Sunday, December 07, 2008

White Elephant Gifts for Castle Parties in Saigon

I'm wondering if I should feel badly about asking Nam for another calendar for the purpose of using it as a White Elephant gift for our party on Friday night. It was Tarn's idea; he immediately recognized the genius of it.

Nam seems so pleased when I ask. He delivers it himself in the evening as K, Alice and I are sharing a bottle of wine downstairs.

He hands it to me and points at the pictures. "You mentioned that you were interested in getting yourself photographed for your own calendar, so I checked with my friend for the price. Do you still want to do that?" I think he says (because it sure takes a lot of words for him to ask whatever he is asking). I tried to convince T and K that we should do a shoot with the three of us, but they did not show any interest at all.

I just hate to do it, but I must tell him, "No, thank you."

My rejection doesn't seem to phase him, though, because he turns right to Alice and asks her if she wants one of her own.

"No, thank you," she says.

And he is Chatty Kathy again, going on and on about the calendar this, the calendar that. The three of us are silent, just waiting for him to finish. Then there is an awkward silence.

"Ok, goodbye," he says, and does the little wave with his hand.

Don't answer about my wondering. I do feel badly.

This morning he is 20 minutes late picking me up. At exactly twenty past seven, I head across the street to catch a taxi and wouldn't you know, all of a sudden he shows up, asking me why I am heading across the street to catch a taxi. I am a little irritated; after all, I seem to be waiting for him more than he is waiting for me lately. And I have a lot to do on this Monday morning.

"You're late," I say.

He looks confused.

I flip open my phone to show him the time (which is what he did to me, on occasion, when I was late and when he still had his phone), only he does not look at the time. He looks at the picture on the screen of my phone: it's Nina, the Gorilla at the Woodland Park Zoo. I used to visit her all the time and I keep her picture on my phone to remind myself that I am from Greenlake in Seattle near the zoo and that I used to visit this gorilla all the time.

Nam points to it and laughs. Which is not at all why I showed him my phone.

When he drops me off after school, he starts talking a lot, again, and eventually I realize that he wants to see my phone because he pretends to put something to his ear and says, "hello?"

I get my phone back out and he flips it open so he can laugh at Nina again.

As I write, I am listening to the sounds of the neighborhood: the grandpa across the alley just loves to make his very cute granddaughter laugh and laugh and laugh and I can hear her now, and there is a cart going past with a speaker announcing what sounds like "amen amow, amen amow" - he is selling sticky rice filled with pork steamed in a banana leaf, and then there is a rattle signaling that if anyone wants pho, the rattler will go and get the soup and bring it right to the house.

This happens in the busy markets, too. Pho sellers will walk through the narrow aisles and advertise their service by clicking a piece of wood or glass or by ringing a bell or shaking a rattle. I'm not yet sure if the different sounds and instruments indicate different food items, but it is kind of nice - food can come to you if you don't feel like going to it.

The sounds of our alley are in our castle all day long - they drift right in through the high, open grates near our ceiling to make us feel a part of everything, all the time. I can only hope that the neighborhood, with all of its expertise in infiltrating all aspects of our lives, does not find out what a White Elephant gift is, or that I am offering the calendar that Nam gave to me for that purpose.

You don't think that will happen do you?

Don't answer that, either.


Amy T said...

Awe, you gave us so much to NOT comment on...

Actually, you need to ask Nam for a third calendar to give as the prize for the blog contest you always hold, and I never win.

kumma said...

Mungo no comment.

Brian Bowker said...

You describe your neighborhood so eloquently, and with such love. You make it sound so romantic; like we're looking at it through the lens of an old black and white Humphrey Bogart movie. It's one of my favorite characters in your blog!

Even if the main character has to go and cheapen it by disrespecting such a nice calendar. Beware of your kharma.