Thursday, October 17, 2019

Billionaire Hoang Kieu and Pride of San Jose First Recipient

Billionaire Hoang Kieu is well known for his flamboyance and his generosity in the Vietnamese-American community.   He donated $10 million total to flood victims in San Jose and Houston.  He gave over half a million dollars to fire victims in Northern California.

Hoang Kieu, a self-made Vietnamese-American billionaire who came to America in 1975 with nothing  but determination and hope.  He made his fortune in a company he founded called RAAS focusing on providing blood plasma.  The 81 years old (as he declared his real age at a gala in San Jose 2 years ago) eccentric billionaire, now has diversified into wine, high-end restaurant and event catering, cosmetics, luxury handbags and nutritional supplements.  And just to have some fun, he even has his own musical show production.  

Recently, he became the first recipient of Pride of San Jose award given out by  San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.  There is now a street named after him in San Jose.

But in Southern California where he lives, it is a different story.  HK is embroiled in a recall effort of three city councilmembers of Westminster, a city where almost 45% of the voters are Vietnamese-Americans.   There are 4 Vietnamese-American city councilmembers, out of five, in Westminster.  HK is personally funding the recall effort just because these three councilmembers slighted him last year.  He is angry because they did not cooperate with him in his extravagance funeral arrangement for Ly Tong, a folk hero to the anti-communist crowd for his hijacking stunt of a Vietnam Airline in Vietnam in 1992 to drop anti-government leaflets.  The funeral costed about $400,000.  

He claims to spend $300,000 or more to help a recall group, Westminster United, to get 8,700 signatures required for recall.   He hired the political consultant responsible for the recall of Governor Al Davis to help with strategy.  Almost every week for the last 3 months, he is on the air and Youtube live to make his case for the recalling of Mayor Tri Ta, Vice Mayor Kimberly Ho and councilmember Charlie Nguyen.

Running out of things to say, he recently dressed up as a king and demanded the castration of elected officials so that they can become his eunuchs.  Suddenly, he realized that Kimberly Ho is a woman, he laughed and said, "It does not matter, she is already an eunuch."

Just this week, he went overboard and declared he will castrate and break the teeth of Luong Ngo, a community activist opposing the recall.  Luong promptly file a complain with the FCC and the Garden Grove police.

In the Youtube video, he also disclosed that he is being  forced out of Shanghai RAAS, the company he co-founded over 27 years ago and the main source of his wealth.  They give him a buyout of $380 million.   

HK was worth $3.8 billion in 2015 according Forbes based on the market value of Shanghai RAAS of $17.7 billion at that time.   He blames that people opposing the recall with their smear campaign against him cause this predicament for him.  He promises to sue them for his financial loss.   He claims to have file lawsuits against the city of Wesminster and other members of the Vietnamese media.  

It is difficult to follow his rambling reasons on why and what, but he is certainly creating a buzz in community.  But when you are an octogenarian with hundreds of millions at your disposal, you can pretty much say and do whatever you want.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Brief History of Pho

I try to find Phở whenever I travel.  This humble Vietnamese beef noodle soup first started out as a street food, a quick and cheap meal for the common laborers at ports along the Red River in North Vietnam more than 100 years ago. Yet now it is an international symbol of Vietnamese cuisine just like hamburger to American food culture and symbolism worldwide.

I found Pho in Dubai with one restaurant serving in 5 liter bowl.  I had Pho in exotic Casablanca and of all places, New Delhi where cows are still considered sacred.  There is Pho in Tel Aviv (but not yet in Jerusalem).   There are Pho restaurants in New Zealand which is far down under.  A Pho restaurant can also be found far up north close to the Artic Circle in Finland.  

Pho reflects the diaspora identity of the Vietnamese as they disperse throughout the world after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

The history of Phở and Its Origin

We know that Pho started out as a street food in Ha Noi, the ancient capital city, and Nam Dinh (90 km SE of Ha Noi).  The noodle soup was served as breakfast or late night snack.  Both cities claim to be the birth place of Pho. 

