It appears that Tuesdays have become “Play cards at Kim Lien’s house” days. It is an interesting phenomena as 3 young women(two friends and one sister) descend on our condo for food, frolic, and very loud card games.
The game they play is a version of a Chinese card game something like Canasta using smaller than Chinese Cards. They have Chinese characters and symbols on them and each player is dealt 20 cards. They are too small for me to hold in my hand, but when I suggested they use the much bigger Chinese Cards, they basically told me to shut up and get lost. Now I do.
There have been a very few times when one person could not come and rather than play with three, altho it is possible, they won’t. I offered to learn to play, but was laughed off and re-banished. It is not like my presence would inhibit the conversations because I don’t understand Vietnamese, but rather that the presence of a man is not entirely welcome. This is ladies day out, guys stay away!
The girls play for money. The stakes are high enough to make it interesting but not so high that a disastrous day will really affect any change whatsoever in anyones lifestyle. I have heard tell of losses as high as $35 US, but that really does not mean anything to any of these women, whose diamonds they wear casually are probably worth upwards of $25,000. I know one recently spent $28,000 US on a handbag, so a $35 loss in a card game means nothing.
That has nothing to do with the excitement the game creates and the fervor with which they compete. We have a glass topped table and I fear that it will not survive as they get excited and pound the table fiercely! My dear wife is the worst of all, and she screams and pounds like someone was torturing her with red hot pokers. That’s when she is winning. If the game is very quiet and only a quiet word or two is heard each hand, I know that 1. My wife is probably losing, and 2. Nobody is really winning often or much money. The screams for a fifty cent win are so loud that people used to gather on the street eight stories below our condo because they thought that murder was occurring here. Since we put in the new double paned windows and doors that doesn’t happen anymore. I’ll never forget the day that our building’s three security guards came rushing up to our apartment fearing that I was murdering my wife, and when she got really banged up in a recent robbery attempt they have been looking suspiciously at me. Claims that I never hit my wife fall on deaf ears and I don’t know if it is because they don’t believe or don’t understand what I am saying.
I better learn how to say: “I never hit my wife” in Vietnamese. It is not because a Vietnamese man is not supposed to hit his wife, it is just because they thought that American men were too wimpy to do that. Now the guards smile at me and pat me on the back, like they were welcoming me to some club of men that sit around, drink coffee in the morning and beer at night, then go home and punch their wives. I learned that they didn’t run up to our apartment to protect my wife, they just wanted to see an American act like a Vietnamese.
Cultural differences can rarely be explained, no less understood.