Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Hen Gap Lai Feast

"Hen Gap Lai" means "See you again." Thuy and Thanh want to have my See You Again Feast at the new barbecue place right on Nguyen Canh Chan - about a block from where the stupid sushi restaurant opened and closed two years ago. So we stake out a spot and call Ms. Hao and Ut to see if they can join us. They can. Thuy's husband, Dung, is on his way too.

Vietnamese celebrations include lots of "Mot, hai, ba, YO!" (One, two three, YO!"). At the end of each toast, I add "Hen gap lai!" and this makes them laugh every time. (You have to stick with what works when there's a language barrier.)

We begin with deep fried squid and lotus root salad with shrimp:

Then it's grilled shrimp - they are so sweet and sticky:

Then a fire pit is brought to the table and a stone plate is placed on it. We wait about fifteen minutes for it to heat. While we're waiting, Thanh translates this conversation: Thuy and Dung are saying that in China, they put heroin in their food so that after you eat it you want more more more of...something. I kept asking, "What? What do they want more of?" I think they want more food, but who knows? Maybe they just want more.

They have so many funny opinions about the Chinese. I tell them they've already had too much beer.

Anyway, here is the beef and okra waiting to sizzle:


(You dip it in a salt, pepper and lime mixture.)

After this course, there is animated discussion at the table; they all want Thanh to ask me something. She laughs and asks, "Do you want baby duck in egg?"

I have experience with this. When teaching in China, on an ordinary day during lunch at the grade school, baby duck in egg was on our lunch trays. None of us could eat it...all furry and beaky and...a baby duck.

"Sorry," I say. "Americans have no courage."

They have figured on this, so they scour the menu and come up with the grande finale: deep-fried whole fish. It was hard to capture its immense beauty:

You wrap the delicious morsels of this fish in rice paper along with rice noodles, star fruit, basil, greens and cucumbers and dip it all into one of Vietnam's many amazing sauces.

The best part of this fish is its crunchiness; you eat the scales and all. I may not eat baby duck in egg, but I will eat fish scales if they are done properly.

Here is Ut, the bag designer:

And we're done.

Here is Dung with Huang. Every night he comes over for a few hours after work, and this is all he does. He looks at his son, plays with his son, makes sure his son is comfortable. At dinner Dung hardly ate anything because he was so enraptured with this child.

Huang has a village that caters to every single need he has before he has it. I have heard him fuss a little, but I haven't heard him cry. Not once in ten days.

We are done with our feast by 8. I drop by Tran's salon to see if she's there for a final massage. I'm in luck. She insists on touching up my lashes and says, "I hope your mother doesn't say 'Marjie, you look terrible!' when she sees you at the airport." They are so cool-looking. I give Tran a big hug when I leave and she kisses me on the cheek. She is, possibly, the purest soul on the planet.

And as I'm walking back to T and T's house - which is just across the street - Ut and his friend are passing on a motorbike. Ut stops and hands me a sugarcane drink that he had just bought for me. See what I mean about the timing in this place? It's like "cue massage." Or "cue eyelashes." "Cue grandma's amazing lunch." Or "cue sugarcane drink after your massage while walking across the street."
Earlier, Ms. Hao gave me a one-of-a-kind bag, too. She put a note inside that read, "I made this for you. I hope you think it nice."

"How can one person receive all of this love?" you might be asking.

I don't really know. I'm almost embarrassed to write about it.

When I get to their house, grandma and Huang are asleep on a make-shift bed on the floor. Thuy will join them here and Thanh will climb a ladder where she will share the loft with her father, two brothers, sister-in-law and nephew.

Part of me wants to join the slumber party, but I take the computer back to the hotel and write this final post instead.

We've already decided that we will say "Hen gap lai" at the hotel tomorrow- none of this "goodbye" stuff is going to happen. I'll eat my rice cakes, get my hair washed, play with Huang, get in a taxi and get ready to go to work tomorrow.

