Sunday, February 08, 2009

A Pink Breakfast Visit with My Mother's Mother

To tie things up from yesterday: I will continue to buy from T and T...of course. No question about that. I made my daily visit this morning and nothing has changed. I don't even plan to go back to that cheap market; everyone deserves to make a profit, and they have only been fair businesswomen with me.

I do wonder, though, if word got to them about our little motorbike journey with Ms. Hao and friend, because this morning, Thanh asks me, "What did you do with your friends yesterday?" It's hard to get across all of the nuances here in writing, but she asked in a suspicious way. I could be reading in to it.

I was going to get breakfast and come home and post about the Ben Thanh shopping trip, but then my morning changed. The person that this whole time I thought was Nam's great aunt I now know is his mother, and this following story is how I now know this (I thought he told me his mother had died).

Anyway, after hanging out with T and T, I make my regular morning market circuit. I visit my "Squid Man," my "Prawn Woman" and I buy from a "Traveling Clam Man." I also buy some of my favorite taro pork spring rolls. I am heading back to refrigerate my copious amount of food for later cooking when I feel someone grab my arm. It's my mom's mom, so I guess you could say: it's my grandmother. She does this to me often - she grabs my arm in the market to greet me. A few times, she has invited me to come to her home and I have declined.

But this time, she grabs my arm and leads me to her daughter's home - the one who sells the fabric - and I have no choice in the matter. She doesn't realize that she is pulling me over buckets of fish and that I almost knock over a pile of mangoes. She leads me right into the living room where all of the fabric is displayed and traps me there. I play with her granddaughter and speak with her daughter until they can rustle Nam's nephew out of bed (Minh). When he comes down, he says that his grandmother would like to invite me over to her house (next door) for something to eat. This time I accept.
Pictured here: Minh, N's Mom, Mai (Minh's mother) and baby Mina (Mina's mother refused to get in the picture because of her casual attire).

Nam's mom tells Nam's wife - who sits outside of the grandmother's house on market mornings - to make me one of her fish sandwiches. Minh brings it in and hands it to me without a plate - this huge sandwich on a flaky French baguette. They open what seems to be fake Dr. Pepper for everyone, but no one else is eating. It's only me, getting flakes all over Nam's mom's pink livingroom couch.

They hold a very formal visit as I awkwardly chew my huge sandwich, attempting (unsuccessfully) not to speak with my mouth full. They are sitting on one side of the room underneath a giant picture of The Last Supper (in the upper left corner of the top picture - Nam's mom really wanted me to get a picture of her beside the flower arrangement to the right of her, but I wanted The Last Supper) ask me all of the usual questions: What did you think of Viet Nam when you came? How many people in your family? How old are you? How much do you pay for your house? (Everyone asks this and $1100 per month is a shocking answer, of course.)

And I learn some things from them:

1) They are Christians. 20% of the Vietnamese population claim Christianity as their religion. I had figured that from the cross Nam wears around his neck.

2) Grandmother had six children, but one daughter died three years ago of bone disease. Minh spells out the whole family and I try not to act shocked when he tells me that this woman is Nam's mom.

3) One of the grandsons is an actor, and this is him, on the left, without the beard. He also makes money going to tourist restaurants and parties and dressing up as this character with the beard. The wall of the living room is filled with family and ancestor pictures.

4) Nam's mother is 80.

5) Nam's mother paid for her house with 50 bars (kilos) of gold about nine years ago. It's worth much more now.

6) Mai and her husband next door (with the fabric) bought their smaller house for 11 bars of gold about 18 years ago.

7) The rest of the siblings live in various districts in HCMC, but they all come every year for Tet. Nam bought the youngest brother's house for some reason.
After I am done having them watch me eat, I take out my camera to take some pictures. However, my leather bag full of seafood catches Mai's eye. She comes over and begins to take everything out of my bag. It's really embarrassing, because I have a ton of food in there. I was hungry this morning.
She says a string of things to Minh and he translates how I am supposed to cook the seafood (I have learned that playing dumb about how to cook makes my neighbors happy, so that's what I do). She also says that I shouldn't put seafood in my nice bag because it will make it smelly and dirty. Note taken. I guess the whole family goes through other peoples' bags of food and enjoys evaluating the contents.
Then we begin a photo session, and Nam's mom arranges us in about ten different poses. She specifically tells me that I am supposed to send my mother the picture of the two of us, so mom, that picture is for you. They ask me to take the photos to a developing place and to give them copies, which of course I will do.
I stay for close to an hour, and when I am about to leave, Nam's mom says something to Minh. "My grandmother want to know if you come back for lunch." I feel so popular in this neighborhood. I tell them that I have plans with a friend. But really, I just have plans to nap at the top of the castle in my air conditioned room.


Thomas said...

Poor you, now you've got an idea of how it's like to be a celebrity... Not always real fun.

Otherwise, just try and let all these loyality entanglements not unsettle you too much.

Very often we just see the surface or physical appearance of what's going on around us. The real meaning behind might be unvisible. After all, our culture is so different from their's.

If someone has a chance at all to figure all these strange things out, it will be you. Simply because of your extrodinary sensitive personality.

Keep my fingers crosses, Thomas

Mungo said...

Suddenly, your life in Viet Nam is sounding more like an "I Love Lucy" episode, and soon everyone is going to figure out all the juggling you are doing to keep them all happy, and they'll all get upset, but you'll slip on a banana peel in the end and make them all laugh, and you'll go back to your mom and say, "OOOOOOHHHH, Nammy..."

Brian Bowker said...

Ooo! I hope it ends with you at some sort of conveyor belt having to stuff seafood in your mouth as fast as you can! Oh man, that would be HILARIOUS!