Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pam's Top Ten List

Pam’s Top 10 Things about Visiting Marjie (written by Pam, of course!)

10. Rice cakes. Yum. Yum. And YUM! How do they make things taste so delicious here? The secret sauce that you dip just about everything in is water, fish sauce, sugar, lime, red pepper and salt. Try it at home, and dip away. Everything tastes good in this sauce! Especially the rice cakes wrapped in lettuce with basil…

9. Seeing Marjie’s school. It is a big modern school and the kids all obviously love her. It’s refreshing actually how much respect the kids have for the teachers in general. A different culture, for sure. I think this is about as far away from an alternative school as possible! (these boys are from the neighborhood, not the school, it's just a great picture).

8. Sleeping in the castle. My room is the one that has the balcony looking out over the living room. I feel like standing above and calling out for Romeo! Let me just say that Marjie and her roommates Katherine and Tarn are SO lucky to have found this place. Aside from the lack of A/C in this sweltering heat and the continued power outages, it is positively perfect!

7. Learning about music video DVDs! Marjie already blurted out the truth about my secret obsession with George Michael (OK, so it’s not a secret anymore), but I found an ABBA karaoke CD, with real live ABBA footage and the words! Oh, yes, it is THAT FUN! At the post office today I heard the clerk next to my clerk ask his customer if he had CDs or DVDs in his box, because obviously they aren’t legal and he wouldn’t let him claim them. Uh oh, I claimed mine. I hope they make it home in today’s shipment!

6. Spending a day with Nam. This guy is everything Marjie says. He’s positively hilarious but he doesn’t know it. I couldn’t stop giggling all day! He is a little controlling through, and insists on intervening in everything that you do, what you take pictures of, how you eat your lunch, how you clean your hands, etc… Because, obviously he is the Mother around here and He Knows Best.

5. Saigon traffic. Because I’ve been traveling in Asia for over six months, I’m used to crazy traffic but this is something else. At most busy city intersections, there are no traffic signals, but no one stops. Think about that. Check out this video of turning left across a BUSY road…that just about sums it up.
video
But then you have to learn how to WALK across the street. You’ve seen the video and how it’s done on scooter. But, you have to do the same thing when you are a pedestrian. You walk very slow and deliberately, because there are virtually no crosswalks or frankly rules that protect pedestrians from cars. Once you enter the street, you are on your own. Today I saw a man holding twin babies (maybe 3 months old?) crossing the equivalent of Highway 99 at Greenlake during rush hour. Totally undeniably crazy, but somehow the system just works!

4. Cooking!! You got to read about it on Marjie’s last two blog posts, but it was so fun! Considering that at home cooking is one of my favorite pastimes, and while I’ve been traveling I’ve only had a couple of chances to get in the kitchen. Best about this kind of cooking though was that it was completely unfamiliar to me, and I got to learn a few new techniques.


3. The Bum Bum. This place is TEN TIMES better than I imagined! It’s a tiny little place at first glance, but then you walk up the stairway to heaven. That is where Tran gave me one of the most amazing massages I’ve ever received – for $3. Then, there was the hair-washing. Who even KNEW that this was possible? It’s not only a very thorough 40 minute hair wash/head massage, it’s also a mini-facial, and then a blow dry that beats any blow dry EVER. That was $2.50. The simultaneous manicure/pedicure? $1. In four days, and multiple visits to the Bum Bum, I didn’t spend more than $15. I so wish that there was a Bum Bum with Bum Bum prices in Seattle. I would never need to go anywhere else!

2. The market outside the Castle. This was one of my favorite things about visiting Marjie. Of course, I’ve read all the posts about the market, but imagine having the Pike Place Market WITHOUT tourists right outside your front door? Every morning, the alley ways come alive with at least a hundred vendors selling seafood, vegetables, materials, food (of course!), and just about everything you can imagine. And, the entire neighborhood comes out for it. I learned that Marjie walks through the market almost every day on her way to school and buys breakfast, snack and lunch. There is certainly plenty to choose from, though Marjie definitely has her favorites!

1. The Hammocks on the Roof. So, when you walk up all five flights of stairs to get to the roof you are hot, and ready for a cool beverage and a seat. Lucky for me, the Castle is now a Two Hammock Castlehold! When you are not lying vertically on the roof, if you spin 360 degrees it is like the movie Rear Window. You can peek into other people’s lives like a crazy old voyeur. You spin another direction and you see some of the city’s neon. Spin another direction and you are watching the sun set over Saigon. Magic, I tell you. Magic. Honestly, I didn’t want to leave the roof.

Except to eat, of course.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What Pam Ate, Part 2

On Friday, Tarn asks me, "Who do we have cooking for us this weekend?"

I tell him that Thuy and Thanh planned to cook with us on Saturday. "So is it clear for Song Han and Ms. Nga to cook for us on Sunday?"

Do you have these kinds of conversations?

Ms. Nga teaches Vietnamese to both students and staff at AIS, and you have met our Mandarin teacher, Song Han- she is the one who was so excited for the Christmas party. They arrive at the castle at 10:00 am Sunday morning, before Pam and I have even finished our market morning eating session. We're a little nervous that we won't be able to eat very much, but we shouldn't have worried...these two cook for two and a half hours before lunch is served (allowing us much needed Bum Bum time).
What we eat: sweet potato, carrot and shrimp spring rolls, fish cakes, a shrimp salad that seems to be shredded papaya but isn't papaya but rather some kind of bamboo shoot, pineapple sweet and sour soup, morning glory, and two other dishes that they leave for Tarn to cook for dinner because they realize they have too much food (it will never happen).
We eat and eat and eat and later claim that they must have put some kind of drug in the food because afterward we nap for almost three hours. Have I mentioned that it's HOT? It's hot.
It's hot and we are eating a lot. And having people cook for us. And sleeping. And Bum Bumming.
Tomorrow Pam will have her Mom Nam Adventure, which we are all looking forward to. Nam has been practicing her name all week. "Pam, Pam, Pam," he will say, then he laughs.
Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What Pam Ate

When I ask Pam what she wants to do during her four days in HCMC, she says she wants to "EAT." Some people make me so happy.


Who Pam Is: Pam works right down the street from my condo on Phinney Ridge, she is responsible for planting the seed for the Scriber Costa Rica trip last year (her company, Parson's Public Relations, has done much to save the sea turtles) and she embarked on a World Adventure(http://seattlepam.blogspot.com/) in September. She started by trekking in Nepal, spent three months in India, only left India for Thailand because her visa ran out (and if you read her (very cool) blog, you will find that her Thailand sentiments are very similar to mine and K's), then to Laos, then to Cambodia.

Now she's here, and she wants to EAT.


