Features

Traditional Dresses of Asia

posted Apr 21, 2013, 6:58 PM by Simon Nguyen


Traditional dresses are important national symbols. One can learn so much about a country, its history and culture, by observing the country's traditional dress. Obviously, some traditional dresses are more recognized and are better at representing their countries than others. This page discusses the traditional dresses of Korea (Hanbok), Japan (Kimono), and Vietnam (Ao Dai).

1. Korean Hanbok

The Hanbok (also known as Choson-ot) is the traditional dress of Korea, dated way back to the first century. The dress is famous for its ornate design and bold colors. The Hanbok is worn by both male and female; the male version is significantly simpler in its design and is unicolored. Key accessories include elaborate wig/gache (for women) and hat (for men). Note that the size of the wig signals a woman's social status; the bigger the wig the higher her position in society. The Hanbok is considered outdated for common use, but people still wear it for formal and ceremonial occasions.

2. Japanese Kimono

Nothing is more Japanese than the Kimono, Japan's traditional dress. The dress is described as a weightless robe with wide sleeves and purposeful collars. Women's kimonos are renowned for their audacious colors and elegant embroideries; men's kimonos, on the other hand, are decisively unadorned. Unlike traditional dresses of other countries, kimonos are used both for ceremonial purposes and for daily life. The dress is also the default wedding garment for both Japanese men and women. Housewives and older Japanese often don kimonos at home.

As most kimonos are made of silk, the dress is an exceptionally comfortable wear. But there is one caveat. Kimonos are rather pricey. A well-made kimono can cost in the neighborhood of several thousand dollars. The cost of maintaining the dress is, unfortunately, also very steep.

3. Vietnamese Ao Dai

A famous author once said, "If a lady has never worn Ao Dai, she is for sure not a Vietnamese woman." Indeed, Ao Dai (which can be loosely translated as long silk dress) is the essence of the Vietnamese people and culture. The traditional dress is described as tight-fitting silk tunic worn over pantaloons. The modern Ao Dai's design is heavily influenced by French fashion, though the core design is derived from ancient Vietnamese clothing. The most popular Ao Dai's color is white. As Ao Dai is a female-only dress and is mostly worn by young girls, the white Ao Dai symbolizes youthful innocence and the wearer's coming of age; older women wear Ao Dai as well but only for special occasions.

Pay to Cry - Professional Mourners

posted Mar 9, 2013, 1:06 PM by Simon Nguyen   [ updated Mar 9, 2013, 1:10 PM ]


It is always sad to bid farewell to someone we like, admire or love. Funerals are among rare public occasions where attendees are allowed and in some cases even expected to express some sort of poignant emotion. Unfortunately, not everyone is capable of expressing externally his or her emotions. Some are incapable of channeling their emotions in a dignified and controlled way. This is where ‘pay to cry’ services are most needed.

In many Asian countries, it is quite popular for families of the dead person to hire professionals to take care of the mourning and crying parts essential to any funeral. These services typically include attending, weeping and crying at funerals. Some may also include dramatic sobbing and beating of one’s chest. These paid mourners are essentially professional actors and performers.

In order to be a professional, one may have be trained. Some clients won’t accept anything less than a seasoned professional. This is due to the fact that in many cultures, weddings and funerals are considered to be the two most important moments in one’s life. In ancient times, there were numerous instances of people willingly becoming slaves in exchange for money to cover funeral costs of their loved ones. For many people, funerals are serious business. Assigning a poorly trained rookie to perform a funeral’s sacred function is considered an insult.

Poem: My Country and I

posted Dec 18, 2012, 12:50 AM by Simon Nguyen

This short poem is dedicated to my soldier friend and the love he has for his country. God Bless America!

~~~~~

From the time
I was still in my mother’s womb,
I have learned to love....my country.
Every night,
The voice of my homeland whispers in my ear
And the spirit of my nation tantalizes my soul.

I am listening to the nightingales,
Whistling their piercing crescendo
And remember yesterday’s memories.
Feelings from a love long ago suddenly return
And make me dream of a better tomorrow.

