Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Absolute Wonder, Flower Markets and Jelly Drinks

My morning rice woman never smiles at me. I kind of like it, really; she could care less that I am the neighborhood Foreign Amazon. She is not Banana Rice Cake Gracious nor Pineapple Lady Nasty. She is all about the rice. Purple rice, green rice, white rice with red beans and tapioca sauce, rice with sausage, coconut and peanuts. She doesn’t really ever look at me.

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.

"Hellllllloooooooooo!" she screams.

Then, suddenly, there are two of her. She is a twin, and her twin also has Downs.

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.

Yes, the girls know how to say hello to foreigners, they know how to shake hands with foreigners, and you know what else they know how to do? They know how to hold their hands out and ask for money.

At this gesture, the crowd around me sucks in a collective gasp and the girls are scolded straight away. But my rice lady, she laughs. A big laugh. She looks at me and does the hand-circles-around-the-head gesture, the international language for "They aren't right in the head." Then she scolds them.

I think it's funny that she feels she needs to explain this to me, but it is the first time she has ever acknowledged me, so I just nod my head in understanding.

And, since then? Well, I see "the twins" all the time. I'm pretty sure they stalk me. I love to see them for a few reasons. 1) they are really, really sweet and 2) it is something to have two human beings look at you with such wonder when you haven't done one single thing to deserve it. They love to have their picture taken, too, which is why I thought to tell their story today. And the rice lady? Do you think she smiles at me, now that we have shared this funny moment and connected? Nope. She still gives me nothing. Except for yummy rice. Which is fine.

Ah, this neighborhood. This morning I am making my way through the busier-than-usual Tet market and when I turn the corner, a salon is blasting Abba's "I Have a Dream." What a juxtaposition. Pig ears and tails, smelly Durian fruit, incense and "I Have a Dream."

Speaking of Tet, I happened to wander into one of the many Tet flower markets in the city after school. The entire park is filled with potted flowers of all kinds. I really wanted my dad to be there with me, he loves his flowers. And speaking of juxtapositions, here is another one: a place called "Seventeen Saloon" with a Totem Pole (that looks just like one in Snohomish), a Tet Tree with Chinese Lanterns, fake fruit, wrapped gifts and a golden calf.
And speaking of really good things to eat...oh, wait, I haven't spoken of that in a while...I was at a different market today, just wandering around, and I found this display of jelly drinks. I love jelly drinks, but these looked extra special, and I had good instinct, because they were extra, extra specially good. Mine is pictured here, and these are the layers:
1) red stringy jelly
2) custard
3) green stringy jelly
4) lotus flower seeds
5) cream
6) ice
You mix it up and it's so yummy.
Everything is closing for Tet. Today I tell Nam to pick me up at the gym at 5 and after school I find out the gym is closed for the week. I have to find another ride home and then stop by Nam's great aunt's house to try to communicate to her (she seems to understand English only at her convenience), that Nam did not need to pick me up at 5. I point to a motorbike, make the Vietnamese negative gesture by putting my hand up and twisting it and I say Nam's name. It's a great pantomime. I do this five times (and I am so Obama tired, too). I am not successful. I know this because I see Nam's nephew on the street later and he tells me Nam went to pick me up at 5 and I wasn't there. It's so hard to have a mom to look after.
Oh, and I keep meaning to tell you why I haven't mentioned Thuy or Thanh or cooking Sundays. Well, evidently, they don't get shipments of fabric during Tet, so instead they turn their fabric stand into a Tet Candy and Cookie stand. It is open from 5 am until 9 pm, so they are busy and tired. Cooking classes will resume after Tet. Everything, I hope, will resume after Tet.
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.
Our internet is finally working again. We didn't pay our bill on time, which is becoming a very terrible theme. The guy across the alley from us, Henry, has been paying our bills when the various companies come to shut off our internet, water, electricity. He is so nice. The other day he had me get on his motorbike so he could show me where to pay most of our bills. Everything is done by cash here. The real estate agent I met last night told me that all of her transactions are in cash if she is dealing with Vietnamese people. They all have huge safes in their homes and keep stacks of dong in there. And, she says, bars of gold. They often pay her with them. So I guess they will be OK when the economy crashes, right?
I tried to stop this post a long time ago, and now I must. Stay tuned for Blog Contest Thursday tomorrow!


Brian Bowker said...

I love your posts Marjie. Even when I don't have anything specific to comment about, I just love getting a glimpse of another world through your writing. You're blog is my favorite soap opera!

Anonymous said...

Finally getting caught back up!