When Nam drops me off this morning, he gets off his bike, grabs a student translator, 6th grade Helen this time (my sixth graders are always around, for some reason) and tells her to tell me that I "eat bread" too much. Every day. What he means is that I eat the sandwiches every day and he is getting tired of the monotony of my eating habits. You need to change it up, he tells Helen to tell me.
So Brian, I take your advice after school. Nam asks if I want to go home, and I tell him I am hungry. He panics...I can see the panic in his eyes. We are at the nasty intersection when we have this conversation and one of my students is right next to me on the back of her mother's motorbike. Nam knows that the kids with the yellow and blue uniforms will translate, so while we are motorbike to motorbike, he asks her to ask me what kind of food I want to eat. I tell her to tell him that he should take me somewhere good...he's the one who knows all of the good places.
What this answer does to him is send him into a tailspin -a kind of tailspin I recognize well. When people ask me to choose the restaurant - well, I just can't decide. Do I go down a new or an old path? It's just so so hard. Sometimes it really gets me down. For the past year I just defaulted to the taco bus so that made it easy. Anyway, Nam is overwhelmed. He throws his hands up a few times in bewilderment, then takes a turn down a street I have not seen before. He motions at many restaurants and chats away about them. Finally, he does a U-Turn and stops at one. It is open to the street and many workers in hot pink shirts line the back, rolling up salad rolls. He motions to them on the menu and I tell him I'll take three of each (I actually know my numbers now).
When we get back to the alley, he goes straight to his aunt and sister's house by the Bum Bum and summons the same nephew who translated last night. He asks me again...what kind of food do you want to know about? While I am talking to the nephew, Nam disappears inside the house and comes out with some deep fried spring rolls. I ask if they are homemade and they are...they are yummy. He then crosses the street and gets the neighbor who speaks really good English because (I find out) he works for a travel agency. This man has been commanded by Nam to tell me about the best restaurants on the street. He lists many that we have been to, but mentions a place that has noodles and crab and says that it is famous in the area. He also tells me that we have moved into one of the best food streets, and I know this is true.
K, T and I try the place tonight. Two men stand outside with the hottest woks you have ever seen; flames lick the rounded sides and we sweat just standing near them. They work the ladels and the oil and the rice like Benihana masters. Finally, we order something, but it's in Vietnamese so we don't exactly know what it is. Inside, I see a teenaged girl and sure enough, she is able to translate the menu for us and we find that we have ordered three plates of noodles with liver and fat. We try to cancel this (and think we have) and take the girl's recommendation for crab fried rice and Singapore fried noodles, but soon seven plates of food (three of them with liver and fat) show up on our table. It's really embarrassing. The table of foreigners: two plates of food for each. The grease and carbohydrates are OK (at least what the girl recommends is good), but we stay away from the rubbery liver and fat. Like everything else, it's just the experience that matters.
This weekend I am going to write more about school and my sweet sixth graders, but for now, this is a sad parting note for the day (for those of you who have been reading since day one): Cynthia's health has never improved since her hospital stay...her blood clots have gotten worse and the stress of everything on top of that is too much for her. Her doctor here told her that she has to go home. She is boarding a plane on Saturday. I am sad, but I know it's the best thing for her. I know that these two months have changed her and stretched her, etc., but I am still sad.