The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

themountainssingThe Mountains Sing is a bittersweet family saga of the Tran family in north Vietnam. Alternating between Huong and her grandmother, Dieu Lan’s, perspectives, we follow some notable moments in Vietnam’s history as well as the outcome and effect to the people living there at that time. Dieu Lan and her family were victims of the Land reform in the north. They lost everything when the communist government came to power and were forced to flee. They soon settled and started a new life in Hanoi. Fifty years later, Vietnam is at war again. Huong grieves for the loss of her parents.

I liked the characters in this book, the different journeys, trials and hardships they each had to face and the emphasis on how important family is. Dieu Lan is my new favorite character. I loved her. I loved how resilient and resolute she was despite the horrible choices she had to make in order for her and her children to survive. Oh, the love of a mother!

I loved Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s writing. It felt very personal while reading. It felt like Dieu Lan and Huong were speaking to me directly. It made me feel the pain, how unbearable the situation was during the war, how injustice affected a lot of people, but they tried their best to live, to keep on going.

This is a family saga filled with heartbreak and tragedy. But it is also full of hope and love. It’s the kind of book that can make you feel.

Highly recommended.

Quotable Quotes:

“I realized that war was monstrous. If it didn’t kill those it touched, it took away a piece of their souls, so they could never be whole again.”

“Whenever humans failed us, it was nature who could help save us.”

“The more I read, the more I became afraid of wars. Wars have the power to turn graceful and cultured people into monsters.”

“Human lives were short and fragile. Time and illnesses consumed us, like flames burning away these pieces of wood. But it didn’t matter how long or short we lived. It mattered more how much light we were able to shed on those we loved and how many people we touched with our compassion.”

“The challenges faced by Vietnamese people are as tall as the tallest mountains. If you stand too close, you won’t be able to see their peaks. Once you step away from the currents of life, you will have the full view.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer Book CoverThe Sympathizer is a story about the nameless narrator only known as the Captain — a subversive, a mole who pretends to sympathize with the south but is a spy and collaborating with the north. He is brought up by a poor Vietnamese mother and absent French priest for a father, went to study in the US and returned home to fight for the Communist cause.

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s writing style is beautiful and he certainly has a way with words. Try reading the first page and you’d know you’re reading the work of a talented writer. The book is full of wonderfully written passages and I’ve learned a good deal of vocabulary, too. I even made a list of these words so I can check them again and maybe use them myself someday as well.

The Sympathizer is a complex read that tackles different themes: war, identity, history, friendship, communism, loyalty, etc. It is a real page-turner and one of the books I’ve read this year I find particularly interesting. I can definitely see why it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016.

Quotable Quotes:

“Besides my conscience, my liver was the most abused part of my body.”

“We would all be in hell if convicted of our thoughts.”

“Nothing is ever so expensive as what is offered for free.”

“I could live without television, but not without books.”

“We don’t succeed or fail because of fortune or luck. We succeed because we understand the way the world works and what we have to do. We fail because others understand this better than we do.”

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Gia Rai Tomb

Gia Rai is one among the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam.

Funeral rites for the Gia Rai people are complex and expensive. Water buffalo and cows are usually offered as sacrifice. They follow a custom that all the people of the same matriarchy family must be buried in the same tomb when they die. Below is a replica of a Gia Rai tomb displayed in the Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi.

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Thirty dead people can be buried in this tomb. It is also said that the tomb house is for the dead in the afterlife. There are totally 27 carvings surrounding the tomb and the most prominent are carvings of sexually-explicit figures of men and women and children seated in the corners of the tomb house.

The pictures below are some funerary statues displayed inside the museum.

 

Water Puppet Theater

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An outdoor Water Puppet Theater in the Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Bun Cha

I love Vietnamese food. Last month, I had the chance to go back to Vietnam and as an avid eater, I tried to eat as much as I could. There’s nothing I didn’t like. Everything was wow just like the first time I’ve been here and tasted their food.

For this post, let’s have bun cha…

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Bun cha is said to have originated in Hanoi. It’s basically rice noodles, grilled pork in cold broth and herbs. So in a small bowl, you just have to mixed them all together then add some garlic, chili and lime. Most places include fried spring rolls when they serve bun cha and it perfectly complements the meal.

I noticed that bun cha is mostly served for lunch but I can eat it any time of the day. 🙂

The best place, for me, is the one in Hang Manh.

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Yes, there are tables on the sidewalk, and that’s normal. 🙂

Ede House

The Ede (or Rade people) is one among the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam.

Below is a photo of a typical Ede House.

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This Ede Long House was originally built in 1967 and was reconstructed in the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in 2000. The house reflects many aspects of Ede culture. I learned that Ede families are matriarchal. The head of the family is a woman, children bear their mother’s surname, daughters inherit family assets, the groom moves to his bride’s house after marriage, etc. A new compartment is added every time a girl in the house gets married. It is said that the longer the house, the more prosperous the family is.

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An Ede House is divided in two parts: the Gah and the Ok. The Gah, basically the living room, as shown in the photo above, is used for gatherings. Jars and gongs are kept and displayed in this part of the house for the rich Ede families. The Gah occupies around 1/3 to 2/3 of the house and the rest is the Ok, mainly the area for sleeping.

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The most interesting part of the house for me are the staircases. For rich families, there are two staircases in front of the house, one for males which are just plain and another for females, where a crescent and female breasts are carved.

Photo of the Day

St. Joseph Cathedral, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Halong Bay

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Souvenir Shop

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A souvenir shop in Hoan Kiem Lake. Hanoi, Vietnam. 

Empty Bench

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Every empty bench has a story…

Hanoi Opera House

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One of the beautiful buildings you’ll see in Hanoi.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi

It wasn’t just once that I got lost in Hanoi when I was there last May. And every time I got lost, I found something interesting. One of those is the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. DSC_3026

This is the oldest church in Hanoi and one of the first structures built by the French colonial government. It looks a bit unattractive outside but it’s definitely wow when you go inside. I lost more than a thousand photos of my trip including photos of the church’s interior, sorry about that, but if you happen to visit Hanoi, don’t skip the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. It’s definitely stunning inside!

Red and Green

The Huc Bridge that leads to Ngoc Son Temple
The Huc Bridge that leads to Ngoc Son Temple

The Huc Bridge giving a nice contrast to the greens of Hoan Kiem Lake.

Chicken Island

Chicken Island, Halong Bay.
Chicken Island, Halong Bay.

Among the thousands of islets of different sizes and shapes in Halong Bay, this Chicken Islet/Island is my favorite. I’ve heard different stories about this islet when I went to Vietnam last May.

I wish I could take photos quite well to bring justice to this beautiful islet but unfortunately, it’s the best I could make of it. So you can just search better photos in the internet or go visit it yourself and be amazed not just by this Chicken Island or Kissing Island (however you want to call it) but the entire Halong Bay.