Oh, and as I mentioned before, Pam also has a million dollar personality.

Pam and I shared a bottle of wine on my deck the night before I left Seattle and planned to meet in Vietnam in March. Ever since, we have been following each others' blogs. We both think it's pretty cool that we get a taste of familiarity at this point in our adventures, but that we don't have to tell a million stories. We know each other's stories. So guess what we can do? We can concentrate on her desire to EAT.

Saturday morning, I am (as you can imagine), bursting with excitement to take Pam around my market. But K makes her a cup of coffee and I have to wait FOREVER for her to drink it. THEN, I can't believe I do this, but since I have to wait for slow coffee drinkers, I put in one of our prize DVD's: George Michael. Pam goes crazy. We have to watch and watch and watch as she drinks her coffee. She LOVES George Michael. She's gasping as each new song plays...she's out of her chair dancing and singing... finally, when I begin to assess her commitment to her goal, I realize she just needs a little guidance. If we don't go soon, the rice cake lady will close down. So I have to cut her off. I'm pretty sure that in retrospect she will thank me. We begin by meeting Thuy and Thanh at their stand - Pam already"knows" them, of course, through all of her blog reading - and we do a quick tour of the market with Thuy to buy all of the ingredients we need for dinner-making (shrimp and taro spring rolls and hot pot).

THEN, finally, we EAT. We eat an order of cakes each. We eat salad rolls. We buy roasted eggplant and tomatoes and basil and mangoes and pomelo and avocados and shrimp and come back and make a salad of all of these things at the castle. We take little break from eating (and you guessed right, Pam goes back to George but is able to pull herself away for the Bum Bum) until Thuy comes at three to cook more food.

This time, our hot pot has a few different items - in addition to the fish (which we saw grabbed out of the bucket and bludgeoned to death right in front of us), squid, prawns, mushrooms, morning glory and noodles- Thuy buys what turns out to be our favorite treat: (what we think are) squash blossoms. Sweet and delicious.

The broth is the same as last time, but somehow it's better: lemongrass, tamarind, sugar, curry paste. Pam is a certain breed of vegetarian, I call her a Pesca-baca-tarian. An animal lover and a conservationist, she believes in the vegetarian + seafood lifestyle, but every so often, she allows herself to indulge in the joy of bacon. I love this about Pam.

So perhaps it is a bit more difficult for her to witness the murder of the fish for the soup, and perhaps it is a bit more difficult for her to see her soup staring back at her. To be honest, this is bothering me less and less.

Thanh can't join us because their nephew, whom we call "Monkey Boy" since the beer incident on Tet, is sick. Katherine is at a soccer game. So this leaves us and Tarn to eat this huge pot of soup. And I haven't mentioned this yet, but it is HOT lately. I have heard that April is the hottest month here, and I can testify to this. We eat hot pot in the sweltering heat, we sweat it out like we are supposed to, and thank goodness we have a cool, breezy roof and TWO HAMMOCKS to rest in. That's right, K bought a hammock the other day, so we are a TWO HAMMOCK castlehold now. It's such a great spot.

Since it is finally cool, we decide to head downtown for Pam's second mission, one she did not know she had until the morning: she also, it seems, wants to BUY A GEORGE MICHAEL DVD while she is in HCMC. We travel all over the city, and finally find it at our tenth DVD shop. We come back to the castle victorious, Pam proudly owning all of the best of what the castle has collected. We take my laptop up to the TWO HAMMOCK ROOF and watch a combination of Michael Jackson videos and last week's American Idol episode (Motown Week).

I think Pam is happy and full.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thursday Blog Game: 6E Inspiration

video video

6E is my first class Thursday mornings; every other morning, classes 6A-D come in rather subdued and sleepy. But definitely not these ones. 6E are the Halloween Contest Thriller Winners; they are always choreographing songs and asking me to play their new favorite songs and talking- yelling- in "conversational" Vietnamese for a half an hour before class starts. This morning Weyshan, Helen, Polly and Mia allow me to capture their new dance routine to this song from "High School Musical."

The third video mainly favors Jack and John - two Boy Boys, you know - who LOVE to fight and talk big and make fun of everyone- and who also LOVE really sentimental, soft love songs. They request this song all the time: Westlife's "I Lay My Love on You." I wish the quality was better...the whole class is singing along, but mostly Jack and John.

So the game this week is... sixth grade memories~ I hope 6E inspires you to think of one~

video

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Saigon Jams

video

Thought I would share my traffic jam from last night. I had an appointment to get my hair cut at 5:30 all the way across District One. Terrible idea. Before this mob began to move I think we sat there for a full five minutes - and we weren't waiting for a traffic light. At many intersections, it's every motorbike for herself...you just inch your way forward and hope for movement.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Kicking Rooster Angels

Today I don't bring my usual three meals to school, so I end up in the cute 6th floor cafe ordering instant noodle soup with egg during a break around 2pm. I find our principal's assistant, Van, there eating rice soup. Van is very, very cool. She's the kind of principal's assistant who runs the school in a very unassuming manner; she does everything, and everything is always done in a controlled, patient manner. She was educated at a California university- holds a masters degree- and is now spending a few post-graduate years at home with her family. She answered the ad for AIS in the summer - just like the rest of us.

Anyway, ever since the kids told me about funerals in Vietnam, I've wanted to cross-check the facts with Van. She, of course, speaks really good English and understands both cultures, so I go to her for the real stuff.

I tell her about my funeral discussion with 6A and she confirms some of it but adds more. (She seems totally fine discussing death over soup.)

"When a person dies, usually they are placed in a coffin and taken home for about four days. During that four days, family members drop in constantly. Usually, a monk is hired to recite prayers, and sometimes large amounts of family and friends are present for that.
"At around the fourth day, they put the coffin in one of those decorated trucks and have a procession to the cemetery. Sometimes, more prayers are said there. If the people are really religious, or can afford to hire the monk for more, more prayers are said.
"On the 45th day after the death, another ceremony is held. Again, if the family has money, they will hire a monk to say the prayers at this gathering, but it differs from family to family. After that, their death days are celebrated just like the kids told you, once per year, on the date of death."
I ask her if monks come to those, too. "Only if the family has money," she says. "It's not so common for that to happen."

I tell her I like how they do death here better than in the States, that I didn't know about the 45 day thing, but that it makes so much sense to me.

She cocks her head to one side.
"Really?" She thinks about this for a moment. "I like the way it's done in America better. Everyone gets together and it's simple. Not a lot of details."

"What kind of details?"

