I realized that I was not alone in my suffering.
It was honestly quite difficult for me to come up with an “Easter” drawing. When I hear “Easter,” I think of eggs, grass, and pastel colors. However, in the context of Catholicism, I see the cross with a shining bright light behind it. That’s it? I can’t just submit a simple drawing of a cross. So I pondered what did the cross on Easter mean to me.
Easter is the season that comes after Lent. The season of Lent is the time Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. Likewise, we spend 40 days in the desert, either by giving up something for Lent or by doing something good more for Lent. Whatever we do for Lent, it should be something that can help us become closer to God. When Lent ends, we emerge from the desert and head towards the Easter Triduum.
In my art piece, the Nghĩa Sĩ girl and Ấu Nhi boy are finally coming out of the desert and towards three crosses, the middle cross with a piece of white cloth. (The white cloth is to represent Easter.) The three crosses represent Good Friday, the day Jesus died for us on the cross for our sins. When I think of Good Friday, I think of the 14 Stations of the Cross, which has a very special meaning to me that I also do not fully understand myself. During the silent retreat in January, my spiritual director told me to pray and meditate on the crucifixion. The 14 Stations of the Cross has had a special place in my heart ever since my first silent retreat in December 2014 and have become more obviously important to me after this recent silent retreat. The only thing I know for certain is that my feelings on the crucifixion are indescribable.
The Nghĩa Sĩ girl is walking towards the three crosses. Nghĩa Sĩ is the age when you are first learning more about yourself and establishing yourself from your peers. This is the life stage when you want to be a unique individual, but at the same time, fit in and have friends. It’s when you navigate through high school and all the confusion of who you are. The Nghĩa Sĩ girl is walking towards Jesus, towards hope. I hope all kids in Nghĩa Sĩ find themselves turning to God and know that God is always with them, despite the doubts and questions they may have.
The Ấu Nhi boy is holding onto the Nghĩa Sĩ girl’s arm. He is confused and is depending on the Nghĩa Sĩ girl on where to go next. She is leading him as an example. I currently teach Ngành Nghĩa Sĩ at my Đoàn and I hope that they all know that they are often looked up to by the younger kids, Ngành Thiếu, and Ngành Ấu. In addition, the Ấu Nhi boy represents innocence, which contrasts with the Nghĩa Sĩ girl’s faith journey. When we are younger, it’s so much easier to pray because we have not seen the horrors of the world. When we are older and have been through so much pain, it could be difficult to pray. Despite this, the Nghĩa Sĩ girl still turns to God and the Ấu Nhi boy follows. We should all follow her example. When it is most difficult to pray, that is when it is most important to pray.
I imagine the two as siblings. Whether as blood-related siblings or brother and sister-in-Christ, these two are close to each other.
This concept was the first one that I drew and came up with. At first, I was unsure of what the meaning was and did not like how hard for people to understand its meaning (if it even had one). I drew up other concepts, which all stopped mid-way because I didn’t have any clue of what I was trying to draw. In the end, I came back to this original concept and just embraced it. I trusted God that this idea was the one that should be published.
I had hope that God will lead me on the right path with this drawing. I hope you all feel a sense of hope when you look at this art piece.
Đoàn TNTT Vinh Sơn Liêm’s Lenten Retreat 2019
I contributed another piece of artwork to the VEYM DAC (Digital Assets Collection)/TNTT Arts Team this month. This time, the theme is The Holy Family.
Lately, as I scroll through Facebook and Instagram, I have been seeing Huynh Trưởngs from other Miềns getting married and having their first child. This month’s artwork is inspired by those many couples which are now new families.
February was a very busy month with Tết and lion dancing. However, I am very happy that I was able to carve out some time to work on this. For some reason, I’ve realized that I do not see (or notice) many Holy Family statues or pictures, so I googled “The Holy Family” for some inspiration. This one particular image caught my eye:
Jesus offering Mary flowers stood out from the other images. Most Holy Family images I have seen are the simple Joseph, Mary, and young or baby Jesus. However, the flowers here in this specific image reminded me of Dâng Hoa, but also reminds me that we should honor Mother Mary and our parents.
When a husband and wife have their first child, I imagine they would imitate the Holy Family. Like Mary when Jesus was born, new mothers are overjoyed that they can finally hold their child in their arms. The father is supportive and provides for the family.
