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  • jhboisselle 1:33 pm on October 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: conversation, , ,   

    You and I 

    The following is a post from Asiapod reader Tra T. To ’12 HWS.

    Being a loyal reader to Asiapod, I have always felt compelled to share, compare and contrast my own experience with all my blogger friends. While all of them are talking about their experience being Americans in Asia, I am in a opposite position of an Asian student in the US.

    My mother tongue is Vietnamese and my hometown is the old capital of Vietnam, Hanoi. The culture and the language I was brought up with put a great amount of emphasis on showing due respect to people higher up than you in social rank. The hierarchy of social ranking in Vietnam bases on an intricate web of age, kinship, occupation and social status, which reflect in Vietnamese complex system of pronouns. In Vietnamese language, there are over 30 words used to refer to “I” or “me” and just as many for “you”, all depend on the relative statuses between the speakers. When I talk to my mother, she is “mẹ” and I am “con”. When I talk to my uncle, he is “chú” and I am “cháu”. A female older acquaintance is “chị” and a younger one is “em” and the list goes on. The pronouns also imply the intimacy of the relationship. To my same-age friends, I am “tao” and I call he/she “mày”. To another same-age person that I am not too familiar with, I am “tôi” and the other is “bạn”. The male special someone is always “anh” (the same word for older brother) and the female is always “em” (the same word for younger sibling). A small switch in the pronouns in the conversation can contain in it a whole lot of meanings. It can either be a transition from stranger to friendship, to kinship or from closeness to hostility. I might sound repetitive at this point but Vietnamese language is so subtle that way and that’s what I love about it. When starting school in the States three years ago, English became my daily language and getting used to the simplicity of “I,me” and “you” still remains my longest cultural adaption. Suddenly, I found myself feeling impolite and ill-mannered because without the honorific pronoun system, I couldn’t fully express my respects to professors and older people.

    Three years passed and I’m still the kid who bows a lot and finds it uncomfortable to call professors and elders by their first name (of course, with exception to certain ones). The system of pronouns based on social ranking is shared by other Asian languages such as Japanese and Korean.

    I encourage you to go out there, listen to the subtlety of the language, make conversation, ask about it, use it and enjoy the fondness and respect people give you for your being earnest. Language opens the door to culture and I strongly believe in the power of everyday engagement as the key to it.

    Tra T. To ’12
    Hobart and William Smith Colleges

    • andrewupton 3:39 pm on October 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply


      How have you been? I miss you!!!
      I know exctly wht you mean about the struggle between Vietnamese and English in terms of honorific language and language based on relations. Those of us in Japan, as you pointed out, face similar problems every day. The probelem is sort of reversed though. Instead of getting used to the language’s simplicity, like you and english, we are struggling with its complexity. I am always thinking of whether I should use certain honorific forms, whether I should use distal or direct style. It really makes me evaluate how well I know people, or how I view them. I don’t know how we survive without bowing in the U.S. I know for a fact that I will be bowing to everyone when I get back. ; )

    • Sam Smukler 3:25 pm on October 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Heh heh, this reminds me of a story. My parents visited me in Vietnam, and my Vietnamese friend and I were showing them around. We were at the Museum of Ethnography, and we were invited to have tea. I called my parents over: “Hey guys, this lady just invited us to have tea!”. My Vietnamese friend was amazed that I called my parents “guys”. 😉

  • julialeavitt 12:52 am on September 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , conversation, ,   

    communication 101 

    day one in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam began with a challenge…HUNGER. Waking up to the blazing sun, humidity, barking dog next door, and of course a growling stomach haunting FEED ME FEED ME. Being in a new country with a vastly different culture can be quite overwhelming especially when you not speak the native language.

    Unsure of whether  to go to the ATM or use our deb cards for breakfast at the Canteen outside our dorms, we decided to be a little adventurous before orientation began. Tati and I went into the cafe and quickly realized that no one spoke a word of English, so we could not simply ask “hey do you accept VISA/MasterCard?” so when all else fails UNIVERSAL SIGN LANGUAGE. well….not so universal….drawing a rectangle in the air at the cafe gave the impression of  asking for the menu….

    sooo me lynne libby and jenny go back to the Canteen…with cash…sit down and proceed to place an order, but wait we don’t know any Vietnamese yet. That’s when PICTIONARY came in handy. our waitress was very kind and understanding. she drew sketches of the nouns she was trying to describe so that we had an idea of what we were eating. that helped tremendously for the food order, but we still struggled over whether or not to drink the iced tea….ICED tea…… when i think about it i probably could have drew an iced beverage inside one of those DO NOT ENTER SIGNS and then a beverage without ice with a thumbs up or something, BUT HEY WE’RE NOT TRYING TO BE ARTISTS. we were just thirsty and hungry. so we accepted the iced tea with blocked cubes of ice instead of the manufactured ice with the whole in the center…(keep in mind that we are not supposed to drink tap water or ice unless its bottled water or manufactured/imported ice)

    we drank the tea…i had two glasses.