And then comes the rooster detail:
When the coffin is lowered into the ground at the cemetery, a rooster is brought out to circle the grave of the deceased. Everyone must follow the rooster around until it makes its rooster sound: roosters symbolize angels, so when they call, it means that the deceased has been released to death.
"My grandfather died a few years ago and we followed the rooster around for about ten laps. It wasn't making any sound and everyone was getting tired, so finally my uncle kicked it so we could get on with things."
"Your uncle kicked the angel?"

She laughs. "Yes. One year later, my uncle died of lung cancer. Some of my family thinks it's because he kicked the rooster at my grandfather's funeral."
She tells me about other superstitions, like the one about crying loudly at someone's death. It is believed that if you make loud mourning noises, the soul will not feel right about leaving, so it will hover and act as a ghost around your house. "In America, it seems that people don't really cry at funerals. Everyone is quiet. Here, even though they are supposed to be quiet for the sake of the soul's freedom, people cry and cry and wail and scream. It's because our families are so close, I think."
By the end of our soup, we come to pretty fair East Meets West Middle Ground concerning how funerals should go:
The Western service following death is good. The 45 Days after Death Ceremony is good. The yearly death celebrations and the altars are good. Crying is good. Ghosts are bad. The rooster is bad. We can get rid of the rooster.

Brian, I searched Google images for a rooster angel and got nothin'. Any way you can help?
(One day later: see how useful little brothers are?)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Neighborhood Flow


How the Bum Bum Works:

Here is the Bum Bum in full swing on a Saturday afternoon. I am sitting near the opening getting a spa pedicure and manicure ($3 for both). When I first arrive, all the girls and the one hair guy are sitting against the back mirror; I am their only customer.

Within minutes, while my feet are just soaking, women wander in for washings, colorings, waxings, nail art and styling, no appointment necessary. The system at this salon is so unique - I assume it's shared by other salons but I'm not absolutely sure- each girl has a specialty (and there is always one man- as is customary in both Vietnam and China- who does the cutting and styling). Tran, of course, is the massage girl; however, she does everything else, too (except paint nails, she claims she is "really bad" at that). So if she is in the middle of a hair wash upstairs and someone comes for a massage, they pull her off of the hair wash and put her on her specialty. I get a massage at least once per week and only twice in the past eight months have they told me to "come back in an hour" because she is busy. Somehow, the system just flows. More than once, I have begun a hair wash with one Bum Bum girl only to realize that they have switched girls on me while the strips of cucumber blinded me during the facial.

The girl in the green shirt near the front of the picture is Hoa. She is Tran's sister and she is the nail and waxing expert. If she is washing hair, she will get pulled for her specialty. The woman in the back wearing the grey tank shirt is Chin. She is the eyebrow specialist, but every once in a while, I am lucky enough to get her for a hair wash. She is the best washer, for sure - her massages during the facials are very gentle (some of the girls tend to massage a little too rough around the eye sockets and cheek bones) and she is the best at hair straightening. We also love to get Tran for a wash because you get all of her expert massage techniques, too.

The second floor holds five hair washing sinks/tables and the third floor is equipped with a massage table and a waxing table. Again, the stairs leading up are very, very steep and narrow, made for tiny Vietnamese feet. I brace myself each time I come down these stairs.

This is Tran holding the baby on the motorbike (look at her muscular massage arms)- the baby belongs to the newest girl at the Bum Bum. The entire staff adores this baby and whoever is not busy plays with her. If everyone is busy, Bum Bum clients take care of her.

I have made it obvious how much I love this place, but I will say it again: I love this place. It's where this community of women interacts. Vietnamese culture is into beauty - every facet of beauty - and people in these neighborhoods generally do not have elaborate shower or toilet facilities (including, especially mine - right, Michelle?), so grooming becomes a community thing. Just once I would like to know what they talk about while all of the beautifying is going on, but I'm sure the topics are exactly the same as they would be in a salon at home: jobs, kids, gossip, problems, family, men.

When I come, they make me a part of it as much as they can, but they are accustomed to seeing me deep into a book, with the sounds of their talking and the video music playing serving as comfortable background white noise.

How the Seamstress System Works:

This woman is making my Thuy/Ms. Hoa shirt gift - I have not learned her name yet, but she sure laughs when I ask if I can take her picture while she sews my shirt. The girls and Ut are taking a break - something I rarely see at this shop.

When Ms. Hao gets an order, she also assigns it according to specialties. Ut generally does a lot of the cutting, while Ms. Lieu (here on the floor) does a lot of the seams on the machine. The woman doing my shirt always sits on the floor doing all of the hand sewing. They work from about 8 am until 8 pm, but they always have time for a warm wave or a hello whenever K, T or I pass by.

Ms. Hao always takes time to tell me I look beautiful in whatever I am wearing, whether she has made it or not. And Ut - he is such a sweet kid. Often I will hear someone saying "Maggie!" behind me as I walk through the neighborhood; when I turn, I will see a smiling, tailgating Ut, returning from running some kind of errand.

And Here is the Laughing Grandpa

with his lucky granddaugher, who here is caught in a rare, non-laughing moment.

By the way:

You didn't get to hear much about K's parents' visit because I really didn't get to see them much - they kept busy the entire time, going to islands, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, the Delta... K's mom, Joan, flew back to Montreal Thursday night, and K's dad, Tim, got on a (very low amount of speeds) bike to ride to Laos on Friday. Here is his blog if you would like to follow along:

http://www.tim-timtour.blogspot.com/

Friday, March 20, 2009

My Weekly Entertainment

Touche

In the Greek creation myth, Gaia's (mother earth's) son Cronus castrates his father, Uranus, and throws his genitals into the sea. Aphrodite springs from the foam of this castration.

I can't decide how to handle this myth with my sixth graders, so I decide to get some advice. I ask three people, including my principal-who just happens to be passing through when I am considering what to do.

"Definitely change it. Just write in "severed his body parts," he says. The other two agree. Sixth graders won't be able to handle it. So that's what I do (not without some trouble).

During class, we are acting it out. The Olympians are the Olympians, there is a Hundred-Handed Giant, a Cyclops, Gaia, Uranus and Cronus with a knife. I have a "chaos fractal" from You Tube playing in the background - the dancing girls of 6E have created a dance to it- and the lights are off. We get to the altered "severed body parts" version and three of my students let me know, as if they are rather bored by my lack of knowledge, "Ms. Marjorie, you have the wrong story. Cronus cuts off his private part." Turns out they have all been passing around a Greek Myths comic book series.

Queen of the Munchkins

Selena is the Queen of the Munchkins in our Wizard of Oz production (opening this spring if you are interested). You're probably thinking what I was thinking when Alice tells me this, "There is no Queen of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz."

"I know," Alice says, "but Selena just is the Queen of the Munchkins." Alice is right. I have never met a human being with a sweeter voice and disposition.

