Changing Stripes

Roman Mars:
This is 99% invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
I’m sorry to do this, but I’m going to take you back to January 6th, 2021.

ARCHIVAL TAPE:
[I CAN SEE AT LEAST HALF A DOZEN PROTESTORS SCALING, LITERALLY CLIMBING…]

Roman Mars:
A violent mob of Trump supporters attempted to overturn the 2020 election results with physical force. They broke into the Capitol, disrupted the electoral college vote, and occupied the building for hours.

Vivian Le:
Like most of you, I had my butt clenched that day, watching the insurrection unfold on television.

Roman Mars:
Producer, Vivian Le.

Vivian Le:
I also happen to be watching that news coverage with my mom.

Vivian’s Mom:
I see every channel. I watch ABC. I watch CBS. I watch CNN. I watch Fox. Every, every perspective.

Vivian Le:
This is my mom, by the way.

Vivian Le:
“Do you want to say hi to my boss real fast? Roman.”

Vivian’s Mom:
“Hi, Roman. This is Vivian’s mom.”

Roman Mars:
Hey, mom.

Vivian Le:
So that day during the insurrection, yes, we are both horrified and yes, we are both worried about the state of democracy. But as my mom and I scanned the aerial shots of the riders, marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, we also couldn’t help but notice the dizzying amount of different types of flags there that day. Aside from seeing the obvious choices like the US or MAGA flag, there were some that were just really hideous graphic designs, like the flag of Trump photoshopped as Rambo, or Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, peeing on Biden.

Vivian’s Mom:
Stupid, just simply, you know, not attract me.

Roman Mars:
They don’t attract me either. Mom.

Vivian Le:
Then there were the flags that even for a person like me, who spends a lot of time thinking about flags, couldn’t decode.

Vivian’s Mom:
“Yeah. I don’t understand what, what to stand for some flag. What is it — some for Proud boys, some for white supre…”

Vivian Le:
“Supremacy?”

Vivian’s Mom:
“Yeah, supremacy. But I don’t know what to stand for because I’m not born here…”

Vivian Le:
But flying from the balcony of the Capitol building along some of these inscrutable symbols was a flag that my mom instantly recognized. Actually, she more than just recognized it.

Vivian’s Mom:
Ah, that one, that’s the one that we, we love. We cherish, all my life.

Roman Mars:
It was such a simple design that most people probably didn’t even notice it. Bright yellow with three red horizontal stripes across the center. This was the flag of South Vietnam.

Vivian Le:
This is the flag that she grew up with. It reminds her of some of the best years of her life. So when she saw it flying alongside banners that overtly signaled hate, racism, and misogyny that day, it felt like it was telling the rest of the world that, “Hey, this flag stands for all those things too.”

Vivian’s Mom:
I feel shame because the people raise it at the wrong day, the wrong event.

Vivian Le:
The flag of South Vietnam and what it should stand for is a really contentious issue for the Vietnamese-American community. And while seeing it raised at the insurrection felt like the wrong way to use this flag for my mom, the right way to use it was hard for her to put into words.

Vivian Le:
“How is it supposed to be used?”

Vivian’s Mom:
“I don’t know how to say everything.”

Vivian Le:
“Yeah, take your time.”

Vivian’s Mom:
“Stop it. Stop it.”

Vivian Le:
“No, it’s okay. Just take your time. I’m not going to…”

Vivian’s Mom:
“Let make think about this one a little bit because they… It’s a little bit serious you know? So I have to thinking something that I say.”

Vivian Le:
“If I were to ask you to do the Vietnamese flag and that’s all I specified, which one would you draw?”

Tuan Hoang:
“That’s a good one. I don’t know if I can do that. I mean like any academic, right, I would say like, give me more information.” (laughs)

Vivian Le:
This is Tuan Hoang. He’s a historian and associate professor at Pepperdine University who did not fall for my gotcha journalism. A lot like myself, he didn’t think to explore the history of the flag until fairly recently.

Tuan Hoang:
I mean, I did not plan at all to look into the history of the South Vietnamese flag, and then like January 6th happened and then boom, it’s just like, “Oh my god, I need to look into this.”

