Tet, the Vietnamese new year.

So I planed to write a short post about Tet. But wait. There are plenty of articles about Tet that we can easily google (yes, Google for the win 😉 ) so there we go. With the key word “Vietnamese new year” off it provides thousands of online articles. Amongst which, Wikipedia’s is the very first result and seems to have the most information. Personally I don’t really like the writing style. It reads Vietnamese style of writing English to me (like my writing style… to be honest 😉 )

Next on the list is from AmCham Vietnam. Short, informative, with links to further reading.

My favorite finding is, guess what, a lesson plan on TeacherLINK! The Tet description is in the background section (background here means “basic knowledge”) It is beautifully written, informative, and of course, authentic American English writing style. It is definitely worth reading and I believe you’ll learn new words, as well as grammar and language style there.

Have fun 🙂


Surprising Origins of Everyday Phrases

Careful: These are “everyday” phrases, they are meant to be used in casual talking, not in official occasion, such as (for us students) writing or speaking tests.

Find out the unusual stories behind these 15 common expressions

By Amanda Greene Posted September 22, 2010 from WomansDay.com

Has anyone ever told you a “bare-faced lie?” Or have you ever “buttered someone up” before? You probably know exactly what these funny-sounding phrases mean but are clueless about where on earth they came from. That’s why we went to historian Albert Jack, author of Black Sheep and Lame Ducks: The Origins of Even More Phrases We Use Every Day to find out the history behind some of the most commonly used sayings.

“Bottoms up!”

You’ve probably kicked off a round or two with this salute, but do you know the story behind it? According to Jack, it actually has nothing to do with raising the bottom of a glass as you drain yourbeverage. He writes that during the 18th and 19th centuries, English Navy recruiters tried to persuade London pub-goers to join the armed forces by getting them to accept payment in the form of a King’s shilling. Dishonest recruiters would drop a shilling into the pint of a drunken man who wouldn’t notice until he finished his beverage. They would then consider this proof of his agreement to join the Navy and drag him out to sea the very next day. Once drinkers and pubs figured out the scam, they introduced glasses with transparent bases “and customers would be reminded to lift the pint up and check the bottom for illicit shillings before they began drinking.” Photo: iStockphoto

“Bare-faced lie”

If someone has ever told you a bare-faced lie, you know they didn’t make any effort to show guilt or remorse. According to Jack, the phrase refers to the idea that a clean-shaven face could not conceal any lies, unlike a bearded mug, which could hide all manner of deceit. But over time, explains Jack, “the phrase came to describe a person who didn’t care whether or not he was lying and had no real intention of concealing his deception.” Photo: Thinkstock

“More than you can shake a stick at”

Farmers with more sheep than they could control with their wooden staffs are believed to have inspired this phrase, which means you have more of something than you need. But according to Jack, there’s a second possible origin. “After George Washington was once seen waving a ceremonial wooden sword over the British troops he had recently defeated, other American generals began to use the expression to justify themselves when they had not been quite as successful as the great man himself was in battle. ‘We had more men to fight than you could wave a stick at’ was apparently a common excuse for failure on the battlefield.” Photo: Thinkstock

“Run amok” or “run amuck”

A raucous partygoer can be described as going wild or running amok, an expression that derives from “the Malaysian word amoq, which, when literally translated, describes the behavior of tribesmen who, under the influence of opium, became wild, rampaging mobs that attacked anybody in their path,” writes Jack. He reports that the phrase became popular in England during the 17th century, when travelers would try to impress people with their knowledge of foreign cultures. Photo: iStockphoto

“Blood is thicker than water”

Anyone with a tight family bond will tell you blood is thicker than water. But they may be surprised to learn that the saying has little to do with familial ties. Jack explains that in ancient Middle Eastern culture, “blood rituals symbolized bonds that were far greater than those of the family.” That explains “blood brothers”—warriors who symbolically shared the blood they shed in battle together—having a stronger bond than biological brothers. Furthermore, Jack says there is an expression from 3,000 years ago that says: “The blood of the covenant is far stronger than the water of the womb.” Jack suggests that the true meaning of this phrase became muddled by English nobility who wanted to stress the importance of bloodlines. Photo: Thinkstock