~~~~~~~~~~

I reunite with my childhood neighbor,
Who charms me with her heavenly smile.
But I have fallen in love with another,
Who has stolen every bit of my soul.

I am in love with the waves of the sea,
Caressing my homeland from end to end.
I am in love with the fruited plains,
Looking out for me from the center of the land.
I am in love with the skyscrapers, the winds,
And the heroes of my country.
Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt.....
Whose names have I not mentioned?
The heroes of the past, present, and future.

Let passing time bear witness to sadness and joys.
Let all dreams be unwavering lights.
Let tomorrow be a better day.

The Best Comic Book Character

posted Oct 9, 2012, 10:41 PM by Simon Nguyen   [ updated Oct 16, 2012, 12:34 AM ]


Comics are social narratives whose chief aim is to express important ideas in an entertaining and relaxing way. Hence, comics and culture are often inseparable. Comic books are especially popular. Many comic book characters are so prominent that they have become cultural icons. Popular characters like Superman and Doraemon are well-known to both fans and non-fans of comic books. This article offers a list of the best comic book characters of all time. Who is your favorite character?

1. Superman (from Superman comics)

Superman is, unquestionably, the most popular comic book superhero of all time. As a matter of fact, Clark Kent’s alter ego is widely credited as having elevated the superhero genre to a dominant position in the world of American comics. The design of the Superman character is highly original, completed with a symbolic “S” shield and red cape. The famous design has served as inspirations for numerous other superhero designs--Batman and Captain Marvel to name a few.

What make Superman so iconic and popular with the masses are the ideals that he represents. Superman exhibits three core American values: justice, perseverance, and self empowerment. As the Superman character was introduced during the Great Depression, people looked to the comic book character as an imaginative champion of social ideals—one that fights for social justice, equality, and opportunities. Superman was and continues to be a cultural and social icon. He is, without a doubt, the best American comic book character.

2. Doraemon (from Doraemon manga/comics)

The comic book character of Doraemon is as iconic and popular in his homeland of Japan as Superman is in America. Children in Japan and continental Asia are practically growing up reading and watching the timeless adventures of their favorite robot cat Doraemon. The much beloved character uses his 23rd century gadgets to assist human pal Nobita and his friends in dealing with 20th century’s problems. Doraemon is basically a wish fulfiller, but the fulfillment does not always end up well.

There are a total of 1344 Doraemon stories, breaking up into 45 volumes. Each comic story introduces one of Doraemon’s hi-tech gadgets and teaches an important moral lesson. The enduring popularity of Doraemon, Asia’s best comic book character, is attributed to how the lovable robot cat manages to capture the essence of the Japanese culture. The Japanese love hi-tech gadgets and robots; Doraemon perfectly personifies technologically inclined Japan.

3. Tintin (from the Adventures of Tintin comics)

The Adventures of Tintin (created by Belgian artist Georges Rémi/penname Hergé) is the most popular European comics of all time. The title character Tintin is one of Europe’s best and most recognized comic book characters. Like Superman and Doraemon, the character of Tintin exemplifies the local culture—European culture in this case. Tintin is neither a superhero nor a lovable robot; he is an investigative reporter (in the style of Sherlock Holmes) who is accompanied by his faithful canine Snowy. Tintin travels to various locations around the world solving mysteries and exploring new adventures.

The character of Tintin exhibits the typical European personality. Tintin is a graciously restrained journalist who applies logic and power of deduction in everything he says and does. He is also highly skilled in machinery and is able to operate different types of vehicles. Tintin is a true European character.

4. Batman (from Batman comics)


Along with Superman, Batman is one of two most famous comic book superheroes in American comics. He also represents a different type of superhero—one that is more human compared to that of Superman. Batman does not depend mostly on brute strength or supernatural abilities to defeat bad guys and gals; he uses a balanced combination of deduction powers, technology, and the fist to achieve his justice-seeking aims.

