Sunday, January 24, 2021


Man, what an anxiety-ridden last couple of weeks. Between the attempted coup at the Capitol and the inauguration of our new presidential administration, it should’ve been enough. On top of all that, I had to take the cat to the vet twice and my husband broke a tooth. However, the “cold Bernie” memes have been giving me life, so there’s always that. Everything in balance, right?

Oh, these are good. I've already come up with a few variations of these in my head.

But today, I’m making food from Yemen. I started out making Kubaneh, or Yemeni pull-apart rolls. In a bowl, I mixed together 1 c of water, a yeast packet, ½ c sugar, 1 Tbsp salt, 3 ⅓ c flour, and 1 egg and mixed it all together until everything was combined well. I kneaded it for several minutes before adding in 2 Tbsp of softened butter, just a bit at a time and kneading it again. Covering the dough with some plastic wrap, I let it rest in the bowl for about 20 minutes. After flouring my hands a little, I turned the dough out onto a floured workspace and kept cutting it in half until I had 16 even pieces and covered them with some plastic wrap. Meanwhile, I took a piece of butter and buttered my workspace as well as my hands, taking one of my dough pieces and flattened it out with my hands. The shape doesn’t matter so much. Then I sprinkled a bit of poppy seeds (in lieu of nigella seeds) and rolled it up like a long skinny log. Then I took my log and rolled it like a snail. I took out a springform pan and buttered it well and put my dough snails in my buttered pan. I did the same thing for the rest of the dough pieces, placing them in my pan like I was making cinnamon rolls. When I finished all of them, I covered the whole pan with plastic wrap and let it rise for about an hour (they didn’t rise all that much). When that time was done, I preheated my oven to 350ºF. Before I put them into the oven, I whisked together an egg with a bit of water and brushed the top of the rolls with it. I baked these for 30 minutes until the tops were golden. While that was baking, I took a can of diced tomatoes and crushed them by hand, drained off some of the liquid, seasoned it with a little olive oil and some salt and pepper (I added in some green chilies too). Once I took it out, I served the sauce on the side. I thought these were really good. Some of the egg wash dripped down to the bottom, so the bottoms of the rolls were kind of crispy and stuck to the pan. But otherwise, they were really good.

Very good, indeed.

The main meal I made was Yemeni Chicken Mandi. First, I assembled my Yemeni spice mix and set it off to the side: ground cumin, ground coriander, black pepper, ground cardamom, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground turmeric, and a touch of red chili powder (it’s optional, but I used a touch of cayenne pepper anyway). I couldn’t find a half chicken, so I went with some chicken thighs with the skin on. I seasoned it with some salt, and then I mixed a bit of softened butter in with 2 Tbsp of the spice mix and brushed it on the chicken and set the chicken off to the side for about 10 minutes. I put my chicken pieces on a baking sheet and covered them with aluminum foil. I baked them for about 20 minutes and then removed the top foil and baked it for another 15 minutes. I did wipe off some of the spices before serving it since it looked caked on there. For the rice part, I fried some chopped onion with a bit of olive oil, followed by some diced tomatoes and diced green chilies. Then I added in about 1 ½ tsp of the spice mix and stirred before adding in 2 cups of water with a little salt. Once the water came to a boil, I added in my rice, covered the pot, and turned down the heat. After about 10-15 minutes, I stirred my rice (especially stirring up from the bottom to keep it from sticking) and turned the heat off and put the lid back on until the rice was completely done. To serve, I put some rice on the plate and topped it with a piece of chicken and garnished it with some raisins and almonds. I really liked this. And even though I’m not much of a fan of raisins, I thought the raisins and almonds were a nice addition to it to the complexity of this dish.

Such a good comfort food. Especially with the bread.

To go with this (because it’s cold and I thought it would go well with the bread), I made Yemeni Red Lentil Soup. I washed and drained my red lentils and set it off to the side. In a large saucepan, I cooked some diced onion and cumin together in some oil until the onions were starting to turn brown, about 5-10 minutes. Then I added in some minced garlic and stirred together before adding some tomato sauce, the lentils, water, salt, and a touch of turmeric and brought everything to a boil. Then I lowered my heat and let it cook down for about 30 minutes until the lentils were soft. Some people throw their soup in a blender to puree it, but I didn’t want to dirty up the blender. But regardless, this was amazing. I topped mine with a bit of fresh cilantro, although I wish I had some parsley instead. It did go well with the bread and was practically perfect.

