Monday, November 24, 2008

Lunch With Obama: Perspective XVI: The Little Things IX

I was a ping pong ball today. My 11am was put off until three so I decided to jump up another appointment until just after lunch and then shoot back downtown for the 3 o'clock. On the way is one of Saigon's ubiquitous "wet markets" complete with fish sellers, plenty of hanging bags of noodles, garlic, dried peppers, panty-hose, sneakers, soap, handbags and dried squid amidst the aromatic drifts of coffee and chopped mint leaves. Does this sound disorganized? Only if you're anal retentive and have never visited Vietnam. This, my friends, is normal, and the sooner you get used to that, the sooner you'll understand my wonderful lunch.
I had never eaten at this particular market before, so when I say ubiquitous, I mean you wouldn't know one from the other once you are inside. I made my way down the far left and partially outdoor aisle of fresh veggies, Obama,  Lunch, Pho, Vietnam War,  Food stall, Democracy, Fairness, Opportunity, Politics,  News, hanging chickens and swishing catfish to find the food stalls in the rear of the place - and even as a three-year resident of the city, I still don't know exactly what goes into each bowl I see prepared. I spy new stuff everyday. But the last woman on the aisle knew what a foreigner wanted when she saw him. She hoisted her selection of fried spring rolls and pointed to the large bowls of noodles and fresh veggies waiting on her prep table - the idea being that they would all be mixed together in a savory concoction and dashed with spicy sauce. She nailed it.

I sat down and immediately made contact with the man to my left. He smiled a surprisingly youthful grin with a mole on his left-hand cheek sprouting as many as ten very long grey hairs. This is seen as early as men can grow facial hair and although I don't know the meaning of it exactly, I do know that it is seen as a sign of good luck, beauty and possibly wisdom for Vietnamese men. He had more hairs than I had ever seen out of this particular mole. Together we cobbled together a conversation that started with our respective ages. He held up five fingers and pointed at me. I held up five, then two, as I am fifty two. He then held up six and then seven and pointed to the woman preparing my meal. She smiled, and honestly, looked great - still in her mid fifties you would think. These numbers hit a pad of paper between us just to make sure that we both understood and then he held up seven, and lifted his chin. 70. Geez. You could easily have seen this man as a handsome young soldier with a big shock of John F. Kennedy hair atop his head - still there, yet now grey on top with dark brown under his horizontal wave from right to left. We all smiled.

The idea of youth had not evaded a one of us. The woman, I had now surmised was his wife, served me my bowl and it was all as promised - a big heaping pile of white noodles with chopped fried spring rolls, bacon and diced veggies on top. Look at the pictures of the old Vietnamese "enemy" from the war and see how skinny they appear. These people do not eat poorly, they eat handsomely - but always healthily. It's an art they have honed to perfection.
As I chowed down they were not surprised at my dexterous use of chopsticks - rather they were respectful that I had at least been around awhile and learned the local custom seamlessly. The man then blurted at me whilst pointing at my face and said "New Zealand?"
"No", I retorted, "American, American", I said.
"America?", they chortled together in unison, with eyes as round as saucers hosting a bit of wonder and respect.
"Yes", I said, "Yes". And then what happened, I could never have expected.
"Obama, #1", they blared together, "Obama #1", they chimed, with four thumbs jerked up in the air to form the universal #1 symbol.
I couldn't have smiled enough with them. For how many years have I waited for America's pride, and other country's pride in us to be restored in this, most curious of cases, by a President-elect.

As Americans, there is certainly one thing we must never forget. The world looks to us as the best example going of democracy in practice, fairness and opportunity for all. Our people have once again captivated the world by making a collective decision in the direction that will balance a previously tilted scale and hopefully shine a light of optimism on some of the less lit corners of the globe. The food stall I was dining at was buried deep in the heart of the cacophonous market but had a light that shined ever so brightly, just for the seconds that we all smiled together. Lunch with Obama. #1.
For more on the "Perspective" or "Little Things" series, click below:

My Morning Wake-Up Call - Perspective XX: The Little Things XII
We'll Have A Gay Old Time - Perspective XIX: The Little Things XII
"Rolled Foggy Disposed Ricepaper" - Perspective XVIII: The Little Things XI

Joyeux Noel - Perspective XVII: The Little Things X

Lunch With Obama - Perspective XVI: The Little Things IX

One Motley Crue On The Bus Today - Perspective XV: The Little Things VIII

Attraction vs. Conversion: How To Power Your Blog - Perspective XIV: The Little Things VII

A glass box full of deep fried chicken heads - Perspective XIII: The Little Things VI

Seoul Searching - Perspective XII

He Would Have Shot Me 40 Years Ago - Perspective XI: The Little Things V

Chomsky on Colour & Sleep - Perspective X: The Little Things IV.2

Running With Scizzors - Perspective IX: The Little Things IV

Henry Miler II - Perspective VIII : The Little Things III.1

Henry Miller - Perspective VII: The Little Things III

Big Brother - Perspective VI: The Little Things II

This Carnival of Life! - Perspective V

The Art Walk - Perspective IV: The Little Things

Bentley #5 - Perspective III.2

Bentley vs. Vespa - Perspective III.1

Bentleys Invade Vietnam - Perspective III

Death Of A Colleague - Perspective II


For more on Obama, click below:

Obama to Send 30,000 Troops to Tiger Woods House

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