Good Morning, Vietnam … er, Oklahoma

AMERICANS do not like vegetables. At least, it seems that way after almost two months on the road, during which I’ve eaten at countless country cafes and rarely ever encountered anything fresh and green. When I have, it’s been iceberg salads with toupees of flavorless yellow cheese, battered and deep-fried string beans and, inevitably, cole slaw.

Not that the food hasn’t been delicious — like the pulled pork at Blue Mist in Asheboro, N.C., or the patty melt at Spice Water Cafe in Lime Springs, Iowa. But a diet of meat, starch and fat is not what you want when you spend hours a day sitting in a car. Often, as I digested the latest gut bomb, I would wonder if my budget was keeping me away from greener, healthier restaurants. But, no. I rarely glimpsed such places outside big cities and a few hip towns.

And so, with Oklahoma City in my sights, I headed south as fast as I could. I had one thing on my mind: Vietnamese food.

It may come as a surprise that Oklahoma’s capital has a significant Vietnamese population — around 20,000, according to the Vietnamese American Community organization — but such ethnic enclaves are a new American reality. Hmong live in large numbers in Minnesota, for example, while Columbus, Ohio, is home to some 30,000 Somalis. And in each case, the immigrants bring their own cuisines, which often are tasty, full of veggies and inexpensive.

Oklahoma City, however, lay a long way from Nebraska, where I’d just visited Carhenge ( From there, I drove through Kansas, stopping at Greensburg to witness the aftermath of the May 4 tornado. Then I had to drop the car off in Wichita, at Gorges & Company Volvo (3211 North Webb Road, 316-630-0689,, for much-needed repairs; 6,000 miles’ worth of leaks and electrical problems cost a disheartening $855.


It was late on Saturday evening when I finally drove into Oklahoma City and checked into the first place that looked clean, had Wi-Fi and was cheap. The Hospitality Inn (3709 NW 39th Street, 405-942-7730) is a simple motel — two stories arranged around a swimming pool — but it is on the fabled Route 66 and less sketchy than some of the older motels, and the proprietor knocked the price down from $62 a night to $51.25 when I said I’d be staying three days.There was a lot to see, but the real plan was to eat as much Vietnamese food as possible. I knew this would take discipline, so as soon as I woke up Sunday morning, I went jogging. The motel is on a highway, but a few blocks south is Will Rogers Park, several acres of grass, trees and ponds. Ducks and geese and hares had to scurry as I bounded over bridges, through the rose garden and around the arboretum for about 30 minutes. On my way back, I took note of the park’s tennis center and wondered if I could find a partner there later in the day.

Now, however, it was time for breakfast, so I drove through the city, past numerous barbecue joints and root beer stands for the more balanced delights awaiting me in the city’s Asian District, a modest neighborhood of strip malls and slightly run-down houses lining North Classen Boulevard.

I knew exactly what I’d be eating: pho, the beef noodle soup that is considered the national dish of Vietnam. It may seem a strange breakfast, but all over Southeast Asia, it’s common to begin the day with noodle soup.

And that’s how I began at Pho Hoa (901 NW 23rd Street, 405-521-8087), recommended by an Oklahoma-born friend. In the brightly lit room, surrounded by Vietnamese families, I ordered a small bowl. The first bite was heaven, as if my taste buds had been in suspended animation all these weeks. The noodles were thin but firm, the broth redolent of star anise, topped with thin slices of rare flank steak and well-cooked brisket. I garnished it with bean sprouts, basil and ngo gai, a long, lemony leaf known as sawtooth or culantro, then squeezed in some lime juice and mixed it all together. The bean sprouts crunched, and the herbs provided a fresh counterpoint to the hot soup.

When I dipped a slice of flank steak in a little dish of Sriracha chili sauce, I could tell it had been a long time since I’d eaten like this — my tongue, usually able to withstand any assault, from habaneros to bird’s eyes, was on fire. I cooled down with a salted-lime soda, then walked out the door with an iced coffee enriched with condensed milk, having paid only $11.53 for a taste not just of Vietnam but of home. (I lived in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, in 1996 and 1997.)

My stomach temporarily full, I drove downtown to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, a park dedicated to the victims of Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 terrorist attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Two stone arches bracket a reflecting pool, bearing the times “9:01” (before the bombing) and “9:03” (after), and 168 chairs sit in a field of grass to represent those who died.

As I walked in, I heard a teenager ask his mother why McVeigh did it.