Roman Mars:
There were actually several confounding international flags present at the Capitol riot that day. The Canadian, Indian, and South Korean flags were all spotted somewhere in the mayhem. But what was peculiar about the Vietnamese flag being there is that it’s not technically the flag of Vietnam. It’s the flag of the Republic of Vietnam. A country that no longer exists.

Vivian Le:
The Republic of Vietnam – or more commonly known as South Vietnam – was, in a way, a reaction to a reaction to colonialism because the country has spent over a thousand years being ruled by outside forces.

Tuan Hoang:
Colonialism was massively important in the history of Vietnam.

Vivian Le:
Vietnam spent much of its early history ruled by China. And then in the mid-1800s, Vietnam came under the control of outside powers again. This time France.

Roman Mars:
We spent a lot of time dragging British colonialism on the show, but today we’re coming for the French.

Vivian Le:
For decades, France exploited Vietnam’s natural resources, made the poor more poor, and suppressed Vietnamese identity, even banning the word “Vietnam” from the region because it was associated with self-determination.

Tuan Hoang:
The Vietnamese, right, they hated it. They did not want to be ruled by French, in this case.

Roman Mars:
Another big consequence of colonialism was that it led different Vietnamese people into two clashing political ideologies.

Tuan Hoang:
Some groups were leaning towards reform, right? Some groups were leaning towards more radical ideology like communism.

Vivian Le:
There were those who believed that yes, colonialism is bad, but also wanted to stay closely aligned with the United States, but leaders like Ho Chi Minh in the north believed that there would be no flourishing under any form of imperialism. Vietnam needed to be a completely independent and communist state.

Roman Mars:
Ho Chi Minh and his army the Viet Minh defeated the French in 1954, which rattled the Western world. Countries like the US were concerned that communism would continue spreading throughout Southeast Asia.

ARCHIVAL TAPE:
[THE PALAIS DES NATIONS WHERE THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS WRESTLED WITH INTERNATIONAL PROBLEMS MANY YEARS AGO NOW IS THE HANDSOME SETTING FOR THE GENEVA CONFERENCE. KOREA AND INDO-CHINA ARE THE CHIEF PROBLEMS TO BE SOLVED.]

Vivian Le:
During the 1954 Geneva Conference, it was decided that France would withdraw from Northern Vietnam. It was also decided that until free elections could be held, the country would be split in two.

Roman Mars:
Vietnam was partitioned at the 17th parallel with a communist country in the north and in the south, a country that was nominally democratic with a heavy US influence. Two separate ideologies, territories, and flags.

Vivian Le:
The flag of South Vietnam was a yellow field with three thin red stripes running horizontally across the center. The yellow symbolized the, uh, people and the three red stripes represented the three distinct regions of the country — North, Central and South Vietnam unified under one banner.

Roman Mars:
In the north, leadership wanted the same thing — a unified Vietnam under these same two colors — but theirs was a different flag. A red field with a bright yellow star at the center. The five points of the star were to represent peasants, workers, intellectuals, traders, and soldiers who unite to build socialism.

Vivian Le:
These two Vietnams clashed in a civil war that lasted for two decades. The US wanted South Vietnam to be its anti-communist stronghold in Southeast Asia. But as the war dragged on, it became clearer and clearer that a democratic Vietnam was not possible.

Tuan Hoang:
And so long story short, right, by 1973 the US troops have withdrawn pretty much completely.

Vivian’s Mom:
They just don’t want to deal with that war anymore.

Vivian Le:
Here’s my mom, again. She actually lived in Saigon and was in law school during this time.

Vivian’s Mom:
They decided, you know, to like withdrawal from the country. And then, you know, we know that we will lose the fight with communist.

Vivian Le:
If South Vietnam fell, anyone associated with the US government or South Vietnamese military could be a target for the North Vietnamese regime. My mom had family in the military and also a sister who worked for the Americans so it wouldn’t be safe to stay. But because of these connections, she was able to flee right before the city was captured.