Today, I have Selena's class, 6A, in the morning. An avid reader, she often comes in before class and asks me what words mean. Yesterday, as I am preparing for class - a bit distracted - she asks if I have ever read her current book: Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I haven't, I tell her, and she proceeds to write a word she doesn't understand on the white board:

geek

"Ms. Marjorie, what does this word mean? she asks. I give her my best definition, "when someone is not cool." And then she writes:

moron

"Ms. Marjorie, what dooes this word mean?" After receiving each word definition, Selena erases the word, goes back to her book, comes back and writes another word down, one after another:

runt

sissy

brat

dork

wimpy

braces

and, finally:

stinky poo

This is what I teach The Queen of the Munchkins today.

Swanky Sam

Remember Sam of the Green Hair in the video? Sam is total personality (in case you couldn't tell). When he comes to class, he literally jumps up and down while asking what we are going to do in class. Are we going to read a book?! Pen Pal letters?! Do we get to act out the story?! Whenever he passes in the hall, he yells a most enthusiastic, "Hello, Ms. Marjorie!" making me feel like the most important person alive.

Last Sunday, Alice and I decide to go to Sunday brunch at The Legend Hotel, a swanky affair where you get unlimited food and wine and access to the pool, sauna and jacuzzi for $30 (oysters, sashimi, homemade pasta, freshly tossed salads...)

The first person we see when we walk in is Sam. He is sitting alone in the lobby, near the pianist. He is so shocked to see the two of us outside of school (he had Ms. Alice for drama last semester) that he doesn't know what to do. He is completely subdued - looking down, grinning shyly, answering our greetings and questions in a barely audible voice. He is done with brunch and is waiting for his family.

As we head toward the dining area, we comment that we have never seen Sam like this.

The next day, Monday, Sam jumps into class.

"Ms. Marjorie! How was brunch with Ms. Alice? Did you have a good time? Do you think you will go again next week? If you do, I will meet you there and we can swim and sit in the hot tub!"

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Blog Game Thursday: What Can You Do With This?




Michelle took this award-winning photo. What can we do with it?


One day later: This Blog Game Thursday's Rule Defined: "Find a poster girl/boy for this billboard." - courtesy of my brother:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Taking Stock: My Life in Vietnam Do's and Don'ts

Things I don't do (much or ever) anymore:

-wash my own hair
-go shopping at malls
-go to grocery stores
-cook with an oven (the castle is without)
-go to restaraunts regularly
-clean my own house
-drive myself
-listen to complaining students
-forget to be thankful

Things I do:

-spend an hour three times a week reading books while a Bum Bum girl washes - scrubs - massages my head - first in the chair downstairs, then up up up three flights of steep, narrow stairs where I recline for the second step of wash+cucumber facial - then back down down down the three flights of steep stairs where she dries my hair. Then I continue reading while the only Bum Bum male employee takes about half an hour to straighten my hair. Sometimes I even do a double...get a one hour massage from Tran, come down, look at them sheepishly and request a hair wash, then they laugh and sit me down for more. And sometimes I even do a trifecta and request a pedicure. But mostly I spread it out throughout the week.

-print pictures of clothes I like from the internet, get advice on matching the material from a variety of friends and vendors, and have the clothes made to perfection...meaning, if it doesn't fit exactly right, we add a band or take in the sleeves, shorten or lengthen. I have made tons of mistakes, but just tonight, K and I picked up some really cool things. We're kind of getting it.

-buy everything there is to offer at the morning market... whole fish which are skinned - and therefore killed - right before my eyes, dried fish, marinating fish. Prawns that are so huge I must cut them in half lengthwise (after I rip their heads off as they squirm). Strange fruits and vegetables and mixes and pickled things. I thought I was rather brave before coming here, but...no.

The only thing I kind of miss is cheese.

-buy already-roasted things, like - get this: there is a new vendor who ROASTS EGGPLANT OVER A FIRE PIT EVERY SATURDAY now. I could not believe my eyes when I saw this two weeks ago, but there she is, at her station each Saturday...that first day, I bought three whole roasted eggplants for sixty cents, then found tomatoes, basil, peppers and already minced garlic and made my FORGETTABOUTIT EGGPLANT DIP. Amazing.

- eat almost exclusively on my street. I have always been obsessed with restaurants - like, I have been known to spin out of control when someone asks me to choose a place to eat. Should we go somewhere new I've read about, or a standby? How do I not take everyone to the taco bus? I can't go to the taco bus again! But here, I'm just not that into them. What I find on my own street has yet to leave me feeling like I need anything more. Every once in a while, we walk the ten minutes to the backpacker district and find Italian, Indian, Mexican, burgers and fries. But if it doesn't happen for weeks, that's OK. It's nice to be free.

- enjoy never cleaning anything. Every Wednesday, we come home and the whole castle is clean. The dishes are done, the floor is mopped, shoes straightened, toilets scrubbed. The entire castle, including the rooftop deck. We pay our maid well at $15 per week. Worth every single VND.

- have Five and Seven drive me everywhere. You all know Mr. Five (Nam) all too well, but perhaps you will be getting to know Mr. Seven a bit more. I used him last Saturday for running a bunch of errands. He's cool. He doesn't get in my business. It's exactly the break I need from Weekday Nam (whom I will never get rid of, Mungo...don't go defending him like you tend to do).

-teach excited, positive students. My sixth graders don't ever complain. They like everything. They are always respectful, ask insightful questions, study for tests, hand things in (mostly) on time.

-light incense on my roof in my hammock. I like the three sticks of incense idea so much that now I hold regular ceremonies on my roof, in my hammock. I do it like they do: light one for me, one for my family, and one for the whole world.

Maybe my next post will be about all the bad stuff.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

No Thank You

Saturday morning, as I am doing my usual Hanging-Out-With-Thuy-and-Thanh at their stand thing, Thuy says to me, "Maggie. Which one do you like?" She points at three different colors of silk fabric, each with a gold design: white, light blue and dark blue.

"I like this one," I say, and point to the dark blue.

I love it when we agree on things like this. She always nods her head, as if, yes, further confirmation that we are soul sisters. "Meet me here at 3, I want to give you something."

This friendship - with both of them, now, but especially with Thuy - is really something. They just give and give and give. Great amounts of talking things cannot be exchanged between us, but on a daily basis, I am experiencing true friendship without much of the talking things at all.

At 3, I show up for gift #1 million it seems. We walk back toward the castle to Ms. Hao's, dark blue and gold Vietnamese silk in hand. Between the two of them, they have conspired over a shirt they want to make me. It's kind of a tunic - it will come down to my hips and have three-quarter length sleeves. They know I will really love it, and I have no say in any of the details. It's going to be dark blue and gold, with gold and blue trim. Thuy bought the material, and Ms. Hao is making the shirt. It is a "souvenir" for me.