    • i choose to believe that i am immune to the tap water ice in Vietnam
    • i do not know yet if my convictions are true

    -i guess i’ll either find out the hard way or triumph!

    to be continued…..

    • Juliet Habjan Boisselle 1:46 am on September 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Snap us a shot of one of those drawings next time you are out! It would be fun to see one 🙂 and you might enjoy having it later as a memento of your early communication and language explorations.

  • DougReilly 1:37 pm on September 2, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: conversation, ,   

    Asiapod at home 

    Inspired by all these wonderful posts, i made a quick decision, turning around in the cafe and asking if I could interview Li. I had noticed earlier that she was working on three mobile devices at the same time…

    [So I learned a powerful lesson. The Ipod is designed to encourage portrait format (vertical) imaging. It has to do where the button is, indicating the default aspect. But when you shoot video vertically, it is not easy to convert it to the typical landscape (horizontal) format. Thus you have to cock your head to watch this video. If you are watching it on your ipod, however, it will adjust so you can watch it vertically. So watch it on your ipod and remember to shoot video in the horizontal format. Sorry if my videography made you seasick.]

    • iameeps 3:40 pm on September 18, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Wow thanks for this awesome video Doug! It was very fun to watch– I did a similar project report for a class in Korea about my mobile devices– enlightening!

  • Tatianna Jasmine 9:40 pm on August 25, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: conversation, Fruit, Polish, ,   

    Pink Polish and Fruit Talk 

    This summer has been most eventful. Internships, beach days (very few), movies, friends and family sums up the many things that kept me occupied. However, the most memorable experience for me thus far was a simple trip to the nail salon.

    It was time for a much needed manicure, my new manicurist warned me about the dangers of cutting your cuticles instead of pushing them back. As many times as I had been to this particular salon, I had never been serviced by this particular person. He welcomed me into his station, and got straight to work. He and I joked about which colors would look good on me, and which would not. We both settled for a burst of orange and pink tones. This color is much more vibrant in person. I have learned that many colors, people, places and things are always much more vibrant when experienced up close and personal.

    My manicure was complete and my new friend was handling a business transaction with a colleague. I did not know that this salon was owned by a Vietnamese family until this point. Instantly I recognized the language they were speaking- I had been teaching myself simple Vietnamese phrases. I decided that although my manicure was done, I wanted to learn more about my new friend. I joined him as he took a break from work, and asked if he wouldn’t mind chatting for a bit. I was in for a real treat! We practiced some of my spoken Vietnamese, and he told me about his home town near the Mekong Delta. I was so happy to have the opportunity to experience some of Vietnam here in my own hometown. Although I love my vibrant pink polish, it was not as memorable as the fruit talk.

    He gave me a list of places to eat, mostly mom and pop kinds of restaurants. Then he pulled out a fruit called Longan. He handed me one, and told me that they were most commonly found in the south near Saigon. The outside of the fruit was rough and shell like. This reminded me of a Qenepa- a similar fruit found mostly in the Caribbean. I cracked it open, and the inside was as if I had peeled a green grape. Just one bite, and my mouth was filled with juice that tasted like a melon. I was fascinated- a fruit I had never been exposed to, resembled so many of the fruits I have been accustomed to eating. After having a few more Longans, I thanked my new friend for spending time with me during his busy work day and headed back home.

    I am so grateful to have had this experience. As I walked home, my heart smiled. I was suddenly super eager  to board my flight on September 4th, and I began counting down the days. Today I continue my count down…10 days left. See you soon Vietnam.

    • TJ
    • DougReilly 7:26 pm on August 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Great story and great that you took the opportunity to engage them with your Vietnamese! You’ve already begun to travel. Did you happen to get a snapshot of them with your ipod? 😉

    • Juliet Habjan Boisselle 12:50 am on August 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I really enjoyed reading this story. Your description of eating the longan reminds me of my first encounter with lychee. My Vietnamese sister-in-law and her family introduced me to the fruit a few years ago and they were amazing — and, curiously, hard to describe to others — such luscious, unexpected juice inside a tough exterior! Now I want to find a longan to compare!

  • grenphi 8:29 pm on May 19, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , conversation, , , , recommended reading,   

    Preparation Goals-Nanjing 

    Every journey begins with a single step, and my blog begins with a traveling cliché.

    I’ve decided to write two preliminary blog posts as opposed to just one. The first will be written at the beginning of my summer prep (now), and one towards the end (probably late August). I realize the preparation by itself will be an adventure because I have numerous goals and a few obstacles. Optimally, I will be a different person in three months as I depart for China.

    Let me preface before I discuss the goals and plans to be accomplished before I head off to Nanjing. I have diabetes, and I’m a martial artist. These two characteristics are very influential concerning the goals and experiences I will have in preparation and in China. Therefore, I have two sets of goals for preparation. The first is a set of generic goals that I believe are fairly common among China travelers. The second set is the set of goals that I believe are more specific to me and people with similar experiences.

