Sunday, January 31, 2010
This morning I experienced love for my neighborhood times about 100. After a three-week hiatus from my beloved rice cakes, my two cake makers were visibly happy to see me. I get special treatment here, being a foreigner who cannot stomach eating the shells of the little shrimps on top of the cakes, so I always bring a book to read while I wait for the shells to be removed and then- when the cakes arrive at my table- while I wait for those hot little suckers to cool.
The green soy milk lady whose stand is next to theirs– well, she gives me special treatment, too. She knows exactly how much sugar I like and that I prefer a whole glass full of ice rather than just half.
Those cakes still make me so happy. Not long ago, as I sat there on a Saturday morning, I sent Katherine a text that said, “This is where I feel most happy in life. Does that make me weird?”
“A little,” she texted back.
The rice cake experience would have been enough, but there was more to come. The elusive tapioca custard balls that I was dying for my father to try the three weeks he was here – were finally back. I bought two. The lady who sells huge mangoes saw me coming and picked out two of the best before I arrived at her stand. My make-up lady, Linh, had two new colors of eyeliner she thought would suit me, and then threw in a make-up brush and sharpener for free. When I looked up from her to my left, I saw that my banana lady had already picked out the bunch of bananas she knew I would like: the ones with a little bit of green left.
As you know, I usually go to Thuy and Thanh’s stand first on Saturday and Sunday mornings to hang out before I do my market run. But today I woke up hungry and went for the rice cakes first. So by the time I got to them, I was already so full of cool market interactions that I’m sure I was exuding my thoughts: “I LOVE this place. I LOVE these people." After a year and a half, these mornings still get me at my core.
T and T greeted me with their typical warmth, then went back to helping a customer- a wrinkled woman wearing a traditional conical hat tied beneath her chin. This woman was in the middle of choosing Tet treats – T and T replace their fabric with cashew and peanut brittle, dried coconut covered with sugar, dried mango and durian candies, cookies and chips for the last month of every (Chinese calendar) year. The woman looked up from a bin of colorful jello and her eyes met mine. She paused for a significant moment, and, while still looking at me, she leaned into Thanh and spoke to her in Vietnamese.
When she finished, Thanh turned to me and laughed. “She say you very love Vietnamese people and you very love this neighborhood!”
That old woman had most very definitely just read my mind.
“She’s very right,” I said. And we smiled at each other for another moment, me and this wise old Vietnamese woman.
T and T were swamped, so I told them I would return later. I needed to drop off my morning groceries, anyway, and planned to come back out for a second run. On my way to the castle, I saw that a small crowd had gathered at Sweet Seamstress'. I peered in and Ut, her son, saw me. “Maggie!” he said, “look!”
He was pointing down to their cat, who was nursing two kittens. The third one had crawled away a little – they must have been at least a week old. They invited me to sit on their floor to play with the wandering kitten. After a while, I proceeded on to the castle when my other neighbor, Henry - whose extremely kind family lives across the alley - called to me. He and his wife just had their third child. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s their third child; Henry’s brother lives there with his wife and kids, too, so it’s a little hard to tell where one family ends and the other begins. I’ve been hoping to get a glimpse of the baby for a week, but she and the baby have remained upstairs, resting.
“They will come down today,” he told me. “You can come over.”
The man next door to him has been dying for about eight months now. Or, at least, it sure sounds like he’s dying. Deaths, births – of kittens and children – eating, sleeping… all of that is shared in this little alley grid that I was lucky enough to find in this corner of the universe. And these people have invited me into their lives with such openness.
I very love Vietnamese people. I very love this neighborhood. An old, wrinkled woman wearing a conical hat even just told me so.
Posted by Marjie at 2:00 AM