Saturday, January 24, 2009

Market Taste and Nam Castle Visit

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 loading 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!


Brian Bowker said...

Wow - what cool videos! WE are the ones having luck with your video uploading!

I wish I could be there to help you celebrate Tet and eat the cakes! Enjoy your time off!

Amy T said...

"Kwan Jin"? I think it was Kwan Yin, one of my very favorite goddesses. Story is, she reached enlightenment, but turned around and heard people in pain, refused to go on, and returned to earth. Her name translates as "she who hears the weeping world." She is the goddess of Mercy and Compassion. I love that your friends gave that to you, delightfully fitting of your gracious presence in HCMC!

And your Daisy hat? Well, it's yours, so it's "you" now, isn't it? You'll find a sunny field with berries to pick, or a garden with iced tea to drink, or a curious monkey to rescue... that hat will lead you somewhere.

marjie said...

Now she is one of my favorite goddesses, too. Thanks AmyT.

Mungo said...

I love that you have hundreds of adventures for me every time I tune in to your blog...