What do I do for work again?


So much happens in the market each morning that I could write about just that. Here are a few stories from this morning:

I'm walking through the main strip as usual when a tiny woman carrying a basket on her head filled with rice, coconut and sugar spots me.

"Hello!" she says, and smiles an almost-toothless grin.

I return her hello and she laughs and laughs. Then she grabs my hand and grips it tightly, pulling me alongside her as she strolls down the alley, talking all the way.

All the vendors are laughing because she is so small and is gripping my hand so tightly that I'm bent over just trying to keep up with her. She does this for a long while - to everyone's extreme entertainment.

Then she lets go and says, "Goodbye!"

It really is rare for the older people here to know English, let alone speak it with confidence. She's pretty cool.

Another scene: Kids all over Vietnam absolutely love to say "hello" to foreigners. Sometimes the hello is joined by "how are you?" and we are constantly returning these very sweet greetings.

Today while I'm walking past the temple, two boys - about ten or eleven - see me and one whispers something into the other's ear. They both look at me and the one who was just dared (I'm guessing) blurts out "F**k!" (I censored that for my mom.) They are both a little horrified at their own courage, and they take off giggling down the alley, turning to catch my reaction. But I'm just laughing, so I'm sure that is a little disappointing.

Kids are so endlessly sweet here...I'm sure if an adult had been there, these boys would have been in big trouble. I know that some kids will grow up to be motorbike cowboys here, but I have yet to meet a good candidate for that.

Monday, January 07, 2013


On Spaghetti-with-Soy-Sauce-Night, I tell Thanh I want to do the dishes.

"No!" (emphatic). "No work for ten days!"

"But what about you?" I respond. "You work every single day."

Thanh just shrugs and says, "We different."

And my hair-washer, Trinh (also my age), during our hour-long conversation I learned that she sleeps on the same bench I recline on during a hair-wash...she and three other girls who work at Salon Mimi all sleep in a row on the salon beds. And they share a tiny bathroom with a squat toilet and a shower head next to a bucket. 

"It's OK," Trinh says. "It's not bad."

I am never more aware of my privileged life than when I'm here, and the fact that I have these friendships at all...well, it has to do with acceptance on many levels. Unconditional understanding of where we are from, who we are, etc. Mostly, though, these are content people. Filled with generosity, love and humor.

I think about these things a lot. So much, in fact, that I haven't been able to read the three books I brought. Too distracted with it all...I've seen too much behind the curtain these days.

What I think about:

My many freedoms: political and personal. Educational opportunities. Career choices. The ability to travel freely around the world. Maybe more importantly, being able to afford to travel freely around the world. Car ownership, home ownership. The time to think about what makes me happy and the means to make those things happen.

And that four years ago I (freely) answered a Craigslist ad that brought me here - to a place where I feel even more free. But in this place the people are not free. They do not have political freedoms and they are captives of poverty and bound by family responsibilities; no one else is going to take care of them if they get sick. So they have each other instead of insurance and pension plans. It would take them a lifetime to save enough to travel to America, but by then they would have hospital bills to pay.

So they accept it. They have enough. They have food, shelter, family and community. I know a lot of rich people would give anything for that.

Last night as I'm teaching Thanh how to use Facebook, she says, "So much freedom in America."

During our Nha Trang get-away, she confessed to me that she would like to be independent, but that it will never happen.

"It's hard," she said.

But loyalty and care-taking is so ingrained into her being that she couldn't go out on her own, even if she had money. At this point, anyway.

"Do you want to come to America?" I ask, hesitantly. I kind of have to ask. But I can't picture her there without the rest of "her."

She thinks for a moment, then says, "No. I don't."

I'm relieved. Because we have way too much, and with that comes so many problems. I want her to have a good life. I want all of them to have "better" lives. But what, exactly, does "better" look like? Does it make this market look like the shopping mall of my recurring nightmares?*

What a strange, strange world. None of it makes sense. I was born there, they were born here.

