Monday, December 31, 2012

Luck, Temples, Gates and Salons

I just got doused with luck!

Babies don't wear diapers here because of heat rash, so as soon as the first spoon full goes in, I feel the warmth. When the photographer, Thanh, sees the puddle she says, "You are very lucky!"

(Amy can you see my lashes here?)

Anyway, Happy New Year...if you are my friend or family member -or if you are a human being on this planet- you were wished "happy, lucky and healthy" at this Indian Buddhist temple on New Year's Eve. We placed five sticks of incense each in front of the Lady Buddha after doing the prayer gesture (one for each figure in the temple).

Of course, this night means nothing to most Vietnamese - they are waiting for the Chinese New Year in February, Tet, to bring in the Year of the Snake.

But Thanh knows it's important to me, so she, Tu, Monkey Boy and I head there after dinner at their house. (Tu and Monkey Boy are her niece and nephew). By the way, dinner tonight was spaghetti with meat sauce. But if you look what is on the table, you can see how to make it Vietnamese Style...just add soy sauce and a bit of hot chili sauce and eat it in the same way you eat soup here (roll the noodles with a fork, then dip it in a bowl of soy sauce, then in a bowl of chili sauce).

Do you think it was good? Thuy and Thanh are the best cooks I know. They can make anything taste good. I was willing to suspend my judgment. But - no, it wasn't good at all. I guess it's the equivalent of us trying to make their food. I guess. It never quite translates, does it?

"Tu and Monkey Boy love spaghetti," she says. "But my mother don't like." Her mother cooks duck over fire perfectly; of course she wouldn't like it. They always told me when they didn't like what I cooked (which was always), but what do I do?

I say, "It's really good."

After our temple visit and ice cream with strawberries, Thanh is tired and needs to put everyone to bed. So I consider what else I want to eat and decide to brave the backpacker district for the chicken salad at Lam Cafe (Far Far Away). The backpacker district is something we loved to hate, but we were constantly drawn there during our two years here. The thing about that Lam chicken salad is this: I hardly ever got to eat it due to The Jeremy and Phillipa Gates of Hell. Now, this salad is really delicious: grilled chicken and onions over fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce with this light vinegary sauce. But two British grade school teachers, Jeremy and Phillipa, sat in front of the Lam Cafe Every. Single. Night. For hours (all cafes on this street are open-aired and plastic chairs spill onto the sidewalks and I had to pass through them to ascend to an upper level). Now, this is depressing enough. All the amazing food in Saigon, and they ate there night after night, and held court there for their entertainment (I guess). But they were by far the most negative people I have ever met in my life. Jeremy taught ART at the GRADE SCHOOL to the sweetest kids on the planet, and the kids all hated art because he was mean to them.

You could have taught these kids about dirt for an entire year and they would have been enthusiastic about it.

A few times I braved the Gates of Hell for this really good salad. Then I would come home and say to Katherine, "Never again. I cannot pass through those gates."

Every once in a while I would ride my motorbike slowly by the restaurant to see if it was clear. It never was. They ate there every night. For hours. Did I already mention that? The salad, so good - and Jeremy and Phillipa, so awful and full of complaints about everything. So tonight, when I got the salad on my mind, the salad free and clear, I couldn't get it off. Even when I realized that the backpacker district was full of drunk foreigners and bikes so thick across the street they weren't even moving because of the new year celebration, I prevailed and made it to the cafe.

When a very persistent, crazy vendor tried to sell me some pot (and made me say "no" five ways), the couple sitting next to me and I were kind of forced into a conversation. A really nice couple from the Czech Republic. They had just come from Laos, where they had rented motorbikes. One of their bikes broke down every ten kilometers, so they ended up pushing both bikes for hours. Anyway, it was one of those great moments of travel, when you meet for a moment in time and share experiences. And they had had a horrible experience, and they Did Not Complain. They laughed about it. They were my serum to the Gates of Hell.

Today I really entered into the flow of the city. I met two especially interesting and beautiful former students for lunch, Diwa and Mithi (I met an especially interesting and beautiful co-worker, Nina, last night - it's the only way they come here). Then I took some fabric to my most amazing seamstress across town for a little clothes-making, then walked around for about two hours. It was much cooler today. As I sat at a red plastic roadside table drinking pressed sugarcane juice with two chickens under my feet and five jars of cobras next to me, watching all the people passing on their motorbikes (about 30% of them texting while driving), I thought, "I'm really here now."

Oh, and this morning I went to Trin for a hair wash. She is The Most Amazing Hair Washer Ever. As I am lying there, I feel someone slip off my flip flops and realize I am getting a pedicure without requesting one. This is the place of magical permanent lashes and pedicures. Not just any pedicure, either. A design. Not really my thing, but when in Vietnam...And I know this is almost heresy, but I have switched my loyalty to Salon MiMi from the Bum Bum, only because I love Trin so much.

Some things just have to change, right?

I have convinced Thuy to get a massage with me today. I asked her last night and she said, "No...I don't want to leave my baby."

"For one hour," I said.

"I think about it."

And this morning, she greeted me with a smile and a "yes." So happy. 


Dad said...

I'm so pleased you received "good luck" from Thuy's baby (rather than me)!

Amy T. said...

"I'm really here now" with William Carlos Williams

I sat at a red plastic
roadside table drinking
pressed sugar cane juice

with two chickens
under my feet
five jars of cobras
next to me

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Anonymous said...

Just for the record in case you were wondering what my reaction would be, Trin and Tran were the people who made the Bum Bum, so I am okay with the change in loyalty...


Angie said...

I finish reading your blog and then I look up and I am jolted back to the fact that I am in my house in Maple Valley and not in your neighborhood! I hope you have a great time in Na Trang. Can't wait to read about it.

Mungo said...

Baby, shmaby... get a massage!!

Marjie said...

Love it Amy..were "they" the chickens or the cobras?