As we enter the door, Katherine, Tarn and I share the instant feeling that we have found our home: above the kitchen is a rounded balcony with a pink curtain. Juliet should be on it, or Rapunzel...or someone singing Karaoke.
Isn't that the way it should be, when you just know? I haven't written too much about our search for a place to live, but it has been filled with disappointment and despair. We are down to the wire, school starts Wednesday and suddenly, we see the balcony with the pink curtain.
The curtain hides a little "room." This will be your guest room if you come to visit. But be aware, Tarn can't keep away from the balcony. As we explore the house, we keep saying, where is Tarn? And he is always standing in front of the pink curtain.
It's a five story colonial style house...so many houses here are built straight up, in narrow Lego stacks. The bottom floor holds a kitchen and a bathroom, floor two holds only the pink balcony, floor three houses two bedrooms, a bathroom and a long outdoor balcony, floor four houses my room, a bathroom and an outside deck. To get to floor five you must climb a ladder, but floor five is the best: it's a rooftop deck with a bar table.
I feel the same as I did when my sister, dad and I were buying the '66 Mustang in 1981: I know I'm supposed to contain my excitement, but can't. We make an arrangement to sign a contract for the following night (tonight) and both Katherine and Tarn confess to me today that they have secret desires to be DJ's, and they see the house as a good vehicle for practice in party hosting. I tell them that one will be assigned to DJ on the Pink Balcony and one will get to DJ on the roof. I hope we have enough people coming to our parties for both of them to get work. I couldn't ask for two better roommates; I mean, I didn't even want roommates and I couldn't be happier with these two. They are so laid back and fun.
Tonight we go early to check out our neighborhood a bit before signing, and it's just as cool as we thought: it's off the main road at the end of a long alley -- the neighborhood is probably about five long alleys with many winding twists and turns. Our street hosts a salon called "Bum Bum Salon" as well as many seamstress shops. We see on the map that a market is nearby.
So we are wandering through the narrow alleyways with all of these tall colonial stacked houses and suddenly I have to suck in my breath-- before me, just sitting there in an alley one block from my new home, is a woman cooking turmeric rice cakes in a cast iron pan with twelve slots. I hit Katherine. "SHE'S MAKING TURMERIC RICE CAKES!" Tarn and Katherine have no idea what I'm talking about. Turmeric rice cakes are the best item on the menu at the Tamarind Tree, in my opinion. Sometimes I order a plate all to myself. The cakes come with a shrimp on top, then you wrap them up in lettuce leaves with basil and cilantro, pour sauce on top and stick the whole thing into your mouth, dealing with so many flavors at once.
"HOW do you know about these?" Katherine is incredulous, and I feel so proud, like the Olympic athlete of Vietnamese food. I feel I've been training all of these years for this one moment in this one alley in Ho Chi Minh City. We order two cakes each and they cost $1,000 Dong a piece, or six cents. The woman is happy to sell us her cakes and she fills our to-go bag with lettuce, basil, cilantro and sauce. We take them to a nearby outdoor restaurant and eat them as appetizers before a meal that costs us 90 cents. The whole meal is delicious, but the rice cakes are amazing.
We meet our real estate person, Linh, and the owners of the house at seven. Both of them ride motorbikes to meet us and park them in the front room. The couple doesn't speak any English, but their two children are being educated in the States. Going over the contract takes two hours with lots of interpretation. The house is furnished, but not all the way, so the couple will go shopping for one more bed, one more water heater, etc, and we can move in tomorrow night.
It's a ten month contract. It's in a very very cool neighborhood about a ten minute taxi ride from school. And a woman makes turmeric rice cakes in my alley for six cents a piece. I just feel so happy...
Oh, and here are some names on my sixth grade roster: Lucky, Mickey, Pink and Mirror. One seventh grader is named Fire. A note of concern: Cynthia is in the hospital with very swollen legs and feet. They are keeping her there for three days for tests. She will not get to see her first graders on the first day.
I'm wondering: who will be my first guest in the Romeo and Juliet guest room? Thespian friends, how can you NOT come to Vietnam now? Just FYI, be ready to recite a monologue!