Chào Bạn!: An Introduction To Vietnamese


On my way lớn work one morning, the radio announcer said “today is the longest day of the year, the first day of summer solstice, Friday, June 21, 2013.” The weather prediction was days of searing heat with temperatures above sầu 100 degrees for several days in a row ahead. It reminded me of Saigon, a far away place where I was born. This tuy nhiên popped up in my head: “Saigon Dep Lam.”

I came across one of the Clip clips about Saigon, following the Déjà Vu Vietnam giới Saigon series, with this tuy vậy played in the background. The title means “Very Beautiful Saigon,” not “Beautiful Saigon” as translated in You Tube. It was a tuy nhiên frequently broadcasted via loud speakers around Le Loi all the way down khổng lồ the central market area, Cho Ben Thanh hao. The tune of the song was so well blended in with all other typical sounds of Saigon that you might have sầu thought you’ve never heard it before. However, if you had lived there, you have undoubtedly heard it played once, a thous& times.

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If you should have just two minutes in your spare time và would lượt thích khổng lồ “revisit Saigon through a song,” you can hear that familiar sound again via You Tube. You will notice on You Tube, there are also many other versions of this tuy nhiên that are nonsensical; however, this is closest lớn the original one & I stand by it. I find this particular singer’s voice did justice lớn the tuy vậy and reminded me of Saigon the way it was in my memory. The words Mat Ngoc (Diamond Eyes), appeared after the song’s name is the singer’s stage name. Can’t imagine such a make believe sầu name, but that’s what it reads.

For the brave hearts, here are the lyrics of the first two verses. You might want to sing along, too, if you can… Try it, you might lượt thích it! If you don’t, I don’t mind, really!

If you don’t hear the “la la la la la” part, you might have the wrong tuy nhiên. Here’s the video:

Saigon Dep Lam (Beautiful Saigon)

Dung chan tren ben Lúc chieu nang chua pnhị,Tu xa thap thoang muon ta ao tung bayNep tuy vậy vui tuoi noi chan nhau den noi naySaigon dep lam, Saigon oi ! Saigon oi !

Ngua xe pháo nhu nuoc tren duong van qua mauNguoi ra tsay đắm ben cau chao noi lao xaoPho xa thenh thang don chan toi den tầm thường vuiSaigon dep lam, Saigon oi ! Saigon oi !

La la la la la

It would be impossible to lớn translate a language word for word to lớn make any sense out of it. In its poetic Vietnamese way, the lyrics meant something like this (my translation only, not for singing along):

“When you took your first steps in arrivingashore in Saigon before the sun goes down,reflection of ladies in long silk dressescatches your eyes as they seem to lớn flutterever so softly with the evening breeze.People came lớn this delightful,very beautiful Saigon, hello Saigon, hello Saigon.”

Like fast flowing water,came horses & cars.You hear people greeting people, saying hello.The city all over is welcoming mevà others lớn join in its festivities.Very beautiful Saigon, hello Saigon, hello Saigon”

Well, that’s my version in passable English. And Saigon remains unforgettable in my mind, too. Notice how funny it is in some languages that the adjective comes after the noun? Even the words arrangements are also in the reverse order? Huhh…? The Vietnamese language happens to lớn be in this way, as if you are in for a brain game. It challenges you lớn see how well versed you are in dealing with different strokes for different folks, a creative và survival skill you will master in a foreign l& in no time.

I find music so powerful that it transports me baông xã in time, every time. It reminds me when I was there, unassuming, young, và fearless.

The Saigon Zoo Mysteries

In my early years growing up in Saigon, we lived on Tran Hung Dao Street. I saw a set of people living there, the majority were Vietnamese & only a handful were Chinese. I heard the grownups talk about a place called Cho Lon, a chimãng cầu town, where all other Chinese lived. Here we go in reverse order again, Cho means “market,” Lon means “big.” Although it was only a stone’s throw away, as a young kid I thought the town, Cho Lon, was a big market very far away. I also had a funny thought that maybe the Chinese are so different that they like khổng lồ live sầu in a “big market.”

My childhood consisted of going to lớn school, playing with my siblings, và taking trips with my parents on vacations or visit with relatives. I am the second daughter. My younger sisters and I Hotline my older sister, the first born, Chi Hai. My younger sisters Gọi me Chi Ba. Hai means two; cha means three. So why isn’t there a number one? The answer, is blowing in the wind! – LOL –

My dad was a linguist. He studied Latin in Cambodia & was khổng lồ become a Catholic priest, but then when he returned to lớn Vietnam for a visit và met my mother, the rest was history! After he got married, he joined the military in the special armed forces, working in the intelligence/investigative sầu department, in a dangerous field I was told. He traveled a lot in short durations and moved us around where his work would dictate.

