Then, Tarn and I have a conversation in his libary Friday afternoon about wanting to be Westerners who can appreciate and find humor in asian culture but how we don't want to cross the line by making fun of it, etc. It's a very thin line at times.
Perhaps it is my brother's comment about Nam being a sensitive person that really does it. Because he is... he is so sensitive and so thoughtful. Right away I am happy about my decision not to give it, because after school on Friday I ask him to take me to a French bakery to get bread to make bruschetta for the party. (Bruschetta is the perfect appetizer here because I can walk right out the front door and get huge leaves of fresh basil and tomatoes and pre-chopped garlic.) So I run into the store and come out with a two-foot-long baguette that has been packaged in a little bag. It's a short drive home, but Nam would have none of it. He enters this store (a store I'm sure he otherwise would never set foot in) and speaks to one of the clerks. She fetches a longer bag, but still, he is not satisfied. He tells her he needs one more. Then he carefully places it over the other end of the loaf. Finally, we are ready for the five-minute trip home, bread protected and secure. My dad would have done the same, I'm sure.
When he drops me off, he says the new phrase he has been working on, "See you again."
How could I dis Nam? I have heard stories of other drivers being crazy and drunk and late (much more often and later than Nam is - late, that is) and I know I have a really good person looking out for me.
Anyway, the Castle Christmas Party - total success. Twenty-six guests show and Katherine adds such great last minute decorative touches, such as sculpting a wall tinsel Christmas tree from a dead plant in a planter and adding a drape of tinsel to our monk picture. Flashing white lights line the balcony and around the door, our tree is on the table and ornaments hang from the beam separating the kitchen from the living area.
I bought stockings for our guests for our Sunday night party and wrote their names on them in fabric paint - "Thuy," "Tram," "Ut," "Ms. Hao" and "Thieu," and hung them from the balcony as well. Everyone wanted to know...who are those people named on the stockings? Did you make up some Vietnamese names for fun? I have to admit, it's feels great to say, "No, these are our neighbors and good friends."
Sometimes the White Elephant gift exchange idea falls flat- it completely depends on the chemistry - but everyone is really into it (I think that only a few out of the 26 had ever been to one) and the gifts are a nice mix of cool, quirky and silly. A few highlights:
- Song Han is our Mandarin teacher from China, and her response to our email invitation is by far the most enthusiastic one, stating her excitement to be invited to a Christmas party because she LOVES CHRISTMAS!! so much and loves to learn about our customs, etc. She comes with her gift wrapped in a paper bag that she has made into a Santa and dives into the carolling and the gift exchange in such a refreshing way.
-Franco brings his mandolin and he and Alice lead us in singing some Christmas songs. We leave the front French doors open, as is the custom in the neighborhood...everyone's lives are on display...and as a result we see quite a few people pausing to look in at our celebration.
-The police come only once, and they are extremely nice, merely putting their fingers to their lips at about 10:30. I think they realize we are having a Christmas party, and really, it's not as loud as the first one because everyone is focusing on the gift exchange.
-Shannon turns her beaver costume from Halloween inside out (to hide the beaver tail) and is a reindeer for the night. The gift she wins: a box of exotic fruits - a perfect gift for a reindeer, don't you think?
The after-party is more fun: five of us head out to the street for a midnight bowl of Pho. One of my colleagues, Allison, is quite serious with a very nice Vietnamese guy named Van. Because he is about to visit America for the first time this Christmas - visiting the east coast (Maine) - the other four of us tell him about "snow," because Allison tells us that he mentioned to her that he did not think he would need a coat. "It can't be that cold," he told her. So over pho, we all take turns telling our favorite cold snow stories. I think he will be taking a coat now.
And after that, eight of us head back up to the roof. It's a beautiful night...the moon is "round" and the wispy moving clouds make it seem as though the moon is traveling across the sky. Tarn brings his stereo up and we lounge up there until 4:00 am. I haven't done that in a while, and you know... I am paying for it now. But when the moon is round and it is traveling across the sky and you have a rooftop deck with a hammock in Saigon, you just don't feel like going to bed. Trust me.
I am looking forward to our little neighborhood party even more. I just don't want to cook or clean to get ready for it.