“Well, he had something against the government, I guess,” she answered, and they walked out.

If they’d stuck around, they could’ve learned more from Rick Thomas, the National Park Service employee who gave a free orientation under the Survivor Tree, a century-old elm. In the span of 15 minutes, he covered everything from the details of the attack to the ways the memorial tries to address the emotions of everyone affected by the bombing. I left hoping my own city’s 9/11 memorial winds up being, as Doug Kamholz, a reader, wrote of this one, “a worthy balm to the heart.”

After a brief stroll through the area, I returned to the Asian District around 11:30 a.m. in search of banh mi, or Vietnamese sandwiches. And in Oklahoma City, the signal for banh mi is an enormous milk bottle sitting atop a tiny shack on Classen Boulevard. Once, this place sold Braum’s ice cream; now it’s Banh Mi Ba Le (2426 North Classen Boulevard, 405-524-2660), famous as much for its outsize sign as for its warm mini-baguettes stuffed with roast pork, pâté, cha lua (a Vietnamese mortadella), lightly pickled daikon and carrot, cilantro and green chilies. I love them — especially when they cost $1.85. It’s ridiculous how much you get for so little.

It was sort of the opposite at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (1700 NE 63rd Street, 405-478-2250,; entry, $8.50), which readers suggested I visit. It was quite large, with rooms full of saddles, guns, clothing and cowboy art, but it seemed geared toward 10-year-old boys, more interested in perpetuating the romantic myth of the cowboy than in understanding how that myth came to be and what it means for American culture. It was almost as if “Deadwood” and “Unforgiven” never existed.

As I drove away from the museum, I passed yet another barbecue joint, right next door, and wondered if I was missing something in my single-minded devotion to Vietnamese cuisine.

Then I arrived at Banh Cuon Tay Ho (Little Saigon Shopping Center, 2524 North Military Avenue, 405-528-7700) for a midafternoon snack and forgot all about hickory-smoked slabs of meat. The signature dish, banh cuon, is a kind of northern Vietnamese ravioli — warm, thick, soft rice noodles filled with ground pork and mushrooms, and topped with bean sprouts, sliced cucumbers, cha lua and shredded mint. Here it was served with a fried cake of sweet potato and shrimp that was simultaneously salty and sweet, crunchy and creamy. In fact, I think the whole plate contained every known texture and flavor — and for a mere $6.

By now, I needed to work off three meals, so I returned to the park, hoping to find a pick-up tennis partner. I didn’t. (Who but the Frugal Traveler goes to a tennis court alone?) Instead, I swam laps in the Hospitality Inn pool, napped briefly and emerged from the motel — ready to eat again.

Golden Phoenix (2728 North Classen Boulevard, 405-524-3988), recommended by the proprietor of Banh Mi Ba Le, was bustling with families and college students, and with the help of my waitress, who giggled at my poor Vietnamese, I put together a standard southern Vietnamese dinner — the kind of meal I ate every day a decade ago. First, a deep-fried soft-shell crab that dribbled its bubbling green juices into my rice bowl with every bite. Then water spinach stir-fried with garlic, fresh from the wok, the tubular stems crunchy, the leafy bits lush and juicy. A clay pot showed up full of caramelized braised fish, and finally goi ngo sen, a salad of cucumber and young lotus shoots threaded through with rau ram, a diamond-shaped leaf that tastes like cilantro but is spicier and soapier.

I ate — and ate and ate. Soon, I knew, I’d be off to Texas and day after day of beautiful barbecue (mm, burnt ends!), but for now I was crunching through fresh veggies, searing my mouth with chilies and drowning myself in fish sauce — deliriously happy in the heartland of America.

By the time I finished, I’d spent $48 (including a beer, dessert and tip) and barely touched the lotus-shoot salad — it was just too much food. Instead, I had it boxed up to take back to the motel. It wasn’t quite pho, but it would do for breakfast.

Next stop: Texas.


Học tiếng Anh với The New York Times

Mình nghĩ có rất nhiều bạn đã biết đến The NY Times khá lâu, nhất là phần The NY Times Learning Network dành cho các học sinh lớp 3 đến 12 (grade 3 to 12), nhưng đối với SV Việt Nam tụi mình thì nhiêu đó cũng đủ mệt rồi 🙂 . Trước đây khi còn học luyện thi TOEFL mình cũng rất hay vào đây in bài ra tập đọc.