Vivian’s Mom:
We just packed up some little things, personal things and go. And I remember I only carry a small stuff like personal… like a love letter, a memory book from high school and few clothes. And that’s it. Just the backpack, and nothing else.

Vivian Le:
My mom was a lot more privileged and a hell of a lot luckier than most people in South Vietnam. And she still lost everything.

Vivian’s Mom:
Oh, I’m and crying when the flight lift off. And I see the land down there. My tears just come out a lot. I know that I never see it again.

Vivian Le:
She was actually on one of the last planes to leave the country. The next day, the airport was bombed.

Roman Mars:
A few days later, North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon and took down the flag of South Vietnam. The war was over

NEWS REPORT:
[THE CONQUERING TANKS BURST STRAIGHT INTO THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE. FOR THE FOURTH TIME IN A MONTH, THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE HAD NEW OCCUPANTS, BUT THESE HAVE COME TO STAY.]

Thuy Vo Dang:
April 30th, 1975. That’s the day when South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese.

Vivian Le:
This is Thuy Vo Dang, curator of UC Irvine’s Southeast Asian Archive

Thuy Vo Dang:
In Vietnam, it’s known as Liberation Day and in the diaspora, it’s often referred to as Ngày Mất Nước or the day we lost our Homeland, right, or Ngày Quốc Hận, or the day of national resentment.

Roman Mars:
After the fall of Saigon, the north and south once again became one nation. The new government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam immediately went to task undoing years of capitalist influence on the Southern half of the country.

Tuan Hoang:
And so they embark on a number of measures that affected all of Vietnam, but especially South Vietnamese, right? This vision of establishing a socialist paradise, so to speak.

Roman Mars:
This included changing the currency of Vietnam to undercut the wealthy elites and forcibly relocating roughly a million southerners.

Vivian Le:
But the most infamous post-war policy was incarcerating former South Vietnamese military officers, religious leaders, journalists, academics, artists — basically anyone who didn’t agree with the North Vietnamese government — in reeducation camps, where they spent years starving and forced into manual labor.

Roman Mars:
After the country reunified South Vietnam, didn’t just lose its political recognition and its spot on the map. It was actively erased.

Tuan Hoang:
The government confiscated records, cassette tapes, right, of music produced in South Vietnam. They confiscated hundreds of thousands of books and magazines that were published in South Vietnam and many of them were burned.

Roman Mars:
So when the first wave of South Vietnamese refugees settled in other parts of the world in the late seventies and early eighties, that music, history, and culture became the responsibility of the diaspora.

Vivian Le:
Which is why the flag is so important to people like my mom.

Vivian’s Mom:
We cherish that flag in the day that we fled the country and we don’t have the land anymore. We just have the flag.

Roman Mars:
Tuan Hoang says that for a lot of our early Vietnamese-American refugees, the yellow flag with red stripes stands for more than an allegiance to a non-existing country. It also represents a different, less commonly told perspective on the Vietnam War.

Vivian Le:
There are enough history, books, and documentaries on the subject to keep any retired dad occupied for years. But these are all about America’s role in the war, America’s mistakes, America’s loss. Even the most visible monument to the war, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC was a tribute to the US service members.

Tuan Hoang:
But really, really, really, there was hardly anything that represents the South Vietnamese experience.

Vivian Le:
The South Vietnamese flag did that. For the generation that fled the country, it became a banner, a memorial, and a link connecting the South Vietnamese, scattered all around the world.

Roman Mars:
As the US rekindled diplomatic relations with Vietnam in the late eighties and nineties, a new wave of migration took place to the west. Many of those South Vietnamese had been political prisoners after the fall of Saigon. So to them, seeing this flag flying abroad took on new meaning that wasn’t just about nostalgia.

Tuan Hoang:
The experience of Vietnamese, right, who were living difficult lives in Vietnam after the war, and then they eventually came to the US and then Canada, so on, right? The experienced it is, is a symbol of freedom. Postwar freedom.