The first mentioning of the word Pho was noted in a letter sending back from Paris to his family in Ha Noi by a businessman named Vinh van Nguyen in 1906.  He lamented how he missed Vietnam every time he heard street vendors peddling their goods in Paris, for they reminded him of the Pho street vendors and their unique holler calling attention to their steamy hot soup.  In 1913, the novelist Hoan cong Nguyen wrote about eating Pho late in the night and how it costed him 2 pennies for a bowl of Pho.

Pho must have been popular enough to catch the eyes of the Frenchman Henri Oger.  In his oversize illustrated book titled Technique du Peuple Anamite 1908-1909,  it has an illustration of a Pho street vendor carrying on a pole two cabinets containing  soup pot and condiments. 

In 1913, the artist Mauric Salge painted a picture of a Pho street vendor peddling the food late at night in Ha Noi.

 A Pho street vendor must have a fine sense of balance to be able to carry on their shoulder a long wooden pole with one end dangling cabinet with a boiling pot of soup sitting on top of a coal burning stove,  and the other end with a cabinet full of noodle, beef, fish sauce, bowls and chopsticks.  Here are some more pictures of the street vendors and their customers in the early 1900s.

From limited available information, it seems that Pho has been around at least before 1906,  but after 1895 since both well known Vietnamese dictionaries by Huynh tinh Cua published in 1895, and Genibrel published in 1898,  did not have the word Pho. 

What is the Pho?

Pho's main spice ingredient usually derived from the Chinese Five Spice mix (cloves, fennel, star anise, cinnamon and Szechuan peppercorns), charred onions and ginger.   The clear broth is the result of slow cooked beef bones and oxtail. The seasoning is done with fish sauce of course.  The soup is poured over rice noodle with thin cuts of beef flank or brisket, and garnished with green onions, fresh herbs and chili peppers.   

The origin of Pho is has a number of theories.   We know the word for rice noodle in Chinese is pronounced "phấn".  During the same period, Chinese immigrant in Ha Noi sold a dish called "ngưu nhục phấn" (Chinese: 牛肉粉)  which means beef meat noodles.  Eugen Gouin (1957) defined the word phở as the corruption of phấn.  

Phở also could have evolved from a dish called xáo trâuAccording to wikipedia:

Originally eaten by commoners near the Red River, it consisted of stir-fried strips of water buffalo meat served in broth atop rice vermicelli. Around 1908–1909, the shipping industry brought an influx of laborers. Vietnamese and Chinese cooks set up gánh to serve them xáo trâu but later switched to inexpensive scraps of beef set aside by butchers who sold to the French.  Chinese vendors advertised this xáo bò by crying out, "Beef and noodles!" or "ngưu nhục phấn". Eventually the street cry became "Meat and noodles!"  or "nhục phấn" , with the last syllable elongated.  The author Nguyễn Ngọc Bích suggests that the final "n" was eventually dropped because of the similar-sounding phân or "excrement".   This is likely what the Vietnamese poet Tản Đà calls "nhục-phở" in "Đánh bạc" ("Gambling"), written around 1915–1917.

There is a minority group of people who think that Pho evolved from the French beef stew pot-au-feu.  And accordingly, the word Pho is the Vietnamese pronunciation of feu.

Pot-au-feu is is a thick stew often composes of beef, potatoes, carrots, onions, other vegetables and usually eat with bread.  There is a stark difference between the two soups, one is clear broth serves over rice noodle, the other one is a heavy stew serves with bread. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Read Admiral Huan Nguyen's Historical Day

Today,  Huan Nguyen, age 60, became the first Vietnamese-born  US Navy Rear Admiral.  He is the fourth Vietnamese-born general and flag officers.  US Army Major General Viet Xuan Luong, age 54, was promoted in 2014 and soon to be US Army Major General Lap The Chau Flora, age 57, was promoted in 2016.  Not in picture is US Marine Corps Brigadier General Bill Seely III (promoted in 2016).   

