Here is what I wrote about parting with Thuy and Thanh back in June:
All Thuy could manage was "See you next week" - she doesn't get too sappy - but Thanh hugged me and told me how much she was going to miss seeing me pass and wave every day. But I did see Thuy crying as she turned away.
Turning the corner from the main alley the morning after my arrival (I arrived at midnight on Sunday night with a meeting the next morning at 8), I see Thuy sitting perched on her fabric as usual, facing my direction. Her eyes widen and begin to tear up as I walk toward her, then she throws her arms around me and hugs me. But here is my surprise: within moments she begins to flail and hit me and say, "I angry you! I angry you!"
I'm so confused...this is certainly not the greeting I expected. Then, "Every day I wait you and remember (miss) you and you never come! You tell me you in America ONE WEEK. You in America EIGHT WEEK! Maggie, why you say ONE WEEK?"
Then Thanh comes out of the house, runs over and hugs me - she doesn't hit me (always the more reserved of the two) - but she also says, "I remember you every day! You say one week!"
Looking back, the fact that Thuy said "See you in one week" proves that this must have been what they thought. But this is a Miscommunication to baffle all other Miscommunications. Saying goodbye was such a big deal. Before leaving, I had gone to Henry, Candle Neighbor, Sweet Seamstress, The Bum Bum, and of course Thuy and Thanh and had shown them on a calendar when we would return. I did my best pantomime and received many nods of understanding. The T Sisters really seemed to know we would be gone for a while, and I know Thuy's sense of humor: she is quick and witty and transcends language with it and I thought this was her way to lighten a heavy moment. Apparently, I don't get it.
She goes on, "Everyone ask me where you are and I say 'I don't know!' Rice cake lady come and ask me, too!" (Imagine what this does to me.)
The thing I do get about Vietnamese people is this: when in trouble, play the family card. So I say to them, "You don't understand! I tell you I go to see my mother! I stay with my mother and father and family and friends. I tell you eight weeks!"
And at the word 'mother' they both soften. Thuy swallows and gains composure. "Your family is strong?"
"Very strong," I say.
"Your mother happy you with her?"
And that is that. I am no longer in trouble. I tell them I will come by after work, leave their stand and proceed on a very fun journey through the market. All of my vendors literally perk up and smile and greet me so warmly, full of surprise. They all say something like, "You're back! We are so happy! We thought you were gone forever!" Garlic/Onion Lady and her neighbor, Towel Lady, say the "Hello!" they have been practicing all year. Squid Man smiles his big, silent smile and Banana Lady hops up to grab my hand. Pineapple Lady doesn't grunt or go into seizures today, she just smiles joyfully and points me to Banana Rice Cake with Tapioca Sauce Lady. BRCL just nods and smiles and serves me. Rice Lady, Deep Fried Spring Roll Lady...all of them give me a Red Carpet-like greeting as I buy from them. Ah, so good to be back. And during my trip through the market I keep thinking, "Another year of this! Lucky me."
I get to the new middle school (they separated the middle and high school this year and hired about twelve new staff members and a new principal) and find a new, young, fun, positive staff and am told that three out of my five classes may have no more than ten students. Are my Seattle teacher friends even going to tolerate me?
Returning to the hood later is fun, too. My mom sent me with four dozen chocolate chip cookies and I asked the Vietnamese teacher, Ms. Nga, to write a note that says, "My mother made these for you because you are my friends." I put ten on a plate and go to Sweet Seamstress (whom I hadn't seen in the morning) and she, Lieu and Ut all read the note and laugh and make "delicious" noises when they taste their treat (you don't see chocolate chip cookies here except the gross packaged ones). I do the same for Henry's family, Candle Neighbor's family, and the Bum Bum Girls. (Oh how I love the Bum Bum girls... ) All of them laugh and look so happy when they read the note about my mother making them cookies.
Then I go back to T and T's to give them their special gifts. They welcome me by setting up a table in the middle of their tiny home and as their mother and father watch on the periphery (it's a very small table), they open tea mugs that say "Seattle," smoked salmon (they haven't ever tasted salmon, it's not sold in the markets here), my parents' homemade raspberry jam, rosemary crackers, a lime juicer (after I give a demonstration Thuy's eyes widen with wonder and she keeps saying, "Vietnam doesn't know this!") and bags of American candy for Monkey Boy and Tu. My mom wrapped up a beautiful tea cup and saucer that belonged to her grandmother for T and T's mother, and when I explain the family history of the cup, they are touched. Their father keeps thanking me and inviting me to eat Pho with them, but I am getting so tired, I must decline.
When I leave, Thuy puts her hand to her heart and says, "Your family is my family." Oh, and many of you might not know this, but my mom, dad and sister's whole family will come for Christmas at the Castle. Thuy and Thanh are beside themselves with excitement over this news.
I know you are wondering about Nam. Well, my new school is far away and I had never been there, so I grab a taxi on the small street for my first day (he hangs out on the busy street). I want to figure out what I am going to do about My Mother after I have had a day or two because I'm sure he will stress me out in my jet-lagged state. But I see him as we pass - he is looking off in another direction. My heart softens. He looks older. I think I will ask him for a ride this morning (I am writing this at 4 am) and bring him the Seattle Firefighter Chief hat from Ms. Sue. He will love that.
This will sound redundant, but it's good to be back. K and I already logged two hours in the hammocks on the roof from midnight til two the night I got home (Tarn won't be with us this year so we are searching for a castlemate), and you already know that when I am in my hammock on my roof in Saigon, life cannot be any better. (Until I taste my rice cakes Saturday morning.)