Exploring London through Food – A New Website

Elisa, Tomoya, Snehal, Me, Chenyun - the latest school project!
Elisa, Tomoya, Snehal, Me, Chenyun – the latest school project!

My dearest HanoianSnippets readers,

I’ll save you my lame reason of being too busy at uni to blog, though it has been truthfully the reason and I am very  sorry about it.

Nevertheless, I come back with much excitement to share with you my latest ‘school project’. No, I’m not becoming a chef. If anything, weird eating habits have taken me further from the kitchen…but I digress.

6 weeks ago, I along with 4 other students started a course in Online Journalism at the University of Westminster, without the slightest idea about web building. And yet, here we are launching our very own website!

And, what else was to be the common thread between a Spaniard, a Japanese, an Indian, a Vietnamese and a Chinese ? Why, London, of course! and being the ‘hungry’, pocket-torn student journalists that we are, FOOD!

So we came up with the idea of embarking on journeys to explore London through food, affordably- everything from the latest happenings in the culinary scene, to quirky food concepts, and the gastronomic culture of the city that we’re all taking on as students for the first year.

So without further ado now, let me present to you BITES OF LONDON!

www.bitesoflondon.co.uk
www.bitesoflondon.co.uk

I look forward to your support and feedback as we continue to improve the site and update stories throughout May and into the summer.

Please connect with us on Facebook

and Follow us on Twitter

Do also check out our classmates’ innovative website on cool, off-the-beaten-path spots to shop, eat and drink outside central London @ ALSO IN LONDON! Show them some support on their Facebook.

Thank you!

Much love,

Hanoian Snippets

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¡¡¡VAMONOS A ESPAÑA!!!

Photo courtesy of a postcard!
Photo courtesy of a postcard!

Dear lovely readers of Hanoian Snippets!

I apologize for being MIA in the past weeks, as the semester was drawing to a close with much to finish and nil time for any blogospherical (?) inspiration. Updates from London are to follow, BUT….!!!!

I write to you in uber to-the-point-of-sleep-loss excitement of my winter trip to SPAIN….in over 3 hrs!!!! It won’t be Andalusia this time around , but I will be heading to new terrains  – discover Madrid, Toledo and many a stops in Central Spain…all the while, gratefully spending the holiday season with my Spanish friend, Elisa and her family.

I will be sure to document my travels. For now, wherever you may be, stay warm, on the outside, and more importantly, in the heart <3!

Wish me luck!

Much love,

Hanoian Snippets

The life of a butchered name

…is my name – and boy, has it had a whirlwind of adventures in its 25 years of existence. It’s been tossed into a linguistic grinder , verbally chopped and phonetically dissected to create possibly the most interesting sounds ever. 

I will have gotten your lips moving by now in your own attempt. No worries though, you won’t be the first.

From Ding Dong to All Wrong  

First day of 3rd grade, Mrs. Wainwright called the roll as her eyes glanced around our circle of 15 to fit the names with the faces. Each time a person’s name was read, the whole class would say in unison “Hi…” Kevin or Alice or John.

It was finally my turn and it’s still somehow engrained in the back of my mind, her knitted brows and the perplexed expression on her face as she hesitantly uttered “Dong?“.

Zuh-ong“, I replied , to which her face wrinkled up even more so, before stretching out to smile : “How about we call you by an English name, yes? How’s Jen or Jenny?” (what my classmate told me a year later)

You must understand, I was 8 at the time, I had been studying French the 2 years before and hadn’t a word of English in my head besides “Hi”.  And so I did what a lost person would do, NOD.

Only a second later, I realized what a huge mistake I had made, as the whole class shouted “Hi Jenny!

From Jenny to Jo – to Yoyo ! 

I still and forever will have sour memories of that name “Jenny”. By the time I was equipped with enough English to fend for myself, the damage had been done. Throughout the next years, I gave in to the “Jenny” stipulation, by doing the worst, introducing myself by that name. 

By high school, I was back in the States again and it was the perfect turning point to sack the name and begin anew. I even added a “z” turning my name into Dzuong, hoping it would somehow smooth out  the concerned brows.

The already-formed cliques of rebellious teenagers couldn’t give a beeswax about what Dzuong is and so the butchering began. You had everything from the coarse “Ding Dong”, to the softer “Zong” and “Zu” , and even “Zuzu”.  And, of course my AP Physics teacher, who just insisted on calling me “Jo“, to which some caught on and called me “Yoyo” -yes, like the toy.