During Christmas time, I often heard hyên pray along with the priest & sing Christmas songs in Latin at the Saigon Cathedral. He also loved to lớn sing Christmas carols in our neighborhood with his friends, one of the things that brought many families together. His best school frikết thúc, Nguyen Van Binh, was the Cardinal of South Vietnam at the time. Within the church goers, many priests at the Cathedral in Saigon & everywhere all the way down to lớn the southernmost area of South Vietphái nam knew something about my father, because of his charitable work for the churches. As with Latin, he read, wrote, và spoke fluently in French & in English and helped me with homework. In my mind’s eye, he was the best father in the world! Although from a very humble upbringing, grandpage authority was a well-educated man và was a school teacher. As a result, we were home schooled in Vietnamese. Being devout Catholics as they were, my parents sent us khổng lồ St. Paul School, an all-girl, French Catholic School, hoping khổng lồ give us the best education possible. We used to lớn have sầu two household helpers, one family car (an Oldsmobile), & a driver. My world was uncomplicated & life was good!

After Tran Hung Dao, we moved to lớn Thi Nghe, a town located behind the zoo, separated by a river also named Thi Nghe. The zoo was one of the oldest in the world, established over 133 years ago. Living so cthua by the zoo, we often heard animal sounds at night, most notably loud howling coming through the woods. Our new neighbors said the weirdest howling of them all came from the gorillas. They whined on and off & carried on for an hour it seemed, but it felt like an eternity. It was the most frightening, unpleasant sound, which made you believe sầu you were living in the jungle, with Tarzan being your neighbor! We eventually got used khổng lồ it.

Thi Nghe was so much closer lớn our school than at Tran Hung Dao, located at the opposite over of the airport. Instead of taking the school bus, we walked lớn school. Our dad bought us year-round passes so that we could walk lớn school through the zoo. In those early and happy days, it was safe; there was no fear of kidnapping whatsoever. In fact, kidnappings almost never occurred in Vietnam giới. Each family had so many kids và the majority of the people were poor, so kidnappers had no luck demanding any ransom.

Going khổng lồ school from our house meant turning right out of the front door, walking two blocks, crossing a short bridge, and then we arrived at the zoo’s baông xã entrance. Walking through the zoo was quite peaceful in early mornings. It seemed we were in a different world. The morning air was so fresh và wonderful, except you must know to keep a fairly far distance from certain animal cages! Our favorite routine was to lớn visit the parrots and canaries. I often imagined they were our own pets. On occasions, we stopped khổng lồ watch the peacocks dancing; their huge fantails with iridescent colors were just awesome và magnificent! Since it was too early in the morning và there were only us, three girls, and grandpage authority, the zoo seemed khổng lồ belong to us. One of the things I liked to lớn vày as a young kid was to lớn present my zoo pass to lớn the guard at the gate, but it never happened. The guard wasn’t even there! In fact, I don’t rehotline ever seeing a zoo guard for all those school years. I guess after so many times passing through the zoo gates, we became so familiar to them that they never bothered khổng lồ approach us if they saw us coming.

Out of the zoo’s front gate, we turned left, walked to the end of Nguyen Binh

Khiem Street, & took a right turn on Nguyen Huu Canh Street to arrive at the side gate of St. Paul School. These streets were off the beaten path, located near the Saigon river. The trip khổng lồ school could have been made in 15 minutes, but we made several stops watching animals so it took us closer to 20 minutes. Grandpa, of course, walked with us every morning and afternoon. We stayed at school during lunch time. We often played hide and seek behind the tall trees on Nguyen Binch Khiem on our walk trang chủ. I miss seeing grandpa’s smile on his face every time he saw us.

I remember it happened only one day that grandpage authority didn’t escort us. The walk seemed longer và boring without hyên. We didn’t follow the same route he often lead us, but sidetracked to the left from our usual path và walked along the fence for a great distance. All of the sudden, we realized we were too far from where we were supposed to be, and we found a fairly large hole in the hedge. We never dared khổng lồ vày anything wrong before, except that time. Nobody toàn thân was around, only us. We all looked at each other and the consensus aước ao us three was to squeeze ourselves through the hole in the hedge. Wow! That was fun! As if we have discovered a new world! We found a shortcut to school. Nobody toàn thân came to arrest us! We looked forward khổng lồ repeating our shortcut on the way home; however, we never found the hole again.

That day on our trip trang chủ from school, we walked along what seemed like the longest hedge you could find in Saigon. We thought we would not miss that big hole in the hedge that we have just discovered. We created a larger opening when we squeezed through & displaced some of the branches in the morning, so we carefully stopped và inspected every little opening, even checked inlớn the leaves và branches that were out of place, but couldn’t find it. Dang!!! Disappointed, we were determined to find any other holes just big enough for us lớn go through, but no such luck! We went home page the long usual way again for the rest of our school years. I imagined the hedge was fixed right after we left and that was that. In the years that followed, I continuously had nightmares about getting lost và not finding my way baông xã home page, walking through dark winding alleys. I am now convinced it was possibly due lớn this darn hole in the hedge!