Ngoài các phần như Daily New Quiz, Word Of the day, Test Prep Question of the day (dành cho SAT), các bạn có thể xem thêm Conversation Starter – nơi nêu ra các câu hỏi liên quan tới những sự kiện đang xảy ra trên thế giới, Letters to the Editor – nơi các em học sinh gửi thư nói lên suy nghĩ của mình đối với những sự kiện đã xảy ra, Ask a reporter – nơi các em học sinh hỏi và nhận được câu trả lời từ các phóng viên, và Web Navigator – nơi có rất nhiều links dẫn tới những websites học tập khác, và còn nhiều chủ đề khác mà bạn có thể khám phá.

Ngoài ra, hôm nay tôi mới phát hiện ra một khả năng mới của The NY Times, đó là tra từ nhanh chóng và tiện lợi khi đang đọc bất cứ bài báo nào bên ngoài Learning Network. Rất đơn giản, khi đọc đến một từ bạn không biết, hãy di chuyển con trỏ đến đúng từ đó và double click.  Một cửa sổ pop up sẽ hiện ra, trong đó có phần định nghĩa từ American Heritage, Wordnet, và có thể có cả từ Thesaurus, Idioms, Grammar dictionary, … Có một số điểm lưu ý là tính năng này không hoạt động ở trang điểm tin ngoài và sẽ chỉ bắt đầu hoạt động khi trang web đã được tải xong hoàn toàn. Ngoài ra bạn cũng phải enable pop up cho các trang của The New York Times nếu bạn có xài pop-up blocker.

An article about Harry Potter 7 on TuoiTreOnline.

Here is the link to the article, a paragraph of which reads:

“Cảnh cuối cùng của cuộc chiến giữa Harry Potter, đứa bé – người sống sót, với huân tước Voldemort là một trận chiến kinh điển giữa thiện và ác theo tinh thần sử thi bi tráng, vĩ đại tầm cỡ của John Tolkien Chúa tể của những chiếc nhẫn” – Jones bình. Jones cũng khẳng định lời của tác giả Rowling về việc quyển sách cuối cùng này là “đen tối nhất” trong toàn tập Harry Potter. Tuy nhiên, vẫn theo lời nữ vô địch, những khoảnh khắc trong sáng trong tập 7 này lại tươi sáng hơn sáu quyển trước. Chủ đề chính của tập 7 xoay quanh chuyện kể của hiệu trưởng Trường Hogwarts, giáo sư Albus Dumbledore.

This is an example of a not-so-good translation, and you can tell just by reading it. I have searched online according to the sources that the “writers” (translators) of this article provide, but could not find any good match. Maybe because the writers have combined and mixed up the information from different sources. I did find an article on BBC News, in which there is the following part:

Newspaper critics have already begun publishing their reviews of the book – The Times said it was “the most adult” of the series, while the Sun described it as “a classic good-versus-evil tale on a par with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy”.

You can see that “John Tolkien Chúa tể của những chiếc nhẫn” does not make sense and is a bad translation of “Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings”. Translating “Lord Voldermont” to “huân tước Voldemort” also does not fit. “Vẫn theo lời nữ vô địch” is bad Vietnamese. Also I doubt that “Chủ đề chính của tập 7 xoay quanh chuyện kể của hiệu trưởng Trường Hogwarts, giáo sư Albus Dumbledore”, because “the story of Dumbledore” means “câu chuyện về Dumbledore”.

Another paragraph:

Chương cuối của quyển sách đưa người ta trở lại 19 năm trước và lời kết cho biết chuyện gì sẽ xảy ra với nhân vật chính. Và mặc dù cốt truyện khá phức tạp, nhưng “tôi không muốn thay đổi một từ nào trong đó, và quả thật đã không thể rời mắt khỏi nó đến khi đọc hết trang cuối”.

First of all, I think the last chapter of the book is set 19 years LATER, please correct me if I’m wrong. Also, 19 year AGO, Harry Potter had not even been born yet. For the second sentence of that paragraph, you may want to follow this link from Reuters, in which you can read:

“Without being too critical, the plot does seem to be a bit complicated, but I would not change a word. ‘Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows’ is a real page-turner.”

I’ll let you decide how the above sentence should be translated to Vietnamese 🙂 . I would be also very appreciated if you could post the original sources from that the Vietnamese writers composed their piece. Thanks in advance 🙂 .

Tony Phillips’ Take on Math in the Media – A monthly survey of math news

This month’s topics from Math in the Media from the AMS.

Too good at math?

