How an Asian girl is trying to be more Asian

So I’ve been trying to reconnect to my culture lately.

It’s true. I’m a twinkie. Yellow on the outside, white on the inside. My Vietnamese is terrible. I’m really awful at eating spicy food. I don’t have tons of Vietnamese friends.

At the same time, though, I’m very proud of being Vietnamese. Because it’s my culture. It’s part of my life. Because tôi là người Việt Nam!

Yeah. I Google translated that one.

So in an attempt to be more Vietnamese, I decided I needed more Vietnamese friends. I decided to do this by joining the Vietnamese Student Association, a student-run club based around– as they put it– “friends, food, and fun!” The VSA isn’t restricted to Vietnamese students, either– we have Chinese and Indian and American students as well.

In fact, I was going to join VSA last year. Except when I signed up, this happened…

I knew deep down that it probably wasn’t true, but I carefully avoided going to VSA anyway. I went through all of freshman year with predominantly non-Asian friends. Now, this is something I wasn’t used to. My hometown has a very high Korean population, so I had a lot of Asian friends in high school. Even my American friends were relatively knowledgeable about Asian culture. So it was when, in college, I ran into things like

I decided

And then I joined VSA.

VSA, of course, turned out to be the opposite of what I expected. Actually, I’m not sure what I expected. Perhaps I expected a bunch of super-Asian kids speaking only Vietnamese and being super cliquey.

Instead, I found a club full of a bunch of cheerful, friendly people, full of jokes and amicability and terrible puns.

The club (in addition to holding meetings) hosts social events like game nights, a yearly cultural show, and movie outings. We even went out to eat dim sum the other day. For those who don’t know what dim sum is, it’s a style of Chinese food prepared in small, bite-sized portions. Every dish costs a couple of dollars. Everybody eats family style, sharing dishes and fighting for the food in the middle.

When I say fighting, I mean battling. 

Because our group (of 12+ people) had to wait for a table for over an hour even though we had made a reservation the day before. We were angry. We were stressed. We were hungry.

It was like being home again.

And that’s how I’m trying to be more Vietnamese. I’m even taking a free Vietnamese class on campus! It’s a challenge. But hopefully I’ll do my good ol’ Vietnamese grandmother proud.

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Girls from Asia must be size -4

Everyone knows about Chinese New Year. The festivals. The paper lanterns. The huge family gatherings and the traditional food.

But what many people don’t know is that the Vietnamese celebrate it too!

Vietnamese New Year (aka Tết) is like the Chinese New Year in many ways: it is based on the lunisolar calendar, is the biggest holiday of the year, and is deeply engrained in tradition and custom. Vietnam during Tết will be rampant with lights, performances, and general revelry. Not that I’ve ever seen it– I have yet to visit Asia, much less Vietnam, and even less Vietnam during Tết.

Instead, my family has always celebrated Tết here in America. Granted, I think our parties are a bit toned down compared to Vietnam. We don’t even get an extra day off, like the way many other religious or cultural holidays are honored. But, we persevere.

One such tradition? Our parents like to doll all the girls up in áo dài, the Vietnamese traditional dress. It’s this sort of long silk tunic worn over loose pants. Except we get our áo dài, naturally, from Vietnam. Not America. Where people eat rice and fish and vegetables and stay active. Where girls face enormous pressure to stay as thin as possible. So, as a girl raised in the land of junk food, I find áo dài a little troublesome.

My mom will present to us a wide array of cute áo dài, only for me to discover that only one fits. Usually it’s the dorkiest, most ridiculous, or most obnoxious one. This year I donned a shade of blaring pink:

But dressing up is a good time anyway! Other fun traditions? Kids get “lì xì,” the lucky money handed out in red envelopes. Regretfully, the older you get, the less money you’re likely to receive. But my younger cousin still gets a kick out of it:

On occasion, my family will set up a little altar of our deceased relatives and present an offering of different fruits. My cousins and I were made to pray to our ancestors, asking them to help us in the year to come.

Recreational gambling is also a plus. Every Tết my dad will pull out bầu cua ca cop, a traditional gambling game involving three die picturing a fish, a shrimp, a crab, a rooster, a gourd, and a deer. It’s all chump change, of course– just kids and parents betting their quarters for a little fun.

But best of all? The food! During Tết, traditionally, families will make the extra effort to cook more labor-intensive dishes. What do I mean? For example, bánh chưng, a type of cake, requires simmering for, oh, 6 hours. Not to mention the hours spent soaking the rice and mung beans that go into the dish. And after my grandmother put all that work into making it, our family ate it in about two seconds. Delicious food doesn’t stay around long in my house.

My dear ol' granny proudly overseeing her creations.

Even more interesting dishes that graced our table this year, though, include these: pork intestine and pork ears. I do not kid.

The sauce is just hoisin sauce... nothing crazy.

And here's the pig ears.

And that’s just a slice of my culture! I hope one day I can go to Vietnam during Tết. And get a more fashionable áo dài.

The Asian test of courage

My sister’s boyfriend came over.

My sister and I are finally finished finals and at home, so her boyfriend from Pittsburgh came over for three days. That’s three days in an Asian household. With Asian food. I should mention that my sister’s boyfriend is predominantly German and Polish.

So my family.

Does this to him.

As crazy as we get, however, eggrolls taste good. But my dad decided to pull some other fun foods out of his hat.

And finally, the kicker: durian. If you don’t know what durian is, it’s a large, spiky, tropical fruit typically grown in Southeastern Asia. Its odor is very… distinct. Quote Wikipedia, “Some people regard the durian as fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and offensive.” As kids, my sister and I fell more onto the “offensive” side. (Though now, we both find it perfectly edible.)

And my sister’s poor boyfriend had this thrust upon him.

But hey, he tried it! And thus my sister’s boyfriend passed our little test of courage. Props to him! Though we’ve barely branched into some of the weirder Vietnamese dishes. Some Viet foods even I’m unable to handle.

Fetal chicken, straight from the egg. My parents like it, but it's an area I haven't ventured into yet.