According to the official Naval Sea Systems Command Webiste:

Rear Adm. Huan Nguyen, age 60, will serve as the Deputy Commander for Cyber Engineering at the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) on the Washington Navy Yard.  NAVSEA commander, Vice Adm. Tom Moore, served as the presiding officer.
“Today we will welcome the first Vietnamese-born U.S. Navy officer to achieve flag rank, and that is a significant event,” said Moore.
Nguyen after being promoted addressed the audience.
“It is a great honor to attain the rank of admiral. I am tremendously humbled to become the first Vietnamese American to wear the flag’s rank in the U.S. Navy. The honor actually belongs to the Vietnamese American community, which instilled in us a sense of patriotism, duty, honor, courage and commitment to our adopted country, the United States of America,” said Nguyen. “This is our America. A country built on service, kindness and generosity…opportunity…the freedom to hope and dream. These values are what inspired me to serve.  And what a great honor and privilege it is to serve our Navy…to serve our country…to support and defend our Constitution.”
Nguyen was born in Hue Vietnam, the son of an armor officer in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, Nguyen’s mother and father, along with his five brothers and sister were killed by Viet Cong Communist guerillas in their family home outside Saigon. Nine-year-old Nguyen was shot in the arm and thigh, with another bullet piercing his skull. He stayed with his mother for two hours, until she bled out and died. Amazingly, Nguyen survived and escaped after dark.
Nguyen was taken in by his uncle, a Colonel in the Republic of Vietnam Air Force. In 1975, at age 16, they fled Vietnam, seeking refuge in the United States following the fall of Saigon.
Transported through Guam, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel took care of Nguyen and his family. The U.S. 7th Fleet helped to evacuate thousands of Vietnamese refugees and transport them to safety in Guam. Seeing the U.S. Navy take care of his family would later inspire Nguyen to serve in the Navy. 
“I was one of those refugees, apprehensive about an uncertain future, yet feeling extremely grateful that I was here at all.  The images that I remember vividly when I arrived at Camp Asan, Guam, now Asan Beach Park, were of American sailors and Marines toiling in the hot sun, setting up tents and chow hall, distributing water and hot food, helping and caring for the people with dignity and respect. I thought to myself how lucky I am to be in a place like America. Those sailors inspired me to later serve in the United States Navy,” said Nguyen.
Later that year, U.S. Air Force Colonel Ed Veiluva and his wife Dorothy sponsored his uncle’s family, allowing them to officially come to the United States as political refugees. Nguyen moved with his uncle’s family to Midwest City, Oklahoma, just outside of Tinker Air Force Base.
Nguyen graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Oklahoma State University in 1981. He holds Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering from Southern Methodist University, Engineering (Manufacturing Concentration) from Purdue University, and Information Technology with Highest Distinction from Carnegie Mellon University.  He received a Navy direct commission through the Reserve Engineering Duty Officer program in 1993.
“America is the beacon of hope for all of us. There is no other place in the world where a person can go for such opportunity,” said Nguyen.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Ocean Vuong Received Genius Grant from MacArthur Foundation

From the press release of University of Massachussette Amherst -

Ocean Vuong, an assistant professor in the Masters of Fine Arts Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, today was named a 2019 MacArthur Fellow in the Fiction and Non-Fiction Writing category.
Vuong, a poet and novelist, is the author of the current best-seller “On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous,” his first novel. The book was also recently long-listed for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction.
The MacArthur Fellowship is a $625,000, no-strings-attached award to extraordinarily talented and creative individuals as an investment in their potential. Commonly called the “Genius Grant,” the Fellowship recognizes three criteria for selection: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments and potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.
“The UMass Amherst community is extraordinarily proud to have Ocean Vuong among us,” said UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy. “The MacArthur Fellowship celebrates his emerging status as a gifted writer who is a major voice of his generation and a creative force.”
Vinh Quoc Vuong was born on a rice farm outside of Ho chi Minh City, Vietnam in 1988.  His family immigrated to Hartford, Connecticut when he was 2 years old. He did not learn to read until he was eleven years old.  He was raised by his mother, a manicurist, after his father went to prison for assaulting her.   

