The tale of Oi

Bowl of pho
Bowl of pho

Over the summer my husband and I discovered a great little Vietnamese restaurant in Denver called Pho-natic. The name is a play on the word “fanatic” (pho sounds like “fuh”).

Why am I mentioning a neighborhood restaurant on my name blog? Because the woman behind the restaurant has a great story, and part of that story has to do with her name.

Oi Thi Nguyen was born in Vietnam in 1956. “Oi started working as soon as she can walk. From the rice fields to fishing boats — Oi did it all.”

Her family was in the noodle soup business. Oi also sold fish and meat — not at the local markets, but at American military bases. “It was against the law and punishable by death but Oi didn’t care.”

The U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, and Saigon fell in 1975.

In 1984, Oi tried to escape from Vietnam in an overloaded boat. It capsized at sea. The people were rescued and taken to a refugee camp in the Philippines.

Oi lived there for ten months until a letter stated that Oi Thi Nguyen was awarded to come to the United States for aiding Americans during the war. The American soldiers remembered Oi’s name and wrote people in high places to make sure she has a safe passage.

She finally made it to the U.S. in 1986.

I’m very curious about the name Oi now. What does it mean? The internet gives me various definitions for the Vietnamese word oi, depending upon the diacritics being used, but I’m not sure how Oi writes her name, so I have no way of knowing which of these definitions (if any) are correct.

Next time we go out for pho, I’ll have to ask…

P.S. Oi backwards is Io. :)

Image: Adapted from Pho by Mack Male under CC BY-SA 2.0.

8 thoughts on “The tale of Oi

  1. Great story – I taught a very clever Chinese girl called Oi Tai Wong… I often wonder what happened to her as she was so clever.

  2. Interesting! So Oi is used as a name in China.

    While I was doing research for this post, I discovered that it’s also used in Thailand, at least as a nickname.

    I wonder if Oi Thi Nguyen’s name is based on the Chinese Oi or the Thai Oi. (Doubtful, but who knows.)

  3. Bah. Went out for pho last night, but they were super-busy, so I didn’t get a chance to pull anyone aside for a conversation about Oi’s name.

    Next time!

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