It was a linguistic nightmare, and yes, I’ve sank to low points where I wished my name was just a plain and readable one.

Growing out the nickname phase

The college days were much kinder to my name. The poor thing had suffered enough and was in a such a tattered state, that it was shocked to meet people genuinely interested in getting it right.

My first dance performance freshmen year, I remember almost tripping over my next step, hearing a stark “Go ZUH-ONG!!!!! ” amidst the crowd. That was it, another turning point – the perfect time to grow out of the nickname phase.

Vietnamese explained

In Vietnamese, there are 2 “D” s in the alphabet and no “Z” s:

You have:  Đ which is pronounced like an English D 

          and:  D which is pronounced like an English Z 

Hence, my name!

I don’t really blame people for getting it wrong though. It’s a tough nut to crack even for Vietnamese, especially children. They usually say “Dua” or “Zuh” instead, which means Melon. There’s another one to my nickname collection. And I haven’t even started on the accents, Duong in Vietnamese is written like this: Dương.

The farthest thing from being unique

Both my parents’ names begin with D. They were pressed in a weird, perfectionist way to name their first child with a D word as well. My mom described the moment of an angry nurse tapping a pen on the side of the bed: “Either you give me a name now, or I’ll name your child for you on the birth certificate, hurry up” (That’s just how you were treated back in those food ration days in Vietnam) 

Unfortunate for me, it was the decade of hundreds of Vietnamese graduates coming back from the former Soviet Union, and everyone was naming their daughters : Thùy Dương , which means Russian Willow.

And so, with seconds and a pissed-off nurse to go, I was hastily named Duong, along with probably the tens of thousands of babies born that year. Needless to say, virtually every Vietnamese class I’ve been in, there has been another Duong if not 4 more. Along with the diverse array up there, for the teacher’s convenience, I’ve also been called Duong A and Duong B, or Duong number 1 and Duong number 3.

I started a part-time job in a Vietnamese restaurant here in London the other day, and what do you reckon, there were 2 other “Duong”s. And yes, the nicknaming has commenced again. The manager insisted and you’ll have to come to the resto to find out what it is (shameless advertisement)

This post is getting way too narcissistic, but to end it off and just to set the record straight once and for all: My name is Duong (pronounced Zuh-Ong)./.

Fun fact: my first dog – a German shepherd – was named Dim, to carry on the D-family tradition.

Filling in the blank spaces – Coehlo’s “The Witch of Portobello”

To be honest, Coehlo’s “The witch of Portobello” was a disastrous let-down after how much I had enjoyed “the Alchemist”.

Coehlo said he was trying to understand his spiritual side in this book and truthfully, that might have just been its problem. It had too much “sermons” and straight theoretic talk on spirituality and religion, and within the context of such novel about love and finding yourself, many other things would have been of more interest.

On the other hand, it offered ideas which I liked. It was a long story, whose details I would not like to get into, perhaps another time. But the protagonist talked about one particular thing, and that was the idea of ‘blank spaces’, and that we all have them.

People who are missing something in life have many blank spaces, these are the moments between the words that we utter, these are the moments when your thoughts are for a second outside of your mind, these are moments of ‘out of it”s when you’re in the middle of doing something, but you suddenly feel like you’re at a lost…and you don’t know why or maybe you do…but these are the “blank spaces”.

I try to fill these blank spaces with constant things to do and that is because blankness brings in thoughts that I would more often like to block out of my head. And it’s funny because, the protagonist says that the only way to effectively fill the blank spaces is to confront those thoughts, or whatever it was that created that hole, and gap in the first place. But if I were to do so, I wouldn’t even be writing these lines.

And so I continue to work, I continue to read, I continue to write because it helps me to not think about the things that make me feel sad, and alone in the world….and because it helps those blank spaces to go through me more quickly.

My favorite quote in that book because I think it’s true for me and all of us,

“- Q:’Are you happy’

– A:’Yes’

– Q: ‘Do you want more?’

– A:’Yes’

-Q: ‘Then you’re really not happy..?”

And this is exactly where the blank space is –  at our hesitation to answer this last question.

[Inspiration] The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

I finished the last few pages of “The curious incident of the dog in the night-time” last night or this morning, I should say, at 4 am.

