Saturday, October 18, 2008

Saturday: Cooking and Karaoke

(Continued from post below): Thuy shows up about fifteen minutes early for my cooking lesson and she goes straight to the refrigerator. Where is the fish? The vegetables? Do you have sugar? She looks at my salt/pepper mix and scowls. Where is your pepper? You can't use this! NO! (My sweet seamstress says NOOOO in the same way...I feel so ashamed when they use the tone). She gets on her cell phone and within two minutes, Sweet Seamstress comes from three doors down with pepper. These two are very close; I'm not sure if they are related, but they work together. Thuy is the one we were led to when we first ordered clothes to be made.

They both let me know that the salt and pepper mix is not good. I want to tell them that I really tried to get salt and pepper separately, but it is a lost cause. I just say OK, I will try to learn the difference between the mix and the separates.

Then Thuy goes to work, mixing the marinated salmon (only it's not quite salmon) with oil, green onions, sugar, a seasoning I've never seen before, and PEPPER with chopsticks. She needs a ceramic bowl. She can't believe we don't have one. But she settles for plastic. She puts the salmon bowl in our pot when the water boils and she puts the lid on to steam it. This will take 20 minutes. While she chops the tomatoes and cucumbers, she relaxes a little and we try to talk. I show her some pictures of Seattle and she really has no idea where it is. She has never heard of California, which surprises me. All Vietnamese people seem to know California and they know that there are tons of Vietnamese people there.

I ask her if she has any children (one of the first questions people ask you here because family and community is everything to them). She says "No, I am very lonely." She tells me that she lives with her parents at the shop. They are 75. Her mother cooks and she buys and sells, every day. She takes care of them, and she has lived here her whole life.

I say to her, "Thank you for coming to help me" and she says "NOOOOOO!" The same tone. "Maggie, Maggie no say to Thuy 'thank you.'"

"Why?" I ask her. Actually, I do know that Americans say thank you way more than other cultures do, and I'm not surprised with her answer, because it is a similar thing in China. "I like you. Maggie no say thank you. I watch how you treat people in market. I like you."

It's this thing...if you are friends with someone, you don't need to say 'thank you." She has just made me her friend. She changes the subject. "What food you eat in Vietnam?" This is a hard question because I don't know the names for so many things. "Pho..?" I say, meekly. She disapproves.

"Pho, NO every day! Only sometimes. Rice, rice, fish and vegetables, good. Energy." Tarn comes through the door and while the fish steams and the rice cooks, she gives us a lesson on naming vegetables. She goes through our refrigerator and names things for us. "Did you buy today? OK, you eat today. Tomorrow you be sick if you eat." She asks about Katherine. I tell her Katherine has a stomach ache. She goes to the fridge and gets ginger out and tells me how to make a remedy for stomach aches (just cut the ginger and place it in boiling water, let it sit, drink it).

"Why no teach in Seattle? Why teach in Vietnam?"

Another hard question and answer. "I want to teach in Vietnam," I say.

I ask her for the second time if she will join us for dinner. "NO! Maggie no ask Thuy. Thuy help Maggie, Maggie in Vietnam."

"Thank you. (oops) But, how do I help Thuy?" She pauses and thinks, then I say, "Maggie help Thuy when she comes to America?" She thinks this is hilarious. She sets the table for Tarn and me and sets the fish and vegetables in the middle of the table with Tarn's bananas (they eat these for dessert). She shows us how to eat with chopsticks and spoons (the spoon catches what the chopsticks drop).

So it's a bit uncomfortable because she is just sitting there, watching us. We both take a bite, it is tasty. The only "American"equivalent that even comes close would be to compare it to teriyaki salmon. Only it's not teriyaki and it's not salmon. It's a very complex mix of sweet, and salty and crunchy - which is my favorite thing about Vietnamese food.

"It's delicious!" I say.

"REALLY?" She is pleased, possibly surprised, or at least acting so.

"Really!" Tarn and I both give the international thumbs up sign and she laughs.

"REALLY?" She repeats.

While she sits there watching us try to remove the fish bones, we talk about a lot of things. We tell her about going to Ben Tre and about the Elephant Ear fish. "You like?"

"Yes, we loved."

"I teach you how to make. Buy fish at Ben Thanh (the touristy main market downtown by our first hotel). Buy everything else in market." And she writes it all down. Then, she says, "I go now." And it feels really funny not to say 'thank you', but "Maggie no say 'thank you' to Thuy." I guess. Oh, and before she goes, she points at Tarn and says, "You, wash up!" Which is perhaps the best part of the story. So, yes, all of a sudden, I have myself a cooking teacher, and more importantly, a friend. I am a lucky person.

