Katherine bought this really cool big yellow cushy chair when we first moved in - I sat in it all the time during "debrief sessions." Before we left for the airport I asked her who should get it and she said, "T and T's mom."
This morning I woke up really early and decided to take the chair over. I probably should have taken it over at night, because every vendor (now they all know we are leaving and have been giving stuff away) jumped up and motioned that he/she would love the chair. But I made my way to my friends' house and placed it down in their living area. It looked so huge and yellow and modern in that small house!
Their mother beamed and sat down in it like a queen on a throne. Her signature greeting to me is to squeeze my hand very tightly, and this time she squeezed it and held on extra, extra tightly (even though I told her it was from Katherine; in this case it was better to be the messenger than the giver). She told me through Thanh that it felt really good on her back. They are so used to sitting on little plastic stools, I bet it does feel good!
My other favorite gift recipient is Ut with Katherine's bike. As we walked by their shop on our way to the taxi yesterday (after K stated the following to the castle ceiling: "Castle, you will never be topped!"), K mentioned how nice her bike looked - Ut had cleaned it and shined it up quite a bit. "That makes me think I should have cleaned it more," she said. We looked in and waved and Ut was still smiling proudly over that bike. I think he will be smiling for a very long time.
After my morning run, I came back to set a few last things outside the castle. I'm not quite sure how this happened, but Henry and Candle Lady's sister popped their heads in and I motioned over to where all of our dishes were, like "do you want them?" They still needed to be washed, and I was going to do it (I swear) but all of a sudden, both Henry's and Candle Lady's families were in the castle, doing the dishes, wiping down the counters, sweeping the floors, their kids jumping on the couch and chairs and flying airplanes up into the extremely high castle ceiling - I think there were about twelve people in the house altogether (Franco was still sleeping). They took the carpet, the coat rack, and worn-out shoes.
It was such a party that I kept running upstairs to get more things, like the hangers in my closet and a porcelain Vietnamese doll a student had given to me but I didn't think I would take home. When I brought the doll down, all of the women in the room let out a gasp at the doll's beauty - she wears a green ao dai and a conical hat. Henry's six-month old daughter grabbed it immediately and all of the women laughed and laughed and said something to the effect of, "Well, I guess it's her doll, then!" That baby just smiled and smiled at that doll. A six-month old!
When everyone was done cleaning and taking every last thing, I thought of the Grinch and that last Christmas ornament he grabs before he heads up the chimney - but in a good way. The only thing left was a lone cut out paper snowflake hanging from the balcony; my niece had made it to cool down a very hot Christmas.
Then my neighbors brought me out into the alley to take every combination of people pictures possible - me with the baby and the doll, me with Candle Lady and her sister, me with Henry's wife and baby, etc. Henry asked me to keep my ears open for any job openings in seafood quality control - like so many here, he wants to bring his family to America to make some money. I told him I would, really wishing I had that kind of power. And all of them wanted to know...how did I like Viet Nam? I told them again and again how much I loved Viet Nam - this made them so happy to hear and they wished me lots of happy and lucky back in America.
Yes, Castle (and neighborhood), you will never be topped!