According to Slate Magazine‘s Fred Kaplan (posting updated May 18, 2007), Paul Wolfowitz’s problem is that “He’s too good at math.” Wolfowitz, the former Deputy Secretary of Defense and the soon-to-be former President of the World Bank, majored in mathematics and chemistry at Cornell (his Ph.D. is in political science). His excellence in math is in fact a matter of record: according to Anil Nerode “Paul was one of the two or three smartest math students I’ve ever seen.” (Quoted by David Dudley in the Cornell Alumni Magazine Online). How this talent is a flaw is not clear from Kaplan’s analysis, which begins by positing “… judgment and character trump dedication and belief …” as the root explanation for Wolfowitz’s downfall. Judgment and character, dedication and belief, both pairs of traits are quite independent of mathematical ability. What the Slate piece shows in fact is that Kaplan himself has had some disagreeable experiences with mathematicians: “In math, methodologies and answers are right or wrong, and those who choose the wrong ones are properly ignored or savagely dismissed. Mathematicians who enter the political realm tend to retain this attitude.” Perhaps at the undergraduate level, where answers can be checked at the back of the book, one can reduce everything to “methodologies and answers are right or wrong.” Kaplan does not seem to realize that the universe of a working mathematician is much more like real life, where one struggles to disentangle what is true from what one would like to be true.

Mathematical patterns in songs

One of the videos generated by the the 2007 New Yorker Conference has their staff writer Malcolm Gladwell interviewing Mike McCready, whose company, Platinum Blue, has developed computer algorithms for analyzing songs. In the interview, McCready describes (in rather non-specific terms) how Platinum Blue’s software has identified 30 quantifiable elements in the makeup of a song which are significant enough for neighborhoods in this 30-dimensional space to be commercially exploitable. For example, a pop hit will fall with very high probability into one of some 60 clusters. Taking the points corresponding to the songs in an album and overlaying them on the display of hit clusters can help a producer identify which track should be released as a single. The ultimate commercial application, McCready believes, will be a personal recommendation service, where Platinum Blue takes a set of your favorite songs (which can include classical items or music from exotic cultures) and generates a list of music titles which you are mathematically guaranteed to like, even though you may never have heard of them.

Curvature and the growth of cells

A mathematics article was published, April 26, 2007, in the general science journal Nature. This unusual occurrence is due to the prominence and wide applicability of the result. Robert MacPherson and David Srolovitz solved the 50-year old problem of generalizing to three dimensions John von Neumann’s work on the growth of cells in planar tesselations. The hypotheses in both cases are that cell walls move with a velocity proportional to their mean curvature, and that domain walls meet at 120°, hypotheses which are realized in many physical and biological contexts.

Von Neumann showed that the rate of change dA/dt of the area A of such a cell can be expresed in terms of γ the surface tension of a domain wall, M a kinetic coefficient describing the walls’ mobility and n the number of vertices where distinct walls intersect, by

dA/dt = –2πMγ(1 – n/6). So for example in the tesselation portion shown in Fig. 1, the 8-vertex regions A and B will grow at the expenseof the 2-vertex region C.

tesselation example

Fig. 1. With the common factor 2πMγ set to 1, von Neumann’s formula tells us that dA/dt = dB/dt = 1/3, while dC/dt = – 2/3.

MacPherson and Srolovitz’s formula for the rate of change of the volume of a domain D in a 3-dimensional tesselation is formally analogous but requires the new and ingeniously defined mean width L(D), which they describe as “a natural measure of the linear size” of D. In terms of L(D), their formula reads

\frac{dV}{dt} = -2\pi M \gamma ({\cal L} D) - \frac{1}{6}\sum_i e_i), where ei is the length of the i-th 1-dimensional edge of D, and the sum is taken over all the edges. Note that following our initial requirement, faces meet 3 by 3 along an edge with dihedral angles 120°.

The mean width L(D) is computed in two steps. First, for each line through the origin, the Euler width of D along is the integral along of the Euler characteristic of the intersection of D with the plane perpendicular to (see Fig. 2):

. So if D is convex (χ always = 1), is exactly the length of the projection of D on .

image from Nature

Fig. 2. For D a 3-dimensional domain, and a line through the origin, the Euler width of D along is calculated by measuring, for each point p on , the Euler characteristic of the intersection of D with the plane through p perpendicular to , and integrating along . Image from Nature 446, 1053-1055, used with permission.