I'd say this was a great meal. My son wouldn't touch it at all, but everyone else liked it.

During these last few weeks, I’ve been seeing Yemen in the news quite a bit. Things are getting worse there, I fear. Admittedly, I haven’t been following what’s going on there too closely. But what I’ve gathered was that one of the last things Trump did was declare the Houthi regime a terrorist organization, but it’s also complicating the efforts of aid organizations getting food and medical supplies to people in need, which is nearly 80% of the country. Organizations like the WHO, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, and the UN Security Council have all warned it’s a very dire situation for most Yemenis living in the country. The country may be on the brink of collapse. It puts things in perspective sitting here in the US when I watch people here act like wearing a mask is an infringement on their life.

Up next: Zambia

Saturday, January 23, 2021


The music of Yemen shares many similarities with the music of the Arabian peninsula, but it has its own versions. Many of their Jewish musicians have also been successful in Israel as well. There’s a type of folk music that is essentially poetic songs called al-Ghina al-San’ani. In 2003, it was added as part of the UNESCO Oral and Intangible Heritage list. Folk music is traditionally performed in the home with the performers chewing on khat (it’s a kind of leaf that has a moderate psychoactive stimulant effect when it’s chewed, so of course musicians would chew it). Another type of sung poetry is called homayni, which dates back to the 14th century. However, there’s a kind of urban style of homayni that’s performed now.

Because of Yemen’s location, their folk music and folk dance are influenced from Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Arabian Peninsula. However, dances that are purely Yemeni mainly fall into two categories: Afro-Yemeni dances and Asian-Yemeni dances. Each region of the country has its own versions of folk dances and folk music. Percussion and other instruments often accompany many of these dances. There are tribal dances and war dances where dancers hold daggers (hope they don’t fall!), and some dances that are men-only, women-only, and some for both.

In recent decades, hip-hop has become quite the popular genre among young urban musicians. Gravitating toward its history of using hip-hop as a means of socio-political expression, it’s no wonder why some young Yemeni rappers have used it as a means to rap about the ongoing war, anti-terrorism, and the state of life in general. Drawing from American and European styles, they bring their own versions of songs to their Yemeni audiences.

So, it was a little difficult to find some current Yemeni musicians (admittedly, I also didn't do an extensive search because of time). Because hip-hip is so popular in Yemen, even in diaspora, I managed to find a few. I listened to one artist who calls himself YungYem. I believe he grew up in Detroit, Michigan, so he mixes a lot of American rap styles in with Yemeni Arabic. There were some references to another rapper named Hagage “AJ” Masaed who grew up in Ohio, but I had trouble finding examples of his work on Spotify. I liked what I heard from YungYem, though; it was fairly chill, which I find myself gravitating toward as I get older. Can’t go hard all the time, right?

I also found an American DJ named Erez Safar, whose mother is from Yemen. Professionally, he’s produced albums under two names. Under his name Diwon, I listened to some of the album called New Game. I really enjoyed this; it was very well put together. It’s a little bit hip-hop, a little bit techno, a little bit club mix, a little bit lo-fi. I thought it was fantastic.

Under his other name, h2the, I sampled through his album An Album of Lo-Fi Songs That Will Never Trend. I have increasingly been drawn to lo-fi beats (especially since the pandemic forced us into quarantine), so I immediately gravitated toward this. This is the type of album you can listen to while you’re working. And trust me, I will definitely add this into my mix. This dude definitely has some skills.

Up next: the food

Thursday, January 21, 2021


Early art of the South Arabian region reflected much of what you saw in the classical era of art. Inscriptions and geometric designs were found on sculptures and architecture. Pre-Islamic art depicted scenes from daily life, battles, musicians, hunting, animals, and even meeting deities. Like other countries where the dominant religion is Islam, their art has been highly influenced by this religion, namely not being allowed to depict people anymore. Handicrafts include jewelry making, embroidery and textile art, and Islam-inspired architecture characterized by geometric designs and arches. They also did quite a bit of metalwork and created their own coins.