At my Đoàn, older Huynh Trưởng who are now married with children bring their children to sinh hoạt every Saturday. Sometimes I see the mother wear her TNTT uniform while holding hands with the new Au Nhi child and holding a younger child in her other arm. Once in a while, the father is busy and walking somewhere. This drawing is also inspired by those older Huynh Trưởng who are now parents.
If there was anything I would do differently about this artwork, it would be to perhaps make the Huynh Trưởngs a little older or have them be Trợ Tá so it would be more obvious that the two Huynh Trưởngs are parents of the Au Nhi child. I only realized after realizing that the two Huynh Trưởngs might look “too young” to be parents.
What do you think of when you look at this drawing?
I wanted to get back into lion dancing this year and I did. 🦁 I performed for the first time in almost 2 years. #OutOfShape Performing again reminded me how much I love lion dancing. (Not the 🧨) It’s so exciting and fun! However, the one thing that gave me the extra motivation to get back into it was knowing that I’ll be bonding with my Nghia Si kids. 😊💛 (Not pictured: Andrew)
It has been almost two years since I have last choreographed a cultural dance, so I was slightly nervous when I volunteered to lead the Nghĩa Sĩ dance for the 37th Lễ Bổn Mạng during our Nganh Meeting on Wednesday, 10/3. Our 37th Lễ Bổn Mạng was set to be on Saturday, 11/3. Yes, exactly one month to draft up some Nghĩa Sĩ, choreograph, teach the dance, and refine the dance. Not only was I worried that I was out of practice for choreographing, but I was also worried about the time limit.
Part of the reason why we decided on this late was because our Doan did not pick on a theme until the Saturday before our Nganh Meeting. In less than a day after our Doan meeting, the theme was decided to be “The Footsteps of Vietnamese Martyrs”.
Once I knew the theme and volunteered to lead the dance, I had only one song in mind to use: Bài Ca Ngàn Trùng, a song about the Vietnamese Martyrs.
How did I find this song? I found it while browsing YouTube for another Vietnamese song a few years ago. When I first heard it, I thought it sounded super serious and dramatic so I favorited it. It sounded so meaningful despite my understanding of the Vietnamese words. I just knew it had something to do with Vietnamese Martyrs since the YouTube videos showed pictures of Vietnamese Martyrs with the song. (Using context clues!) Little did I know I was actually going to choreograph a dance for this song a couple years later…
When I choreograph a dance, I try to understand the meaning behind the words and research the background of the song. However, since this is an old Vietnamese church song, my only hope was to just try to understand the lyrics. Who did I ask for help? My dad. On Friday night before the first dance practice, I asked my dad to translate each line, one by one, so that I can understand the meaning of the song and choreograph the dance with movement related to the lyrics.
My main goal for choreographing the dance to this specific song was to make sure that this dance did not look like a Dâng Hoa. The song I chose is commonly sung in church. We actually heard this song being sung during a rước kiệu for Các Thánh Tử đạo Việt Nam at our parish a few weeks before LBM. When I told a few HTs during the rước kiệu that this was going to be the song Nghĩa Sĩ will dance to, they had a confused face and were probably thinking, “How are you guys going to dance to this song?” And honestly, I didn’t really know how I was going to choreograph this. All I knew was that I did not want this dance to look like a Dang Hoa. The dance should not entirely look gentle, graceful, or flowy. The dance had to look mostly sharp and serious, but at the same time, worshipping God.
When I think about the Vietnamese Martyrs, I think of death because they all died for God. The lyrics, “Cho đầu rơi máu chảy / ánh đức tin kiên trung / chiếu sáng khi gươm vung”, (Let the bleeding head fall / Strong, bright Faith / Shines brightly when the sword swings), is about beheading, which was probably the one of the most common ways the Vietnamese Martyrs were killed. I decided that this dance was going to portray the different ways the Vietnamese Martyrs could have been killed.
Now, how was I going to portray violence in a dance without being too explicit? Using plastic swords would have been too obvious and it would have made the dance look like a homicide demonstration. It might as well have been a skit then. Fans and Bamboo hats were out of the question because they seemed too gentle and graceful. In the end, I decided to use fabric. Fabric was the most versatile. It can be both flowy and strong and can balance out the sharp dance movements.
I use GoogleSheets to plan out the entire dance. This method works for me because I can see the overall feeling and picture of the dance.
