Saturday, January 31, 2009
I tell them we must take a picture in front of the sign for my friend. It's a great picture for another reason, though...look how they both come to just past my shoulder, then picture me in the middle of the two of them, holding hands as we walk all over District One.
When I hold hands with them, by the way, it not only feels uncomfortable because I am holding hands with them, but their hands are so low, they pull me down a bit and it is quite awkward for me to walk like that. Oh, another thing about this picture: I am wearing all tailored clothes. The shirt is white silk with blue and white embroidery , and the skirt is made out of shiny textured jean material (not to be confused with shiny silver shark skin material).
Thuy and Thanh both love my silk embroidered shirt. "It's so beautiful!" my fabric friends tell me.
I learn so much at Rita - a very cool outdoor cafe with lots of palm trees - like, that when T and T were little, their parents sold vegetables in the market (the same market). When they got a little bigger, their parents began selling fabric, and when T and T got out of school, they took over the business.
Thuy tells me that they make between 200.000 and 300,000 VND per day (betwee $12 and $18 per day). The average income, I've heard, is about $65 per week, so they are above that. I wonder why they don't "build up."
And I learn that T and T did not learn English in school. Thanh learned it from a dictionary, on her own, and she teaches Thuy and her niece and nephew (the drunk 5 year old). I think that is really something. They have been learning it for years, and Thuy says, "You and K and T are the only ones we speak English with."
Thuy tells me a funny story. She saw K, T and I the first night we came to look at the castle. She and her friends were eating out on the street when they saw three foreigners walk past. "You were in front, holding a map, and K and T followed you." I could tell she was impressed that I was leading them, so I didn't tell her that if that in fact happened (which I am sure it did not) that it was the only time in my life that anyone has followed me while I was holding a map. She said, yeah, everyone was watching you three and talking about you.
When we pass a salon where the girls are wearing really short, tight dresses, Thanh looks over dissaprovingly, and says, "Salon for men." They explain that it's easy to tell. If the girls are wearing short, tight dresses, then the "salon" is just a cover; what it really is is upstairs.
"What if I went there for a hair wash?" I ask them. They say that I would get a hair wash, but it might not be that great; it's not their specialty.
"Oh," I say. I am so naive.
Now, at the Bum Bum, they certainly do not wear short, tight dresses. They wear cute, purple polos and jeans, mostly. The Bum Bum is apparently the only salon that T and T approve of in our neighborhood. There must be 12 of them within a two minute walk, so how we happened on the best one within minutes of moving into the castle is nothing other than destiny.
I learn that they don't like "people from China." This is something Tarn has heard from many people here, but it's the first I've heard it spoken. I ask if it's because Vietnam was occupied by China and I just get a shrug as a response. "Well, what about America? We were here, too. Do you like Americans?"
They both laugh a little sheepishly. "Americans are loud!" Thanh finally says.
And I learn that their favorite "color" is white. I tell them that white is absent of color so it doesn't count, but they don't understand. And here's something that really throws me:
Me: Are you happy about Obama?"
Thanh gives Thuy a funny look.
Thuy: I really like Obama, but she doesn't.
Me: Really? Why?
Thanh: I like white skin.
She knows that this shocks me a little, so I pull her pony tail and tell her that Obama is a good man. She laughs. "I don't like black skin," she says.
I am just the reporter in this case, but here is a little commentary: there are very few black people in HCMC, and they are mostly black African men. What I have heard - and this seems to be true by the way they act and dress - is that they are pimps for Vietnamese girls. Add this to the fact that most of the lotion or face cream you buy in Vietnam has the label "skin whitening" on it. This culture is obsessed with white skin, which is nothing new, right? But the fact that this "brown" skinned, completely gracious woman does not like our president because she prefers white skin to black skin...well, I don't know what to say about that. Mostly, all I have heard from Vietnamese people is support for the new "president of the world." And Thuy is 100% behind him, so...I will just stick with "I don't know what to say about that."
As we are heading back to the neighborhood, we walk past a really old Hindu temple. An indirect light shines on a female Buddha...I think they call her "That Ba" (ba is the term for a woman much older than you), and "That Om" (term for a man much older than you) is not far from her, but he is unlit. Incense is burning in a little holder outside of the gate, and I ask if we can stop. There is a little cannister filled with incense, so Thuy takes out three for each of us and lights them.
