Friday, January 23, 2009

The Kitchen God Tale ~ Gung Hay Fat Choy!

It figures...my dress contest just happened to fall during the only time of year that everything in Vietnam is closed for ten days. Yesterday, after I took you shopping at Ben Thanh Market, I went to give my seamstress some "Lucky Money." She was quite happy with the little red envelope - she hugged and kissed me - and told me that she would see me in three weeks.

I am very happy that these hard-working women get some time off, but it means that the dress-making will have to be put on hold for a while. I am staying around this weekend for some Tet festivities, but will head to Mui Ne beach on Monday for (can you believe it) another week off. And I just recovered from my last break. It will be our only break for the rest of the year, except for a few long weekends. (BTW, Tarn is getting on a plane right now heading for New Zealand for two weeks - he hasn't been home in three and a half years. He is going home for his dad's wedding.)

So the voting can continue on for a bit - at least through the weekend. I will anounce a "winner" before I leave Monday morning. There is a fierce competition raging because I think my sister may be forcing her children and friends to vote for Dress #1. Just so you know.

And now, you need to hear the story of The Kitchen God, Tao- since it is a Tet story - because he is also leaving today (but he is going to heaven, not NZ), on this very day, the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, from many fires in kitchens all over Vietnam:

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.
A few days before New Year's, The Kitchen God is dispatched to make his report to the heavens. He is fed a feast of cooked chicken (which must include head and feet), his lips are smeared with honey (so that he will speak sweet words about the family) and then he is ceremoniously burned. His spirit travels upwards, through the smoke - on a red carp (fish) that turns into a dragon- to the Jade Emperor in Heaven. To ensure Tao can fulfil his heavenly obligations, a live carp will be placed on altars today; tomorrow, it will be set free (where all of these carp will be set free I am not certain).

Some say that the honey will seal his lips shut so he can't say anything at all when he gets to heaven. I like that. There is usually some kind of clause, isn't there?

Speaking of clauses, the other day, one of my co-workers commented on what a crazy story this is. I don't know, though...remember Santa and his naughty and nice list and flying reindeer and toys made in a workshop in the North Pole?
Moving on...during Tet, you should eat certain foods to ensure good luck, long life, and prosperity. For example, you should eat this:

It's a boiled rice, bean paste and pork cake, given to Katherine by one of her students. It was wrapped in dong leaves (and boiled overnight, then drained in a collander), but Katherine unwrapped it and put it on a plate in the fridge. When we showed our landlord, he really laughed that it had been unwrapped and left on a plate, like cake.
Or you can eat this: strips of really fatty, chewy, bacony strips, combined into a loaf. You eat it with bread. The boiled
rice pork cake i
s actually quite good, but I am leaving this one alon
e.
After school today, Nam takes me to the neighborhood
pork-on-sugarcane stand because I am home early. Still, she barely has any left, so I buy up the rest of her supply- only because Nam makes me. I try to order just half but he scowls and is like, "Oh, come on...just buy it so she can wrap it up and go home." And, as you know, I do what my mother says - even if I don't want five deep fried spring rolls.
But she doesn't have any noodles left. His eyes dart around...he is thinking about how to repair this. We go by his great aunt's and he runs in and asks her something. He comes out perplexed. We go to another house, he yells something inside and then waits. He gets no response. He tells me to get off and wait and he zooms off down the alley.
It seems that everyone I know walks by at that moment. "Hi Maggie!" says Ut, Sweet Seamstress's son. "Hello!" says one of the Bum Bum girls (my pedicure girl). "Ciao Chi!" (greeting to a woman from a woman of around your own age) says the woman who feeds me shellfish around the corner from the castle. Even Thanh passes and greets me warmly. One of my students had given me a box of chocolates earlier (Modiva, instead of Godiva), so I offer a chocolate to all of my passing friends. Suddenly I begin to feel self-conscious about being a helmet-wearing, chocolate-giving statue in the alley. These people have no idea why I am standing here, and neither do I. Five minutes have passed. I start to wonder...did Nam mean to tell me to walk home?
Suddenly, he zooms back around the corner, holding a bag of noodles up like a medal, like he has just returned from a challenging leg of The Amazing Race. Somehow, somewhere, my driver used his connections to procure some noodles to go with the food that he has just forced me to purchase so his friend can close shop.
I like to think that the Kitchen God is pleased with this behavior.

4 comments:

Brian Bowker said...

Ha ha ha! Isn't that just the way life works? That the time when you're left in a strange alley wearing a helmet is the time when you'll see everyone you know?

I like to picture the helmet being sparkly, like a fancy bowling ball. Fun!

Amy T said...

Modiva Moment

Suddenly
I begin to feel
self-conscious

I start to wonder
about being a
helmet-wearing
chocolate giving
statue

In the alley, these people
have no idea

Why am I standing here?

Mungo said...

So, what are you saying? That Santa is just a "story?"

Rita Ireland said...

Picturing Sue 'n you
in Denpasar too.
Once stayed there for 3 bucks
In a beach bungalow...true!

While Henry defeats David;
Backgammon night's through.