the beauty of humanity movement-camilla gibb

“The history of Vietnam lies in this bow, for it is in Hanoi, the Vietnamese heart, that pho was born, a combination of the rice noodles that predominated after a thousand years of Chinese occupation and the taste for beef the Vietnamese acquired under the French, who turned their cows away from plough and into bifteck and pot-au-feu. The name of their national soup is pronounce like this French word for fire, as Hung’s Uncle Chien explained to him long ago.

“We’re a clever people,” his uncle had said. “We took the best the occupiers had to offer and made it our own. Fish sauce is the key-in matters of soup and well beyond. Even romance, some people say.”

It was only with the painful partitioning of the country in 1954 that pho went south; the million who fled communism held the taste of home in their mouths, the recipe in their hearts, but their eyes grew big in the markets of Saigon and they began to adulterate the recipe with imported herbs and vegetables. The phos of Saigon had flourished brash with freedom and abundance while the North ate a poor man’s broth, plain and watered down, with chicken in place of beef as the Party ordered the closure of independent businesses like Hung’s and a string of government-owned cafeterias opened in their place.” (4-5)

i wondered a lot about this discrepancy when i was traipsing about the country when i was there. leave it to a writer from london (london, not london, ontario, as i assumed by the big maple leaf sticker that’s been slapped on the spine of this book) to school me. it was a smooth enough read, but i was reminded of the work that i still need to do. it’s just a distance thing, i’ve never been good at hearing “my” story as i should be experiencing it, ya dig? but i know it’s close to the truth, because i’m affected. like the tattoo.


3 thoughts on “the beauty of humanity movement-camilla gibb

  1. middle spaces:

    “The smell of home was indistinguishable from the smell of leaving home: each inhalation a mix of familiarity and fear.” (28)

    “Maggie is a collector of lost sheep: artists like this one who fall between cracks. In Vietnam, her Hoa artist is not recognized as Vietnmese, but in China, where he spent his adolescence after his people were expelled from Vietnam, he isn’t recognized as Chinese either.
    Maggie can relate. While she might look Vietnamese, this only gets her so far. She has had shopkeepers quadruple their prices as soon as she opens her mouth, people mock her accent, gossip behind her back and treat her with a great deal of suspicion. They call her Viet Kieu-some watered-down and inferior species of Vietnamese-a sojourner, an exile, a traitor, a refugee. However people might regard her, Maggie has to content herself with the knowledge that her roots are here, the family stories, as remote and inaccessible as they might be.” (42-3)

    “Through years of repetition, Hung shed his provincial accent, acquiring some sense of the liberation about which these men always spoke. He never revealed this transformation to his Uncle Chien, who still spoke with a peasant’s accet, still betrayed his humble origins as a matter of principle perhaps, despite all his years in Hanoi. Not until his uncle passed away did Hung dare to speak in the clipped tones of the Hanoi dialect to which he did not feel entirely entitled.” (48)

    “She always felt herself alien to some degree-not at work so much, but in the wider world. It happens when people-even the most enlightened among them-can’t resist asking you where you’re from. It reminds you that you have no attachment to the history or geography of a place, except insofar as you are pioneering your way through it in your own lifetime, your roots buried in some faraway earth.
    You don’t always want to answer that question.
    And the answer is not always the same.” (143)

  2. keep reading (even when it hurts):

    “If he leans into the scrap-metal wall of his shack, he can make out some of the headlines of the old newspapers he stuffed into the cracks to keep out the winter draft. But he has given up reading, gave that up some time ago; it just reminds him of all he has lost.” (31)

    “Hung had studied Dao’s poetry with his untrained eye and found his heart moved. His heart had then begun to educate his eye. He had recited certain poems so often that they had become part of him, as familiar as the tongue in his mouth. To teach the girl one of these poems would be to give himself to her. To see himself in her mouth.” (69)

  3. it’s the mystery..of inequity (for artists):

    “They could eat 11,428 and a half bowls of pho for that amount of money. They could eat pho every day for thirty-one years and three months. Even for a more-than-average-earning Vietnamese person to make that kind of money it would take close to twenty years. Twenty years without eating or a roof over one’s head or a motorbike or a change of clothes. But Tu doesn’t know any Vietnamese who could buy such a thing, in any case. If you had eight thousand dollars to spend you might rent a shop for a year or invest in a business or buy a better motorbike and some land or pay for a wedding or a funeral.
    Something’s not right with this business. Someone is getting very rich.” (101)

    “He should have told Tu that a hero is just a man, a person who makes mistakes from time to time. It is natural when speaking of the dead that we tend to remember the heroic things rather than the flawed. Hung has for so long been invested in giving Binh a portrait of his father as a hero that it seems he has forgotten Tu. The boy might actually be better equipped than someone of his father’s generation to understand the imperfections and contradictions that characterize a man, however great.” (161)

    “They say Bui Xuan Phai was so poor that he had to pull the gold caps off his teeth in order to pay the rent. Now his work is being sold to foreigners for thousands and thousands of dollars. Tu wonders if Mr Vo has any idea how much the worlds on his walls would be sold for in one of those fancy new galleries. But Mr Vo would never sell the pieces; he would not get rich off the backs of his friends who died in poverty.” (194)

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