I spent my entire day yesterday with the former students of the mother of my friend, Co Doanh. She is teaching Arts specializing in painting at Hanoi College of Arts, and the meeting was some sort of a reunion in the countryside, around forty-five minutes by motorbike from Hanoi. It was a picture of Vietnam I am more familiar with-the postcard perfect sight of people planting rice wearing their traditional conical hat they call non. I thought it was amazing how the view changed drastically in just a matter of minutes from an over-populated, busy, eclectic Hanoi to a peaceful, monotonous-in-the-positive-way rural landscape of a place the name escaped my memory just now.
Since her daughter Chi Le could not join us, I had to, again, work my way out in the dark in the absence of a translator. But all in all, I had a great time. I gathered from their kinesics as well as some stray words I recognized in their conversation that they are collecting some sort of dues for the activities of the group to materialize. That was the only serious part, the rest were all fun. Although they wooed me to sing in karaoke a song or two in Tieng Viet, I declined because I might create a cultural blunder they will never forgive. Their songs sounded provincial to me, not at all modern, reminiscent of the 60s love songs in the Philippines.
The lunch we had was scrumptious: steamed duck meat, breaded fish fillets, pork cutlets they call cho, squid and partly peeled banana (only the thin, outer green part was removed leaving the rest of the peeling behind which is also eaten and I found out to be very delicious and healthful), fish in onion sauce, and steamed vegetable. We also drank a lot of vodka and Bia Hanoi, a brand of local beer. This was started with a “mot, hai, ba, zo!,” a form of toast, Vietnamese way or “tram phan tram” literally 100 per cent which is the local equivalent for the more popular bottoms up. I forgot how many times I had to stand up to cheers with the other men every time someone wants to have a toast, which means as many refills of vodka. After we finished lunch, I was already too tipsy to stand up.
Some of Co Doanh’s students invited me for a swim in the pool, which I did not successfully decline. I swam in my underwear since I didn’t know they also planned to swim; Chi Le’s mom and I were lost in translation the night before she gave me instructions. Even so, it did me well because I gained my sobriety after the swim. It’s been a long time since I got drunk.
Going with that group of artists was, after all, a breather from my serious thoughts.