If you remember back to when Thuy first came to cook at the castle, she told me that I was her "friend in Vietnam" - without really knowing me - and then when I told her "thank you" for the cooking lesson, she reprimanded me and said that 'friends don't say thank you.' Ever since, whenever I want to say 'thank you', I just say 'no, thank you' - and this sends everyone into uncontrollable giggling. Especially Thanh.

"No thank you, no thank you, no thank you," I say to my two Vietnamese sisters, the seamstress and the fabric seller.

This morning, Sunday, I visit my turmeric rice cake women and order an extra to-go for Thuy and Thanh, who usually can't think about eating breakfast until they have their stand up and running.

When I deliver it, they say, "Thank you, Maggie!"

I give them a stern look.

Thuy looks confused, but Thanh gets it.

"Oh, NO thank you, Maggie!"

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Blog Game Thursday: What Candy was Inspired by this Fruit?

This is a mangosteen. I love this fruit, and I just discovered it a few weeks ago. Would any of you have known it? You pry out these little sections and the packets just burst open in your mouth. They are so purely sweet and the texture is heavenly.
Here's the game: this fruit has been captured in high-fructose sugar form. In other words, someone was brilliant enough to say, hey, we need this copied and packaged and sold all over the world in little bags...how can we do it?
What kind of candy tastes like a mangosteen?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Two Hours Later: Tastes Like Chicken

Continued from last night:

We don't get a chance to eat dinner before our Full Moon outing, so I tell T and T that we need to eat. They take us to the Chinese place on our street where Katherine, Tarn and I ordered all of the wrong things on the menu, like kidneys, intenstines, lungs and leather. We hadn't been back, but knew that T and T thought more highly of it than "our" street rice place.

Thuy orders, and Michelle and I are in heaven. We begin with a red tube pasta covered with steamed greens, prawns and gravy. Next comes deep fried prawns and a sweet and sour fish with green peppers and onions. We think that's the end, but out comes another dish. It's also deep fried, but we're not sure what it is. Michelle makes a crab gesture and Thuy nods her head "yes." I dip a piece into the sweet chili sauce and take a bite. It sends me, but it is not crab.

"I think it's chicken," I say. Michelle takes a bite, too. "Yes," she agrees. We devour the very, very tender "chicken."

After dinner, I am writing down the names of everything we ate...Thanh is pointing to the menu, translating the Vietnamese words. We get to the last dish, and she points to "Ech Chien Bo." I know the word for chicken, it's "ga."

"What is this?" I ask.

After minutes of pantomime - and Michelle's great "ribbit" - they confirm that we have just eaten frog. I am sorry to be so cliche, but frog tastes just like chicken. Really delicious chicken.

Katherine, when she hears the story, says, "You're so lucky. Just think of all the things it could have been." She's right. And I just pushed the image of the pack o frogs tied together and squirming in the morning market buckets from my mind as I remembered dipping them into sweet chili sauce.

It happened exactly the way it had to happen, don't you think?

But what about the death every year?

Today I am hit with another cultural opposite. You know all about Tet and how they celebrate the birthdays of their beloved deceased every year...well, today, 6A is reading about the family in the Holocaust story holding a funeral. "Ms. Marjorie, what is a 'funeral'?" No one knows, and I'm a little surprised. I tell them it's a ceremony that people have when someone dies.

"Don't you have funerals?"

What they tell me is that when someone dies, they have a big caravan in a big, decorated truck. I see those on the street all the time. But people pay their respects individually, not in a big ceremony.

"But will these people celebrate the death every year?" asks David.

"No," I say, and I'm hit with how opposite we are: we have a big ceremony with everyone present, then deal with the loss individually for years to come. Here, they recognize death individually, then have ceremonies recognizing that person every year as a family, as long as they live.

I prefer their way so much more. So you'll understand when I bring my altar home. Right, Amy?
"I sorry"

Nam is not out on the street this morning. I'm really annoyed because I have a lot of work to do before 8. I wait ten minutes, call his cell a few times, then finally catch a taxi. It's nice to ride to work in air conditioning. Nam finally calls, and all I say is "Taxi." He understands that.

At 2:30 pm, Tarn skypes me from the library to tell me Nam is outside waiting. I know what is happening: he feels badly and wants to make sure he is there when I want to go home. Every day, I give him an exact time to pick me up either outside of the school or at the gym. I ask Tarn to tell him to pick me up at the gym at 5, and Tarn goes out to communicate this. But when school is out at 3:30, Nam is still there. He must have asked Minh how to apologize, because he says, "I sorry." He motions me on the back of the bike; he is going to drive me down the street to the gym (about a five minute walk) to show his remorse. He asks me three times, "Michelle go home?" and looks so sad each time I tell him "yes."

He waits outside the gym until I am done at five, drives me home, then when I get off, he hands me a bag full of steamed corn on the cob. I have never bought this corn because it looks so terrible.

"Thank you," I say, touched despite its terribleness. Then he grabs it back, and what he does next un-touches me: he shows me how to peel the cob. I can't stand it.

"Nam, do you think I don't know how to eat corn? I know how to eat corn. I know how to break lettuce off of the stem, too. I know some things." Of course, he can't understand me but he hears the frustration in my voice and looks hurt. How can Nam understand the depth of this insult? How could he know that I was raised by a man who grows corn, who turned his family into corn experts and snobs, and that we eat nothing but the best, fresh stuff. And that we pick it and husk it ourselves? (And that it's my corn-growing father's birthday today, too...)

So, once again, I say "thank you," as warmly as I can.

You know what? The corn is terrible. I can't believe I even tasted the abomination. Sorry, Dad.

To summarize: Frog=delicious. Corn=terrible. Death in Vietnam=better. Nam in Vietnam=can't live with him, can't live without him.

Middle Age Biker meets Sweet Sour Salty Spicy Crunchy

I made a request to future band member and current castle guest, Michelle, to write a guest post about her experiences in my neighborhood, and she graciously agreed. Here she is:

For nearly six months I've been following Marjie's blog about her experience in Viet Nam as a teacher and a food lover. Our mutual friend Chris Brown arranged an email meeting for us and Marjie graciously volunteered to host me while I was visiting in Ho Chin Minh City where she has been living for seven months. On Sunday afternoon we met for the first time.

I would look forward to her description of the cast of characters who live around her, what new street foods she'd tried, what clothing she was having custom made, Pretty Lady, the Castle, Bum Bum, and her general and interesting observations of life in Saigon.

