New soapboxes


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Check out my new Vietnamese Blog here, and English Blog here. See you there, and there!


Despite Melbourne’s property prices rocketing faster than Apollo shuttles, online doain names seem to be at their cheapest. So in I jumped and got myself a nice little block of “land” with dual occupancy potential, then sub-divided it and whacked on two townhouses. No council permit necessary. “home package” turned out to be quite easy to build, especially after lots of work with Zen Cart which trained me for this whole open-source shenanigan. Customising is fun but I do miss the community feel of, which is like a body corporate, where certain functions are given but others are restricted. Ah well, time to move out of the nanny flat and find my own space, I reckon.

So well, here we are, my spanking new soapboxes – one for my first language and one for the second. One given, one acquired, both loved equally. Not to be a separatist but I think this way I’ll have more incentive to write, especially in Vietnamese because I’m a little ashamed I don’t write and read it as much, living in Australia and having an English speaking other half and all. And from that, hopefully my translation dream will begin to materialise. One should always hope, hey?

So folks, update your address book / bookmark bar please ;). And come visit me! I’ve got a new couch, a massive chocolate cupboard, and lots of spare bedrooms.



Language lessons

Him (tapping at my flat, squat, snub Asian nose): Button! Button! What’s “button” in Vietnamese?

Me (tossing between the Northern and Southern Vietnamese terms, then decided on what I use most): Hột nút.

Him (pronounced it as English words): Hot nut?

Me: Hahaaa! Thanks! That works too. But technically, the ‘o’ in ‘hột’ is like the ‘o’ in ‘hone’, not ‘-aw-‘ like in ‘hot’ or ‘pot’. And the ‘u’ is always ‘-oo-‘ in Vietnamese. So it should be “hot noot”.

Him: Oh, I see. Hot nude?

Me: That’s it. I’m sending you to a proper language school! A non-R-rated one!


Good educator? Or a bitch?

The other day as I was walking into the train station to get to Uni, I saw a young Asian girl standing near the ticket machine looking around for help. (Young as in twenty-something.) I approached her and without asking whether I could understand Vietnamese, she started firing questions at me in the language. Now it was interesting what happened next: I spoke back to her slowly, in easy English, pretending I didn’t understand Vietnamese. She didn’t have much struggle explaining what she needed help with though. And after a mere minute we got her a ticket to where she needed to go.

As I walked to my platform, I was pondering these possible implications:

a/ that I’m a good educator, one who’s strict but helpful and motivational. I wasn’t harsh on the girl, but instead, gently made her practise a language that will help her with life (or short stay) here in Australia. If it was an older person, say my parents’ age, I knew I’d reply in Vietnamese straight away. It’s much harder to learn a new language at that age and I’d have more sympathy if they can’t or don’t want to speak English. But this young girl was more than capable. So it was either an underlying laziness, or a strong habit, both of which she needed to shake off.

b/ that I’m a cow, who also has too much time to waste. Why not just talk to her in Vietnamese and get it over and done with in 10 seconds? Was I trying to show off? (No, because I had to use the most simple words, and it wasn’t like she’d be impressed if I could read Shakespears, which I can’t, by the way. So no, no showy-offy, moi.) Was I trying to (secretly) make a point, that “hey, I got here when I was seventeen, and this was pre-mobile-phone time, and never had any chance to meet a Vietnamese on the street to ask for help, so no, you’re going to have to try and speak English to me this time”? To which the answer is yes, in a way that was my thinking. Maybe I’m too strict, and just a tad arrogant?

Anyhoo, just a tale to tell. You all know I like to over-analyse things like that. Plus it was either musing such useless stuff for the 15-minute train ride, or listening to two teenage girls going “gosh i sooo, like, hate Kyle Sandilands, and, you know, like, he’s sooo awful, and gosh, if they’re not gonna sack him, like, right now, i’m sooo gonna, like, boycott that station.” So there you have it, this blog entry.

happy thursday!


Not merely a mean of communication

Recently there’s this post on Stuff Asian People Like about Multilingualism and how Asians living in a western country are generally expected to speak at least two languages, one being their ancestors’ tongue. You should hop over for a read, great topic (admittedly, anything about languages is bound to grab my attention), well written post, and the comments are gold.

