This morning Thuy and Thanh asked me if I would like to walk to a cafe with them tonight, so that's what I just did. Guess what - we end up going to "Rita."
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?