Ocean is an unusual name.  His given name  means to be proud / success but with the middle name Quoc, it means pride of a nation.  The New Yorker wrote about the origin of his new name as follows:

One  summer day at the nail salon, she told a customer that she wanted to go to the beach.  She mispronounced the word "beach" with "bitch".   The customer suggested that she use the word “ocean” instead. Upon learning that the ocean is not a beach but a body of water that touches many countries—she renamed her son.  Ocean Vuong is openly gay

  • He is the fifth Vietnamese-American to receive the MacArthur Genius Grant.  Thong Sanh Huynh (Yale, 1987), My Hang Huynh (Los Alamos  National Lab, 2007), An My Le ( Bard College, 2012), Viet Thanh Nguyen (USC, 2017).

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Huy Tran and Greet & Meet Event

Last Friday, about 70 community members and Huy Tran supporters showed up for a greet & meet event at  Crema Coffee.  It was a full house as the community has heard good things about him and was curious to find out about Tran on issues.

Besides a number of Vietnamese-American community leaders, elected officials like Assemblyman Ash Kalra, San Jose Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco, Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran and Vice Mayor Karina Dominguez were on hand to endorse him.

Huy Tran and his team of 15 volunteers can be seen canvassing District 4 for the last 6 weeks.  The unpopular San Jose D4 Councilman Lan Diep has the advantage of being the incumbent and not yet campaigning.  District 4 has about 20% Vietnamese-American registered voters.   The second largest voting bloc is Hispanic with about 15%.   The Chinese and Filipino make up about 25%.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Navy Captain Huan Nguyen's Circle of Life


... Its the circle of life
All it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life.

Theme from "The Lion King"

As the news spread about the nomination of Navy Captain Huấn Từ Nguyễn, 60,  to be rear admiral, some astute studiers of the Vietnam War could not help but notice the captain's history.

At 16, Nguyen arrived in Guam as refugee right after the Fall of Saigon in 1975.  Seven years before, he was badly injured during the attack by the communist rebels during the surprise Tet Offensive.   Some of the rebels pretended to be civilians and infiltrated key areas in Saigon.   Nguyen's family was captured at their home in the early morning of the fight.  The rebels targeted his family because his dad, Lt. Colonel Tuan Nguyen, was the head of an armored division protecting the city.   His parents along with his 5 siblings and his 80 years old grandma were executed.  He was the only one in his family survived the brutality despite being shot in the arm and leg and afterward by one of the rebels in the head execution style.  He was clinging to his mother's lifeless body when he was found. 

A few days later, the communist rebel leader responsible for the killings, Lem Nguyen, was captured.  Hearing the cowardly and heartless massacre committed by Lem Nguyen, then Brigadier General Loan Nguyen, pulled out his revolver and summary executed Lem Nguyen at point blank.  The image was captured by Eddie Adams and seared into the American public opinion. The story of why Lem Nguyen met his death was never mentioned and the American press quickly condemned the action of Brigadier General Loan Nguyen as barbaric.  The photo became an icon of the brutality of an unwinnable war and helped galvanized the  anti-war movement.   

Eddie Adams won the Pulitzer Prize for the photo.  However,  Adams believed he had destroyed Loan’s life.  He wrote years later,  “Two people died in that photograph, the recipient of the bullet and General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera.”  When Loan Nguyen died, Adams praised him as hero of a just cause.

Came to America as an orphan,  Huan Tu Nguyen, determined to make the best of his life and followed his dad's military career.  And soon, barring any unexpected circumstances,  he will become the first Vietnamese-American to be a rear admiral.  He will join 3 other Vietnamese-Americans to hold the general rank in the US armed forces.

The Vietnam War produced many tragedies, brought down administrations and a country, destroyed lives while created refugees and endless misery.  Yet, in the circle of life, the triumph of the human spirits,  of good over evil, of hope over despair, is indomitable. 

Billionaire Hoang Kieu and Pride of San Jose First Recipient

Billionaire Hoang Kieu is well known for his flamboyance and his generosity in the Vietnamese-American community.   He donated $10 million ...