World's Greatest Landmarks

posted Aug 16, 2012, 1:25 AM by Simon Nguyen   [ updated Sep 20, 2012, 12:59 AM ]


Landmarks are major tourist attractions. Since most people have an appreciation for history, famous monuments offer them a chance to relive the glories and wonders of the past. Popular landmarks tend to be ones with historical and cultural significance; they are likely to have withstood the test of time. This article offers a list of the world's greatest landmarks.

The Eiffel Tower (Paris, France)

The Eiffel Tower is the most prominent of the modern structures. The tower is also the world's most popular landmark. According La Tour Eiffel, the famous tower has been visited by more than 200 million people since its inception. What has allowed the Eiffel to retain its popularity through the years is the fact it is an engineering and artistic wonder. The tower as a structure was ahead of its time and remains to this day a fine specimen of modern architecture. The Eiffel Tower is also an excellent exhibit of France's glorious past. The French were renowned for their arts and engineering; the tower perfectly showcases such qualities.

A famous writer once said, "If you don't know what the Eiffel Tower looks like, you probably have never left your house." Imagine taking a view of the great tower from a café nearby. It is undoubtedly breathtaking, especially during nighttime. As the Eiffel is an iconic structure, it has inspired numerous similar structures. The famous tower has also been featured in popular prints and media. The Eiffel is without question one of the world's most renowned landmarks.

The Great Wall of China

China is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, and the Great Wall of China is the country's biggest tourist draw. In fact, it has become a goal of many people to traverse the massive wall from end to end. What make the famous landmark so fascinating are its scale and size. The Great Wall of China covers the country's entire Northern border. As the wall was built to protect China from its ferocious Northern neighbors (the Mongols, Jins, and Manchus to name a few), it had witnessed many bloody battles and grand invasions. The Great Wall is definitely one of historical value.

The construction of the Great Wall of China was probably the costliest engineering project in history. Thousands of people were involved in this project; many of them were believed to have died during the construction. The costs to build, repair and maintain the Great Wall were enormous. Unofficial estimates put the cost of construction in the hundreds of billion dollars in today's value. All in all, the popular attraction is without question the world's grandest landmark.

The Great Pyramid of Giza (Cairo, Egypt)


Tourism is one of the most important sectors of the Egyptian economy. The celebrated Giza Pyramid is the central piece of Egypt's tourism. Much like the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramid is an architectural wonder. Even till this day, historians and archeologists are still not 100% sure as to how the pyramids were built. How did ancient Egyptians, with their primitive technologies, manage to construct such a complex structure like the pyramid? It is because of this unsolved puzzle that the Giza Pyramid is deemed a worthy landmark to visit.

The vast majority of visitors to Egypt are people who have an interest in world history and culture. New archeological discoveries near the Great Pyramid and elsewhere in Egypt occur frequently. To be part of history is always exciting for people who appreciate the value of history; visiting the Great Pyramid of Giza offers such unique opportunity. The famed monument is unquestionably one of the world's greatest landmarks.

LIT - A Poem about Love Relationship

posted Feb 16, 2012, 11:28 AM by Simon Nguyen

by Simon Nguyen
-

Calling it a date but please do not come.

I'll be mad--for just a little while.

If you have to leave,

proceed with full speed.

Love is only beautiful

in its infancy.

Life loses its glitters,

when promises kept and vows realized.

~~

Calling it a date but please do not come.

My heart will ache--just a little bit. 

In your absence, my soul is free to roam the empty park

and the cigarette lives to see its demise.

I ponder:

Will she come tomorrow?

LIT - Stories of Kindness

posted Jan 12, 2012, 5:13 PM by Simon Nguyen   [ updated Jan 12, 2012, 5:13 PM ]

by Simon Nguyen

From the dawn of civilization, reciprocity has always been one of the gold standards of human relation. If you lend someone a favor, it is socially expected that he or she will repay you back in one way or another. The repaying, however, does not always have to be proportionate to the giving.