And the strangest part of all? "Contentment" exists somewhere outside of circumstance.

On Wednesday, a time-machine will take me back to my life. I will be happy to return to it (although today I couldn't remember what I usually eat for breakfast). A few people have predicted that I will come back here to teach - based on my obvious love for this place. The answer is a definite "no" to that. Just thinking about it causes me nothing but anxiety. I hate the heat, and I only endured it because I loved it here so much. But that was a different time, under different circumstances. This place changed me and offered me more than I ever thought possible. But I am content in Seattle.

Nevertheless, I do think that it will be a bit confusing to return after these two weeks. (I think I usually eat eggs for breakfast.)

OK. Now, for some final food wrap-ups:

*1. Speaking of that recurring nightmare, I keep meaning to mention this: the sushi restaurant that caused me so much worry? It closed after only one month. "Very bad," said Thanh.

2. I saw Pomelo Guy the other day, but he was just walking through the market and was not selling pomelo. Today a woman who HAD to be his twin was selling it in his spot. It was dry and very disappointing. I'm hoping for a miracle the next two mornings.

3. Deep-fried Spring Roll Lady closed her cart two years ago and moved back to the Mekong Delta, her home. I finally dragged Thanh to her area of the market this morning to make inquiries, and that's the story. So she closed up right after I left. I probably gave her the majority of her business.

Everyone else sells and sells, day after day. And they will be selling to me for two more days. Nothing could be better, from my perspective...

Correction: THIS is the Best Soup I Have Ever Tasted

Thuy has been wanting to make me this soup all week. Today was the day...so much for my earlier statement, "This trip is not about food discovery, it's about food memory." I said that right before heading to Nha Trang and trying everything on Thanh's mighty list.

But this soup was OUT of this WORLD. I mean, just look at it! How can something with squid, shrimp, eggplant and basil not be divine? And for the sake of the picture I didn't show this part, but underneath is a bunch of shredded banana roots. The combination of textures is fantastic.

I ask if it's hard to make.

"No," Thuy says. "It's easy. So easy."

I've heard that before.

Thanh begins describing the process. It's complex, of course, and involves fish bones, lemongrass, sugar, fish sauce and lime. She gets to the tenth step and mentions "fish in liquid."

"Wait a minute. What is 'fish in liquid?" I ask, already knowing that this soup is way beyond me and my Seattle ingredients.

"I show you," she says, and heads into the kitchen. Here is the kitchen, by the way:

Such deliciousness comes out of such a small space. See the flowers next to the altar? I bought them for "Mom," thinking they would go into a vase. No, they stayed in the plastic wrapping and went to their proper place.

No running water in there, either; you have to get that from a hose in the bathroom. The dishes are done in the back corner, over to the left. Dishes are piled there, then the bucket of water comes out of the bathroom.

Anyway, Thanh retrieves a red bucket from somewhere in there and sets it on the floor next to me.

"Fish in liquid," she says.

I pry open the lid to see multiple fish parts floating in a brown chunky liquid.

"Where do you keep this?"

"Under the stove."

"For how long?"

"Long time. Maybe one year. Want to take to Seattle?"

She thinks she can seal a container and that I can take it on the plane.

"Won't it smell?" I ask.

"Yes, I think."

It's a pretty long flight for that. I will just have to come back.

Thanh cooked lunch earlier. I just can't keep up with all of my meal invitations. Here's what we had:

1) Prawns with garlic

2) Eggplant cooked over fire (slowly) and topped with green onion and nuoc cham. One of my favorites.

3) Pig intestine and beans. The beans were great! (I figured that was adventurous enough, just to taste the flavoring of the intestines.)

During the afternoon, Thanh and I had a map-making competition. It began after I showed her my product: a map that took an hour to make and required me to walk all over the neighborhood. (This is a necessity; I have already misled many people trying to direct them in this place).

