General thoughts pg 4
Topic Today: Chopsticks update. Although I continue to entertain the folks around me as I try to master the art of eating with chopsticks, I can honestly state that my skill level is slowly but surely improving. Yay! So far, with consistency, I am able to pick up larger items of food with ease, negotiate them to my bowl, and successfully place them into my mouth. Occasionally, but less often than you would expect, a piece of cuttlefish or a sauce covered piece of tofu will end up on the table...or on my lap. I do think there is hope for me yet. That said, however, it is rice vermicelli noodles that continue to be the bane of my attempts at graceful eating. Those slippery rascals seem to get the better of me more times than not.
So here are some things I've learned about eating with chopsticks:
- They work better if they are the same length
- The farther back toward the opposite end of the food-end that you hold them, the better you can grip pieces of culinary delight.
- The pros keep the "sticks" parallel to each other, and only about 3/8th of an inch apart
- It's okay to use them to push rice into your mouth from the bowl
- 30-year veteran users occasionally drop a food item or struggle to pick one up
- A death grip on the chopsticks will not force them into compliance
- If you drop one of the sticks on the floor, the noise it makes triggers a rush by everyone at the table to hand you the spare set of chopsticks that has magically appeared out of nowhere
I leave you with this observation:. I don't recall seeing anyone using chopsticks in their left hand? I'll reconnoiter and get back to you.
Topic Today: Every picture tells a story. Aside from being a 1971 album title (and title song) by Rod Stewart, I have discovered that indeed, every picture does tell a story. In fact, I am finding that oftentimes, in many of my pictures there is a story within a story. You probably already knew this about pictures, but I only recently had this amazing epiphany while processing some of my photos for posting to this blog. Often it is said that the "Devil is in the details". I am thinking, however, the details often hold secrets to be discovered...but you must take the time to look. Although the backstory of these sub-stories may remain elusive, or we may be left to imagine our own version of what must be occurring, the story remains nonetheless. This new insight has led to my looking at my environment much differently. I now try and see how many stories I can capture in a single photo. Something that is not nearly as difficult to do as you might imagine in a town of 11 million. So, be sure to visit my photos page located here to see some examples of how every picture tells a story!
Additional Topic Today: Bia (beer). Bia is as ubiquitous around Ha Noi as is tea. In all fairness, however, if there is food, there will always be three beverage groups setting on the table for you to select from: Bia, water, or soda pop. You will also be given lukewarm or hot tea (served, much like water is in the States). Of note: in my limited number of observations, all drinks at food establishment, including bia, are generally served warm. If you want your drink to be cold, you must add ice to your bia, water, tea, or soda. Some places have cold drinks in a little glass-front refrigerator, but you must clearly understand...should you choose a cold drink from the fridge at this time of the year, the heat and humidity will cause the bottle/glass to sweat profusely in under 30 seconds, and it will sit in a pool of water on the table. This means you will drip water on your lap every time you take a drink, no matter how many times you swab the glass in advance with a napkin. Additionally, even when you use ice, your drink does not remain cold for more than a few minutes. So...you learn to drink warm beverages. It's the hydration that's most important, I suppose, not the beverage temperature (although the body absorbs cold fluid quicker). But I digress, This blog entry is about beer, so on to it...
I believe it is safe to say: the Vietnamese that I currently "hang with" like beer. I think, perhaps, better than wine or liquor. Maybe it's just my friends and colleagues, but I have only seen liquor consumed on one occasion, and I have never seen anyone except tourists drink wine or mixed drinks. That said, I was given a bottle of wine as a gift by a Vietnamese friend and wine and liquor are sold in the grocery store. Foreign brand liquor, wine, and beer is very expensive and local Vietnamese beer is very cheap - Vietnamese beer in the store is priced about 10,200 VND ($0.44 USD) for a 330 ml can (11.5 fl oz). Foreign brand liquor: about 900,000,000 VND (give or take a few hundred thousand) for a 5th. That would be about $39.00 USD. I've seen Vietnamese brand liquor in 300 ml bottles for about 34,000 VND ($1.46 USD) to 125,000 VND ($5.37 USD). I'm told that Vietnamese drink beer in public rather than hard liquor because they must drive home and they believe they don't get as impaired as badly with beer. "You can have a couple of beers and drive home okay, but if you drink a couple of drinks of liquor you are too drunk to drive your motorbike. When we go to clubs we drink liquor because we can take a taxi to the club and don't have t drive home."
Things I've observed about drinking bia in Ha Noi, at least among the crowd I am currently running with - mileage may vary and there is certainly no strict procedure for beer-drinking in Viet Nam. I have never seen anyone drink beer directly from the bottle (my Ma would be proud. This was her house rule and it was strictly enforced for any liquid - be it beer, soda pop, or water). What at I've observed is: a bottle has been opened by one person (no screw off caps here, church keys rule the day and sit on every table). This person has poured the beer into everyone's small (8 fl oz.) glass. After that, the glass has never been allowed to be empty. Like a skilled Ninja, someone manages to sneak in and fill each glass unobserved before it can be emptied. When in a group, my peeps at the table have very frequently stood as a group, (almost every time someone wants a sip of beer) shouted "Một, hai, ba, zô!! Một, hai, ba, zô!! Một, hai, ba, zô!!" Clinked glasses with everyone at the table, and then bottomed up! You drink one third of your mug, glass, or cup each time you shout and on the third cheer you finish your drink. I'm told that roughly translated, "zô" means "vô", and "vô" means "in". (I will school "all y'all" another time on the nuances of the Vietnamese language and share why it is so challenging for me to learn to speak Vietnamese). So, this means you stand and yell "1, 2, 3, in!!, 1, 2, 3, in!!, 1, 2, 3, in!!" then you clink glasses and "drink in" the beer! Lots of standing, clinking, and drinking seems to go on! Also many times, someone will stand, give a toast: "to new friends", "to honored guest" or "to good fortune" and the clinking and drinking follows. By far, the most popular beer has been Bia Hanoi, followed by Heineken, Saigon Special, and although I have see the infamous "333" brand (known as "ba, ba, ba") that was preferred by U.S. GIs during the Vietnam/American war, I am told it is more popular in Ho Chi Min City. When drinking with only one or two friends, you clink glasses with everyone prior to taking a sip 95% of the times you sip/drink.
So for now, and until my next entry, I bid you all a fond "Một, hai, ba, zô!! Một, hai, ba, zô!! Một, hai, ba, zô!!" [insert "air clink" about here] and good health! Tạm biệt, friends!