In recent times, the art of reciprocity has become no less a science. People have grown to be very hesitant about showing their kindness to others; they often bargain favors for reasonable returns. On the other hand, history has shown us that lending someone a hand without expecting anything in return may actually result in much bigger and better gains.

One famous instance of pure altruism took place in China during the Warring States period. At the time, there was a man named Han Xin. Even when he was still a child, Han was hailed by many as a strategic prodigy. By the age of five, he had already defeated all the local masters of GO. By ten, he was sought for military advices by generals and princes. Unfortunately, he would encounter a series of misfortunes in the years after which eventually reduced him to poverty. He was forced to leave his homeland, and subsequently became a wandering beggar.

During his wandering, he was often bullied and beaten by bystanders. Even little kids would throw stones at him and mock him in unimaginable ways. One winter, Han suffered an acute illness. Just when he was about to die from both the illness and hunger, an old lady who happened to pass by where he was took pity on him. She took him in, fed him, and had a doctor checking on him. The nice woman even gave Han some money so he could start a new life.

She did all that without knowing who he was or what he was capable of. Little that she knew, this seemingly insignificant man would later become China’s most celebrated general. The first thing Han Xin did after achieving success was to visit the old woman and handsomely repaid her for her kindness.

Another famous instance took place during the early days of the Mongolian invasion of Europe. When the Mongolians attacked the outskirts of Europe, many people fled from their homes and sought refuge in nearby towns and cities. Unfortunately, many cities refused to take them in for fear that it would drain valuable resources and increase the level of lawlessness. One Polish city, on the other hand, embraced the refugees. The refugees were fed and their needs were accommodated.

When the ferocious Mongol Horde started to move in and attack the inner areas of Europe, many cities were annihilated. To repay the gracious hospitality and kindness shown to them by the people of the aforementioned city, most of the refugees decided to stay put and even volunteered to be on the front line protecting the city. After several weeks of fruitless besieging, the Mongolians decided to withdraw their troops and left the city alone.

LIT - A Story of Courage

posted Jan 10, 2012, 2:00 PM by Simon Nguyen   [ updated Jan 10, 2012, 2:04 PM ]

Story by Simon Nguyen

L was an internationally acclaimed sculptor, and a beloved figure in a country torn by a fierce and enduring civil war. Although he had done all he could to avoid setting foot into the political fray, becoming part of the conflict was inevitable. L was commissioned by the central government to craft a soldier statue--one that was to be the centerpiece of the newly built memorial. As an artist, L found it very difficult to decline such an offer.

In preparation for this work, the famed artist spent many months visiting battle frontlines, military camps and hospitals; he hoped to find inspirations for the statue from these visits. But despite all the traveling and numerous sleepless nights, he was still unable to realize the desired inspirations.

Just when his effort appeared futile and he might have to settle for something less, a memorable encounter at a military barrack bred new life to the project. During a brief visit to the military facility, L stopped by Mess Hall for lunch. There was a big commotion inside the hall. A group of soldiers were busy consoling a young comrade, who was mourning the death of a fellow soldier. Witnessing the incident, the artist’s eyes immediately lit up; he had just discovered what he had long sought for.

“Soldiers are not fighting machines; they are human beings. That’s the most beautiful of all things.”

When L requested the camp commander to allow the young soldier he met the other day to work as the model for his project, the commander was very surprised. There was nothing “ideal” about the young soldier. He was not the tall, youthful, proud-looking soldier seen on posters and in TV commercials. The guy was just a regular soldier—nothing more and nothing less. The camp commander recommended to L other soldiers whom he believed more resembled the ideal soldier. The artist, however, insisted that the young soldier was his only choice.

