I swear that over pho the other night Thuy tells me that we will begin the Pagoata Day field trip at 2:00. We will go to some pagodas, get on a ship, eat goat, and be back at 10:00 pm.
After the first pagoda visit, while in a taxi heading toward the second, Tarn finally speaks to Thuy in a combination of Vietnamese and Goat to get to the bottom of it (because I keep saying, "I think we are going to the ship next" and he keeps insisting that he, too, has talked about Pagoata day with Thuy and that she never mentioned a ship to him); his Vietnamese/Goat is an amazing sentence, quite fluid and ending in "Baaaaaa." Somewhere in there he mentions a boat (Tarn has picked up Vietnamese amazingly quickly here, but we don't know how or where he learned Goat.) We all laugh at the Goat, but Thuy looks very confused. "No boat," she says. Then I say, "But we go on a ship, right?" and she nods and says, "Yaaaah." During this conversation, Katherine is making up a very bad poem about goats getting on boats. It's a very confusing taxi ride, filled with miscommunication and bad poetry- which, really, is the same thing, right?
Later, we are heading up the stairs of the pagoda by our school, but it is locked after the first flight of stairs. "Why is it locked?" I ask. I think she says that all of the floors of the pagoda are open only twice per year. I ask her "when during the year?" and she says, "7:00 every night."
"Nooooo! I show you on calendar."
Our communication goes like this all day long, despite the fact that Thuy shows up at 2:00 wearing a very cute cap and holding a bag containing three Vietnamese/English dictionaries.
The best thing about the field trip is the pacing of it, and the way that Thuy enjoys our every reaction to what she is showing us. We spend a lot of time exploring the first pagoda - there is a sign that says it was rennovated in 1939, but no sign telling us when it was built. The grounds surrounding it are in such disrepair that we think they have never stopped rennovating it since 1939.
Inside is beautifully ornate, though, and (after paying homage to her Buddhas) she keeps locking her arm around mine, leading me to places where she sees a good photo opportunity. "Maggie, here!" and she points to an ornate three-dimentional mosaic or walrus tusks presenting a Buddha sitting under flowing red tapestries. or a bird riding on the back of a horse.
Outside on the street, we walk past many vendors and Thuy is happy to stop anywhere that strikes our interest. Tarn wants to try the dried squid, so she picks through the pile and finds just the right one (and later, we pass a store that has just the right hot sauce for the dried squid, so she picks that up, too). Katherine wants strawberries. I want something that looks like a combination between zucchini and watermelon (which, by the way, explodes before we reach home). Tarn wants a Dragon Fruit. We all want bananas. Thuy takes care of us. It's nice. It's so nice that I keep repeating the names of the things we are passing on the street, "Squid and Strawberries, squid and strawberries, squid and strawberries..." and I like the way those two words sound together so much that I think I want to rename the boring first part of my blog name to that. It captures Vietnam, somehow. It's not crunchy, but it is sweet, salty, chewy and spicy (if you use the hot sauce). I'm going to try it for a while...what do you think? #1 Fan, I'm just going to move your most awesome sub-title to a sub-sub title to try it out. Are you OK with that?
Here's another thing that captures Vietnam: at the Boiled Goat Inn (which, incidentally, you do not reach by boat), the front desk contains both a "Business Buddha" shrine and a "Merry Christmas" sign. Business Buddhas accept offerings of gifts and fruits (and possibly, cigarettes) and in exhange, bless business. A prayer might sound like this: "Dear Buddha, if you grant me good business today I will give you cake at the end of the day." I know this because Rot, our Dalat tour guide, told us that he promised his Business Buddha that he would give him cake if we were kept safe on our motorbike journey.
"Um, what do you do after you "give" him the cake?" I asked. Rot shrugged, "I eat it before I go to bed." It's pretty cool, isn't it? This way, you get both good business and cake.
So, yeah, I hope to include many more pictures of Christmas decorations, because the Vietnamese culture embraces Santa Claus, tinsel, Christmas trees and lights. If it's a cool thing or party, they are into it. So why not wish everyone a "Merry Christmas" over your Business Buddha?
The goat restaurant is interesting, but I can't say it's tasty. I am really excited when I see how it's set up because they bring a grill to your table, along with a tray of raw goat meat (marinating in what I suppose is the "Chinese Medicine" advertised on their business card) as well as a tray of vegetables such as okra, beans and long green onions. You grill it all there, then eat it out of the individual bowls. The goat meat is fatty. Some is lean and that is good, but some of it is really chewy. Katherine and I try to hide the bits that are really chewy while we envy Tarn his vegetarianism.
But we are especially jealous of his vegetarianism when the second course comes around: hot pot. Because after the pot of broth with normal meat and veges is set down in the middle of the table, two plates containing intestines and liver are set before K and me. Great. Well, thank goodness K gets on it pretty quickly and tells Thuy that we would rather eat the soup without the offal. She is OK with that, but I don't know, it's hard to turn down something that someone else is so excited about, always.
And especially because Thuy picks up the whole bill for dinner, too. Wow, she is a tough one. She is so so so stubborn and so generous. But we at the castle are not only throwing a Castle Christmas Party for school (a white elephant one) this next Friday night, but we have also invited Thuy, Tan, Ms. Hoa and Ms. Thieu (seamstresses) and Ms. Hoa's son, Ut, over for a Christmas party on Sunday night. We want to fill stockings for them and either have a Mexican Christmas Fiesta or a Turkey dinner (but we don't know where to find a cooked turkey - because the castle has no oven!). So that will be our chance to be generous back...
We end this Sunday with the same four words we are ending most Sundays with - and most days, for that matter. "We are so lucky!" It's the kind of day that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else other than visiting pagodas and buying squid and strawberries and turning down plates of offal and not taking boats to eat goats.
And, oh, we get back at 6:00 pm, rather than 10:00 pm. Which is also very lucky (school tomorrow).
Seems the only thing I got right about this day was "pa-goat-a."