Then L(D) is computed as twice , averaged over the space RP2 of lines through the origin:

, where d is normalized to have total integral 1.

The authors state that their formula and von Neumann’s are both special cases of a general n-dimensional formula, which they give. The Supplementary Information for their article (entitled “The von Neumann relation generalized to coarsening of three-dimensional microstructures”) gives the proof of their 3-dimensional formula and rules for computing L(D); for example the cube of side length a has mean width 3a.

Tony Phillips
Stony Brook University
tony at

I couldn’t give a monkey’s!

Vietnam coach Alfred Riedl’s response to being called a national hero is brutally honest: “I couldn’t give a monkey’s!”

The Austrian was a little over 10 minutes away from going down in Vietnamese folklore before Qatar rescued a 1-1 draw in Thursday’s Asian Cup Group B game in Hanoi.

Co-hosts Vietnam, playing in the tournament for the first time in 47 years, lead the group on four points after the draw and their 2-0 upset of United Arab Emirates in their opening match.

But Riedl refuses point-blank to buy into the hysteria — even if they go on to clinch an historic spot in the last eight.

“I couldn’t give a monkey’s whether I become a national hero or not,” the 47-year-old told Reuters in an interview on Friday.

“It’s completely silly. My players went to the limit last night. They showed no fear against a physically stronger side and played through cramp. I’m proud of them for that.”

Riedl added: “You don’t factor in things like being a national hero as a coach. You just do your job and hope things go well. Yesterday we got a good point against a stronger team.”

Vietnam are making their first appearance in the Asian Cup since a side from the south of the country lost all three games in the 1960 competition.


Riedl’s assessment of their chances of progressing to the quarter-finals for the first time was typically frank.

“Put it this way: I don’t expect us to thrash Japan on Monday!” smiled Riedl, who is in his third spell as coach of the Southeast Asian nation.

“You have to assume we’ll lose. We will do everything to try to get a result but it might not be enough.”

By Riedl’s calculations Vietnam would still have a decent chance of advancing even if they fail to secure another surprise result against holders Japan, who play UAE later on Friday.

“Our chances look alright — if Qatar don’t beat UAE (on Monday). I don’t expect UAE to beat Japan tonight because Japan need to win after drawing their first game.

“If Japan win today and if Qatar don’t win on Monday, then everything is fine.”

Riedl’s young Vietnam side have been a revelation at the Asian Cup, which the country is staging jointly with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. A pinch of luck has not hurt either.

“Qatar had to take risks and threw everything at us in the last 20 minutes,” Riedl said.

“We were lucky only to concede one. But we dug in and worked hard for our luck.

“You’re talking about players who in the (Vietnamese) V-League play like they’re on the streets. We ran out of steam at the end but the players gave absolutely everything.

“They broke the pain barrier for Vietnam and were rewarded with a result yesterday — maybe we will have the same luck against Japan!”


Lại thêm một Forum hữu ích cho học Anh Văn

Hôm nay mình đang lang thang trên mạng thì phát hiện ra Forum này. Không rõ có ai nhắc tới chưa (lười quá không check lại đâu 😀 ) nhưng mình nghĩ Forum này xứng đáng để được giới thiệu riêng, hữu ích cho không chỉ các bạn đang luyện thi TOEFL mà nó còn có những tài liệu tốt cho các tiền bối đã đi du học nhưng vẫn cần luyện thêm về nói tiếng Anh, đó là ÁiChàChà! Information Exchange

Mình chưa có thời gian nghiên cứu kĩ Forum này, nhưng nhìn thoáng qua thì nó có những nội dung hấp dẫn sau:

Tải các ebooks – Mình thấy rất nhiều sách hay để luyện tiếng Anh.

Tải các phần mềm – có cả Matlab 7.1

Trao đổi nhạc, phim, shows.

Nếu vào Forum chính, bạn sẽ tìm được thêm nhiều tài liệu và tin tức mới.

Forum này do các cựu sinh viên trường Đại Học Ngoại Ngữ Hà Nội (Hufs) thành lập.

Norwegian Woods

A famous Japanese novel. I skimmed through the English and the Vietnamese versions last week. It’s worth reading. Now there’s an interesting thing coming up when I compare the two versions. Our language has so many pronouns so it creates something funny here. Since the two main characters are half friends, half boyfriend-girlfriend, it’s really a hard choice for the right pronouns. You know, in certain situation, if you put “ca^.u-to*'” that does sound really funny and inadequate. You can google the Vietnamese version. Have fun reading.