"I can make a better one," Thanh says in a very matter-of-fact tone.

"No you can't," I say. So I spend the next hour perfecting mine and come back to see the neighborhood mapped out in the most clear way possible. Alleyways marked by numbers and everything.

"Why didn't you make this for me four years ago?" I say. Katherine can attest to the fact that I have absolutely no idea where I am, ever. So, anyway, if you come to my neighborhood, you will now get a really good map. I took Thanh's and labeled it well; T and T laughed at me, though.

"It's all food!"

Of course it is.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Rainy, Sleepy Morning

Between Breakfasts

In between breakfasts (rice cake appetizer at 7, something else at 10), I find "other" things to do. I sit in T and T's house and use the computer. I get my hair washed. I go visiting. This morning I went to see Sweet Seamstress and her brother, Ut - two doors down from the castle. Ut is pretty shy. Remember when he worked up the courage to ask what Katherine would do with her bike when she left because he wanted it so badly? Well, he still rides it with pride. 

I arrive at the front of the shop and Ut is holding this bag - quite nervously. Passing it from hand to hand. Finally, Sweet Seamstress nudges him and gestures toward me. He hands me the bag and says, "For you, Maggie." (He speaks very little English.)
Timing is so strange in this place. I find out later that he had tried to get SS to bring it to the stand, but she said he had to give it to me. I guess he was working up his courage when I happened to come by. I'm pretty sure it's the best give I have ever received. Well, actually I will have to think about that, but right now it feels that way. It's beautiful, a one-of-a-kind Ut design. I tell him how much I love it, and how he should sell them in the neighborhood - or in America (don't ask me how we communicate, it just happens).
He just shakes his head and says, "Only one."

Later I am walking by Nam's mother's house (just past the fabric stand on the left). Usually his sister-in-law sells fruit right outside, but she has disappeared momentarily. I peek in and see that she's awake, lying still on her hard bench. She sees me and beckons me in. So I slip inside and pull up a plastic stool. She gives me her hand and we smile at each other...usually there has been someone there to translate. But now it's just the two of us. She points up to the wall where she is pictured at age 70 (I know numbers and she tells me that).

"Beautiful," I say in Vietnamese.

She nods. It seems she is telling me, "That is who I am, not this."

Then she asks me what number child I am, and I answer, "Two."

Then she removes her hand from mine and picks up her other hand - the one that lies limp from her stroke - and places it in my hands. She indicates that she would like me to massage it to get the blood flowing.

So I do - I massage her from her fingers to her elbow and back. I stop for a moment and she nudges me with her good hand, like a cat. I laugh and keep massaging. She laughs, too.

After probably 20 minutes or so, her daughter-in-law - who returned to her station shortly after my entry into the house - peeks in and gives a little gasp. She is quite surprised to see me sitting there.

And then there is nervous activity and Nam's sister is fetched, who then fetches her English-speaking friend, and our secret moment disappears.

In Just One Day

T and T's mother cooks lunch almost every day. I brought her some purple potatoes before we left for Nha Trang and yesterday she made purple potato soup with shrimp to go with this pan-fried fish. She used to cook for a living. She is amazing. The thing is that I never see her cook or eat; the food just magically appears.

Mom, these shirts are yours. (Yes, T and T insisted on THREE shirts for you, and they chose the material. Which one do you like best? They have a clear favorite.)

This is my lovely seamstress across town (not to be confused with Sweet Seamstress), Thu Ha. My mom had a shirt copied three years ago and loved it, so I took the same shirt and had it copied three more times. This seamstress is a master copier, but she can also take a picture of a dress and your measurements and execute a fitting perfectly.

When I was home for about six months, I received a notice that I had a package waiting at the post office; Thu Ha had sent me two embroidered pillows. Of course, they matched my living room colors perfectly. She has a sixth sense.