Oh, and I didn't even tell you what I did after the market, before my cooking lesson. I went to 2:00 karaoke with Katherine and Jen (another primary school teacher) to celebrate Tu's birthday. Tu is the one who picked me up from the airport and I've only seen her once since then. But she and her friends rented a private karaoke room at 2:00 in the afternoon because they all work at night, mostly teaching English. I have never done this, even though I was in China for five weeks. Five Vietnamese girls and the three of us...we just traded off singing songs and eating fruit and drinking juices. I don't know how this happened, but Katherine and I scored a "99" when we sang "Summer Nights" - she did John Travolta's part and I did Olivia's. It was the high score of the karaoke afternoon. Other highlights - when we all sang "Feliz Navidad" - with some parts in English, some in Spanish, and some in Vietnamese. We also all sang Carpenters' songs together. It was so much fun that I hated it when it wasn't my turn. I think next time I will rent my own room for the afternoon. Oh, and as you sing, the screen shuffles through a series of images from all over the world. One of them: Seattle, with the King Dome!

Last night, I went out to dinner with Katherine and her friends from the States (actually she knows them through her sister). Raven and Carina just graduated from Brooklyn Law School and Erin just earned her Masters in Creative Writing from Utah State in SLC. They are starting their journey here and are seeing Asia for a few months to rest after taking the bar. We went to the coolest restaurant and ordered a ton of food and told traveling stories and had a great time.

Yesterday someone asked me what I had going this weekend and I said "Nothing really."


Anonymous said...

YUM!! Everytime I read your blog I can smell and taste your goodies. As I have told you before- I live vicariously through you and your travels. I only pray that someday I may leave these United States and travel, experience all that is out there. But for now- I have Marjie !! I think I will Google Vietemese Cooking- and we what we can come up with. I think I will get a hold of Bill and Jaci- see what we can cook up! Take Care ! Crystal

Anonymous said...

And you say we are busy! wow! I think that Nolan would love to be in Vietnam with you and take all the fun cooking courses, he always makes exotic foods! Miss you!

Anonymous said...

The Thank you story is really sweet and interesting-perfectly reflects the difference in cultures. I can see you interacting with her and using your hands while you talk and gives me warm fuzzies all over. i, like crystal, have been craving Vietnamese food and have to go to Tamarind Tree soon for a fix. you are calling me right now on Skype-how exciting! love you-jaci

Anonymous said...

Jaci's right (but if I remember well, she usually is!). The "Thank You" story is some sort of epic poem. Something beyond, "friends don't let friends utter appreciation." It appears it will be the essence of Culture and Friendship in HCMC. It resonates beauty.

You've got some grand Thanksgiving Event to plan, eh?

Brian Bowker said...

Wow! Great post; I love it!

It must have been tempting to get bored with her repeated instructions while you were at the market and just say, "Yes; I can cook this on my own!". But you were patient and it paid off big time!

I wonder how you can convince Thuy to stay and eat with you sometime?

Brian Bowker said...

Is there anywhere that Carpenters' songs are not well known?

Anonymous said...

Marj, If Megan and I get to come see you, I want to sing Carpenters Karaoke, and meet all of your wonderful Vietnamese family, and definitely try every flavor I can. I'm glad Thuy found you as a friend. By the way, how do you pronouce her name?

kumma said...


Crystal - YES! Let's get together and cook in Marjie's honor!!

Why do birds suddenly appear
Every time
You blog here?
Just like me
They long to be

Marjie said...

Hey Crystal! OK, here's a suggestion for your first attempt at Vietnamese food: Ban Xeo, the Vietnamese crepe. I think it's a good starter food.

And Brian, I really could NOT have cooked this at home! Really!

Megan and Angie, we will do all of that and more. Start picking out your patterns!

Bill, can you sing like KC? I can when I'm alone in my car, but in the Karaoke room I couldn't.

Amy - do you mean I have to cook Thanksgiving dinner for all of my peeps, or do you mean...what do you mean?

Jaci, Happy Birthday Month, still. So much fun Skyping!!

kumma said...

No, smarj, I can't sing like KC... Her voice is too low.

The Norris Clan said...

Oh my... that sounds SO delicious! It sounds very similar to an authentic mandarin dish that some Chinese missionaries made for us last month, although it was tilapia.

Oh, and can I just say how jealous I am that you can go to a PRIVATE KARAOKE room!! How fun is that?!

Anonymous said...

I would love to sing with you!