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.


Brian Bowker said...

Marjie - I think Nam is how the universe is evening things out since our real mother hardly ever makes us crazy.

And for me... The universe makes me work in tech support.

Happy Birthday, Corn Father!

Marjie said...

Brian, do you know how much I tell people, "My own mother was never like this..." But you know, right now Mom is reading your comment and focusing on the "hardly ever." What did you mean by that?

Brian Bowker said...

[Hush, Marjie! I can't think of any examples - I'm just trying to look cool in front of the other kids!]

Michelle said...

Oh Marjie I miss you already! I love the Nam story and I could see and feel your frustration when he began showing you how to peel corn on the cob! I don't understand why he wasn't there this morning. Maybe I wore him out!!
I took a shower when I got home and that is the one things that I really, really appreciate about being home. Your shower sucks - but thank you for letting me use it, otherwise I would have smelled terrible for my poor flight mates!

Unknown said...

Wow, THANKS, Brian! Marjie, I could probably list many ways I have made you kids crazy -- I'm just glad you didn't think of one that moment! (Please, don't even try)

Marjie said...

Michelle, you speak the truth. My shower sucks, but as you know, it led me to my guiltiest of guilty pleasures: never washing my own hair.

My neighborhood and I miss you, too.

Anonymous said...

HEY! Leave Nam alone. He was trying to be gracious and kind and apologize... He tried to lovingly give you a gift... Having no idea that your dad was a corn farmer... And you just poo-poo all over him.

Poor Nam and his freakishly long fingers...

Marjie said...

Mungo, thanks to you, I am obsessed with Nam's Freakishly Long Fingers now. I can't keep my eyes off of them when we ride, and, well...it's all your fault. You should have seen them when he was peeling the corn.

Anonymous said...

Not to interrupt the family and finger squabble,

I loved the grieving comparisons. I prefer the grieving in community so I'm going Tet-style from now on.

Yet, in that I have no Vietnamese friends in Southern Oregon Sticks, I suppose I shall still be grieving alone... just eating better. (while I drive my kids crazy...)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I missed all of this corn and family and finger squabbling yesterday! At least it is making me smile and this week hasn't made me smile very much. And Michelle, I will definitely appreciate my shower in the morning.