propped-up-pillows-with-blankets-on-top” model we had already experimented with in the living room. There were boards of drywall laid up against the shelves and we were moving them around to create the fort walls. I tidied up my portion of a wall, and then Amy screamed, clutched her hand, and ran into the house howling for adult supervision. I was completely clueless as to what was happening. I thought we were just making a fort.

I went into the house and skipped up the stairs to Papa’s room. I could hear him yelling, partly because he hates the sight of blood, and partly because Mommy was not in the house and oh my goodness would she be lividly furious. She was sobbing as he held her arm and doused her palm in alcohol. I never got to see it, but she always describes it as a red, bloody gash. I checked the drywall boards for evidence of this occurrence, but found none. It must have been an extremely clean cut.


My parents bought a treadmill one weekend. I remember going to Sears to go get it. Once we neared the exercise equipment section, there they were—rows and rows of those revolutionary machines. She and I rushed forward and started to leap from treadmill to treadmill. Squealing juvenile maniacs.

The new treadmill ended up in the family room, positioned in the corner, as a trophy of true, athletic inspiration. One day, we were testing it. I took the front position at the head and she stood behind me. I might have switched it into reverse mode. Surprised at the result of my unknowing button selection, I jumped off. And, as the laws of physics would command, she proceeded to fall. The treadmill kept treading, tossed her across the machine, and spit her whole body onto the wall. We weren’t allowed to run on it for a very long time.

Binh Danh Growing Images
January 24, 2010, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Art, Binh Danh, Cambodia, Khmer Rouge, Vietnam

Yesterday, I was told about Vietnamese-American artist Binh Danh, whose most recent exhibition, In the Eclipse of Angkor, includes a set of chlorophyll prints. What? I wondered as I read about him. An article reported that he invented this process of printmaking that involves photosynthesis. What? I wondered again. I learned that word before. Yes, the whole magic show that happens in plants that leads to the miracle of life and lush greenness (or whatever color it is).

Some of Danh’s leaf prints are of the prisoners of S-21 (also known as Tuol Sleng), a political prison established by the Khmer Rouge from 1977 to 1979. Upon arriving at the site in 1979, the Vietnamese, who had pushed the KR out of the capital, came across remnants, bodies, documents, and also, photos. These black and white mugshots are now currently on display in a room at Tuol Sleng, now a museum documenting the the events that took place on the site. The photos are one of the most well known symbols of the genocide.

Chlorophyll print by Binh Danh

The mugshots are familiar to me. I’ve looked over them so many times before. They are nameless and anonymous, marked by numbers and tagged. Most everyone wears dark or dull-colored clothing. The women and girls usually have short cropped hair. Many of these people have their hands tied behind their back. Most are expressionless and stare blankly. I remember one with a slight smile, or was it a smirk? Eyebrows are furled. Mouths are closed. Eyes are wearily opened. These photographs are industrial. They are sharp and harsh. They are lined in row upon row in an empty room, with white and mustard yellow-tiled floors. The sunlight that comes through the barred windows cast barred shadows on the photographs, and in this sense, says that the subjects of these photographs are still in prison.

In contrast to Tuol Sleng’s representation of the photographs, Danh’s leaves illustrate delicacy, tenderness, and fragility. Is it a subtle approach to a painful memory? There is something to say about growing the past in the form of a photograph with something that is living in the present time. Perhaps it is an urge to close the distance between the past and present and perhaps it is a statement that there is no difference between past and present.

Visit the artist’s site at

The History of Color
January 22, 2010, 2:30 am
Filed under: Art, Color, History, Michel Pastoureau

I can be quite particular about my colors. They’re part of my language. They help me see, speak, and read people, their thoughts, their preferences, and feelings.

And so, after reading those three fundamentally profound sentences stated above, it will be easier to understand why I was happy to find that brilliant people have studied color for more than their aesthetic implications. The discovery helped me ignore the headache that was raging a late afternoon battle in my head (Note to Self: Make better attempts at hydrating oneself through the day to avoid such a inconvenient occurances).

After work, I went into Barnes and Noble (From henceforth now, Barnes, because let’s face it, in our shorted-hyphenated-condensed-fast culture, we like to cut things down. It’s either called efficiency or laziness. My apologies to Noble.), looking for some books on museum design–and to evade the rain outside–and wandered my little raging headached self to the Art section. After plopping myself down with the fat, giant Le costume historique, by Auguste Racinet, I spotted Black: The History of a Color, by Michel Pastoureau.

I grabbed it and was further reassured that historians are a great people. They not only study wars, civilizations, and boring men and crazy women, but also pigs, smell, hair, and yes, color. I will be looking into this work by Pastoureau, as well as his previously acclaimed Blue.

Dinner is approaching, the headache battle is slightly subsiding, and studying for a French exam will now resume.

Tout a l’heure mes amies.