For costumes, I knew I wanted everyone to look uniform. Death did not discriminate gender. There were both male and female martyrs. I wanted everyone to look like they were poor or in poverty so that all they really had was their faith. The mood of the entire dance was serious and a little dark, so I wanted dark colors. Hence, this is why they wore dark brown Ao Ba Bas and black pants/leggings. The fabrics were red to represent blood. They were practically walking Hiệp Sĩ Khăn Quàngs. (Boys had black fabric because I did not have enough red fabric, but at least it still matched the theme).
There were 3 methods of killing portrayed in the dance: 1) Beheading, 2) Hanging, 3) Splitting (Stretched to Death).
- Beheading: Both Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ and Nghĩa Sĩ Nam took turns portraying beheading at 0:52 & 2:10. The fabric certainly disguised the movement, but if you take a good look, it really is the movement of beheading. This was shown twice because I wanted some equality (both genders dying). There were some female Vietnamese martyrs recorded. Plus, I wanted to emphasize this very common killing method in Vietnam.
- Hanging: Shown at 3:21. This method was the most explicit and I felt that it was more appropriate for the Nghĩa Sĩ Nam to be hung rather than the Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ. In addition, most Vietnamese Martyrs that were recorded were male because they were priests. While teaching this part, I joked that the girls putting the fabric around the boys’ neck was going to be the most romantic gesture of this dance. You think the girls are giving the boys a hug from behind, but nope!
- Splitting: Shown at 3:30. Although this may not have been a common method of killing in Vietnam, it may have still been possible it was executed. This could have been an unrecorded method of murder. Disguised as an acrobatic portion of the dance, a Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ and Nghĩa Sĩ Nam sibling pair showed off their flexibility and portrayed this death.
The separate Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ and Nghĩa Sĩ Nam dance portions were the most difficult to choreograph. At this part of the song, the tone is more gentle and calm. I added floorwork to match the pace of the song. For Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ, I incorporated contemporary dance to differentiate this part from the refrain. For Nghĩa Sĩ Nam, I used tribal-like dance movements and (what the boys thought) a breakdancing pose to keep it different from the girls. In both cases, my aim was to show them worshipping and praising God.
Throughout the dance, there were many waves (cascading). This represented the ripple effect of Vietnamese martyrs. Words of mouth spread that certain individuals died for Jesus Christ. Some people even followed the martyrs’ footsteps. The Vietnamese martyrs affected many lives, including our own lives today.
The flying stunt (2:00) is to signify going to Heaven and reaching towards God. In a way, I based off the idea off of the “Creation of Adam” painting. When I look at this painting, it looks like Adam is reaching towards God. (Totally unrelated to the actual meaning of the painting, but this is how I interpreted it).
The Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ not doing the stunt were to align their right arm and leg to be a straight line, signifying a straight path to Heaven. When you are martyred, you have a straight path right to Heaven after you die for God.
The ending pose was inspired by Miền Đông Nam’s Đại Hội Hiệp Sĩ Quốc Tế (2012) performance. The Nghĩa Sĩ Nữ represents all the Vietnamese Martyrs. As she climbs up, she is traveling a rough road just to die for Christ. Hence, she opens up her arms like how Jesus died on the cross and falls. The Nghĩa Sĩ Nam catches her to signify God will save us all, especially because we died for Him. This ending pose can be interpreted in multiple ways, but this is what I wanted the ending pose to mean.
I think I was more nervous than the Nghĩa Sĩ on the performance day! We got 2 run-throughs on stage before and I still felt like there was so much to clean up, but we were out of time. (I am a perfectionist) However, during the actual performance, the Nghĩa Sĩ’s movements were so smooth suddenly! That’s the funny thing about performances. They always look so off during regular practice, but when it comes to actually performing, they somehow sync up together and look a thousand times better! The crowd cheered for a lot of parts of the dance (including parts I forgot they would cheer at) and I was so proud of the Nghĩa Sĩ for nailing down each stunt. Big shoutout to their Nghĩa Sĩ peers! They cheered like crazy for their friends!
Choreographing this dance brought back my forgotten love for choreographing and creativity. There were many times when I ran into a mental block because I couldn’t think of moves that matched the lyrics. I had to somehow make this dance look sharp and serious with a low-profile story of the deaths of the Vietnamese martyrs without being too explicit. On top of that, it still needed to actually look like a dance, not a skit. There are no examples on YouTube of a religious dance that looks different from a Dang Hoa. I was in a new territory of dance and needed to be creative. Ultimately, I am honestly quite happy with how the dance turned out. For the first time, I incorporated stunts in a TNTT dance and learned how to think outside the box more. We all worked hard and I appreciate my Nghĩa Sĩ kids for trying everything I threw at them despite how difficult some moves and stunts were. They are so fun(ny) to work with!