Here’s some of my thoughts on it:

Personally, I don’t mind people’s expectation of us (Asians living in another country) to be fluent in our mother tongue. Maybe it’s just me, and I’m a fanatic when it comes to language. But I say it’s a rather “good” expectation. It pushes us to learn.

And if you have the luck to be exposed to several different languages all at once, isn’t it a great opportunity to learn? Saves a lot on taking lessons. ) Also, in the case of recent immigrants, if you’ve already grown up with one language, it’s a shame to let it fade away. To me it’s like a precious asset. You should acquire new ones, but don’t lose the old one.

Each to their own, of course. But I admire people with good language skills. And by that I don’t only mean “people who speak many languages”, I also mean “people who may only know one language but is super good at it”. Either quantity or quality, it’s your call. And even better if you have both!

(Why pasted it again here? Because I’m so soaked in self-importance I just have to quote my own words, that’s why.)

Anyhoo, so after a string of comments, Shaun (the writer of the post) posed this question:

But from a practical point of view, wouldn’t it be far easier for international relations if we all spoke the same language? I suppose that’s why English has become so prominent in the past few decades.

And my answer to that is, Yes it’d be far easier. But it’d also become much more boring, unimaginative, repetitive, and FLAT. Because language is more than just a way to communicate. Hidden behind each and every word is a concept, a tradition, a culture, a lifestyle. Saying we ought to all speak English, to me, is like saying we should all dress in suits, eat bread, drive a Volvo, and sing “Yellow Submarine”.

Learning a language is learning a culture. Have you ever noticed how there are many words that simply cannot be translated from one language to another? There’s actually a half-baked entry in my Drafts box titled “Language as a concept”, I kid you not. One night I started writing it because I couldn’t wholly translate the word “nhường” in Vietnamese into in English without having to include at least 2 lines of explanation. It was giving me that much grief. It’s not simply “share”, or “divide”, or “give”, or “sacrifice”. It’s a combination of all those, with varying degrees of each. And frankly, if you’re not Vietnamese or are at least exceptionally fluent in the language, you’ll find it really hard to understand.

There’s another word that my sister and I discussed the other night, “hỗn”. It means being rude to someone older, or of a higher social standing, than you. So it’s partly “rude”, partly “insolent”, partly “disrespectful”. And to fully understand it, you’ll need to be aware of the Asian tradition to respect their elders. You’ll also need to know that in Vietnamese, there’s no simple “I” and “you” when adressing people, there’s a myriad of pronouns you have to use, depending on the age of the person you’re adressing and their relationship with you. And from the whinges I’ve heard from people who’ve tried to learn Vietnamese so far, that’s the hardest bit of all.

There’s also the vast treasure of phrases, expressions, and idioms that was cultivated through thousands of years and reflects a good chunk of a culture. For example, it takes a little bit of researching to know that forbidden apples do not grow inside Forbidden City and have nothing to do with poisoned apples. Or if a Vietnamese calls you “the frog sitting at the bottom of a well”, do NOT be flattered and wait for a princess to come and kiss you. Because they’re not likening you to the Frog Prince, they are instead referring to a saying that goes “Ếch ngồi đáy giếng coi trời bằng vung.” – “The frog sitting at the bottom of a well considers the sky as big as a lid (on a pot.)”

You could argue that learning too many tongues is rather useless. Well then, define “useful”. Why do we have to pop half of our brain cells learning the dates of so-called important historical events? What difference does it make that I know an acid neutralises a base? Does it put food on my table when, for some unfathomable reason, I know almost all the words to Britney Spears’s “Crazy”? (I know, can it get any lamer than that?!!)

I’ve yet to mention that honing your language skill also helps develop other parts of your brain, according to such and such scientific findings (I’m sure they’re out there somewhere, I just can’t be stuffed researching right now, sorry.)

I could go on all night. But my laptop is nearly out of battery. Plus, finding all those wiki links for y’all just cost me another half hour on unstoppable wiki-clicking. So I’ll just say it one more time, that hold on to whatever languages you know (and will learn), speak them and nourish them. They’re one of the very few important straits that differentiate us from animals.