Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Living Hanoi: Part 3

I had a bitter-sweet moment recently. Ever since moving in with our Vietnamese family certain duties were defined. Celine as a woman in the household should assist with cooking, cleaning, washing and going to the markets. My role is to wash my feet when I come in the house. I am still not doing so well at my role. Madame Dzung could (and often does) call on Celine for duty at any point. This could be an early morning run to the markets or to prepare dinner. After my first meal with the family I offered to wash up the dishes. I was swiftly escorted out of the kitchen. Celine, on the other hand, was showed to a small stool where she hunched over the sink, scrubbing away. The family are great and treat us both extremely well but the roles are clear. It just so happens that I have an awesome role.

The family recently served us a French style dinner. We had baguette and ham and pâté along with some more traditional Vietnamese additions; tofu, shrimp sauce (foul) and vegetables. After dinner, Celine and I were having a cigarette when she challenged me to another attempt at washing up duties. As she is after all the woman here, I thought it quite impolite to make such a request of me. Just starting to get comfortable, after again forgetting to wash my feet, I dared to try. With a plate of dishes in my hand I entered the kitchen, the forbidden land, and invited myself to the sink. Madame Dzung accepted with a laugh. Grand-mere seemed to enjoy the comedy of the situation and broke into her usual adorable laugh. I was in. This was big news. I had to perform.

Celine was by my side filling me in on the process. Madame Dzung does not use washing detergent, instead washing the dishes in the water used to make the rice. Once washed in the rice water the dishes were then placed in a big bowl to be rinsed in cold water. Once rinsed, depending on the item, it was distributed to different draining areas around the kitchen. This was stressful stuff. With a combined hundred years of washing up experience watching my every move I was attentively on the job. Comments were passed in Vietnamese at the back of the kitchen, the content of which I am unsure. I was at work in the women’s club and I felt I was breaking convention.

I was happily proceeding through the dishes when I started to realise not everyone was on my side. A spoon, dirty and sticky with rice was placed strategically in the bowl of what I had cleaned. To my left on the draining rack three glasses still stained with red wine. What was going on? I was being sabotaged. The process was broken and that is not acceptable. This is not how a Vietnamese kitchen operates. My head was spinning. I had to think straight. I had to concentrate. Who are the likely suspects?

Was it Grande-mere? No, surely not. She had only minutes before commented on what a nice boy I was. With her infectious smile she is not capable of such things.
Madame Dzung? Maybe I though. This is her kitchen, her domain.

Could it be my love Celine? I can’t see why. She put me up to this in the first place. Why did she put me up to this? This is her role. I should have my freshly washed feet resting on a couch right about now.

Was it Mr Tuan maybe? That doesn’t make any sense. He is out in the lounge with his freshly washed feet resting on the couch. I don’t even think he knows how to get to the kitchen.

The only other possibility is the cat but he can’t get downstairs so unless he pulled some mission impossible stunt he must be eliminated.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a dirty plate being placed on a clean pile I had been working tirelessly on. Busted! I could see the hand. Who was the sly fox trying to undermine my gracious washing up attempt? It couldn’t be. It was. It was Grand-mere. I smiled. Grand-mere smiled back. We shared a brief moment before I grabbed the remaining dirty dishes and washed under a watchful eye. I had finished. I felt relieved and proud. I went to grab the drying towel but Grand-mere wouldn’t have a bar of it. She laughed and thanked me for my help. She thanked me numerous times actually. It was quite funny to see her reactions to me being in the kitchen. I am not sure if I will get back in there anytime soon but was a time to remember. I feel for poor Celine who will be back there tomorrow, well sort of. As for tomorrow I can only hope I remember to wash my feet.
Dan explique que depuis qu’on a emménagé avec la famille Nguyen, les taches ménagères sont bien définies entre lui et moi. Moi en tant que femme aide a faire les marches, la cuisine, la vaisselle et les lessives. Dan, lui, doit se laver les pieds en rentrant. Il plaisante que ca lui va bien comme ca, mais que quand même l’autre soir il a insiste pour faire la vaisselle après diner : Mme Dzung et Grand-mère l’ont regardé faire avec émerveillement et hilarité, lui répétant souvent qu’il était très sage. Sauf que Grand-mère sans le faire exprès posait des choses sales dans la pile propre de Dan. Quant il s’en est aperçu il l’a regardée et elle lui a fait un grand sourire, du coup lui aussi a fait un sourire. Puis il a essaye de sécher la vaisselle au torchon, mais Grand-mère n’a pas voulu en entendre parler et l’a poussé dehors de la cuisine en riant.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry - decided laughter by far preferable. How I hold your host family in awe. So many options over your life to force your way into the kitchen and demand to wash up, without even the ridicule and harrassment. Where oh where did I go wrong - was it the dishwasher or was it that I never demanded you wash your feet.
    Loved this entry and enjoying the blog so much.
    Suey the bemused and richly amused