Roman Mars:
Municipalities all over the world actually fly the South Vietnamese flag out of respect for local Vietnamese communities. And it has been reclassified as the “freedom and heritage flag” in a number of cities across the country. If you spend enough time in a Vietnam enclave, you might end up thinking that this was the official flag of Vietnam.

Vivian Le:
I 100% grew up thinking that. I actually remember the day that I found out Vietnam’s official flag was something different. I was in sixth grade and our social studies class was assigned a project. It was something that you’ve probably had to do at some point in grade school. It was a country report. You choose a nation and then compile a bunch of data, tuck it into a neat little binder and then present it to the rest of your class. Being Vietnamese-American and also wanting to put in as little effort as possible, I naturally chose Vietnam. But part of the assignment was to draw a picture of that nation’s flag. So I booted up in Encarta 95, a program that I was using well into the year 2001, and used some colored pencils to transpose the graphic that I saw onto a sheet of paper. It was a red field with a bright yellow five-pointed star at the center. I didn’t recognize this flag, but who was I to question Encarta 95? The morning my project was due, my dad was horrified at the site of that five-pointed star on my homework. And that reaction is pretty common amongst South Vietnamese refugees.

Tuan Hoang:
You would not want to show that flag. Yeah, people would really throw things at you.

Roman Mars:
A lot of refugees see the official flag – the red flag with the yellow five-point star – as a reminder of what they’d fled in Vietnam. So as Vietnamese-Americans became more politically active in the 90s and early 2000s, essentially anywhere the official flag appeared, a protest would follow.

Thuy Vo Dang:
They were a constant thing. Every weekend in Little Saigon, there was a protest that was somehow related to the flag.

Vivian Le:
The biggest incident happened in 1999 at a suburban strip mall right at the heart of Orange County’s Little Saigon, actually just two blocks from where my parents worked.

NEWS REPORT:
[THE SCENE WAS REMINISCENT TO THE ’60S. ROW AFTER ROW OF POLICE AND FULL RIOT GEAR, CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE …]

Vivian Le:
The owner of a video store called High Tech TV and VCR was a recent immigrant from Vietnam and he decided to put up the red flag along with a portrait of Ho Chi Minh.

Roman Mars:
The owner in this case was kind of asking for trouble.

Vivian Le:
Well, he was literally asking for trouble. The store owner actually sent fax messages to local Vietnamese community leaders detailing what he had done and daring them to do something about it. The protests lasted for months and at its peak, the LA times recorded over 15,000 protestors in one day. I used to get my hair cut in this plaza and I cannot imagine that many people cramming into that little parking lot.

[AUDIO OF PROTEST]

Vivian Le:
Thuy Vo Dang actually went to these protests back in 1999 and could see that yes, the official red star flag was capable of setting off a firestorm of controversy. But the yellow flag of South Vietnam could also be a polarizing symbol, especially when you think about who is excluded and what kind of conversations are shut down by it.

Thuy Vo Dang:
It is the only flag allowed in Little Saigon. So that is a certain kind of sanctioning as well, right? And how do people who have immigrated here very recently, have grown up in Vietnam with the red flag only, how do they feel around the Lunar New Year when they walk around Bolsa Avenue and only see the yellow flag,

Vivian Le:
The South Vietnamese flag could be especially inciting when used in community politics. If the official five-pointed star flag of Vietnam is viewed as the communist flag, then the yellow flag with red stripes of South Vietnam is seen as the anti-communist flag.

Thuy Vo Dang:
When you call someone a communist in the Little Saigon community here, that’s like a death knell for their political career, right? It’s slanderous. I’ve seen it used in ways that have been intended to cause harm, right. To leverage the emotional weight that we’ve put to this flag, right. And try to hurt others.

Roman Mars:
These staunch anti-communist views are actually a big part of why first-generation Vietnamese-Americans have always been a pretty reliable Republican voting block.

Vivian Le:
That and a lot of Vietnamese people also tend to be drawn to the GOP’s hard-line stance on China, which I don’t agree with. But apparently, a thousand years of occupation and territorial disputes can lead to a pretty gnarly grudge.

Tuan Hoang:
That Is something that we can actually generalize meaningfully. The easiest way to anger a Vietnamese is just say something nice about China.

