On the proper pronunciation of pho

This Huffington Post article is absolutely right—there is no doubt that “pho,” the popular Vietnamese noodle soup, should be pronounced, essentially, “fuh” (for lack of more precise descriptors in the English alphabet). But what the article misses is a simple way to prove that pronunciation: the tones. When written in Vietnamese, the o has a little curly mark on the top right side (see the third o in the alphabet here and listen to the example given), and that letter has a tone above it designated by another curly mark. It’s called “hoi,” one of six tones in the Vietnamese language that indicates a mid-low dropping pitch with a rise at the end. (I don’t have Vietnamese characters on my computer, but take a look here & see how the word is written in Vietnamese… then look at the pictures, and listen to your stomach growl.) When I studied Vietnamese, I was told to make my voice match the same circular shape of the tonal symbol—almost like a question mark with a rise at the end. When pho is written in Vietnamese characters with Vietnamese tonal marks, there is no debate. It’s “fuh,” spoken with a rounded, dipping, rising voice.

Now, then. It’s just before 8 a.m. here, my stomach growls, and I’d say it’s high time for a bowl of it.

This is dry: California desert, 2014

photo 2ALast week, we traveled from one desert through and to another: from high New Mexico to dry California. We combined a family visit with (for me) the annual JAWS conference (highly recommended, for all you female journalists!). The journey took us to San Diego and across to Palm Springs/La Quinta.

We’ve all heard about the California drought; to see its brittle nature is something else. It actually rained in San Diego, the day I left for the conference. I missed that. All I saw was parched brown vegetation and a landscape that looked as though it could catch fire with the slightest breath of wind and a spark. Here, I show you the desert high above Palm Springs. That green patch in the final image is where we had our conference: a damp oasis in an arid world. Coming from another desert, I cringed at all the watering I saw—and every green plant, every golf course, every whiff of humid air. I ran past the greens one afternoon and the air smelled of Florida. The desert should not smell of Florida in a year of drought. But here we are: California 2014.

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