—– Đọc bài tiếng Việt —– 

The holiday season of each year is also the eating season. We hang around the kitchen table and talk and eat all day long.

Think about it: Ordinary people like us these days eat better than kings and queens in the past. Once delicious, rare foods from all corners of the earth reserved for the privileged only are now staple parts of our everyday diet. Food is so abundant we sometimes don’t know what to eat anymore.

If you are one of those people, count your blessings. According to statistics, 1 out of 8 people are hungry worldwide. In the US, 1 in 5 children face hunger. Fighting against hunger is on going all over the globe. Thus thinking of food, especially food available and wasted during the holidays, I cannot help thinking about those hungry people. Then, I think of a Vietnamese folktale associated with Trạng Quỳnh (Doctoral Scholar Quỳnh) whose wisdom is still applicable and very much appreciated today. Many people believe him to be Nguyễn Quỳnh (1677-1748) but many researchers believe Trạng Quỳnh is a mythical character evolved from mixed realistic individuals. Each Trạng Quỳnh folktale aims at ridiculing the ruling class, particularly his tongue-in-cheek ‘duets’ with or even pranks against Lord Trịnh. As an imaginary character who is superbly clever and has great skills in debating, Trạng Quỳnh represents the ordinary people and has been loved by Vietnamese near and far. I personally love his wit and good-hearted wickedness the way I love folklore sensibility.

That said, this week and next, if you don’t know what to eat, I highly recommend this dish by Trạng Quỳnh.

Trạng Quỳnh’s stony stew

Lord Trịnh was partying day in day out. One day he was so bored of food he complained to Quỳnh:
– I have tried all the delicacies in the world but none was really satisfying. You tell me why it is so? Quỳnh responded:
– Did you try the stony stew?
– No. It must be very good!
– It is wonderful. The only drawback is that it takes a long time to prepare.
– Time is not an issue right now as long as I have tasty food. Go prepare the dish for me.

Some time later, Quỳnh sent the servant to invite the Lord to his home for the special dish. The Lord came to Quỳnh’s place at the crack of dawn. Waiting till noon and he was not served the promised dish yet. He saw Quỳnh still busy in the kitchen. Hurrying in and out, Quỳnh was sweating like a pig, his sleeves up to his elbows. The Lord thought to himself: “This dish really does take time. That must be why Quỳnh has to be in the kitchen himself!”

To the afternoon, Lord Trịnh was so hungry his stomach was rumbling. He complained to Quỳnh: “How come the stew takes so long? I would not have come if I had known.” Quỳnh wiped his sweaty forehead and said: “I meant to serve you a delicious dish. That is why I took time for the stew. Please wait a moment longer. It is almost done.”

Minutes later, the Lord rushed Quỳnh again to which he responded: “Just a little longer. If prepared inappropriately, this dish could be hard for digestion.”

The sun was going down but the stew was not yet ready. By now, the smell of cooking was permeating every corner of the whole village as people were preparing dinner. The Lord drooled, his nostrils burning. Not being able to take it any longer, he called for Quỳnh and said: “I am so hungry. Leave the stew for later. Right now, let have something to eat to pass the hunger.”

Nodding his head, Quỳnh grudgingly shouted down the kitchen: “Put more wood into the stove for the stew! And bring some food in here for the Lord to pass the moment.”

The servants quickly appeared with a tray on which there were rice, boiled vegetable, and a glass jar labeled “đại phong.” The Lord had rice and vegetable dipped in “đại phong” and thought it to be a special kind of sauce. When he finished eating, the Lord asked what that sauce was. Quỳnh told him it was only a popular sauce for everyday meals available in every household. The Lord expressed disbelief. “What does “đại phong” mean, then?” he asked. Quỳnh beamed and told him, “You could read, think about it yourself and you’ll understand.” The Lord mumbled: “Đại phong means strong wind?” Quỳnh nodded and questioned, “What happens in strong wind?” The Lord looked lost. Quỳnh explained: “Strong wind will knock down the temple. When the temple collapses, offerings fly around and the monks run wild, which worries the deities (tượng lo). Even children know reverse speech. “Tượng lo” means “l tương” (= soy sauce jar). This sauce is nothing near delicacy but a common everyday food item. You just forgot the simple things. That is why I made up the stony stew and asked you to wait till you are very hungry and your craving returns. Only then could you really appreciate food.”

The Lord was shaken up by a simple truth. He thanked Quỳnh and left.

© 2013 Translation by Anvi Hoàng 


It is impossible to translate reverse speech into English. Pay close attention to how the consonants, vowels, and diacritics change their places. Hopefully you have some sense of reverse speech in Vietnamese language. Now, there is another linguistic joke that is universal.

Mr. Đại’s wisdom

Mr. Đại: How are your parents?
Anvi: They are fine, only that my dad than of the cold a lot. (In Vietnamese, than /θæn/ = complain)
Mr. Đại: If he than a lot, he must be warm, mustn’t he? (In Vietnamese, than also = coal)
Anvi: ?????
Two seconds later.
Anvi: Oh, hahahaha…

© 2013 Translation by Anvi Hoàng

Moral lessons: One: Don’t underestimate older people. Mr. Đại is 99 years old and he is very quick. Two: It is a pleasure to be around fun, positive people like Mr. Đại to be able to get free ‘supplements’ – the best kind that is free, without side-effects, contagious and warmly accepted all over the globe – laughter, as prescribed by a Vietnamese saying: “A smile is worth ten capsules of supplements.”

On the note of ‘side-effects and contagious,’ I cannot help thinking about this R-rated story. Don’t read if you are under 18!!!

Drunkards’ wisdom

Drunkard 1: Do you know why Hà Tĩnh has been so poor for hundreds of years?
Drunkard 2: Because of its poor soil.
Drunkard 1: Correct, but it is more precise to say that it is poor because it contains Đèo Ngang (Level Pass).
Drunkard 2: The Level Pass? Oh, that is right! Why didn’t the city change the name?
Drunkard 1: Yes, they did. They once changed it to Đèo Nghếch (Sloping Pass) but it didn’t help. Poverty is still pervasive.
Drunkard 2: Mmm… Sloping Pass is not the right name. They need to change it to Đèo Đứng (Vertical Pass)! That’ll do.
Drunkard 1: Hahaha… You are right. I think so, too!

© 2013 Translation by Anvi Hoàng

This is another joke on reverse speech which normally changes the meaning of the words from the sublime to the ridiculous!

Đèo Ngang = Level Pass. Thinking reverse speech, Đèo Ngang = Đang Nghèo = In Poverty.
Đèo Nghếch = Sloping Pass. Thinking reverse speech, Đèo Nghếch = Đếch Nghèo = No Poverty.
Đèo Đứng = Vertical Pass. Thinking reverse speech, Đèo Đứng = Đừng Đéo = Stop fucking.

Moral lessons: Language can be very tricky. This reverse speech feature in Vietnamese language is unique and incredible. People who can use the tricky language to create ‘tricky’ stories are all the more incredible. In many places on earth, population control definitely helps with managing resources and improving the quality of life. In those places, building Đèo Đứng (Vertical Pass) is highly recommended! From the mouths of drunkards! A naked truth!

(Note: if you still cannot laugh at this point and really want your ‘supplement,’ feel free to email me for more explanation!)

–> Read the Vietnamese version