Imagine that you could step into the pages of a book and meet first hand the characters you've read about, where they lived, the places they visited and the food they ate. This is exactly how I've felt as a guest at Marjie's house. For two day I have had the surreal feeling of seeing, hearing, and tasting, the one dimensional things I've read about on the monitor of my computer. It has been so much fun.

Sunday afternoon her 'soul sisters' Thuy and Thanh came to give a cooking lesson on how to make one of her favorites, rice cakes with shrimp. It turned into a party when Miss Hao (Sweet Seamstress), and others all joined us for dinner. After dinner Marjie and I went to the Bum Bum for hair washing.

I was a little skeptical when Marjie suggested this. Certainly I have my hair washed every time I have it cut. I know what that feels like. But having your hair washed at the Bum Bum is a totally unique experience from the normal routine. Beginning with dry hair a water and shampoo mixture was slowly massaged into my hair. Every inch of my scalp was gently scrubbed and I'm certain every hair on my head was individually cleaned. After nearly 20 minutes of this I was instructed (well actually pantomimed, no one spoke English) to walk upstairs where I laid on a massage-like table with my head positioned above a sink. My hair was rinsed and a fragrant conditioner was applied. She then carefully rinsed my face and began applying a cucumber smelling soap, washing my entire face. Finishing with that she massaged my face, working the muscles in the forehead, around my eyes, across my chin, back of the neck and around my ears. Finally a cucumber was sliced and applied to my face in strips. I would have fallen asleep it was so relaxing but I was also having a pedicure and manicure. Three people were working at the same time, I felt like a celebrity!! The cost of all this attention? $4.

This morning I accompanied Marjie as she made her morning rounds to the various food vendors she enjoys. For breakfast I had turmeric rice cakes, spring rolls and some kind of custard rice with sprinkled sugar. Nam met me at 9:00am and took me to the Reunification Center, the famous building that was pictured in the Fall of Saigon, April 1975. You may remember seeing the helicopters evacuating people before the North Vietnamese crashed through the gates to capture the building from the South Vietnamese. It was fascinating to see all of this. I kept trying to picture myself as a 19 year-old watching all this unfold on television, would I have ever imagined I would actually be there some day?

After an amazing lunch that Nam did all the ordering (I can see why Marjie refers to Nam as her mother, he's very specific about how everything should be done) he took me home. Tomorrow he is taking me to get my final fitting on more clothing I'm having made and a visit to China Town.

My trip ends tomorrow. I have never been away from home this long. I miss my children, my friends, work colleagues and especially Penny and Scout. I was told that this would be a life altering experience and it definitely has been. This trip will live in my heart for the rest of my life and I will pull out pictures and re-experience this forever.


Marjie's Note: The neighborhood completely embraced Michelle - possibly because her personality embraces from the first moment you meet her. Thuy was kissing her, the special twins were following her around, and Nam did not disappoint in his mothering: he made her wrap her camera band around her wrist, he made her wash her face before eating, he brought us mandatory after-school treats (and then came back five minutes later with noodles and lettuce and showed us how to remove the lettuce from the stem - thank goodness). She got the full experience, for sure. Tonight, because the moon is round today, T, T, Michelle and I are going to the temple to light incense as a goodbye.


The only "bad" thing was that the Sunday rice cakes turned out really gluey. But you can be sure that I remedied this problem the very next morning at the stand. And we had a great little gathering with all of the neighborhood women (+ Tarn) on Women's Day.


My guests all seem to have million-dollar, gracious personalities; I have another million-dollar personality visiting in another two weeks: Pam, who has been traveling from Nepal to India to Thailand. Nam has really hit the lucky year of his life, I think!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Women's Day, Michelle Day and Turmeric Rice Cake Day

Today is Women's Day in Vietnam. You know how I know this? It's Saturday morning and Nam just rang my doorbell and presented me with a lily. Nice, huh?
Today is also Michelle Day in HCMC. You may know Michelle from her comments on the blog, or her 2nd place entry for the dress competition (she's on her way to joining the band) and if you know her this way, you know her as much as I do. I have never met Michelle, but she works out at the same gym as my teaching partner, Chris Brown. A few months ago, she happened to mention to him that she was taking a bike tour through Vietnam, ending in Ho Chi Minh City, so he told her about Sweet Sour Salty Spicy Crunchy.
So she's been following my blog, and I've been following Middle Age Biker http://www.middleagebiker.blogspot.com/ for the past two weeks. Our real lives will collide in about one hour, so I just finished getting the Balcony Room all set for her.
Today is also Ban Cu Day at the Castle.
Yep, the turmeric rice cakes...Thuy and Thanh are coming to make them with us at 3; I also just invited Ms. Hao and Lieu. Michelle is going to get to meet most of the cast today while eating my favorite dish in Vietnam,and though it sounds like I am an amazing host to plan all of this to coincide, it all really happened by accident. That's the way things flow around here. Pretty cool. And tomorrow...you already know that my mom is taking her all around town on his motorbike.
The reason I have a turmeric rice cake pan to make the cakes in is because last Saturday, My Mom the Cowboy of Nguyen Canh Chan took me on a tour of Chinatown. The three-hour trip exhausted me to such an extent that I didn't want to post about it. This is what the day looked like:
1. Nam walking in front of me, carrying my bags, and
2. Nam on his cell phone, calling every friend he knows so that I can meet Chinatown.
The Chinatown planning occurs the Friday before, when we go by his mother's and sister's next-door houses.
Everyone is talking at me all at once, and poor Minh is trying to translate everything. The conversation goes something like this:

Mai: I made some spring rolls today. Would you like some?
Me: Yes, thank you!
Nam: You said you wanted to go on a tour of Chinatown someday, would you like to go on Sunday?
Me: Yes, that would be a good day.
Nam's mother: Would you like to see this album of model shots of my very handsome grandson?
Me: Of course!
Mai (returning from the kitchen with a bag full of deep fried spring rolls): I want to give these to you, but they are cold. They really should be hot.
Me: It's OK. I like them cold.
Nam: And if you want that other kind of ban cu (#1 breakfast), I can take you there tomorrow morning.
Me: I am busy tomorrow morning, but thank you.
Nam's Mother: See, look at this one, doesn't he look nice here?
Me: Ahhhhh...
Mai: What are you doing at 6 pm tonight? I would like you to come over and I will show you how to make these spring rolls, then you can take them home hot.
Me: I am busy tonight, but I would like to do that another time.
Nam: You really should eat them hot.
Me: I know, but I can't do it tonight. I am going out with friends.
Nam's Mother: And look at this one...
Mai: Here, let me get you some vegetables to go with these...
Nam: What time on Sunday? I will take you to the best places.
Mai: Do you want some sauce with these?

And so on, and so on. I am there for twenty minutes.