While Yemen was under British rule, they introduced many Western painting techniques and artistic styles. Many British artists also traveled to Yemen to paint its cities and landscape, but there are also a number of Yemeni artists who create in a number of mediums.

by Murad Subay

Some Yemeni artists of note include Murad Subay (contemporary street artist and political activist), Boushra Almutawakel (female photographer focusing on gender representation), Abdul Jabbar Numan (realism painter), Fuad Al-Futaih (painter, one of the first to promote graphic arts in Yemen), Saba Jallas (female artist, known for manipulating photos of smoke), Hashem Ali (plastic artist), Haider Galib (surrealism painter), and Sabri Al-Haiki (painter and art critic).

by Saba Jallas

For some reason, it was difficult to find an extensive history on Yemeni literature. With its influential kingdoms spreading South Arabian languages across that region during its early history, it’s reasonable to assume that there must have at least been written accounts from the royal courts and histories. I did find a book published by the British-Yemeni Society called From the Land of Sheba: Yemeni Folk Tales, although some of the stories originated from other areas. But the vast majority of literature from Yemen jumps to the 20th century. Perhaps the centuries of civil war and socio-political turmoil affected their ability to produce their own literature until then.

Poetry has been a dominant form of literature in the Arab world for many centuries with Yemen among them. There are quite a few poets from Yemen, include Abu Bakr al-Aydorus (sufism scholar and patron saint of Aden), Abdullah Al-Baradouri (considered Yemen’s most famous poet), Abd al-Rahman Fakhri (known as a modernist poet), Abdulnasser Mugali (writer and poet, known for his poems of Yemeni immigrants living in the US), and Shalom Shabazi (Jewish poet, considered the Poet of Yemen).

I love this painting of Abdullah Al-Baradouri

There are a number of novelists from Yemen who have produced a number of works as well. Many of them have had translations of their works published in a London-based literary magazine called Banipal, which aims to promote Arab literature. Authors of note include Ali al-Muqri (several of his novels were listed for the Arab Booker Prize), Zayd Mutee’ Dammaj (his novel The Hostage was included in the Top 100 Arabic novels of the 20th century), Abdallah Salim Bawazir (renowned short story writer, novelist, and columnist), Wajdi al-Ahdal (laureate of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2008), and Samir Abdel Fattah (novelist, short story writer, playright).

Wajdi al-Ahdal

Yemen also has a strong history of the theatre starting in the early part of the 20th century. Both amatuer and government-sponsored professional theatre troops entertained people in cities and towns across Yemen. Several of the poets and novelists mentioned above (and others) also wrote plays as well as had their works adapted for the stage. And although they celebrate their own Yemeni stageplays, they also perform other Western works by William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Luigi Pirandello, and Bertolt Brecht. Sana’a is famous for holding theatre festivals including participating in World Theatre Day.

Up next: music and dance

Monday, January 18, 2021


I wasn’t always a coffee drinker. I’d say I started drinking coffee around age 16 or so. I loved the ideas of coffee shops. Sitting around and drinking coffee with friends talking about anything and everything, our plans for the future, and solving all the world’s problems. I spent many nights at my local coffee shop in college studying until it closed. It was one of my favorite places, and it still is. When my kids were young, it became a place to escape to in order to read in peace for a couple of hours. But the history of coffee is interesting: making its way from modern coffee shops, its influence in the industrial revolution, all the way to its roots in Africa and the first documentation of people drinking the brewed version in Yemen. I mean, the caffe mocha is named after the city of Mocha, Yemen.

The name Yemen is thought to be related to the word Yamnat, which probably referred to historical Yemen, which was much larger than what it is today. It may derive from the word ymnt, meaning “south,” or from the word yamn/yumn meaning “felicity” or “blessed” due to the fertile lands.

Yemen is located on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It’s bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north and Oman to the east. It also has a coastline along the Gulf of Aden to the south and the Red Sea to the east. It’s directly across the water from Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia on the Horn of Africa. There are also several islands that belong to Yemen as well, many of which are volcanic. The areas close to the Saudi border are largely desert but the interior is quite mountainous. However, the western highlands are ideal for agriculture. Because of its elevation, much of the country enjoys cooler temperatures than the rest of the peninsula. The western coastal plains are more of a tropical climate, and there’s more rainfall there and many areas of the country except in the desert areas, especially the northeast corner.