"Why do we have three each?" I ask.
"One is for you, one is for your family, and one is for the whole world." Nice.
They show me how to wave the incense in front of both Ba and Om, and I say the prayer after them. "May you bring me luck, may you bring my family luck, and may you bring the world luck." Then we put the incense in the sand to burn, and we make a prayer sign and bow with our hands at our heads, then down to our hearts.
"Now your family will be lucky, all the way in America," says Thuy.
Do you feel lucky, mom, dad? Angie, Brian? I hope so.
How about you, world. Are you feeling lucky?
Friday, January 30, 2009
However, the highlight is not swimming in the warm ocean water nor reading in the sand by the pool...it's this:
We have grilled scallops, squid, crab, prawns...more squid, more scallops, more prawns - we just keep ordering and ordering...and these: they are shrimp covered with glutinous rice. Of course, each dish comes with a special sauce. The mixture I am hooked on, though, is just simple coarse salt with lime squeezed into it - both salty and sour - the just-right addition to perfectly-grilled seafood.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
(Blog contest explained below)
Here's just a portion of the castle's pirated TV series, movie collections and music videos, from top left: House (4 seasons), Sex and the City (7 seasons), Alfred Hitchcock Collection (44 movies), Woody Allen Collection (44 movies), 30 Rock (seasons 1 and 2), and the music video collection: 30 live Elvis performances, Michael Jackson #1's, Beattles "Help!", Abba "Super Troupers," Katherine's "Disco Inforno" (sic) DVD- the crown of all our music DVD's, Journey's collection of MTV videos, a Lionel Richie video collection, including "Dancing on the Ceiling" and "All Night Long" (a VERY CLOSE second place to "Disco Inforno" (sic), Madonna (amazing), INXS, and a George Michael and Wham! (close following Lionel's). Notables not pictured: Carpenter's Karaoke, Whitney Houston, Queen, Duran Duran, and a load of single movies, such as "Roman Holiday" and "Frost/Nixon."
We are especially proud of our music video collection and they are the center focus of most castle parties. Katherine and I also watch them for hours.
Of course you want to know how much. OK, movie collections and TV series= 100,000 VD ($6). That's right, 44 Woody Allen movies for $6. Music videos= 20,000 VD ($1.20), movies= 15,000 VD (90 cents).
It's such a fun hobby, along with dress designing and food tasting - this is a fun (yet not at a beautiful) city.
Now, for the contest part: Speaking of our quintessential "Disco Inferno" DVD- if you were compiling a collection of pre-MTV disco hits, which singers or bands would be on there, and what song would he/she/they be singing?
First to get FIVE SINGERS AND FIVE SONGS CORRECT WINS (five out of twenty-one)!
Make your guesses, and I will confirm singers and songs until you get all five singers and all five songs, so if you're into it (Mungo), check back often (but keep in mind I am on vacation until Saturday or Sunday and had this contest post automatically in my absence, so feedback will not be as quick as I would like).
This prize is easy: if you win, you get a music DVD of your choice sent to you (only, we haven't been able to find another "Disco Inferno.") Too bad. But, Mungo, I know you want Lionel Richie anyway.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
ings down, and doing something else which took a full minute. Later, I played the video for Thuy and Thanh and they told me that they were collecting money for Tet and keeping track of who gave it to them. Again...Halloween mixed with Santa? Groups of happy kids followed, like these two:
Sunday, January 25, 2009
is quite a show.
Tuesday: Dress Competition Winner Announced
Saturday, January 24, 2009
I'm off for a week and have a whole weekend in front of me with no work and no travel... nothing, nothing, nothing. So I get to take my time through the market on this Saturday before the Eve of Tet. I took a very short video...I am learning that videos must be short and that I can only upload them at certain times of the day. So here you get a glimpse of the morning market. It is a little different today because many of the usual vendors are closed for Tet and you will see special food items. I'm not sure if you can hear my little narration, but that is basically what I'm saying. This is about where the market starts, about two alley blocks from the castle.