    Set 1) I’d like to be able to do some basic living in China. This will mean speaking and understanding the language (I may be doomed here), and having some money for emergencies and/or spending. To do this, I study Chinese frequently (almost every day), and use multiple methods-books, videos, audio lessons, music, etc. As far as money is concerned, I’m still looking for a summer job. Living will also require a visa and various other logistics, which I believe I am taking care of by completing every task CIEE has been giving me.

    Set 2) I’d like to be able to survive in China. This means, as a diabetic, I need insulin. Insulin comes with a very particular set of restrictions, so it will be best for me to get insulin in China rather than ship it from the states. My mother has figured a way to work this out, and for this I am extremely grateful. She’s done more work for this trip already than I have, and I’m extremely lucky that she has been there for me.

    Survival, beyond just insulin, will revolve largely around martial arts. On a very basic level, I want to be performing with a very high level of physical conditioning when I travel and arrive in China. This will allow me to deal with jet-lag, changes in diet, changes in weather, diabetic issues, fatigue, and frustration much better than if I were in poor health. Good physical condition will also allow me to be better prepared for violent confrontation and emergency situations. This isn’t to say I expect a crisis to occur. I prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

    In order to maintain this physical conditioning, I will also be developing an exercise program that is equipment free, allowing me to practice wherever and optimally whenever I need. For myself and others looking to do this, I suggest looking into the 8 Brocades of Qi Gong, which has already proven tremendously beneficial for my health without great effort.

    Also, for the sake of survival, I’ve been steadily giving up vegetarianism. This was a difficult decision, but I’ve been told by numerous travel abroad students and Chinese nationals that vegetarianism and a 200 lb frame don’t go together in China. I don’t want to compromise my physical health or ability to defend myself by losing muscle mass over 4+ months, so I have to get used to eating meat.

    There are more goals that I am probably forgetting, but that’s ok. This post is long enough, and I hope I haven’t bored my readers. If I still have your attention, I would like to point you to two books for summer reading that I believe are worth your time. The first book is called Meditations on Violence. It’s written by Sgt. Rory Miller, and provides a very important insight into violence and the world as a whole. I have read this book twice, and plan to read it again many times in the future This recommendation goes double for you martial artists out there.

    The second book is called A Tooth From The Tigers Mouth. It’s written by Tom Bisio and it’s about traditional Chinese medicine. I have just begun reading the book, but I had the rare opportunity to meet Mr. Bisio in person and receive treatment from him. He’s an intelligent, humble man and an incredible martial artist. His insight and treatment were life changing, and I foresee no less from his book.

    And with that, I am off to go work on these goals. Best wishes to all my fellow Asiapod bloggers and to all the readers who have taken the time from more important things to read my words.


    • DougReilly 3:39 pm on June 1, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      That’s a wonderfully rich post! I definitely need to look at Meditations on Violence, as I’ve been aware of, touched by, and have given a lot of thought to violence…so thanks for sharing that recommendation.

      I think it’s great that you’re taking your preparations so seriously, and that it seems that martial arts is a very important structure for you and for your journey. What is your martial art, by the way?

      I respect your decision to give up vegetarianism, at least for a while. It probably makes good sense–and once you are the ground you could always re-evaluate. I’m not sure what your motivations for vegetarianism are–moral, environmental, nutritional, but I guess I’d view the experience of eating eat again as something worth reflecting on. In terms of the environmental and moral arguments against eating meat, I found a counterargument that I never heard before, and in an unlikely place, the novel Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. She talks about how anyone involved with mechanized crop farming knows that it kills multitudes of animals (I believe the example in particular was combines decapitating rabbits) so even most of the earth’s vegetative food production is not free from creating suffering. I’m not a vegetarian though I’m sympathetic to all the arguments, and Kingsolver’s observation I guess made me a little more conscious of the truth that suffering really is an unavoidable part of existence. We cause it, inflict it, and experience it, even when we might try not to. I think trying to minimize the amount of suffering we cause is still a good thing, however!


    • grenphi 2:09 am on June 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Hey Doug,

      My original martial art is a combination between Korean Tae Kwon Do and Japanese Shotokan Karate. I have now focused my training more towards Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts. I’ve also had chances to dabble in Tai Chi and Qi Gong.

      Let me know how the book strikes you. I’m curious to hear a reflection on it from someone other than me.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post,


  • DougReilly 6:50 pm on April 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: conversation, , , pop culture, seoul, street art   

    Lost in Translation: street art 

    I found this street art in Sinchon, the busy student quarter of Seoul. It was old and preserved under plexiglass. Other parts of the panel seemed to be about a restaurant. But I’m not sure what this part is about: You sit down with your family for some nice barbeque at your favorite restaurant and then a dragon incinerates one of your children? Maybe the food is randomly spicy? Although, it kind of looks like the kids are actually some kind of birds. It was next to a modern restaurant called (in English) Chicken and Beer.

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