The Queen of Sheba

Yemen has a strategic location right in between eastern and western civilizations, and people have been living in this area for thousands and thousands of years. The Sabaean Kingdom was one of the first main kingdoms, making its entrance around the 11th century BCE. Saba was one of a few other kingdoms that were in this area; it was also thought to be Sheba (with its famous queen) that was mentioned in the Bible. The Sabaeans set up the foundations for key trade routes. The Romans explored the area, named it, and then left it in pieces. Much of the early centuries AD were spent fighting over borders and the spreading of Christianity and Judaism. But by the mid-600s, Islam became the major religion of this region. Several dynasties ruled Yemen during the period of around 1000-1500, each with its own battles, revolutions, and advancements. By the 1600s, the Ottomans began to really act on their interest in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula: namely, their interest in Mecca and Medina (in current-day Saudi Arabia) and the key trade routes established from Yemeni ports. There was a lot of resistance as they moved into some areas (especially the highlands areas), which seems to last a long time. However, they were finally ran out of Yemen in the 1630s, right around the time that Yemen was the sole producer of coffee in the world. As the British were busy transporting Asian spices back to Europe, they became interested in Yemeni ports since the British had a strong naval background. They butted themselves into an incident that allowed them to take over the port of Aden, which really ticked off the Ottomans. The Ottomans tried to retake Sana’a but failed, and the opening of the Suez Canal made them determined to stay. The Ottomans were still hellbent on controlling the tribal regions of the highlands and failed again at trying to accomplish colonialism, this time leaving for good in 1918. The British controlled several colonies and protectorates in this area, including Aden. The North Yemen Civil War that took place during most of the 1960s convinced many to rise up against the British, but it also divided the country into two. By 1990, they came to an agreement and joined the two countries together again. But it didn’t take long before another civil war broke out in 1994. In 2000, an attack on the USS Cole in Aden set tensions on edge (claimed to be launched by al-Qaeda), although Yemen assured the US they were with us in the fight against global terror. Even as of a few years ago, al-Qaeda has been strong in Yemen (no doubt taking advantage of the political instability), and the country is once again in the midst of a civil war. The country is now plagued with lack of infrastructure, cholera, and starvation.


In a lot of resources, the capital of Yemen is Sana’a (sometimes spelled as Sana). However, after Sana’a was occupied by the Houthis, the capital was temporarily moved to Aden in 2015. The old sections of Sana’a was declared one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and home to the Al Saleh Mosque. It’s the largest city in the country with a population of around 2.5 million people and also one of the highest in elevation. The port city of Aden is located on the southeastern shore, and although it’s smaller than Sana’a, they still have a population of around 863,000 people.

Port city of Aden

Yemen highly depends on the services sector to bolster its economy. They also have strong footholds in food processing, textiles, oil refining, commercial ship repair, and natural gas production. Because of its landscape, agriculture is limited, but it’s there. Crops like sorghum, cotton, mangoes and other fruits, and khat are grown in Yemen but generally go back to supporting its own people. However, rising food costs are a growing concern. Their biggest exports tend to be coffee, natural gas, crude oil, and dried/salted fish. 

Al Saleh Mosque, Sana'a

Not surprising, Islam is the state religion of Yemen, with slightly more Sunni than Shia (55% to 45%), but other sects/denominations are included as well. There are also a small number of Christians in Yemen still and very few Jews are left in the country.

Officially, Modern Standard Arabic is the language used in Yemen, but it’s only used for written materials mainly. Yemeni Arabic is the variety that is spoken there. Mehri is a South Semitic language that’s also spoken in Yemen, and the Soqotri language is spoken on the island of Socotra. Other old languages originated here that had its influences throughout the Arab world. English is one of the more important foreign languages studied and used here because of its ties to Britain, but there are also pockets of Russian speakers.