Last Sunday, I meet Nam at 10. It feels a little strange that we are spending a chunk of time together outside of our regular schedule. He is in Cowboy Mode, though; he's swaggering a little...maybe he's drunk for all I know. But he's much more casual as my weekend driver.
We drive to Chinatown and stop outside of the Binh Tay market. I have heard of this market from many people - including, most recently, Sue. He parks his bike outside of the market in a safe lot, but he doesn't have to pay. "My friend," he tells me; he has connections, and his friends all take care of him. This is a phrase he will repeat about twenty times throughout the three hours I am with him.
The market is amazing; I'm sure it's where all of the small markets or tourist markets buy their goods: leather bags, purses, suitcases, stuffed animals, all kinds of dried food - fish and vegetables - clothes, material, etc. I find a kitchen store that sells the turmeric rice cake pan and tell Nam I want to buy one. He negotiates it, but he will not allow me to buy the one with seven slots; he makes me buy the one with ten (and I have to admit, with my large lunch party arriving today, he was RIGHT AGAIN). Then I want to buy a stacked tin carrying pail (like the ones we were served food in while staying in the Lao tree house). Again, Nam will not allow me to buy the small one. He keeps banging it with a knife to show me that it's not good quality metal like the big one is.
(I already know that I want to come back, but that I will have to secretly hire Mr. Seven so that I can buy what I want and make all kinds of mistakes, the way I want to do it at times.)
After saying hello to everyone Nam knows ..."This is Maory, she is American, I am her driver..." (and having him show all of them what I have purchased so they can all have a good laugh at the contents of my bag), he puts me on the phone with his friend.

"Hello! We are Nam's friends and we are eating. Would you join us for eating?"

"Thank you," I answer, "that would be nice."

So we drive to a little alley where a bunch of his friends are sitting on the red plastic chairs around a table with food, food, food on it. One friend meets us outside and he is carrying what I think must be a plastic replica of a crab; he says, "I am going to go down the street to boil this, I will be right back." I guess it is a real one.

I sit down and for the next hour, Nam's friends give me shots of Brandy, put shots of Brandy in my soda water, put the best portions of the sweetest crab I have ever tasted in my bowl, along with bites of omelet, beef stew, pan fried noodles and bread. They are stuffing my face, and about every five minutes, they count to three, click their drinks together and say "Yo!"
At one point, I am handed a spoonful of crab guts and eggs. I don't want it, but Nam insists. "It's Number One!" So I eat it; it's not bad. I know it's a delicacy.

His friends want me to join them tomorrow night for more seafood at one of the couples' home. I say thank you, but decline. "How about the next night?" they ask. I decline that, too. This is making me nervous...and I am so, so tired. I really don't ever want to eat crab guts again. I just want to ascend the steps of the castle.
Finally, Nam says the two words I am dying to hear, "Go home." His friends all tell me "See you again," and "You are now our family."
When we get home, Nam comes into the castle and unloads my bags. And he makes it clear that he doesn't appreciate the mess on the table or on the counter.
Which is what he just did when he gave me the flower, too. He came in to make sure I had a vase. I cut a bit of the stem off, and when I put it in the vase, it was obvious that I should not have cut the stem. And you know what? Nam tells me that I shouldn't have cut the stem, over and over and over.
But it was a nice gesture, and of course, the rice cake production will go so much more quickly this afternoon because of the Ten Slot Pan.
OK, now to go retrieve Michelle...

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Peaceful Swastikas

Now that you know a bit about 6C, you will appreciate this story:

When I first walked by the Hindu temple in our neighborhood, I saw a swastika (not unlike the one this person is holding) painted in a mural on the temple wall. I'm sure your brain would have reacted like mine did- "hey, wait a minute...why is that symbol painted on this temple?"

Well it turns out that Hinduism claimed the swastika long, long ago - and you know what it means? It means "good luck and well-being."

So, 6C:

As I've mentioned, we are reading a book about the Danish Resistance during WWII, so one of the first things we do in this unit is learn about the history of the swastika symbol. I mean, wouldn't it be strange for them, with Hindu temples all around, to learn about the Nazi swastika and its meaning and the fact that it is outlawed in Germany because of the horror it represents, when it means "well-being" in their own culture? Of course, they are fascinated by the topic. I describe my reaction to seeing it on temples in the neighborhood and they ask their usual 6C bright questions. For each unit, I have tables name themselves according to what we are studying, and one table names themselves "The Peaceful Swastikas"; for their gesture, they make the swastika symbol with their arms and hands.

That was a few weeks ago.

Yesterday, I have 6C for a double period at the end of the day, which means I have them for 50 minutes, then they have a ten minute snack break, then they come back to me for another 50 minutes. Right before break, they take a vocabulary test. As the bell rings and they are heading out the door, Lucky says, "Hey, Ms. Marjorie, look..." and he shows me the back of his hand: he has painted a swastika on it with white correction liquid. "Lucky!" I yell after him. Then Sam walks by with his sleeve rolled up; he has painted the symbol on his shoulder.

"Hey, don't leave like that!" I yell after them. But I am too late; they can tell I am a bit frantic, and they see it as a little game now. The two of them run away with their swastikas as Ami, Khai, Vinh, Tommy, Tyler, Johnny and Mindy all flash me their signs as they pass, too - on their hands, arms, and wrists. They must have done this right after their test, and it had to have spread within about two minutes. My class is heading to the cafeteria for a snack - where the whole school, my colleagues and my administrators will see the little pack of Nazis I have dispatched from my classroom.

I'm sure you can understand how long this ten-minute break seems to me.

"Now, why do you have swastikas painted on yourselves?" my colleagues must be asking.
"We did it in Ms. Marjorie's class!" they must be answering.

When they return for part 2, I say, "6C, we need to have a little talk."

They are all still kind of laughing about their little solidarity game, but they quiet down right away (because that's how they are). "Remember when I told you how strange it was for me to see the swastika on some of the Hindu temples when I first came to Vietnam?"

"Yes," they answer.

"Why did it make me uncomfortable?"

Alex raises his hand (he did not paint on himself). "Because it's a symbol of hate."

"But it's also a symbol of peace," says Lucky. "I put it on as a symbol of peace."

"Right. OK. I know that in your culture it symbolizes peace, but think about this...every single foreign teacher who sees you with that symbol is going to react the same way I did - they are going to see it as hate. I'm going to tell you what else that symbolizes, other than the holocaust: to them and to me, that symbol means not only hate for Jewish people, but hate for blacks. Hate for any other color of skin than white. Hate for asians."

Their eyes grow big, worried.

"You haven't done anything wrong. It's just a cultural difference, but you need to be aware of it..."

All of them, together, begin to rub off their swastikas - frantically. "Can I go to the toilet?" asks Tommy. He can't get his off...