“Butter someone up”

It’s easy to assume that the idea behind this phrase—which means to lay flattery on thick—has to do with how smoothly butter spreads onto bread. Not quite. Jack reveals an ancient Indian custom of “throwing butterballs of ghee (clarified butter commonly used in Indian cooking) at the statues of the gods” to seek favor. Additionally, the Tibetan tradition of creating butter sculptures for the New Year “can be traced to the Tang Dynasty and the belief that such offerings would bring peace and happiness for the full lunar year.” Photo: Shutterstock

“Cat got your tongue?”

According to Jack, there are two possible sources of this phrase, which refers to when a normally chatty person is at a loss for words, often for suspicious reasons. The first refers to when victims of the cat-o’-nine-tails––a whip the English Navy used for flogging––were left speechless from the pain inflicted upon them. The second, which is equally morbid, traces back to medieval times, when punishment “for liars and blasphemers [was to] have their tongues cut out and then fed to the cats.” Ancient Egyptian cats were considered to be gods (and would eat just about anything), so giving them the tongue of a liar was “seen as a human offering to the gods.” Photo: Shutterstock

“Have a yen for”

When you really want something, it can be said you have a “yen” for it. But the phrase doesn’t actually refer to Japanese currency—it refers to Chinese opium, which was available in Britain and America in the late 1800s. “The phrase comes from the Chinese word yan, which can be translated to craving,” Jack writes. Photo: iStockphoto

“The writing is on the wall”

The roots of this phrase, which means that something negative is inevitable, trace back to the Bible, explains Jack. In the Book of Daniel, God punishes King Belshazzar for boasting and foreshadows his demise by having the words for “Numbered, Numbered, Weighed, Divided” (which all refer to how he was to be taken down) literally written on the wall. Photo: Thinkstock

“Turn a blind eye”

The 1801 Battle of Copenhagen is at the root of this saying, which means to pretend you don’t know what’s happening, Jack explains. During the battle, Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, commander of the British fleet, attempted to stop Horatio Nelson from launching an attack on the enemy. “When Nelson’s officers pointed out the order, he famously raised a telescope to his blind eye and replied: ‘Order, what order? I see no ships.'” Photo: iStockphoto

“Pass the buck”

Don’t want to take responsibility for something yourself? Just pass the buck, or hand off the duties to someone else. The phrase originated in the American Wild West during poker games, according to Jack. “The most common knife available was known as a buckhorn knife. As all cowboys and ranchers carried them around, one of them would be placed in front of whoever was due to deal the next hand, and in games where the stakes were running too high for a player, he could opt out of his turn at dealing by passing the buckhorn knife on to the next player. But even if he did choose to play, he still avoided the responsibility of setting the bets next time around by passing the buck along.” Photo: Thinkstock

“Give the cold shoulder”

Giving someone the cold shoulder is a rude way of telling the person he or she isn’t welcome, but the origins of this phrase are actually quite polite, explains Jack. After feasts in medieval England, the host would signal to his guests it was time to leave by giving them a slice of cold meat from the shoulder of beef, mutton or pork. “It was regarded as a civilized and polite gesture.” Photo: Shutterstock

“Go cold turkey”

If you want to quit anything, from alcohol or cigarettes to chocolate or soda, without weaning yourself off it, you can say you’re “going cold turkey.” “The original idea was that a person withdrawing from using drugs would find his or her skin turning hard to the touch and translucent to look at, with goose pimples all over—like the skin of a plucked turkey,” writes Jack. It’s also been suggested that the phrase is a comparison between eating a no-prep meal of cold turkey and stopping heavy drug use without preparation. Photo: Shutterstock

“Eat humble pie”

Oddly enough, making an apology and suffering humiliation along with it, as the saying connotes, has little to do with “eating humble pie.” Jack explains that the phrase dates back to the Middle Ages, when, during a post-hunt feast, the lord of the manor would eat the finest cuts of meat. But those of lower standing would be served the entrails and innards, known as “umbles,” baked into a pie. “It was common practice for people to be humiliated by finding themselves seated at the wrong end of the table and served ‘umble pie.'” Photo: Thinkstock

