Uncontained Rants...

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Women who 'nhau'

I guess its time for another update from yours truly. My life has been quite full this last month, but definitely in a good way.

I've been able to get back to experiencing a bit more of LA and reminding myself of why I really do love this city (access to awesome music, food, weather, traffic...well, we can't have everything). In addition to keeping spiritually grounded and God-centered, I'm also trying to keep abreast of current events and the state of our nation as the upcoming elections approach and I hope to make sense of the madness that is our world today, which of course is easier said then done (interesting how they're now trying to make voting 'cool', i.e. P.Diddy's Vote or Die campaign). It definitely takes much more effort now that being 'socially conscious' is not as accessible, in the academic sense. On my own, I always come up with many more questions then answers, but I guess that's what its about...questioning and reflecting. Anyways, before I'm tempted to climb onto a soapbox, let me just encourage you all who are of voting age to please register to vote...and most importantly, if you're going to vote, take some time to find out about what you'd potentially be voting for or against. (Nothing worse then blindly walking into that voting booth and marking off boxes based on what you've "heard".) For a taste of the 'other side', check out 89.9FM KCRW and 90.7FM KPFK in Southern CA. (I welcome any other suggestions)

Alright, since I'm feeling a bit spacey, here's my latest Vietweekly article but this copy is from the NCM Online site. enjoy!

NOTE: Oh, and since I'm against any and all forms of drunkeness, this article in no way condones excessive drinking. It's just a 'sociological' exploration of the phenomenon. riiiight.

Vietnamese Women Stake Claim on Male Custom

News Feature, Julie Vo,
Viet Weekly, Oct 20, 2004

WESTMINSTER, Calif. –– Nhau. It's a Vietnamese social phenomenon that traditionally involves a group of friends sitting around heaping plates of exotic meats, the smell of pork and beer wafting through the air and the sounds of raucous laughter erupting above the clink of half-full bottles.

It is as much a Vietnamese practice among Vietnamese men as chain-smoking. Up and down the streets of Little Saigon and in Vietnam, you'll find men gathering to nhau in establishments designed solely for that purpose.

But these days, nhau gatherings have strayed from tradition. It's likely now that you will find those who nhau also sport lip gloss and maybe a variety of blonde and auburn highlights.

“As women become independent, it's just something you do with your girlfriends," said Aimee Pham, 23. "Before, you go with your husbands or boyfriends, and now it's more common for women to just nhau on their own.”

In fact, Vietnamese women young and old are reveling in their sisterhood when they nhau, and it's causing quite a stir in the Vietnamese community.

Even men who find women who nhau acceptable say they understand the cultural stigmatization that comes from breaking gender norms.

“I'm totally OK with it, but I think the typical thoughts about women who nhau are 'You should be somewhere else, you shouldn't be here' or 'Women shouldn't be drinking. They should be cooking,'” said Charles Tran.

Nhau is essentially about socializing and celebrating with friends and family. Practiced in Vietnam and in the United States, the Vietnamese nhau is similar to the Spanish tapas where small, appetizer platters filled with exotic meats such as fermented pork, spiced goat, deer, eel and frog legs are served with plenty of beer.

The Vietnamese typically gather in groups of two to eight people at a restaurant called "quang nhau" or at home. Friends gather to enjoy each other's company, talking and sometimes karaoking, all of which can go on for hours at a time.

Some Vietnamese women find that it is just a fun way to hang out with their girlfriends and catch up.

“We just have a little beer, soft drinks and food and have one of those girl talks. We don't do it to get drunk. It's just something to spark our conversations,” said Tina Dinh, 21.

Still, most Vietnamese women do not venture out to the more public quang nhau. Instead, they tend to congregate at each other's homes. For women who regularly nhau with their girlfriends, they recognize that the reasons for their discreet get-togethers are mostly due to societal stigma.

“My husband is OK with me meeting my friends to nhau, as long as it's at the home of our family and friends. I'd go to quang nhau with my husband, but probably not on my own," said Leslie Doan, 39. "Most Vietnamese people don't really accept women who nhau because they're not used to it, somehow thinking we're all crazy ladies or "gai quay." There have always been women who nhau, just fewer in numbers. The thing is, we nhau, but we just don't let anyone know we do.”

The negative perceptions of Vietnamese women who drink without the presence of men are deeply rooted in strict Confucian notions of proper gender etiquette in Vietnam. The traditional views are that women should abstain from alcohol, or only drink moderately, to maintain an image of decency and virtuous character.

“Nhau is a word related to gender," said Cal State Fullerton Professor Son-Kim Vo of the Inter-Cultural Center. "We often say 'dan ong nhau nhet, dan ba an choi,' meaning men get together to eat and drink while women get together to eat, gamble, dance, shop, or worse, to commit adultery.”

“If I saw a group of girls at a quang nhau drinking on their own or smoking cigarettes, I would think they were bad girls," said Buu Tran, 36. "If it were white women, it would be OK. But somehow it's not OK if they were Asian. That's just how I feel; it's our tradition.”

Even Vietnamese women disapprove of their peers who nhau, but not for reasons of bucking the gender norm.

“If you're getting together for the sole purpose of getting drunk, then that's a problem, perhaps doing it to get rid of some pain or loneliness,” said An Thi, 37, referring to habits of alcoholism.

Despite the social stigma, it seems rigid notions of the woman's place in public are changing in Little Saigon and other Vietnamese-American communities. A younger generation of Vietnamese women, whose social values are shaped by mainstream Western culture, are finding a greater sense of gender equality.

Dinh sees no shame in defying the old-fashioned social norms.

“I think in the United States, nhau is misconstrued as just getting drunk. But in the Vietnamese society, it's just a simple get-together to socialize. Some people abuse it and use it to get drunk," Dinh said. "But I definitely think that getting drunk and 'nhau' is not the same thing. So if you're drinking responsibly, and guys can do it, why can't girls?”

Link to Pacific News