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!