Posted August 31, 2006on:
i have a couple of those, the ones that just stay with me over time.
When I was 4, mom sent me to preschool for one year. Classes began at 7:30 in the morning, I think, and ran until 10:30-ish. Afterward, the kids ran around the playground, playing tags, or sitting on one of the two swingbenches under the longan trees, waiting for family members to come pick them up. Usually it was Tram’s task to come and take me home after she herself got out of school at 11-ish. There were many times that she came late of course, meaning that I was running around sweating and stinkin’ for more than an hour. Then there was this one time she didn’t show up until very late. All the kids on the playground left one by one, until I was the only person sitting on the swingbench.
The shades moved to shorten themselves. The all-day preschoolers had washed their hands and faces, lined up in front of the classes, walked into their classrooms, sat down, and were finally having their lunches, whatever the kitchen cooked that day. I was still sitting outside, curiously watching them. The kind teachers must have thought that I was hungry. A few came by from time to time to ask me if someone was supposed to pick me up. That part is blurry to me, I can only remember kind female faces bending over, just blurry faces, a warm tender feeling moved in me, and that’s all.
Then there was this part where a teacher said come in and have lunch with us then, and took me by the hand, walked me into her class, and fed me the same lunch that the all-day preschoolers were eating. It was steammed rice soaked in canh bí (wintermelon soup). I hate rice soaking in soups, I never put steammed rice in my soup (canh) if I have a choice. But I didn’t mind my bowl of rice in canh bí that afternoon. I remember exactly what it looked like, my portion. It was in one of those little red plastic bowls that you would call baby cereal bowls in America. My food was in there. The green/white color of the wintermelons created a great contrast to the red of the bowl and the white of the rice. There was no meat, just a few pieces of chopped wintermelons. The food tasted bland, and there was no green onions. I just sat there, eating this bowl of food that I didn’t care for, yet fascinated that I had joined this mysterious world of the all-day preschoolers, the nội trú students.
Somewhere in that afternoon, before or after I had finished eating my bowl of mushy rice, Tram showed up with her red mini-bike and took me home. All is blurry now, except for the moment when that little red bowl was in my hands, and my eyes were looking down on the green, white, red…
green, red, white …
The bland sweetness of the soup lingered, familiar, but foreign too, not quite to my taste. The bright subtropical sun shone on outside, onto the longan trees that were forever flowering, but never gave birth to any edible longans. Just flowers, and they fell like chaffs to the ground. They weren’t pretty flowers.