Yemeni-brewed Seera Beer (the label says this is brewed in Aden)

For most countries that declare Islam a state religion, there’s also a ban on alcohol. And that’s mainly true for Yemen, except that I read it’s not quite true about Aden and Sana’a, where people apparently drink like a fish. Or sailors. Beer is the main thing drunk there, but they do have a zero tolerance on drunk driving and public intox. They also smoke a lot too: I read the average adult smokes 34 cigarettes a month (considering that there are probably many people who don’t smoke at all, those who do must smoke like chimneys to keep the average up). Nearly one-third of the population suffers from malnutrition, and heart disease is a major killer. The statistics can be staggering, so it’ll be key to remember that it doesn’t quite paint the picture of this country, and I’m determined to see this country in a different light, from a cultural point of view.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, January 10, 2021


Man, what a week. First of all, it was the first week back to work and school after the holidays, so it was already gonna be a struggle. Then halfway through it, we had to deal with an attempted coup. And the stores were out of a few of the ingredients I needed, so I was forced to improvise. To top it all off, my daughter decided she wanted to bake her best friend a chocolate cake for her birthday but wanted to get all fancy with it (even though this is her first cake she’s baked [eye roll]). We tried, and it was just too crumbly, so I ended up having to go buy one. This sets the scene for my second baking fail of the day when I tried to make Vietnamese Banh Mi.

Definitely too small for sandwiches, but they make fantastic baguette breadsticks.

Banh mi can refer to the bread as well as the whole sandwich (a type of word called a synecdoche). I tried to make the bread, but I think my yeast was dead because it turned out to be baguettes the size of breadsticks. Here’s what I did: In a bowl, I mixed in the flour, yeast, dough improver (which I Googled and came across a blog that said adding ¼ tsp of ground ginger is one old substitute), salt, and sugar and whisked them together. Then I poured in my water and stirred until it all came together as a smooth dough. I poured in a small amount of oil in the bottom of the bowl and rolled the dough to coat, kneading it for several minutes. Then I formed it into a rectangle that was about an inch thick and divided it into 12 equal pieces. I took each piece and flattened them out, folded them lengthwise, flattened them again, then rolled each piece like a worm, trying to taper the ends. Once I placed these on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, I set them in the cold oven with a pan of boiling water and let them rise for 30-60 minutes (mine did jack squat). When that time was up, I took the baking sheets out of the oven but left the pan of water. I set the oven at 500ºF, and when it was ready, I baked them for about 20 minutes until they were golden brown. They never rose, even during baking, but they certainly tasted like a baguette. They’d be good dipped in some melted chocolate or something, but definitely not large enough to make a sandwich out of. I made an Aldi run, and they were also out of baguettes, so I had to opt for top-cut brioche hot dog buns.
My first time eating a banh mi, although I've heard so much about them. 10/10, would recommend.

Now it came time to make the sandwich. There are tons of options on what goes into a banh mi, but I chose to make Grilled Lemongrass Pork Banh Mi, which was neither grilled nor used lemongrass. The first thing I did was make the pickled vegetables: I cut a couple carrots and part of a daikon (Japanese white radish) into matchsticks, soaked them in salted water for about a half hour. Then I drained them, added a bit of sugar and some vinegar to them, and put it in the fridge. Then I prepared my pork by cutting it into bite-sized pieces and soaking it in a marinade of soy sauce, worcestershire sauce (in place of fish sauce), sugar, white wine, and black pepper. I let that sit for about an hour. Because I couldn’t find lemongrass, I sauteed some onions with a quarter of an actual lemon (minus the rind). Once the onions started to turn brown, I removed the onions and lemon pieces to a bowl. I took my pork out of the fridge and sauteed it in the same skillet as the onions. When the pork was done, I added the onions back in and let everything cook down together for a few minutes. To make the sandwich, I took my brioche hot dog bun I bought and spread it open. On one side, I spread some mayonnaise (I always use the fake stuff since I hate real mayo. The real recipe called for it to spread pâté on the mayo, but I’m not a fan of pâté, so I left it out.) Then I added the pork mixture and topped it with some sliced cucumber, sliced onions, jalapeñoes, the pickled vegetables, and some cilantro. There was so much stuff packed into that sandwich, it reminded me of a Brazilian hot dog. I thought it was fantastic. The rest of the family didn’t like the pork, but I thought the pork was amazing. I had two sandwiches and the rest of my son’s. Despite all my troubles with the bread and finding ingredients, it was really good in the end.

