These past four days have just been incredible, filled with so much action, fun, and above all, MSG. The locals here use MSG like we might use salt and pepper. Whenever we get something that does not contain MSG, we go into withdrawal symptoms.
Nha Trang is an awesome city, filled with nice locals who walk barefoot to the ocean to do Tai-Chi, sparkling acquamarine water, and drunken Western tourists. Jameelah has been having a great time here. We went to the beach, where she had her first bowl of steaming hot silken tofu with caramel ginger sauce, served in a barely rinsed bowl, for 20 cents. Overall, she has been liking the food. I was somewhat disappointed, though, when I presented her with a chilled cold young coconut and her reaction was basically “It’s…a’ight.” And fresh-pressed sugarcane juice? “It’s OK. It’s better than the coconut.” That really stings. It’s just like that time I risked life and limbs to bring fresh cherries to the relatives over here, only to get lukewarm reactions. I will never wear my culinary heart on my sleeves again.
Yesterday we went to a salon to get a shampoo and a facial massage, because it’s really hot, and I figured that one facial massage will not derail my future political career. The stylists were all fascinated by Jameelah, who has started using more and more Vietnamese. There were twenty of them, and while I had random vegetables pasted onto my face, they had a lottery to see who would get to work on her hair, the likes of which had apparently never been seen in that salon before. The whole shop gathered around to observe.
After that, we went to Dad’s oldest brother, Uncle Hai’s house to pay our respect, and he affectionately punched her in the face. He does that sometimes to people he likes. She was slightly bewildered, as you can imagine. But as my Grandmother used to say, “When the rock hits the hay, there goes the weasel.”
On the way out, we met a neighbor’s little three-year-old, Nhi, who was scared by Jameelah. She tried to pick the little girl up, but she recoiled in horror. We silently agreed that the little girl was racist (just kidding. The kid was really cute, and cute people cannot be racist). After Jameelah played with her a little bit by making funny faces, Nhi started liking her. She wanted to touch Jameelah’s hair, which was tied into two puff balls, but she was still too afraid.
We are now in my home village, where pine trees are prevalent and where the clouds hover at the base of mountains in the mornings. Jameelah has won over all the relatives, who are very impressed with her Vietnamese. Of course, the bluntness has set in. “You have a cute face,” said one aunt, “but your thighs are too big.” They too were fascinated by her hair, and somehow, they were able to carry on an entire conversation about hair in Vietnamese. Then they started making fun of me. “When Huy was little,” said an aunt, “he was always spacing out. We used to call him ‘Dreaming Chicken.’”
Gifts have mainly been dispersed, with everyone ecstatic over Peptol Bismol, Tylenol, and lotions that smell like food (“Warm Vanilla Sugar”). We got here late so didn’t get to meet everyone in the village. I bet there will be staring and whispering. This is the first time someone brought home a foreigner as a girlfriend or boyfriend, and news will spread like crazy. “She has fluffy brown hair,” they’ll say, “and she’s Black. But at least she likes MSG.” We’ll report more after we’ve had a chance to stroll about the town, buying fruit. So far, everyone has been very nice and friendly, and Jameelah has won them all over with her charm and language skills. We’ll see what the villagers think. Like Grandma used to say, “You can roll more incense sticks if a well-fed goat is in your yard.”