“Blow hot and cold”

Have a friend who constantly changes their opinions? You might say he’s “blowing hot and cold.” Jack informs us that the expression comes from a story in classical mythology in which a traveler is given food and shelter by a kind woodland god. “According to the legend, the woodland god gave the traveler a room for the night and some hot soup. The man blew on his fingers to warm them and then, with the same breath, blew on the soup to cool it. Irritated at the man’s apparent indecision, the woodland god packed him off outside and sent him back on his travels.” Photo: Getty Images

Want to learn more origins of popular sayings? You can purchase Black Sheep and Lame Ducks atAmazon.com or learn more about Albert Jack at AlbertJack.com.

We are no heroes

Let’s relax with this lovely song 🙂

(Well… I could not embed it to this blog as WordPress does not support it. You need to click on this link to go to the song then. Happy listening 🙂 )

[Music and Lyrics: Dieter Bohlen]

You’re (1) ____ in your heart
And I swear I will be there, if you need me
Nobody’s home, (2) _________
And I’ll show you there will be a destiny
There’s a star, it shows the way for me and you
There’s a star (3) __________ what I shouldn’t do
So if you trust me I’ll stay always by your side
And I promised I’ll be your (4) ____ light

We are no heroes, but we are your friends
We all need love, oh, just (5)________, baby
We are no heroes, oh, don’t let it end
And music, music will (6)_____
There’s a chance for your dream
You are larger than (7)__________
A romance, oh, it seems
It’s so hard to find, my baby, can’t you see
Oh, I’ve lived a (8)_______, baby, in one
Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down, but (9) ______
Life is too short, my baby, don’t throw it all away
And I promised, babe, I’ll (10) ________.

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 (www.carhenge.com). 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, www.volvobygorges.com), 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, www.nationalcowboymuseum.org; 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.

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!”


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.

Harry Potter Grows Older and Darker

(From Time)

Deep into the new movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, our teen wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) finds the strength to face down the dark lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) — and the wisdom to pity him. “You can never know love or friendship,” Harry tells the noxious, noseless one. “And I feel sorry for you.”


Special Report

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The final Harry Potter book will be released July 21, and a lot of factors go into creating that “magic moment”

A creature of such magnificent maleficence, who rules less by his own considerable powers than by others’ fear of him, feeds on cunning and hatred. And that, Harry believes, should make Voldemort hungry for what he lacks: humanity. He is almost chaste in the purity of his evil, innocent of inner virtue. His genius for mischief leaves no room for the emotions and kindnesses that make Harry both more vulnerable and more formidable than the dark lord knows. That goodness, that love, is what lifts Harry above other heroes of young people’s literature; that love, and the amazing detail J.K. Rowling has poured into her imaginary universe, are what attracted readers to the Potter oeuvre. It was love at first sight.

First love is a tumbling passion, an addiction to a substance one didn’t know existed. Readers encountering the first Harry Potter books felt something like the glorious enthrallment of first love, the swooning immersion in a strange, seductive new world, without the concomitant misery and an impulse to stroll off the nearest bridge. That’s one of the perks of the best popular culture; it offers the ecstasy without the depression.

Another perk: Harrymania didn’t become epidemic in the U.S. until The Prisoner of Azkaban, the third in J.K. Rowling’s seven-book saga, hit the bookstores. So most fans gleefully consumed nearly half of the total opus in one reading orgy — shot themselves into the canon, so to speak — as they learned the lore, were introduced to the wizarding world and became familiar with its rules. Hogwarts was a secret society, a magical fraternity, that the reader heard about in the first book, joined in the second and had moved into by the third.

And though the books were officially in the 9-to-12 children’s section (and banned from the New York Times’ main best-seller list), Potterphilia was an affliction that touched adults too. I’m no kid, and I have none that I know of, but in August of 1999 I read all three books aloud to my wife, who stayed up way past bedtime to insist on hearing one more chapter.

Read the entire article here.