Yesterday Trinh washed my hair at Salon Mimi, and since no one was there, we chatted for over an hour. As I'm walking back to my hotel, she rides up behind me on her motorbike and asks me to join her for lunch. We ride helmet-less through the alleys to a fish soup stand and she buys me lunch with her tip money. Seems you can't do anything for anyone in this neighborhood without getting it back in some form.

The soup is definitely the best I've had, ever: shrimp, squid and fish balls topped with thai spinach and other greens.

Here is Huang saying good morning:

He is wearing a hat because it is "so cold" this morning. Actually, the weather has been great ever since Sunday, which was miserably hot. So lucky.

Last night Thanh took me to Cho Lon - Chinatown. Because Tet is nearing, everything is Tet-related. About fifty of these shops line the streets; everything is yellow and red.

I met four former students at Yogurt Space last night (yogurt, ice cream and donuts have taken over this city in the last few years): from left: Linda, Justine, Alex and Jack. They look exactly the same, except they are a million times more beautiful and handsome - these kids are now 10th graders. I will go to the high school on Tuesday to see all of the others (except that many of them are now in the US).

Josh, take note: Upper Left Apparel has gone international!

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Remembering Nam

I love this picture of "My Two Mothers."

I collected some of my favorite Nam stories - so those of you who didn't experience him between 2008-10 can get a sense of what a character he was, and for those who did (about 12 of you), to relive some memories.

I got to pay proper respects to him this morning. Yesterday, his sister invited me to Sunday breakfast - I had been trying to see Minh (his nephew who always translated between us) all week, but his job at the travel agency keeps him really busy.

Over beef pho and 7-Up Minh told me this version of the story: The oldest daughter -  who is married with a year-old baby - was robbed on her motorbike and broke one of her legs when she went down. That happened four months ago. Two months ago, Nam's wife was walking back from the market and was hit by a motorbike, and one of her legs was broken. Meanwhile, Nam had been getting more and more sick. I knew Nam had a drinking problem, but Minh said it had gotten worse and worse.

"Nam was a very kind man," he explains, "but when he drinks, he can't control himself. He talks and isn't so nice."

So his stomach problems were probably alcohol-related, and the night he died, both his daughter and wife were upstairs with broken legs. His other daughter has been working two jobs to make ends meet, so no one was there to help him.

I'm sure this is the correct story; Minh's English is very good.

So we drive to District 8, me on the back of Minh's bike and Minh's sister and niece on the back of Nam's sister's bike, and visit Nam's house, which is the size of my kitchen. Nam's family is Christian, so a picture of Nam sits on a table with a flowered vase of incense burning in front and a picture of The Last Supper hanging above. We are given incense when we enter the house and we each bow to Nam's picture (he is about 30, very handsome) and set the incense in the vase full of sand. A figure of Christ on the cross leans against the photo.

Minh translates, and I tell his wife how sorry I am, that he was a good friend to me and to many of my friends in America.

She sits on the floor, holding a very fat grandson, her leg in a cast.  She graciously thanks me for visiting, then asks how I am, how my work is going in America, and was I hit by Hurricane Sandy?

Then Minh translates this: In Vietnam, they believe that butterflies visit when the soul gets to its resting place. The other day, a butterfly flew in the house and rested on Nam's altar.

It helps to have this visit and some closure.

Yesterday I went to a special market to buy an outfit for him - here they burn paper outfits, money and houses for people to have in the afterlife. I especially like the Adidas hat. And, of course I had to buy blue...I will burn it with people who knew him when I get home.

Enjoy some stories, and feel free to post a favorite Nam memory:

The Cowboy of Nguyen Canh Chan (his story):

When Nam Falls in Love with Sue:


When Nam Involves Himself in my Shoe Decision


The Day Nam Finds Out I Have a Motorbike:

When Nam Spies on Me at School:


Friday, January 04, 2013

"Hello, Sea"

We visited famous temples, rode a motorbike along the coast, swam in the ocean, and learned how to make homemade pizza, ice cream and clams with linguine, but here is my favorite moment:

At about seven on the first evening - after a really full, fun day with Fran and Ann, I see Thanh lying on the bed looking at a sheet of paper with a bunch of writing on it.