Vivian Le:
The South Vietnamese flag has been drifting towards politically conservative symbolism for a while now. For some, the yellow flag with red stripes has become a shorthand for right-wing nationalism. It had been a constant presence at Trump rallies leading up to January 6th so many of us in the community weren’t even surprised to see it at the insurrection.

ARCHIVAL TAPE:
[YOU CAN SEE AT LEAST HALF A DOZEN PROTESTORS SCALING. LITERALLY…]

Thuy Vo Dang:
I was disheartened. I was angry. I was frustrated. All of those things. But I wasn’t surprised.

Vivian Le:
There’s a huge generational divide in the Vietnamese community when it comes to politics. So much so that there’s even a support group on Facebook for Asian-Americans with Republican parents that’s filled with second-generation Vietnamese kids. Like a lot of conservative America, Republican Vietnamese have been drawn to Trumpism. And for the older generation especially, the ones who experienced the war, there could still be a deep fear of communism. So when they hear stuff like this–

DONALD TRUMP:
[LIKE IT OR NOT, WE ARE BECOMING A COMMUNIST COUNTRY. THAT’S WHAT’S HAPPENING.]

Vivian Le:
That pulls on actual lived trauma. The people who brought the South Vietnamese flag to the insurrection only represented a very small and very noisy sub of the community. Most people, including my mom, hated seeing the flag there that day.

Vivian’s Mom:
That day, that January 6th, right? There’s a lot of debate after that in the community. There’s a lot of people against that. People bring the flag to that event. And me too, I don’t like it.

Vivian Le:
In the days following January 6th, a number of write-ups were published to help people “decode” some of the racist imagery of the insurrection. And some of them included the South Vietnamese flag. I felt queasy seeing it lumped in with all these symbols of hate.

Roman Mars:
For a large swath of the US, January 6th was probably the first time they had even seen the South Vietnamese flag. It is not farfetched to think that some observers may have wondered what radical group this yellow flag with red stripes represented.

Vivian Le:
The South Vietnamese flag’s presence that day brought up a lot of questions for those of us who don’t want to see it end up like Pepe the Frog, but Thuy Vo Dang thinks that this doesn’t just have to be an embarrassing moment for the Vietnamese-American community. It could also be an opportunity to face our history before it gets co-opted by any side of the political spectrum.

Thuy Vo Dang:
It’s up to us to do the work of pushing the conversation towards understanding the nuances and complexities of our history. But I think, all of the attention that came after the appearance of the yellow flag at the insurrection could enable an entry point.

Vivian Le:
I think a lot of people in my generation have a very different relationship to this flag and to Vietnam itself. To me, the flag just can’t be boiled down to freedom or nostalgia or anti-communism or any of the other one-liners ascribe to it. It’s a complex symbol for the complicated history of how I got here.

Vivian’s Mom:
When I just start up my life here, I miss everything in the past, but now it’s okay. I like it here.

Vivian Le:
I hadn’t really thought about it before, but my mom’s life directly reflects the yellow flag with red stripes. She was born in 1955. The same year that South Vietnam was created. And she fled the country in 1975. The year it ended.

Vivian’s Mom:
I just spent 20 years of my life, first life, in Vietnam. And now I’m 66. So more than double here in the United States. So I love this country.

Vivian Le:
My mom said something that stuck with me that I think applies to the flag of South Vietnam, too. She doesn’t want to live in the past, but she doesn’t want to forget it either. She wants the same for me too because one day the war will stop being a living memory and just be history. And what we’ll be left with is a yellow flag with reds stripes.

Roman Mars:
After the break, Vivian comes back to help decode the hidden history behind Vietnamese restaurant names.

[BREAK]

Roman Mars:
So we’re back with Vivian Le. Thank you so much for that story. I always love the stories where I learn a little bit more about you guys’ lives.

Vivian Le:
Yeah. And talk to our parents too?

Roman Mars:
Exactly.