Needlessly to say, I cannot wait until I choreograph the next dance!
In the middle of a prayer, you asked me if there was anything I would like to add as we prayed to Mother Mary. I paused, thought of my words, and said: “I want to be like you.” Somehow, the words were difficult to say even though I was unsure of what exactly I was asking for. I hear you re-adjust yourself. After a long moment of silence, you asked Mother Mary to let me know that I am pure, just like her; because I am pure in heart and soul despite the fact I felt quite the opposite in every part of me. Unexpectedly, I cried because I did not know that I needed to hear this.
The last time I drew and colored a drawing in Photoshop was in my senior year of high school (2012). Basically, it has been about 6 years since I have done something like this. This is what an engineering college education and starting a career does to you. Therefore, my art skills have remained (or deteriorated) as to how it was in my high school years. Anyhow, I am happy to start drawing again with the VEYM DAC (Digital Assets Collection)/TNTT Arts Team.
Last month, I was swamped with other activities that I missed the Mother Mary theme. This month was chosen to be a Christmas theme. I unintentionally was somehow able to merge the two themes together: Mother Mary & Christmas. Another Huynh Truong pointed out the Motherhood portrayal in my piece. Motherhood is an essential part of Christmas.
When I first sketched this, the female Huynh Truong did not have a veil. I wanted to somehow include Mary in the drawing. Therefore, the light blue veil is to remind viewers of Mother Mary.
What I wanted viewers to take away from this artwork was that Mother Mary is a good role model for all of us. We could all be like Mary.
In late July 2018, I attended Joshua in Atlanta, Georgia. It was my first time going to Miền Đông Nam. Once again, I was traveling by myself, except this time, more people from Miền Tây was attending this event.
It’s funny. A month ago during Sinai 24, I told people that I was most likely not attending Joshua 2018. However, I realized that helping out at the event would fulfill a Sinai Post Camp assignment. I decided to attend Joshua 2018 and help out with Ban Phim Ảnh / Photo-Videography Committee.
Although I have owned a camera for years, I have never actually been officially part of Ban Phim Ảnh for any event until now. It has always been unofficial, so this was basically my first time being part of this Ban. Before, I would be more relaxed and capture whatever I wanted. However, since I was officially part of the Ban, I felt an obligation to actually be working. The main thing I took away from this experience was that this job was difficult. I had to constantly be alert, on my feet, and ready to take a photo at any given moment. I had to capture moments that were unexpected and could disappear as soon as they came. It was tiring! I gained so much more respect for my brother during this event. I never realized how exhausting it was to be the camera person.
A few thoughts that occurred to me during Joshua were the following:
- Never have I been more proud to be from Miền Tây until now. I’m not sure if it is because of the low number of us attending or because I have recently attended Sinai 24 the month before, but I was proud to say that I was from Miền Tây.
- Some people are already committed to misunderstanding you or disliking you. I realized that although this is sad, this does not hurt me as much as I thought it would because I have been through worse.
- Events like Joshua are basically reunions for older people. Since I felt like this was a reunion, I guess that basically means I’m getting there (old).
- At the same time, these events are like meeting well-known Huynh Trưởngs you would normally never meet in person, but only see on FaceBook.
- Wow, although I knew a good majority of the Huynh Trưởngs due to previous training camps, there were still a lot I did not meet yet. I am so thankful for the friends I have made at previous camps.
- This is definitely not good American food. I want Vietnamese food… NOW.
I made a small Joshua 2018 highlight video to test out my new camera.
I am glad that I attended Joshua 2018. The experience gave me a completely different perspective on TNTT.
You see, the thing is… I don’t drink (alcohol). Okay, I do, but probably like 5 times a year. (5 very low alcohol content drinks)
Instead, I enjoy being sober – talking and laughing with friends. This is what I consider a “good time.”
As I sat with fellow Huynh Trưởngs from other Đoàns, playing card games while sipping on my milk tea, I thank God for this simple and wonderful moment.
#TNTT VSL’s 37th Lễ Bổn Mạng! We had only a month to prepare, but you guys worked hard and still ‘wow’-ed the audience (multiple times)! Thanks for being part of the best dance team! 😁 #Splits #NotARomanticDance #SeriousDance
NOTE: More information on this dance will come in the near future.