Basically the sandwich was my whole meal, so here's a picture of Phantom seeing mylar balloons for the first time today (they were on the ceiling). She stood like that for five minutes just staring.

I was also going to try making some Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls with shrimp, but I also couldn’t find any of the rice wrappers, only eggroll and wonton wraps. Traditionally, I suck at making any kind of dish that requires wrapping food in other food. This includes almost every kind of dumpling, cabbage rolls, burritos, eggrolls, and anything that is similarly put together. Perhaps I will try the recipe later. (I did buy eggroll wrappers, so maybe I’ll amend my recipe and make some for dinner one night this week.) It’s been a day of patience to be sure. As I told my daughter earlier tonight: you can’t cry if you’re eating breadsticks.

Up next: Yemen


Vietnamese music is closely tied to the musical styles of China, but also influenced by the music of other areas in Asia, namely Japan, Korea, and Mongolia. There were a few styles of court music, with Nha nhac being the most common one. It was a popular music style from the 13th century to the end of the 20th century. It has been performed at official ceremonies as well as at birthdays, weddings, coronations, etc. To go along with the music, there are also dances that accompany this. Outside of Nha nhac (ceremonial music), two other types of chamber music also exist: Dai nhac (great music) and Tieu nhac (small music), both of which are used as entertainment pieces for the ruling class. Another type of chamber music is called dilettante music, or Nhac tai tu. It’s more representative of southern Vietnamese style and tied to the ca Hue style.

Folk music is far more diverse in its styles since it can vary from region to region. A few of these artforms include Cheo (a type of satirical musical theatre performed by peasants), Quan ho (a type of improvised singing used in courting rituals), Nhac dan toc cai bien (a type of modern folk song developed in the 1950s and criticized by purists), Cai luong (a type of theatre popular during the French colonial days), Xam (a dying northern regional folk music commonly performed by blind musicians), Hat chau van (rhythmic type of music used to call spirits and put people in a trance), and Ca tru (a type of folk song sung mainly by women as an almost geisha-like entertainment).

Vietnam borrowed many of their instruments from China and other areas in Asia. They use a variety of stringed instruments like fiddles (dan gao, dan nhi, dan k’ni), lutes (dan nguyet, dan sen, dan tam, dan ty ba), and zithers and dulcimers (dan bau, dan tam thap luc, dan tranh). There are also a number of percussion instruments like different sizes of drums as well as a type of bamboo xylophone called the t’rung. A few woodwinds are played that include different kinds of flutes and an oboe called a ken bau.

Woman playing the dan bau.

Dance is highly integrated with music and theatre. Many of their dances are related to several similar Chinese dances. Some of these theatrical dances include the cai luong, hat tuong, and the hat cheo. Other dances were performed in the court and others at ceremonies, festivals, and family or community events. One such dance is the Lion Dance, which is often performed at the Lunar New Year (Tet) and the Mid-Autumn Festival (Tet Trung Thu). It must be a sight to see because it’s usually followed by acrobatics and showcases of martial arts.

I found quite a few Vietnamese musicians on Spotify, many of them being pop musicians. The first one I listened to was Ho Quynh Huong. It was on the slower side of pop, seemingly more mellow and emotional. I next listened to My Tam. One song was a little more upbeat, but the rest of the album was also slower and more introspective. Another musician who put out a whole album of love songs is Ho Ngac Ha. Using very much of a synthesized sound, I also listened to some songs by Lam Truong. Although some songs were slower, there were a few more upbeat songs. It has a very retro sound to it.

Son Tung M-TP

In a shift to a more modern style of pop, I checked out Son Tung M-TP. He uses some sound effects and some electronica beats behind some of the songs. Bau Thy does have some songs that seemed upbeat and catchy, some with acoustic guitar, but there were also a lot of slower songs mixed in. Slow songs must really be a favored style in Vietnamese music. I thought that the two pop musicians Thuy Chi and Khong Tu Quynh both fall in this category as well: modern, utilizing some Western styles at times, but still mixes these songs in between slower, more traditional sounding pop songs.