I have this tendency to do what my mother says is ‘ a case of extremism’. I just think it’s memory loss, I’m afraid that if I don’t read it all at once (it was not too long or hard to read of a book) then I might lose the pace, the special flow of the story if you will. Or you could just say, I had a morning off today so I decided to push my limits. Anyhoo, the memory loss thing is no lie, I read things, and soon enough it just slips off my brain cells like a dog’s feet first time touching ice. I’ll find myself in situations where I try to describe something I had definitely read before, and with much interest, but then I just stop on brain-freeze, because I’ll only remember part of what was actually important. So I’ve decided to write things down, things I can go back on, drawings I can refer to should I forget this quite brilliant story that I just put down. Maybe you’d find it interesting too and have a look at it, it’s quite a short read.

‘The curious incident of the dog in the night-time” is a light, handy, orange, paper-back novel with an up-side down poodle on the middle of the front cover. I had found it in a quite dusty corner of Bookworm on Nguyen Thai Hoc street on Tuesday, and remember clearly that upon my removing it from the shelf, the owner had said “now that’s my kinda pre-sleep read right there, because then I won’t have to sleep”. Being there the first time ever, I wasn’t really sure if he truly liked the book or if he was just trying to get me to buy it. But my gullible nature surpassed any suspicions, and the preview in the back was quite catchy, so I gave in and the British (I presume) owner was quite pleased, and even gave me a free communist-themed bookmark.

The read was a new one to me, it’s written in a very simple manner,  but very, sometimes too logical and detailed that you get weary. But that’s just the point, the protagonist also narrator is a 15-year-5-month-n-2-day-old (at the beginning of the book) autistic boy. He doesn’t like talking to strangers because he believes in stranger danger lessons at his special needs school and also, being autistic, he just doesn’t like interacting with new people in general. Yet, he thinks in the most logical and concise manner that you could ever imagine. And he talks in this way: His favorite color is red, his most loathed color is yellow, and for that reason he thinks seeing 4 red cars in a row signal a super good day, while 4 yellow cars in a row mean a black day. And he knows all the prime numbers up to 376547898 and all the countries in the world, with their respective capitals and their respective populations. When he’s scared of being claustrophobic, he does math problems like multiplying 2 by itself until he gets to the hundreds of thousands, his record so far is 2 to the 52nd.

He thinks everything should follow patterns or some kind of rule…and he doesn’t believe in generalities. If I were to see a field of several cows, I would say it was a field with several cows. But he’d be able to say the exact date, and time at which he saw this field of cows, what hue of brown and green the grass was, what hue of blue or grey the sky was, how many cows there were, the patterns of black and white on the cow’s body …etc. And after a while, you get tired of his continuing on like this as you probably have with mine. And then something happens, the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime, of course…the poodle living across the street from Christopher, the boy, was killed with a garden fork.

Christopher jumps into this detective mission of his own, using all his logical alerts and know-hows…Father prevents him from “poking his nose into other people’s business” but he said that’s not clear at all – “people’s business”. He meets with other people and join in their “business” all the time, and it’d be impossible not to poke his nose into other people’s business. Slowly the story progresses, and the curious incident of the dog takes Christopher in stories of his father and thought-to-be-dead mother that his logical mind cannot quite comprehend. If I tell you all this part, then it really takes away the crux of the story…but it unravels beautifully in what would seem very touching for us but very disordered and unstructured for Christopher. As he finds his mother in his journey to London and goes out of his hometown of special foods, red, and yellow cars and known spaces, you understand the internal workings of how the autistic boy reacts to all these changes, to the parts of life completely unexposed to him, and how he surmounts his restrictions in social interaction abilities.

Again parts of the story are very detailed, with even drawings, and mathematical graphs and figures to demonstrate, you sometimes would stop on a page for nearly half an hour just to work out the math problem Christopher was talking about it. After reading this book, you’d think about how precise and meticulous his mind was, and for at least a day afterwards, you’d start to look at your surroundings this way, and you have the tendency to carry on your sentences until no detail was left untouched and untold. And that’s why I like the book so much, not just because you see into the workings of an autistic-savant* mind, you start to cherish too, the importance of intricacy in your surroundings.