After three long months, the statue was finally completed and revealed to the world. Reactions to the work ranged from “amazing” to “magnificent”. The soldiers themselves loved it. Finally, there was something they can truly relate to.

The war came to an end. As in any war, there were winners and losers. L and many of his colleagues were detained for their affiliation with the old regime. One of the officers in charge of where L was held happened to be an admirer of the artist. He counseled L to deny any involvement with the famous statue and pledged to take care of everything else. You will be freed in no time, the officer promised.

Two days later, the artist was taken from his cell to a small and dimly lit room where an interrogation session was scheduled. He was greeted by two interrogators—one young and one seasoned. After a few rounds of trivial questioning, the inevitable question finally popped up. L was asked if he was the author of the famous (or infamous) statue that was perceived to be glorifying the old regime.

This question had been on his mind the last two days. L had been constantly debating within himself how to answer it. But when the question came up, he wasted no time to answer and did it in the simplest way possible. “YES!”

The firmness in which the artist answered the question surprised the interrogators—the veteran officer especially. The guy asked the same question again several times as if wanting to hear a different response, but L remained unyielding in his answer. Confounded by the artist’s resolve, the veteran walked toward L and looked directly into his eyes. “You may return to your cell. Life will be rough on you from now on.”

The next night, L was taken once again from his cell. But the destination had changed; a torture chamber and not an interrogation room awaited him. Inside the chamber was a group of six men–wearing military uniforms. The men greeted him with devilish laughter and took turn beating him. One guy appeared to really enjoy kicking his head. He did it repeatedly and with great force. L lost consciousness many times during the beating, only to be awakened by improvised “cold showers”. L’s ears were bleeding profusely; his whole body was soaked with blood. After almost two hours of severe beatings, the torturers had had enough. L was carried back to his cell.

L awoke the next morning from the terrible “nightmare” he hoped to forget. It was a beautiful day outside; the majestic sunrays that were peeking through the window provided undeniable proof. But there was something missing from his world. Everything was so calm, dead silent in fact. Have the crickets stopped making sound? What happens to the traffic noise from nearby highway? Is it Sunday already? It was not until five minutes later when he finally realized the cause of this silence. He had lost his hearing. He had become deaf…..forever.

- Fifteen years later

Autumn once again reigned over a peaceful San Jose neighborhood. A special package was delivered to one of the houses in the neighborhood. What was inside the package? A glorious sculpture and the following words:

“A true artist always stays true to his art and to himself. L, thanks for everything.”

LIT - A Story of Compassion

posted Jan 7, 2012, 2:16 PM by Simon Nguyen   [ updated Jan 10, 2012, 1:57 PM ]

Story by Simon Nguyen

Many years ago, I had an opportunity to visit to a leprosy camp in Southeast Asia. My friends and I were led into a visitor booth where we could observe leprosy patients through a glass window. Upon observing the patients, I was absolutely horrified at what I was seeing. I had seen pictures of leprosy patients before the visit, but none of them could have prepared me for the hideous sight I was witnessing.

Many of the patients had had their entire arms and legs completely "eaten" by the malicious disease. The closest analogy that I could think of would be a burned victim, having his limps amputated by fire. But leprosy is even more sinister; it consumes its victims at a slow and painful pace and thus prolongs the indescribable suffering. To make matter worst, I could actually see the "eating" process happening live in front of my eyes. I felt a sudden urge to vomit. All I wanted to do at that moment was to leave the booth as quickly as possible, so I could be away from the horrific scene. 

Just as I was about to leave the booth, I saw something I would never forget. Emerging among the leprosy patients were three young nuns, around 19-22 years of age, wearing all-white attires. They were the patients' caretakers. They fed them, answered their questions, and cleansed their wounds.

The nuns performed their jobs with pure joys, having neither afraid of the nastiness of the wounds nor the fact that leprosy is highly infectious. I could see in their eyes genuine affection and devotion. I could feel the tender and warmth, radiated from the devoting way the nuns conducted their work. They treated the lepers not as patients, but as friends in need of loving and care. 