So, yeah, I sent a bunch of eleven year olds from my classroom with swastikas painted on their bodies. Teacher of the Year. This one is going to be filed under "Only in Vietnam with eleven year-olds learning about Nazi Germany in their Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Christian culture."

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Thursday Blog Game: Translations from Last Week

video

video

video

video

OK, here are your translations. Remember, I showed them a string of pictures of and about Seattle to spark their creativity. Maybe I should have you guess what they are saying again...? Nah, OK, here you go:

Alex- easy to understand. Alex is a genius. He is one of those kids who might solve a major mathematical equation for the good of society someday.

Michael - "When I come to Seattle, a fish will be playing with my head." (I showed them a picture of the fish throwing at Pike Place. Michael spent his childhood in Russia...that's why he sounds so different than the others.)

Tommy - "I heard that if I come to Seattle, that salmon could eat our head." (In response to a picture of a 5 ft. salmon catch.)

Annie- she speaks the truth!

Mindy-Well, most of the time it is, except for January, February, March and April...

Sam - What the heck is he saying? It sounds like "I hear that Seattle people put their hair like chickens." What do you think he's saying?

Tom - "I heard that the Seattle Troll eats Hondas for breakfast, Mitsubishis for lunch and ....Hondas for dinner (I think he messed up on that one, but it is in reference to the picture of the Fremont Troll holding the Volkswagen.)

Lisa- "I hear that the Seattle Troll finds cars delicious."

Ami - Where did she hear that?

Lucky - Sorry that my student is so offensive!

After we filmed Part 2 (just yesterday), the whole class insisted, "It sounds more funny in Vietnamese!" And just to let you know, the word for "enormous" in Vietnamese is an "especially funny" word.

Right after filming these, we went back to the book about the Holocaust. It's a good book for 6th grade because it is about how the Danish Resistance was able to smuggle the majority of Jews to safety in Sweden; it's perhaps one of the most positive stories to come out of the Holocaust, and being only 6th graders, they don't need to know all of the horrors just yet. But this class...you wouldn't believe their questions: Why did Hitler do this? Why did Germany allow it? Wasn't Germany Christian? How could they call themselves Christians and do this? What is the difference between Catholic and Protestant? Why were so many people against the Jews?

Sometimes this class gets way behind because of their question - asking, and they wear me out trying to think of appropriate answers. They are pure energy...they make everything I plan turn to gold; they cheer when we start a new book. They are so competitive that I had to get rid of the point system that works for my other four classes, so now we have "no point parties."

I have mentioned this before, but it sounds like a Twilight Zone class, doesn't it?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Learn Your Numbers

video

I can't believe this video loaded: it's a minute and seven seconds long... but I am so glad it did. Sue took this video of Nam teaching her how to count to ten, as well as how to say "3:30." Minh is also involved. I can do this very well, by the way; every day, I have to tell my mom what time to pick me up from school.

Alright, everybody, learn your numbers and how to say "3:30." Get all of the tones right.

p.s. PL did the same thing today. I am 93% sure about my theory.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Blog Post Confessional

Tonight, this blog is serving as my confessional. Here we go:

I think the Pineapple Lady is mentally impaired. Mentally challenged.

(What is the correct term?)

I told you about Sunday, when I walked by her and she smiled and joyfully pointed me to my beloved Banana Rice Cake in Tapioca Sauce Lady. Well, this morning - as soon as she sees me - she goes into convulsions again; however, this time she is convulsing as she points me to my corner and my banana cakes, and she is moaning...a mixture-of-pain-and-joy sobs.

Not only that, but when I glance uncomfortably around at all of my daily vendor friends to gauge their reactions, they are looking down and away and smiling in an embarrassed manner. She moans and moans. She is happily moaning that I am buying my cakes.

I am afraid to pose this question: Could it be that I have been having a Saigon style stand-off with a mentally handicapped fruit vendor?

I have always thought her mannerisms were odd - her convulsions downright weird.

Speaking of redemption (Sunday comments), are there any priests reading right now?

As for the rest of you...what should I do? Buy pineapple?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

In and Out of Character

Tarn tells us last week that he has plans to go fishing with Mr. Henry on Sunday. Mr. Henry is the neighbor who sometimes pays our bills and who last week helped to fix our breaker. He is the son of the grandpa who makes his granddaughter (Henry's daughter) laugh. Henry is Vietnamese, even though it doesn't sound like he would be. He works for an American company, and therefore has an American name.


So Tarn is gone most of the day. I come back around 7 because Thanh and I have made plans to "shop" on http://www.nordstrom.com/ for a dress for her - we have made no plans to cook. But what we find in the kitchen is so cool - it's more of the sour soup that we made a few weeks ago, with big chunks of vegetables and a very large fish in it.

Wow, I think. I am so impressed with Tarn, and so is Thanh! He caught a fish and he made dinner! This is quite uncharacteristic of Tarn's usual behavior, but I am caught up in the possibility of the moment.


Soon he comes downstairs and we get the fish story: he went fishing with the whole family. He cast one line and it got caught in a tree. Mr. Henry caught a fish on the line and wanted Tarn to reel it in, but Tarn lost it. Tarn caught no fish. When they got home, he thanked them and came into the castle. About an hour later, Mr. Henry came to the door and told him to come over: his family had made us a big pot of soup, and had put one of their catches in it. That's what was sitting on the stove when I came home.


So the moral of this story is: if one set of neighbors doesn't cook for the castle on Sunday evening, another set of neighbors will.


Thanh goes into cooking mode herself: she whips up a fish sauce with red peppers to dip the fish into and fills our bowls with the rice noodles, soup and fish. It's another feast. I love this picture: Thanh cooking with Tarn (pronounced the same).


Oh, and we found a beautiful dress for Thanh, too, but maybe I will have to show it to you another day.

One more neighborhood story:


The Pineapple Lady has completely ignored me for the past two weeks; I told Sue about her and she tried to video tape me walking by her so that she could capture her seizures, but she remained stationary with her head bowed - not recognizing my presence at all. It actually kind of bothered me; I thought perhaps she was sick.


But today...today, here's what she does: as I walk by, she waves at me and smiles. I am taken aback at the smile, so I look directly at her. She points down the alley, and she is genuinely happy when she sees my look of joy. She's pointing to the corner where my Banana Rice Cake with Tapioca Sauce Lady resides; I haven't seen her since Tet. I didn't know if she would ever return to her corner. But there she is, grilling my favorite bananas wrapped in rice. The PL knows that I buy from the BRCLTSL every single day. She waves me on, like "I know you can't wait to have one!" She is very excited for me.


Now does that warm your heart like it does mine? I think I am on the road to buying another six cents worth of pineapple from her!