Chúc mừng năm mới!

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)

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Answered Prayer

After a long day, I sat down where we sat before inside Our Lady of Peace Church. Everything I was holding inside my heart spilled into tears I did not know I was holding. I kneeled and clung onto the rosary necklace and prayed, hoping that praying the rosary will calm me. However, the tears kept coming and I did not know what to do to make them stop. I texted a friend with no expectation he would respond any time soon, but he did. I felt as if I was frantically running through a rainstorm and finally able to find a tree for shelter and to rest under.

We talked on the phone while the rain beat down on my car. Towards the end of the conversation, I was laughing. Now, I feel free. Thank you.

Looking back at this incident, I think maybe God answered my prayer.

Power of Prayer

How long has it been since I’ve been laying down in bed? I cannot remember. I just know it’s been hours. I pick up my iPhone and noticed a missed call from you. I immediately call you back. We talk.

Do you believe in the power of prayer?” you asked.

Yeah, I do“, I responded.

Then he isn’t lying,” you said.

At that moment, I was reminded of the power of prayer and felt refreshed that another Huynh Trưởng truly lives his faith.

We talked until I began falling asleep. Thank you for being there for me during one of my weakest moments.

Call time: 3 Hours 28 Minutes

4-Day Ignatian Silent Retreat

4-Day Ignatian Silent Retreat by Christus Ministries

It’s been 4 years since I attended a silent retreat. I remember the graces and gifts I received from that retreat in late 2014, which feels so long ago now. I expected I would receive similar gifts from this silent retreat and I was correct. However, these gifts appeared to me in different forms. I am so blessed to have had this opportunity to attend this retreat. Through this retreat, my relationship with Christ grew and I saw God in other people. God truly works in mysterious ways.

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Gentle

“When you and I talked, I was… – I think – I hope- fairly careful with you… and fairly gentle, I hope.”

 

Yes, you have always been very gentle with me. Ever since the beginning. Thank you.

A letter from 6 years ago

Shortly after entering college, I began to feel that I did not belong and that it was a mistake coming here. I felt isolated from the friends I have made during high school because most of them attended San Jose State. I started to regret not choosing San Jose State and saving money as my sister told me that they were becoming closer friends. I don’t know when exactly I stopped thinking this way, but I think it happened when I started talking to you.

I really appreciate your patience with me. I take a long time to trust you and explain things because I feel like rejection is inevitable. Thank you for listening to all the things that were bothering me. Thank you for praying for me. On the Wednesday mass that I altar served for, I was tempted to feel angry and hate towards the permanent deacon. But I didn’t because, when I turned to my left, I saw the Jesuits symbol on an old candle and it reminded me of you and you promising that you would pray for me. It was the first time I altar served with the permanent deacon without any negative feelings.

“So God created man in his own image […]” (Genesis 1:27).

During the CLC Initiation night, when I looked at you while we were all standing in the circle, I realized that I see God in you. You helped renew my faith and made me see mass as something really special. I think God had me attend SCU to meet you, so I could become closer to God. When you said that you wanted to be our priest on the last day of class, I thought “You already are one to me”. Thank you for everything.

Merry Christmas.


I am going through a very difficult time this Christmas.

I was truly struggling. After what happened, I laid in bed for about 18 hours, cried, talked on the phone with multiple friends, cried over and over again. My chest was tight and breathing was shallow. I had to force myself out of bed to drink water and eat something. Finally, I reached out to someone I loved.

Today, we talked on the phone. After the phone call, I felt a familiar, old love from long ago. Above is the Christmas card I gave this person 6 years ago (2012). Today, I was reminded of this love again.

This Christmas, Jesus reminded me of this love. Of His Love for me.

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37th Lễ Bổn Mạng – Nghĩa Sĩ Dance

Background

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…

Choreographing

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.

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How I planned out this 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).

The Dance

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There were 3 methods of killing portrayed in the dance: 1) Beheading, 2) Hanging, 3) Splitting (Stretched to Death).

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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).

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“Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo

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.

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Final Thoughts

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!

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Christmas Drawing 2018

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.

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Rough Sketch

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.

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Thanksgiving 2018

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you all are having a good time with family and friends. Today, I will be sharing with you 8 things I am thankful for in 2018.

  • God
    • This year, I truly feel that God is doing good work through me and thus, I feel closer and closer to him each day. Slowly, but surely. Throughout the year, God was there. Although there were times when He felt far away, there were plenty of times when He felt close. Also, there are many times when I felt that God was communicating with me through other people.  As always, I am thankful for God.
  • TNTT Family and Extended TNTT Family
    • The years have flown by and it is only when we say “Goodbye” that we realize we built a bond with other HTs. Sometimes, I get so caught up with my responsibilities as a HT in the process that before I know it, I had become closer to my fellow HTs. The HT camaraderie gets stronger each year. I’ve truly felt it with HT in my own Doan and HT in other Doans. In addition, I have felt it with other HT in other Mien. Our HT bonds extend over the great distances.
  • Family
    • We all know we should be grateful for our parents because they sacrificed so much for us, especially if our parents are immigrants. I already know this and I’m usually grateful. However, I don’t think I was ever as grateful to my parents as when I had broken my ankle in late January this year. Through the time period of being bedridden and on crutches (Late January to late March), I was truly able to see my parents, especially my mom, love me and sacrifice time and energy for me.
  • Friends
    • Sometimes I joke I don’t have friends, but I know I do. However, sometimes it’s hard to feel friendship. The experience that made me stop doubting my friendships was breaking my ankle. My friends immediately took me to the hospital when I broke my ankle and continued to go with me to my checkups and surgery day. Honestly, I couldn’t believe they were willing to pick me up from my house and drive me to the hospital for each appointment. After the surgery, other friends visited me, brought me food, took me out of the house to eat a lot of good foods. I appreciate all that they have done for me and am so grateful for them.
  • New job
    • Changing jobs was almost a no-brainer for me. Although I loved what I was doing, my old job was way too stressful for me. I am very content with my current job, though. Because of my old job, I don’t think I can take my current job for granted.
  • Gym
    • I don’t know who came up with the idea of a warehouse-looking place with different weights of iron waiting to be picked up and placed back down again, but it is clearly a good idea. The gym has been a place where I can get my mind off things, get a good sweat going, and connect with friends.
  • Coworkers
    • I am grateful for my old coworkers as well as my new coworkers. In general, all of my coworkers are nice, thankfully! I always heard of those “horrible coworker” stories and feared I may have one in the future, but so far, I have yet to experience one that horrible.
  • iPhone
    • I am thankful for technology, especially my iPhone. Nowadays, phones are basically mini-computers. Through my phone, I have been able to connect to so many people and become closer friends with them. It’s so easy to message someone to hang out during work than to step out of the office and make a phone call to your friend (who may still be working and cannot pick up the phone).

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving season? Comment below to share!

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