Vivian Le:
So, yeah. So this is actually going to be like the Vietnamese-iest episode ever because I’m going to talk about pho restaurants. So if, if any listener doesn’t know what pho is, I feel bad for you. Cause it’s so good. It’s probably the most visible dish that has come out of Vietnam. Like when I meet someone and they find out I’m Vietnamese and they don’t know how to make conversation, a lot of times they’ll be like, “Well, I like pho.” I’m like, okay, great, thank you for that. But like, I guess to boil it down to its most basic level, it’s like a noodle plus protein plus fragrant broth soup. And it has beans sprouts and Thai basil and lime and onions.

Roman Mars:
Yeah. You’re given a kit when you get it. It’s like, it is really the greatest soup. And, and I know that’s a contentious subject when it comes to a lot of people and a lot of soups in different cultures, but I’m here to tell you pho is the best.

Vivian Le:
Oh, it’s the best soup. Yeah, the accouterments alone that come with the bowl of pho. But you know, if you drive through pretty much any Little Saigon in the world, you would probably notice that there’s this really common naming convention when it comes to pho restaurants. And I think it’s really well articulated by Ali Wong in her comedy special “Baby Cobra.” So Wong herself is Vietnamese. And there’s this part where she’s talking about how her now-husband tried to take her to like a “authentic Vietnamese restaurant” on one of their first dates.

ALI WONG:
[HE TOOK ME TO THIS REST RESTAURANT ON THE WEST SIDE OF LOS ANGELES CALLED PHO-SHO. HE WAS LIKE, IT’S AUTHENTIC VIETNAMESE. I READ ABOUT IT ON YELP. I WAS LIKE, IT’S NOT AUTHENTIC, OKAY? YOU CAN TELL FIRST AND FOREMOST BY THE NAME BECAUSE IT DON’T GOT A NUMBER IN IT.]

Vivian Le:
So she’s talking about this completely valid stereotype about Vietnamese restaurants that they’re always named, like the word pho plus a seemingly random number. Like right now, I’m looking at a map of Orange County and there’s a Pho 99 right next to a Pho 86, which is less than a block away from a Pho 45. And then there’s a Pho 54 around the corner from a Pho 79, which is very good by the way, it’s a great restaurant. So there’s this very, very common thing that you will see with Vietnamese restaurants that they always kind of include a number.

Roman Mars:
So what’s the number all about?

Vivian Le:
Yeah. So sometimes the restaurant will have a number just because like the numbers themselves are lucky. Like if you see a Pho 555 or a Pho 888, it’s because five and eight are like auspicious numbers in a lot of Eastern cultures. Plus, it’s like super-memorable to have like three numbers in a row.

Roman Mars:
Yeah.

Vivian Le:
But if you pay close enough attention to the numbers, they can actually tell you about the restaurant’s owner’s family history or the history of Vietnam, in general. So if you see a restaurant called Pho 86 or Pho 79, that could represent that the owner of the restaurant immigrated from Vietnam in 1986 or in 1979. So, that’s a really common naming convention in Vietnamese-American culture. And it’s this way to kind of pay tribute to the start of this new life.

Roman Mars:
Yeah. Like around our office in Oakland, we have a Pho 84, which I like to visit. So my guess is 84 makes it one of those ones where it is indicative of a year.

Vivian Le:
Yeah, exactly. Like usually the numbers are signifying some sort of year. So you’ll also see a lot of places named like Pho 75 specifically.

Roman Mars:
Right.

Vivian Le:
And 75 is a really important number in Vietnamese-American culture because 1975 is the year of the fall of Saigon and the end of South Vietnam. So a lot of Vietnamese-Americans actually commemorate it every year with something called Black April, which marks the day that Saigon fell on April 30th, 1975.

Roman Mars:
Wow. I’d never heard of Black April. That’s really fascinating.

Vivian Le:
Yeah. It’s celebrated mostly in Little Saigon and stuff. So yeah, it was a big thing where I was growing up.

Roman Mars:
So you might see a lot of Pho 75’s because there was a lot of immigration activity in 1975 because of the Fall of Saigon.

Vivian Le:
Yeah, exactly. So another restaurant number you’ll probably see a lot is Pho 54.