Mom took us lớn the zoo for a picnic on one weekkết thúc. I still rethành viên she cooked jasmine rice. She put a huge ball of freshly cooked rice onkhổng lồ a stack of staggered banana leaves, wrapped it up real tight into a cylinder shape, closed the two ends, và secured it with a string. She also brought some barbecued meat and vegetables khổng lồ eat with rice, and cut up the yellow watermelon in wedges for desert. From the outside, the yellow watermelon looked just lượt thích any other watermelon. When cut open, it displayed an amazing arrangement of showy colors, the rind is green with jagged dark green stripes against White & the edible part is of the most beautiful yellow color, sprinkled with striking blachồng seeds. They are extremely sweet & more honey-flavored than the red-flesh watermelon. I was told yellow watermelons were grown in the sunny, sea coast area of Vietphái nam. After the food was packed neatly in a ratchảy tote bag, we walked to the zoo.

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I rethành viên vividly our picnic place on the lawn. We sat near the steps of the museum where there were huge bushes & plants. I noticed one particular bush had the biggest & most interesting Trắng flowers. The flowers were formed of big trắng leaves at the tip of the green branches. These flowers were so quality and intriguing to me. I didn’t know what they were, being a kid as I was, I didn’t inquire about its name. It was only my observation.

We had several pictures of us taken in front of that bush as well as at the museum’s stairway.Unfortunately, we no longer have sầu those special pictures, along with so many others. They were either lost or mom burned them along with other photographs she thought might incriminate the family after 1975. Aý muốn them were those family pictures that held sweet memories of my childhood I wish lớn have most. I am now left lớn resort to reviewing those moments in my head as long as memory can serve sầu me.

Only years later, after coming lớn the U.S., did I find out the flowers I liked at the zoo were actually poinsettias. They grew poinsettias in Saigon? It’s true, & I st& by it! I loved our trip with mom at the zoo. We didn’t have sầu a lawn at our house, so the zoo was the only place we could stretch out on the grass và look up at the sky. Also, it was a chance khổng lồ look up those animals that made such loud, scary noises in the evenings including gorillas, elephants, tigers, lions, & all. They just lounged around & didn’t seem lớn fuss during the day, but only at night, maybe just lớn frighten young kids, I thought.

One notable mid-morning while we were still in class, mom came khổng lồ piông chồng us up in a motor cyclo. We were tiny back then sitting next lớn mom, so we all fit in the cyclo – mom, và the three kids. It was exciting for us lớn see mom during morning hours. Then we saw other moms’ kids doing the same thing. She explained President Kennedy had been assassinated và all the stores were closed down everywhere khổng lồ prsự kiện any chaos. People were told khổng lồ stay inside their homes. As I remember, we had the rest of the day off and went bachồng to school the very next day.

At St. Paul School, our principal was a French nun, Mother Therese, the rest of the nuns were Vietnamese. As it was an all-girl French Catholic school, all Vietnamese nuns were teachers and only spoke French. The school was gated, had its own church, dormitory, big assembly rooms, class rooms, & a huge schoolyard for over 2,000 students. The complex was structured to be a convent for nuns và self-sufficient. For big events, students were required to dress in White. Hence, it was known as the “Trắng school.” We prayed, confessed, và attended masses in French, so I was used to this culture of French at school, Vietnamese at trang chính.

My Father’s Gifts

Dad gave me the most wonderful mornings walking lớn school in a quality environment. Those were the magical and memorable mornings none of my friends could have by going to school in school bus, or in fancy Trắng cars, with chauffeurs wearing White gloves, opening oto doors for them. Although too young khổng lồ recognize or know how to lớn express my gratitude, I enjoyed walking through the botanical gardens & the zoo every morning lớn see other living beings sharing a brand new day. The episode of squeezing through a hole in the zoo’s hedge was my idea and sparked my adventurist spirit.

We were not rich by any stretch of imagination; privileged, too briefly maybe; rich, no. We were just comfortable. He put us up at St. Paul School. It was a private school & was considered one of the best in Saigon for privileged kids, but it all came with a very high price. Dad sacrificed everything he had during his working life to lớn give us a solid education & prepare us for our future.

He taught us how lớn be kind khổng lồ others & do the right things. I rethành viên when we were living on Tran Hung Dao, there was a big fire in one nearby section of town. Our neighborhood was dangerously threatened. I can still remember seeing the sparks and smoke high up in the sky. He spent all day helping firefighters và rescuing kids and the elders out of their burning homes. Mom was left at trang chủ with four kids, too worried for us & his safety. We felt humble và proud for all that he did in his power to help put out the fire.

After a few years living in Thi Nghe, our family moved again, this time khổng lồ Bien Hoa, approximately 17 miles north of Saigon. My father was ambushed và killed in a field trip. The Cardinal of South Vietphái mạnh, his school frikết thúc, came khổng lồ my dad’s funeral which took place in Saigon to lớn pay his last respects. He also personally visited và blessed our small home page in Bien Hoa afterwards. This was never before witnessed và the highest honor ever extended khổng lồ any Catholic family. I miss my dad. He remains forever young in my heart. He was only 43.

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It took me a long time lớn adjust to my new circumstance without a father. He was a powerful source in my life, but he was gone. I started to lớn look at the world differently than my friends. I knew things they didn’t know. At times I became angry at what life handed me. I had to lớn learn how khổng lồ let go và survive, fast!

Slowly, life returned to lớn what was seemingly normal in Bien Hoa until my first brush with life and death was lurking, waiting khổng lồ torment me.