We get stared at a lot. My girth probably is the major reason, but where we go there are few if any foreigners, and one thing I will never be able to do here is blend in.
So this morning, as we sat eating at our favorite Cambodian Noodle restaurant, many of the passerbys stared at me. Some because there are rarely if ever foreigners in that area, but most because I was eating a dish of firm white noodles with seasoned and very aromatic bits of fish, a pungent soup which smelled a little like vomit but tasted wonderful full of fresh basil and mint and three other vegetables I don’t know the names of, and large slabs of milk-white, tender fish.
Most Vietnamese won’t eat this dish. Like Durian, the initial smell is rather off-putting and you need to let it roll around your nasal cavity until you get the nuances and wonderful flavors it portends. Once you do that, you are hooked–and we are hooked. We love this dish, and the people at the restaurant know and seem to like us a lot. We are once-a-week visitors, and usually come before it gets too crowded, so the BOSS likes it that he fills 2 usually-empty seats, one with a visual drawing card. People often sit next to me and ask if they can speak English with me. I of course oblige, happily if it is one of the many beautiful young women in the neighborhood. It is fun, the food is great, the view is that of a sidewalk cafe with all of life in Viet Nam passing by, and they even stopped smoking around me. Nirvana strikes again!
I told Kim Lien that people always stare at us. Old men stare at her accusatorially, as if to say, “Why are you consorting with a foreigner?” Old women stare at me as if they are thinking, “How can you make this man so fat? My husband is like a toothpick!” Women Kim’s age stare thinking: “How did an old lady like you catch such a cute guy, fat but cute, and how can I do that?” Men her age stare at her with glares saying: “Why not me, why such a fat foreigner?” Young women stare at me wondering if they dare come up and ask if they can speak English with me. The braver ones ask, most do not.
I’m accustomed to the stares. They are rarely mean or angry. People here are almost all polite and kind, and many just pass and say “Good Morning” to practice their English. They immediately return a smile, and always answer if I say “Good Morning” first.
Try THAT in a big city in America!