Roman Mars:
Yeah. So we talk about this, we talk about 54 in the piece. This is when the creation of South Vietnam… the partitioning of the country.

Vivian’s Mom:
Yeah, exactly. So this is when Vietnam was split basically into North and South Vietnam. And this is actually a really big date in Vietnamese food culture as well because, you know, when the country was split two, there was this huge migration of people between North and South Vietnam because the north was now a communist country. The south was now anti-communist. So in the US, they called this Operation Passage to Freedom. But essentially it was this grace period where people were allowed to flee the north or the south before the border was officially sealed. So somewhere between 600,000 to a million North Vietnamese actually relocated to the south. And this is actually how my mom’s family ended up in Saigon because they were part of this migration from the north to the south.

Roman Mars:
Oh.

Vivian Le:
Yeah. But this was important for like Vietnamese food culture specifically too, because pho is a dish that actually originated from North Vietnam. So for a time pho wasn’t actually something that was eaten very much in South Vietnam. Like if you’ve ever been there, it’s very, very hot. It’s steamy there. But it became really popular in the south because this huge influx of northerners that relocated to places like Saigon and pho itself changed a lot after it was brought to South Vietnam because of the available ingredients, like, in South Vietnam. So originally it was pretty simple, but that’s when we started putting like the herbs and the bean sprouts and just packing it with all this stuff. And so this kind of hybrid north-south version of pho is what was taken abroad when Vietnamese started immigrating to other parts of the world after the war.

Roman Mars:
Oh, that’s cool.

Vivian Le:
Yeah. Yeah. And so actually this tradition of naming restaurants to include a number in it, like an important date or something, is actually something that you mostly see in the older restaurants, like by people who are the first generation immigrants. So newer Vietnamese restaurants tend to be less likely to adhere to that, like, numbered name convention. So the stereotype about it not being like “authentic” like a “authentic Vietnamese restaurant” kind of comes from somewhere just because the places with the numbers will be more old school, more traditional, right? Like I personally try to avoid anything with like a pun on the word pho in it, like a restaurant called like Pho-nomenal or something, I’m like, no.

Roman Mars:
But especially ones that imply that pho rhymes with sho or that it’s fo. Yeah.

Vivian Le:
Oh yeah. That is my biggest pet feed. It’s pho it’s not fo. Please, please, please know that. If you take anything from this coda, pho.

Roman Mars:
Do your best. You can just remember pho.

Vivian Le:
Yeah.

Roman Mars:
Well, this is fascinating. I love the idea that you could drive through a neighborhood and just know a family’s history from the names of the pho places. I mean, that’s the coolest.

Vivian Le:
Yeah.

Roman Mars:
Alright well, thank you, Vivian.

Vivian Le:
Thank you!

———

Roman Mars:
99% Invisible was produced this week by Vivian Le and edited by Christopher Johnson. Mix and tech production by Ameeta Ganatra. Music by our director of sound Swan Real.

Delaney Hall is the executive producer. Kurt Kohlstedt is the digital director. The rest of the team includes Lasha Madan, Joe Rosenberg, Emmett FitzGerald, Chris Berube, Sofia Klatzker, and me, Roman Mars.

Special thanks to Long T. Bui, Diana Le, and Grace Le.

We are part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM podcast family, now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora Building — in beautiful uptown Oakland, California.

You can find the show and join discussions about the show on Facebook. You can tweet me @romanmars and the show @99piorg. We’re on Instagram and Reddit, too. You can find links to other Stitcher shows I love as well as every past episode of 99pi at 99pi.org.

 

 

Credits

Production

Producer Vivian Le spoke with Tuan Hoang, Associate Professor of Great Books at Pepperdine University; Thuy Vo Dang Curator for the UCI Libraries Southeast Asian Archive; and Vivian’s mom.

Special thanks to Long T. Bui, Diana Le, and Grace Le.

  1. Adam Eaton

    This reminds me of when the L’Manberg flag was sighted at a right wing rally in the UK. L’Manberg is a fake country from the Minecraft Dream SMP lore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All Categories

Minimize Maximize

Playlist