Phở, fuh, and the secrets of Vietnamese noodles

A bowl of phở with chopsticks on a wooden table.

By Guest Contributor: Nam Le

“It’s pronounced phở, not fuh.” 

It is a joyless sentence to say, if I am ever saying it at all.

My first language is a rusty hand-me-down — the kind of thing I am shy to show in public, because it always has to be wrangled out of my pockets awkwardly. But it does work; and on this occasion, it strains and reaches for the last inflection —a balloon rising out of the throat —then sticks the landing.

The distinction does not register.

“I don’t get it. I’m saying what you’re saying. Fuh.”

“You know what? It’s fine. Let’s just go eat.”  

I leave the rest of what I am thinking unsaid—because it has to be.

Continue reading “Phở, fuh, and the secrets of Vietnamese noodles”

Learning To See The Shang-Chi In Me

Actor Simu Liu as Marvel superhero Shang Chi in a still from the upcoming film by the same name.

By Guest Contributor: Nam Le

This post was originally published on Patreon as Snapshots, from the life of a person counting down the hours til Shang Chi, the first Asian American Marvel movie.


Six. 

Our television is on again. 

This time, it is not Wheel of Fortune or Paris By Night, the programs that were on so often at home that they were nearly burned into our boxy CRT screen — back when TVs could still suffer from such a thing.  

This time, it is a rental – another Chinese-language, Vietnamese-dubbed series my parents have slipped into the VCR, and in which the protagonists are soaring effortlessly through the air, fighting valiantly for one thing or another. My mother tongue isn’t quite far along enough to understand everything going on in these series. But I understand the gist, certainly — there are good guys, and there are bad guys. 

I am enthralled. 

I try this at home. 

Continue reading “Learning To See The Shang-Chi In Me”

Tuesday.

A durian fruit, plated.

By Guest Contributor: Nam Le

“Be safe if you go outside, Ma. People in this country at this time do not like Asians. They do not care that you’re not Chinese. So just be careful.”

The text is half in English, half in Vietnamese. None of it is exactly what I want to say.

I skip over the word racism when I text Ma. It is a wrong turn into an armed minefield, a back alley of snakes and wet live wires. My cousins, better able to navigate this ground, tells me that the closest road might be through kỳ thị. Discrimination.

When I ask for directions again on Google, seeking a second opinion, it offers up phân biệt chủng tộc – a four syllable tour that passes by “separation based on race”.

But that, too, is far short of what my tongue wants to express on this Tuesday night — a truth I have always hoped my parents would never have to know: that on this side of the ocean, thunder still rolls.

Continue reading “Tuesday.”