"What's that?" I ask.

"Research," she answers.

"What do you mean?"

And she begins to show me the list she has made of things she wants to do while in Nha Trang. Famous temples and sites, but mostly food she wants to try: a regional fish soup, the Nha Trang version of the grilled pork assembly in rice paper I ate for lunch on my first day, a special grilled beef and a squid version of the rice cakes.

I just stare at her. I mean, I had no idea she was actually that much of a Soul Sister, too. Every single time I go on a trip, I have the same kind of list with me. I had no idea she did research.

"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go!" Fran calls us a taxi and we head into town that minute to begin marking off her list. Out of a list of eleven things, we manage to do nine of them by the time we leave. Here is the fish soup:

The next morning, Fran and Ann have a motorbike delivered to their house for us and my goal to ride it up the coast to where the best beaches are - way out of town. I think this is "our" goal, but Thanh is driving, and the further we get out of town, the slower we go. I think that perhaps we are running out of gas or the bike is losing power. Finally she stops.

"Why?" she asks, indicating the open road ahead.

I'm surprised, but I say, "Because that's where the beautiful beaches are."

She is really uncomfortable.

"I don't like," she says, and I realize that she hasn't spent any of her days outside of her community - it must be really strange to feel so isolated. So we head back and find a beach in town with hardly anyone on it.

At first she is hesitant about the water. The previous night, after fish soup and the night  market, I drag her down to the water and make her wade in it. She screams and laughs, but then finally relaxes and says, "Hello, Sea."

But in the daylight the waves aren't so menacing, and pretty soon I see her all the way in the water in her shorts - she doesn't have a swimming suit.

And later, while laying on the sand, she says, "Freedom."

She says so many good one-liners during the 48 hours. When we wake up on the first day, the first thing she says is, "It's so quiet." Reminded me of when Katherine was showing her a picture of her parents' Montreal cul-de-sac, covered in snow. She didn't mention the snow - her only comment, "Where are all the people?"

And on the first morning, when we walk to the end of Fran and Ann's gated community to peer over a brick wall and see the fishing community in full work mode, she says, "Two worlds." Which is exactly what that contrast is.

And after landing in Nha Trang, I don't want to make a big deal out of the fact it is her first time on an airplane, but when the plane stops, she says, "Not scared."

But our favorite line the whole trip is something I told her that my three-year-old niece, Ava, said on Christmas Eve when my whole family showed up: "I can't believe my eyes!" To every beautiful scene or temple or experience, this is our on-going joke.

It's really fun to be at the temples with Thanh. She is very spiritual, and places money in all of the donation boxes. When we pray to the Lady Buddha, she says, "You ask her anything, anything..." and when we pass an elephant god, we rub his head then rub our hair, "For lucky." She buys incense at each place, and offers gratitude constantly. She also buys Ann many "host gifts" - flowers, candy, a lucky Buddhist medallion.  She and Ann are fast friends - Ann is Vietnamese, Fran is American. They met in Philadelphia, and have had numerous experiences in education here. Right now they are on a break from it all.

I learn some pretty shocking news from Thanh during these 48 hours, and I wish I could see the look on Katherine's face when she reads this. But, here you go: the fabric stand is Thuy's, not Thanh's. Thanh just "helps." She doesn't get any money from her work.

"I don't need money," she explains. Thuy pays for everything - the house, food, rent for the stand. Thanh gets a little money from selling silver on the side, but it's just a part of being in the family. I ask her why Thuy does the stand and she says, "She's good (at it)." The other day when I was buying fabric, I asked Thanh "how much?" and she said, "I don't know. Ask Thuy." And that kind of surprised me. But now I understand that it's not Thanh's thing.

