Friday, June 4, 2010

Bonjour Vietnam: Scents and Sounds of Home

I made a music slideshow above tonight to pay homage to my birthplace and as a dedication to my grandmother who died during my return to Vietnam several years ago. Why would I chose a scratchy French song?

A few years ago, I happened upon the song on the Internet. After the beautiful song was accidentally posted online, it immediately struck a worldwide chord among the Vietnamese community -- both inside and outside Vietnam. It's from an emerging singer of Vietnamese decent from Belgium named Quynh Anh.

The song -- "Bonjour Vietnam" was written by Marc Lavoine, a longtime French pop star and actor. The two later teamed up with a pop hit, "J'espère," that made Quynh Anh a household name ... at least in France, Vietnam and other places with large Vietnamese communities.

I had the chance to meet her last year at a concert in Orange County. I marveled at how someone who had never been to Vietnam could sing with such sentimental remiss. Perhaps it's because the longtime culinary and musical traditions had been steeped into her heart and soul as they had been for me. 

After hearing that song again, I was feeling a bit homesick for my Mom's homemade noodle soup. It's not the ubiquitous Pho soup, a clear consume nuanced with beef stock and subtle spices and herbs considered the national dish of Vietnam.

Tonight, I'm forgetting Pho and turning my culinary attention to Bun Rieu Cua. It's made with ripe tomatoes that would put some Italian mothers to shame -- especially my Mom's version. It's full of delicious meatball-like morsels of crab and shrimp handcrafted by Mom.

I'm working up the courage and the appetite to try to make this wonderful dish. Luckily, I found these easy-to-follow instructions.

I'll give it a go. But I know it'll only be a temporary fix until I come back home for the real deal.

What's your favorite dish that reminds you of home? I'd love to hear about your comfort foods and read any recipes you'd like to share.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Surprise Birthday and a Memorial Day Mashup

Yep, I turned 41 today.

I helped organized an impromptu tweetup or a meet-up with Orange County's emerging social media community.

The lunchtime gathering occurred in the world's largest overseas Vietnamese community in Westminster, Calif., also known as Little Saigon -- which is not so little any more with its bustling restaurants, markets, coffee shops, offices, doctor's offices, banks, news rooms, entertainment and other cultural centers stretching into three other cities in the heart of Orange County.

These are the folks enjoying good food and good company with their Twitter links so you can follow them: @billrams @DianaWei @SaigonDotCom @RicDizon @MeganEnloe @tbatsjsu @SvenJohnston @TanyaSalcido @TheBigDebowski @TjKeenan @TravelCostaMesa @NormanNaylor @DealPerkOC -- and six others not using Twitter ... yet!

Check out these photos of the group from Tustin resident and social media advocate @MeganEnloe and follow the Twitter hashtag #OCtwEATup or #OCtweetup for future impromptu lunches and events in Little Saigon or other places in Orange County.

As I tried to rush back to the office to address an incident involving a tanker truck fire on the Riverside Freeway (SR-91), the 20 people enjoying good food and company asked me to wait. A birthday cake with candles and a blue Twitter bird suddenly appeared and the group started singing.

I was floored. The kindness of the group deeply touched me because it was much more than my birthday.

May 30, 1969 was among the height of America's involvement with a tiny tropical country in Southeast Asia that many people had never heard of.

The Vietnam War -- or as the Vietnamese call it, "the American War," was raging in the battle fields and in the political forum in the United States. It was a war that changed generations and left 58,000 Americans and approximately 2 million Vietnamese dead.

Why such a grim post on a happy occasion as your birthday? It's simply because my birth date has always fallen close to if not on the actual Memorial Day holiday in the U.S.

I can't help but reflect upon the memories of the people who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation's freedoms.

I can't help but well up with tears at my own father's passing decades ago so that his eldest son could earn the beautiful bounties of America. And I can't help it but try a little harder to do some good in this world.

I want to thank everyone who has made my birthday so special, but I also want to offer my gratitude to all who served to make America and this world a safer and better place.

Please share your thoughts. What does Memorial Day mean to you? How do you celebrate the holiday?