Last week I told you that Christmas had exploded in Saigon after Thanksgiving...well, I don't know what to call what it has done since then...except to say that it has exploded times ten.
One street has green and red blinking lights draped over all of the trees - tons of green and red blinking lights. Another street is lined with maybe ten giant - 25 ft tall - wizard hats (wizard hats are a ubiquitous Christmas icon here) and trees hung with golden round lights that look like ornaments, another street is lined with an enormous Santa pulling eight reindeer and a sleigh. The town center is now one gigantic snow globe with an Amtrak train running through a hill town with snowmen and Santas - blaring scary spacey music.
Again, no one has Christmas packages, and no one is really shopping, but there is tons of activity. Most of the activity involves people standing in front of the displays posing for pictures. There is no sitting on Santa's lap...what would kids be asking for? When would Santa deliver? Who has a fireplace?
Anyway, back to Thuy. I meet her at her house and sit with her mother, Thanh and the niece and nephew that Thanh cares for. Thanh is teaching the kids English, and she has them practice with me. They are so cute... Tu and Khanh. I'm not sure what their parents do, but Thanh seems to be their primary caretaker after the market closes each day. She is the oldest daughter, so care for the parents falls on her shoulders as well. Every time Thuy does something with me or us, Thanh says she would like to join us, but she can't. She must take care of everyone. Thanh is an extremely genuine, gracious person. She also keeps very much in the background. Thuy can be fun and sarcastic, but Thanh is always the one to notice small details. I wish she could join us, too.
Eventually, Thuy and I get on her motorbike, ride it downtown and park it in a secured lot near the beginning of the downtown Christmas mayhem (motorbike theft runs rampant here so security is a necessity). As we begin our walk down the street, Thuy locks her arm around mine - a very common gesture between women in Asia (something that Sunny did with me in China, too). When we get to an intersection, Thuy holds my hand. And she always, always moves to block the oncoming traffic. This petite woman who seems half my size protects me from the onslaught of traffic all night long. The arm in arm thing feels OK, but the holding hands thing...I admit, that's a hard one.
We window shop and she is so proud of beautiful Saigon at night. It is really fun for her to see my reaction to all of it. We get to her favorite ice cream shop and I can see why it is her favorite - ice cream in this country is just so good, and at this place, they top it with whipped cream and cookies. I get Dalat Strawberry and, I know I've said this before, but ice cream here tastes like the essence of whatever fruit it is. As we eat, I pull her Christmas gift out of my big bag, and she is surprised. Before she opens it, she moves it to the side of the table and takes a big, deep breath. She says, "Maggie - Sunday last, your Christmas party -" and then she puts her finger to her temple and closes her eyes, "I will remember, I will remember," and then she opens her eyes and puts her hand on her heart and says a third time, "I will remember."
Then she opens her gift, so slowly, and gasps, "Oh!"
I got her three very nice small bows for dipping sauces - green, black and taupe, and they fit on a taupe platter, and each one comes with a little wooden spoon. "Wow!"
"So you will always remember cooking with us," I tell her.
"I know why," she says...she knows why I bought them.
We continue on with our window shopping and I stop to look at a children's picture flip book at a bookstore. I'm laughing and I say, "This is perfect for me!" (because I am so bad at Vietnamese and it has simple categories for food, clothing and animals) and before I know it, she is buying the flip book for me.
By now it's 9:00 and Thuy decides we need to eat dinner. I figured that Dalat ice cream was dinner, but she wants to take me to her favorite place downtown - a downtown back alley, of course. So at 9:30 at night, after eating strawberry ice cream and cookies, we eat crab soup (it may have been crab and fish bladder, I think, because that is what the menu offered, with or without fish bladder- either way, it was delicious), Singapore noodles (with shrimp, pork and egg), and deep fried calamari. The reason she took me here? On the flip chart I pointed to squid, crab and shrimp as my favorite seafood. Yep, so that's what I got for dinner - all of my favorite things.
After dinner we drive home through more lights, and finally we are back at the castle. As I'm getting off the bike, my foot catches on her high seat and I crash to the ground. At first she is horrified, but then the ridiculousness of me on the ground makes us both laugh. My second motorbike accident.
I have to say, all of the arm and hand holding, the light viewing, ice cream eating, gift giving and buying, traffic protection and dining with my favorite food items... I don't know, it may just sound to you like the perfect date. Am I right?