My first stop is at Thuy and Thanh's (one block away from this video). They have sold all of their Tet goodies, but they still sit in their spot...Thanh has a little side business selling jade jewelry - she had a silver necklace with a female Buddha on it made for me when I returned from Christmas break- not sure what she's called -- possbily "Kwan Jin" -- but I love it. And Thuy had a hat for me. It's a floppy yellow hat with a big floppy flower on it. She told me I was supposed to wear it on my way to and from school. I'm not really sure what to do about this, because the hat is not "me." Tarn says he can see it working in certain situations. And I say yeah, like if it was 1920 and Gatsby invited me to a party on Long Island. Like then. Anyway, I wear the necklace all the time, and have yet to wear the hat.
But I digress.Thuy and Thanh are super chill this morning. They get ten whole days off; I think it is their only vacation for the year. We chat for a bit, then they speak to each other. Thuy turns to me and says, "Maggie. Tomorrow. Do you want to eat the food of Vietnam?" I love this question just as much as I love Nam's "Number One Point."
"Yes!" I say, but I am concerned about their family Tet celebration.
"No problem," they say. So Thuy, Thanh, Katherine and I have a date to make Banh Xeo, the coconut rice crepe filled with pork and bean sprouts on Tet Day at three (after a morning shopping trip...and this time they get to join us). I am especially happy that Thanh gets to join us for the fun tomorrow. She works so hard.
Then I stop and buy another Tet boiled rice and pork cake, shown here in its leaf casing, but this one is smaller and has purple rice on the outside. And the envelopes pictured are for Lucky Money.
Then I go to one of my favorite places on the planet: to my turmeric rice cake ladies' stand. I love love love these women so much. I think I would love them this much even if they didn't make my favorite Vietnamese dish, but I'm not 100% sure about that.
They are so jolly and gracious and we pantomime conversations. Look at them, don't you want to be best friends with both of them? Every once in a while I get the cakes to go in the morning, but my favorite thing to do is to hang out at this stand on weekend mornings. Almost every time I eat here, I meet someone interesting. I meet Vietnamese people who are impressed that I eat the cakes. Today I meet a Vietnamese guy from Montreal, home visiting for Tet. "I can't get these in Montreal," he tells me. "How do you know about them?"
After this exchange with my Cake Women, I realize that I must run home and put some Lucky Money (a 50,000 VND bill - about $3. A plate of cakes costs 10,000 - about 60 cents) in an envelope and return to give it to them. I am having fun with Lucky Money, and everone seems so appreciative - not only for the $ - but for the gesture from a foreigner.
They giggle and laugh and say "Cam on!" (Thank you.) I am walking back to the castle when I see Nam and his nephew, waving and laughing at our front French doors. They have Tet gifts for me, so I invite them in. Yesterday, I gave Nam an envelope with another 200,000 VND in it and he was really, really pleased and amused.
They have another boiled rice, bean paste and pork cake for me (if you don't look closely you will think it's a watermelon), and you can see his nephew has a little jar of what appears to be homemade pickled carrots and cabbage. Of course, Nam is quite thorough in his explanation regarding how to eat the cake.
"Don't cut through the leaves with a knife," his nephew translates. "Cut the strings with scissors, take the cake out of the leaves, then slice it with a knife. Put this stuff in the jar on top."
And of course, the repeater must tell me this three times. Then I get a very long Tet blessing that goes something like this: "May you have a blessed year. Blessings to you and your family. May you be blessed with a lot of money." What a quality person.
When Katherine wakes up, she says "Who was here?" I tell her about my morning. "I love it when you have ten adventure stories to tell me when I'm just waking up," she says. Today we have plans to stroll through the Tet flower market and hang out downtown. We are both so happy to be doing nothing nothing nothing for a few days. She is heading back to a beach in Cambodia next week.
I am having luck with video lo ading this morning. I took this one on the way back from school yesterday (on Nam's bike, of course). The balloons and other items in the roundabout are all Tet related. This video misrepresents the craziness of the motorbikes, though, because it seems that half of the city has left for Tet. I will take another one when I return.
Now I had better go and eat some boiled rice cakes since we now have five of them in the fridge. Happy Lunar New Year's Eve!
Friday, January 23, 2009
The Kitchen God is an overseer of a household's moral conduct (not its culinary skill). Throughout the year, The Kitchen God monitors the family's virtues and vices by watching from a position on a kitchen wall or hearth mantle. (He is not an actual statue but rather a paper depiction that hangs above the stove). He also protects families from fire (which he invented) and other disasters.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Maggie London Printed Stretch Satin Dress - submitted by my sister, Angie and her co-worker, Marie - at the very last minute. When I saw this dress I gasped...isn't it cool?