* Now upon starting to read this book, I had no understanding of what autism was and what it meant to be an autistic-savant. Looked it up afterwards, and here’s the scoop on that: autism is a case of disorder in neural development, where the person has an inborn restricted ability to socially interact. About 10% of autism cases have savant abilities, which means they have extraordinary talents and knowledge such as Christopher: the ability to do mathematical problems up to endless numbers within seconds, the ability to memorize exact dates, time, years, cities..everything possible. The percentage of people who have these abilities in the normal population is only about 1%. These people used to be called “idiot savant” which in french, meant “unlearned skills”, but there, I’m guessing, later for the easily misunderstood terming, it was changed to autistic savant. Apparently there’s a movie called Rainman also about an autistic-savant and I’m curious to see it..but it is said that after seeing the movie, many people  presume that all autistic people are savants, which is not the case (only roughly 10% are, as said)

Apologize for the wordy description, I’m normally redundant in words but that has become more true after reading this book. Hope you’ll check it out!

[Babbles] June June I croon!

3 years of using the VNPT service and this is the first time I’ve seen them decide to completely divert the blocking attention from Facebook to other forms of social media like WordPress and Blogspot. Why? who knows, maybe one day they just thought, the brain of the guy who sealed himself shut in his room, carefully scripted out the different interminable blog posts about the most inconsequential nonsense, must be a bigger threat than your average schoolgirl who refreshes her facebook profile every 20 seconds in anticipation of a new comment on her recently updated wall photo.But where would we (and Mark Zuckerberg and Matt Mullenweg (yah totally googled that one ) ) be otherwise? so really VNPT, what’s the point with trying to “tỏ ra nguy hiểm” as the colloquial slang goes?  Turns out all I had to do was add an “s” to the http and my “devastation” of being forever estranged from my already abandoned blog was completely dispelled. Yes, call me the prehistoric goon.

[Hanoi] The Great Return

It’s been 4 months and 3 days since my last post, a whopping 1/3 of a year gone in a blink of an eye.

My dear Benji graced the skies with his presence just a month after his first birthday, leaving our family, Sparky included, distraught. We miss you everyday precious, keep that free-spirited soul of yours roaming across the clouds up there 🙂 Perhaps no single dog would ever have the effect Benji had on Sparky. It was like chocolate, sweet and savoring while it lasted and bitter when we * flashback* think of times the furry giant bombarded his lesser-giant “grandfather” with his massive body. He was our oversized baby and I’ve decided to, instead of digging my head in the rubbles, celebrate the short yet carefree and joy-filled life of Benji – our 6th family member.  As the fam is looking to welcome home yet another rambunctious pup like yourself soon, Benji, our fam is growing once again with you and Nick and of course, much older canine relatives on a cloud just above us. Don’t forget to howl your heart out the way you do when you get excited, I’d like to hear you in the whooshing of the wind 🙂

Hanoi is still Hanoi minus or should I say, adding the outrageous percentages of increase in petrol and electricity prices. If I could, I’d drop everything now and just travel before the energy crisis falls upon us all and it becomes financially or resource-wise impossible to take the plane, hop on a bus or even drive a car. The truth is, unless they get solar, wind, nuclear to work quickly and widely, travel in the fossil fuel-based economy we thrive on today, is only going to get more and more exclusive to the ultra-rich or well, just become non-existent. Such a selfish and cynical advice coming from an environmental advocate, considering the size of the carbon footprint you’ll be stomping on the world each time you take a plane for example, but travel when you can, before it’s too late.

The hype in the past weeks has nevertheless been more outer-space than your everyday energy problems, it has been about the AG5 – that’s an asteroid that has been making as many headline titles here in Vietnam as some of the scandal-breeding celebs. “A 140-m asteroid to hit earth” reads some online news-flash. With little to nil scientific credibility, some headlines have even confirmed that this ‘bombshell’ would explode onto earth’s surface by 2040. Not stabbing my own career in the back or anything, but I think false information for the sake of views to this extent is just sheer BS. According to NASA, while the observations made so far imply that the asteroid would meet earth in 2040, the chances of this happening are 1 in 625. Each observation will yield new information as to how and if the course has changed. The earliest date for the next observations of the asteroid will be Sept.2013 and then better ones will come in 2015. Let’s continue our lives, make the observations and logical estimates, rather than fool people with crash-and-burn threats. To those checking off bucket lists in time for the end of the Mayan calendar this year, it’s never too early to start, end of civilization or not, bless ur hearts 🙂

Courage out to the Japanese people today ❤