We got a new HTL MV, boyz!!! Can't stop! Won't stop! Hoàng Thùy Linh continues her comeback efforts with an artistic and culturally refined music video. Bánh Trôi Nước (Woman) maybe HTL's most visually stunning and elegant MV yet! With DJ Triple-D providing an epic soundtrack, HTL recites Bánh Trôi Nước -- written by legendary Vietnamese poet Hồ Xuân Hương in the early 1800's -- in a chilling and hypnotic fashion.
What exactly is Bánh Trôi Nước?
"Bánh trôi nước" means floating cake or cake floating (drifting) in water. It is a Northern Vietnamese rice flour dessert. Perhaps dumpling is a better word for bánh trôi nước. The "cake" is made by first encasing mung bean paste mixed with ginger into a rounded ball and then boiling it in water.
What is its significance in Vietnamese culture?
Hồ Xuân Hương is the name of a Vietnamese poet who lived between 1772 and 1822. HXH is considered to be one of Vietnam's greatest classical poets. In addition, she is a good example of Vietnam's history of strong female figures -- the Trưng sisters who rebelled against Chinese rule in 40 AD being another example. What is particularly interesting about HXH is that: 1) she was a female poet, 2) she wrote poems that were full of erotic, sexual undertones, and 3) she wrote in Vietnamese Nôm script rather than in standard Chinese. At the time, that shit was insane to be doing! Hồ was ruffling some feathers -- especially with the Chinese elites. They were probably thinking: Somebody get this Ho back in the kitchen! At the the time, Vietnam was very much a male driven society filled with Chinese Confucian ideals about sex and gender roles.
Bánh Trôi Nước is one of HXH's most well-known works. It is a poem that compares the nature and plight of Vietnamese women to that of the food item bánh trôi nước. Let's examine the poem, shall we?
Original Poem By Hồ Xuân Hương
Thân em vừa trắng lại vừa tròn,
Bảy nổi ba chìm với nước non.
Rắn nát mặc dầu tay kẻ nặn,
Mà em vẫn giữ tấm lòng son.
My Personal Literal Translation
My body is both white and round,
Seven float three sink with fresh water.
A hard and rough hand kneads me,
But I still keep my true red heart.
The first line compares the female body to that of the physical characteristics of the cake. Bánh trôi nước is white (trắng), round (tròn), and soft. These physical traits are desirable traits when talking about women in Vietnamese society. White skin is considered beautiful. It is also the color associated with purity. In the US, getting a tan is what people do to beautify themselves. Only people with the means have the time and money to spend to get a tan. However, it's the opposite in Vietnam. Having pale skin means you are well-off. Having white skin means you aren't working in the fields all day long. In a similar manner, being too skinny is considered a bad thing -- especially in ancient times. It's a sign of bad health and malnutrition. Gotta get them thick, curvy girls! None of that anorexic shit found in Western culture, ya feel me? Round could also mean being a well-rounded person. Who knows with this poetry business?
The second line is alluding to the cooking process of bánh trôi nước. After boiling the cakes/dumplings for a while, they will float when done. In Vietnamese, ba chìm bảy nổi also means checkered, stormy, or marked by ups and downs. HXH is comparing the life of women to the trials and tribulation of something bobbing up and down struggling to stay a float in a mountain stream. Nước meaning water. Non meaning young, new, fresh, or inexperienced.
In the third line, HXH talks about being kneaded or formed by hands that are rắn (hard or solid) and nát (rough, nicked up, or broken). Realistically, women were probably getting slapped up and worked daily by men of that time period. You know....kind of like how Chris Brown worked Rihanna's face. Yeah, I went there. You may say it's ancient history; I say history still matters. #NeverForget
In the last line, HXH concludes the poem by describing the unbreakable nature of women to that of the contents of bánh trôi nước. They don't come falling apart when cooked. Like dumplings kneaded by rough hands and boiled to form a delicate and delightful snack, women stay passionate, loving, and noble despite the injustice they face in life. Women in ancient times didn't have much control over their lives much like a simple cake floating along in a mountain stream; however, they still had their pride as a woman.
English Meaning / Interpretation
She is white and pure, her fate,
Rising and sinking like mountains in streams,
Whole or broken is in the hands of others,
Yet she is still pure and true.
P.S. It is interesting to note that "bánh bèo" is a modern Vietnamese slang term originating from the Vietnamese gay community to mean "feminine." It is usually used to describe a "feminine" guy, but younger people today also use the term "bánh bèo" to describe a "girly" girl. Years later, the tradition of comparing female qualities to food items lives on in present day Vietnam.