13 March 2012

Hong DDa

I like to take photo of witty vanity plates and try to decode the messages.  Some messages are easy to figure out while others are challenging.  At least to me.  It is all relative, of course.  For example, with the photo below, for someone growing up in an English-speaking country where Volkswagon already bombarded with ads for the cute vehicle, it is a dead giveaway.  LIL BUG must be short for LITTLE BUG, as in VOLKSWAGON BUG.  But what if the simple puzzle is shown to someone who is new to the English language?  Further pretend that the person is also new to Western culture.  How would he know BUG here refers to the car model and not to an insect?  Chances are the English dictionary he uses will not have the definition for LIL.  If he is from Viet Nam, he can be thrown off by the use of BUG. The original Volkswagon Bug was marketed in Viet Nam and the Vietnamese calls it xe con cóc or the Frog Car.

The topic of different interpretations reminds me of the hông đa in Viet Nam. The sharp-eyed reader may correctly guesses that the name refers to Honda. When I was in Viet Nam, some thirty-plus years ago, almost any motorized bike is referred to as hông đa. My guess is that Honda had a big section of the motorized bike in Viet Nam back then. Likewise, lam bách ta means any scooter, not just the Lambretta motor scooter. Lastly, GMC automatically means a truck, even the General Motor Corporation makes more than just trucks.

Having spent most of my life in the U.S., I easily associate the word Honda to cars and not motor bike. There's the Honda Accord and I even own a Honda Odyssey. Perhaps because my father used to drive a hông đa, I remember the words the most, even though dad's bike was not necessarily made by Honda. But then again there is also this short song parody that I know and remember well, even if I forgot a word here and there and had to ask my brother for help:

Chiều mưa rầm rầm
Tôi lái chiếc hông-đa đưa tiễng nàng ra đầu cầu
Vừa tới bếnh sông thấy một người mặc cái xà-rong
Đứng xa như đàng ông, đứng gần như bà-bống

which translates to something like

It was a rainy night
I rode the Honda to send her to the bridge
At the river bank there was a person wearing a sarong
Far away it seemed to be a man, but close-up it was a drag queen

Do pardon my written Vietnamese, it has been a while and I do not want to spend too much time correcting typos, if any. Does bà bống really mean drag queen? Let's hear it from some Vietnamese people.

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