Buc Tuong

I also listened to a couple rock bands. The first one was Buc Tuong. They have a very strong alternative rock sound. I kinda liked what I heard. Some songs were harder than others, which I liked. Ngu Cung was the other rock band I listened to. They were definitely more metal, so you know I really liked them. But they’re also not afraid of dropping it back and getting soft and melodic in the middle either. I enjoyed what I heard quite a bit.

And lastly, I didn’t find many, but I did come across one hip-hop artist who I sampled. This artist is also known as the Vietnamese rap queen: Suboi. She’s known for her song "Doi," which was pretty catchy. I have no idea what she’s rapping about, but it was interesting to listen to her songs. I believe this is the first time I’ve ever heard rap in Vietnamese.

Up next the food

Wednesday, January 6, 2021


The earliest examples of Vietnamese art dates back to the Stone Age, and during the Bronze Age, the Dong Son culture were known for their metal work in creating elaborate metal drums. These drums were decorated with geometric shapes and depicted scenes of everyday life that gave insight to how these early Vietnamese lived. Ceramics and cloth weaving were also common artforms during these early eras, and many of these were aligned with Chinese traditions. Much of their cultural influences were drawn from Chinese arts. As they moved away from Chinese influence, Vietnamese artists were highly skilled in their own styles of porcelain and ceramic art, which were coveted and traded all over Asia.

When the French moved in, they also introduced their arts to the Vietnamese. As one of the art centers of Europe, they also thought it prudent to set up art schools in Vietnam as well. The Ecole des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine in Hanoi was one of the main art schools established during the early 20th century. Oil painting being one of the main skills taught, this was something completely new to the Vietnamese in this fashion. It wasn’t long before the shift of art for functionality and art for pleasure began to take place. They even taught the students the tradition of painting en plein air, or taking your easel out into nature and painting the landscape before you. Through all these changes, certain ancient art forms remained, like lacquer painting and silk painting.

The decades of war changed how artists worked. Many used art as a way of dealing with it, utilizing modern realism as their basis. Some made their living painting propaganda posters and the like. Some artists of note include To Ngoc Van (known for resistance art), Nguyen Gia Tri (known for lacquer painting), Nguyen Phan Chan (known for blending calligraphy styles with brush painting), Nguyen Sang (oil painter and lacquer painter), Nam Son (known for national art), and Ta Ty (painter and poet).

Lacquer painting of Nguyen Gia Tri

The vast majority of literature is written in Vietnamese, although there are some French- and English-language works included. The earliest works were written using Chinese characters, known as chu nom. As Portuguese Jesuits moved into the area, they created the quoc ngu script in 1631, which is the Latin-based script we see today with sets of diacritical marks to represent the tones and sounds of the Vietnamese language. However, it wasn’t consistently used (except by missionaries) until the 20th century when French Indochina established its use.

The story of Son Tinh and Thuy Tinh

There was also a strong history of folk literature, where some of the stories were passed down from generation to generation. Thankfully, many of these were also written down. Many of these stories were myths about magical creatures, ancient life, or heroes like Son Tinh (The Mountain Spirit) and Thuy Tinh (The Water Spirit), with multiple versions of stories. Many of the poems and accounts written in Classical Chinese have to be transcribed and translated into Modern Vietnamese for anyone to understand them. But there are a couple poems that have stood the test of time: Nguyen Du’s poem “The Tale of Kieu” (Truyen Kieu) and Doan Thi Diem’s translation of the Classical Chinese poem “Chinh Phu Ngam Khuc.”

Also under the English title of Dumb Luck

After Vietnam declared its independence from France in 1945, the government continued to push the use of the chu quoc ngu script, which turned out to be key in raising the literacy rate in the country and standardizing spelling and grammar. However, the first novels and literary works began to be pushed in the early 20th century, including the first history text to be published using the new script: Viet Nam su luoc by Tran Trong Kim (1921). One of the first novels was called So Do by Vu Trong Phung (1936). This novel was a satire on the Vietnamese middle class during the late colonial period; it was unsurprisingly banned by the North Vietnamese communist government. This is an excellent list of contemporary (mostly) Vietnamese authors recommended by Vietnamese authors if you’re looking for something new to read (and I think there are some English-language translations of these available too).

Up next: music and dance