I was completely stunned and ashamed. Here I was, standing 30-40 ft from the patients and protected by a cement wall, and yet was afraid to even cast my eyes upon these unfortunate beings. The nuns, on the other hand, stood side by side with these patients everyday but were unafraid. I later learned from the camp's director that most of the people working at the camp volunteered to come to work here. They knew exactly what type of the condition they would face, but they came anyway. They are the true heroes of our world. 

There are many people today who are doing similar work as the nuns in my story. There are doctors who gave up fame, wealth, and family to serve the poor and needy in dangerous remote region, where they could be killed at any moment. Although we cannot join them in the quest to make the world a better place, we can always support them in spirit and salute them for their charitable work. 

LIT - A Ballet Dancer Story

posted Jan 5, 2012, 11:52 AM by Simon Nguyen   [ updated Jan 5, 2012, 11:52 AM ]

Story by Simon Nguyen

There are two types of people in the world – artists and the rest of us. An artist lives and breathes at the mercy of the audience. Behind every artist’s smile, there are sweats and tears accompanying.

For 10 years, Katherine was the queen of the ballet. She was able to execute the most difficult of moves with incredible ease and grace. Every time she was slated to perform, the theater would be inundated with fans hoping to catch a glimpse of Katherine’s greatness. Every time she performed her signature move, the crowd would go absolutely wild. Nothing seemed to be able to slow her down. Katherine was a bonafide superstar.

Things would take a startling turn, however. Katherine was on her way home one night when her car was hit by an out-of-control truck. Even though she survived the crash, injuries sustained from the accident severely limited her mobility and agility. She could no longer execute the type of moves she was known for. Pretty soon, her contract with the ballet company was terminated.

In the next two years, Katherine would literally knock on the door of one ballet company after another begging for a chance to perform. Unfortunately, the same people who used to vigorously courting her to work for them were now turning a deaf ear on her. Without her signature move, Katherine was nothing more than an ordinary ballet dancer whose best years had passed.

From dawn to dusk, Katherine was seen practicing in her private studio. Despite indescribable pain and despite her bruised feet enveloped with blood, she continued to persist. She practiced, practiced, and practiced some more. Her husband, a wealthy businessman, urged Katherine to give up on her ballet dancing–she wouldn’t listen. Her daughters begged her to stop inflicting upon herself further pain–she still insisted in pursuing her passion. They just didn’t understand her, she thought. A true artist does not care about money or fame; it’s the opportunity to perform the art one so dearly loves that is empowering the artist to shoulder on.

Despite countless hours of practice, her efforts yielded no fruits. She just could not regain the form that had made her famous. Exhausted, Katherine collapsed. As she lay sheepishly on the wooden floor, her eyes were overflowing with tears. Although she was not a person of faith, Katherine could not help but to pray to the Higher Being. All she hoped for was another chance, even if it was only temporary.

Her prayer was apparently answered. In the days after, the condition of her feet dramatically improved. Within months, she was able to execute all the difficult moves she was renowned for. It wasn’t long before people started noticing her again. She was offered a chance to return to the stage she had long yearned for. In fact, she was tapped to be the show’s headliner.

On the day of the premiere, the theater was packed with loyal fans who had waited for so long for another opportunity to witness their idol in action. She did not disappoint them. Her performance was truly majestic. She was the same Katherine, queen of the ballet, but with a much humble attitude and a stronger passion. The night ended with an indefatigable standing ovation. People recognize greatness when they see one; they saw it that night.

After the performance, Katherine’s family threw a huge party to celebrate her magnificent return to the stage. It was then when the most shocking thing happened. Katherine could no longer feel her feet; she would never be able to walk again. The smile never left Katherine’s face, however. She got what she wished for; she had no regrets.

It is hard to comprehend what it’s like to be artist until you become one yourself. Behind every artist’s smile, there are sweats and tears accompanying.

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