Wrap-Around Dress by Butterick, submitted by my mom, Carol. I like this one because it is simple and I can wear it to school. I have always really liked wrap-arounds. I guess my family knows my style or something. Here's an entry from a non-blood:
Dress by Lauren. I will allow Michelle to speak for this dress (are you in sales?): She says,
"I love contests, prizes, the hard work and sweat that comes from being competitive! And, to involve shopping, can it get any better???? I immediately took valuable work time to find a dress, fabric and notions to make this a fun summer, cocktail party dress that will make you the bell of the ball and the envy of every woman in attendance!"
Isn't it cute? I really love it. And it's so different from #1 and #2. I like the idea of making this dress and then being invited to an Academy Award party, or hanging out with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda in NYC.
So go ahead and vote, if you have strong opinions. But most of the 360 people who read this blog every week (there is a counter for things like that) remain voyeurs, which is cool. But while you do or don't vote, excuse me while I take my sister, my mom, and two people whom I have never met (but will meet Michelle in March after she bikes here from Hanoi!) shopping.
I went to Ben Thanh Market today after school to do a little research. You see, it's not easy becoming a designer...there is so much to learn. At first I was making all kinds of mistakes - I was buying the wrong kind of material for the wrong item. For example, I was buying pant material and wanting a shirt out of it. I kept getting the "nooooooo" from Sweet Seamstress and my seamstress at Ben Thanh kept sending me back into the market to get the right stuff.
But now I am on the path to enlightenment - at least I think so. OK, here we go: on the link for dress #1 on http://www.nordstrom.com/, it tells you what kind of material the dress is made out of. The Maggie London one is made from "stretch satin." OK, so let me show you a few pictures of the aisles in Ben Thanh:
Here is one of about twenty aisles, and here is one stand out of about 100:
As you can see, it is overwhelming. So this is what I did: because I knew I was looking for "stretch satin," I just walked through the aisles (at least 20 like these) and asked the vendors "Do you have any stretch satin?" until I found the sweetest two ladies who spoke some English and who seemed really interested in helping me. I showed the first one the design (which I had printed out) and she says, "Oh, let me take you to my friend. She has all kinds of stretch material that would work for that dress." So nice.
I couldn't find a pattern like that in the picture of , so I'm just going to show you a few patterns I liked, and then a bunch of solids. The sky is the limit. I liked the blue/white/black and the paisley in the middle here:
And I liked this brown with gold design, too:
And here are a bunch of solids... these will all work for dress #'s 1 and 2. (Dress #2 should be made from stretch, too - it says so on the pattern- see how intelligent I am? It can be valour (sp?) stretch or satin stretch or polyester stretch)
As for dress #3, these two women sell the spectrum of silk, too. All kinds of patterns and solids. Silk is easy here, they all tell you "made from 100% Vietnamese silk." Now that I know how it's made (see "36 Hours in Dalat"), I really do stand in awe of it.
They have the exact color of the silk in the photo and also the one that Michelle suggested, which I would call a "light mustard." And this is a patterned silk pictured here:
I learned so much today, it was really fun.
Well, what do you think?
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
So a few weeks ago I am at her stand and she is not smiling nor looking at me. She is scooping out my favorite (of course, the one with tapioca sauce) when a girl approaches, quickly invading my personal space – a girl with a huge gaping smile and wide crossed eyes. As she gets within inches of my face and stares right into my (blue) eyes, I realize that she has something –maybe Downs— but I’m not quite sure. She is staring and laughing, staring and laughing. She says “hello”– a staple greeting everyone here knows for people who look like me.
“Hello,” I say, laughing.
“Hello!” she says, really loudly.
It’s the hello game, and it goes on for a bit. Kids love to play it with us, too.
People around the stand, both vendors and shoppers, look up.
She sticks out her hand and I shake it and she squeals.
Now they are both staring and laughing, staring and laughing, invading my personal space and gazing – I must say, with absolute wonder, into my eyes.
“Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello!”
Many people are laughing and smiling at this show. I just keep shaking their hands and returning their greetings. I look over at my rice lady and she is holding my little bag o rice, the corners of her mouth turned up a bit. Just a little bit.
Tet of the Tet Offensive, by the way. You've all heard of it, right? If not, Google it and read the post on Tet again and you will have new insight.