The other shocking news: there was this guy that we always saw kind of hanging around the stand, and we never really knew who he was. Hanging out at their house as much as I have been, I see that he's there in the mornings to assemble the stand, then at night to put everything away. I ask her who he is.

"He's my brother," she says. Then she says that he's different. I ask her what she means and she says, "Asberger's."

Every once in a while, she comes up with a word like that, a word that it seems that she shouldn't know. But she explains that he sets up the stand and takes it down as his part in the family business, and that when he's not doing that he just "walks around Ho Chi Minh City."

Anyway, we had a lovely time. When we land and walk out of the airport to smell the city and feel its electricity, she says, "I love love love Saigon."

Nha Trang is beautiful, and the air is clean, but home is home.

For me it is so refreshing to see my friends - we had so many significant times together. One reason I wanted to come to Nha Trang was to say goodbye to a very good mutual friend who had passed away over a year ago. Fran and I sat on the top of the Catholic church where he's buried and called him names for not being with us.

"I got him back, though. He's going to kill me for burying him at the Catholic church." But the view from up there is beautiful, and I think he is happy, despite himself. So this is a trip of many emotions. Many.

Here are the squid rice cakes - yum:

And Nha Trang version of wrapped goodies in rice paper:

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A Formula

This morning a fish tried to escape his blue plastic bin (and death by bludgeoning) and landed on my foot. Frogs get their heads snipped off and- after their bodies jump around a bit- their skins are slipped off, like t-shirts. Chickens are beheaded and quartered on the chopping block, and shrimp free- fall off of their metal stands. 

Is it being more aware of the cycle of life that makes me feel more present here? Or is it just all of the senses required to exist here moment-by-moment? Having to plaster myself against the fabric stand to let a motorbike pass through the narrow alley after hearing a horn beep, dodging roosters and dogs (thinking they are rats), feeling the sweat and tasting the salt, listening to the vendors advertising, selling...since I can't gather it up and liquify it and shoot it into my veins, I will have to settle for coming back to re-acquaint my soul and my taste buds whenever I can.
Thuy and Thanh's house, the size of my living room and kitchen - maybe 600 square feet - houses anywhere from five to ten people at a time. Grandparents care for kids, and vendors watch out for each other - and borrow change and use toilets in neighborhood homes. 

Here is a formula:
Fulfillment = scissored frog heads (nothing against the frogs) + pet roosters - heat and humidity + rice cakes (1000) + green tapioca balls filled with mung bean paste covered with coconut milk (that vendor was here this morning) + hair washes and My Spa Massages X community.

Life is in constant motion.This is math I understand.

Food School

This trip is not about food discovery, it's only about food memory. Making sure my taste intelligence stays current.

This is banh cuon - rice noodle ribbons, deep fried savory bread (with shrimp and mung beans), Vietnamese bologna (I will never ask what's in it, it's delicious), basil, cucumber and bean sprouts. And, of course, the nuoc cham.

Nam saw me eating this at a market stand one morning and, of course, became fixated on the fact that I wasn't eating the best banh cuon in the city. So the next day he took me to this drive-up stand, pushed his way to the front and ordered. I became hooked on it. So yesterday, in Nam's honor, I walked here and ate it with the locals. Of course I got lots of stares, but if I cared about that I wouldn't have left the castle for two years.

And this is banh beo Hue - glutinous rice filled with shrimp (shells still on) and mung bean, the bologna again, topped with cilantro, croutons and dusted with shrimp flakes (orange stuff). And topped with nuoc cham. Very similar to banh cuon, but different consistency. Same same but different.

And to close, this is Hainese Signapore steamed chicken over yellow rice, topped with cilantro, cucumbers, with a side of sweet dipping sauce. I found this place on accident once when I was lost in a downpour on my way home from school. I almost couldn't find it again, but after three trips down the wrong street, there it was.

OK, that is all for Food School today.