Thursday, September 01, 2005

You’ll never eat alone

As a lone diner
Teddy de Burca Jnr. is the object of sympathy from waiters who tell him he shouldn’t be doing anything alone, not even writing

You do well to be alone in Vietnam, with a population of some 80 million and such overcrowded cities. But, rather than pine for a little “me” time, most Vietnamese commonly advise that you also shouldn’t even be alone.

So much so, waiters often crowd around me as I sit by myself in a restaurant, donning the lonely cap, to cheer me up.

Of course, generally, I’m quite content sitting there, daydreaming, reading or even penning my thoughts on the mild to extreme romantic longing that weighs upon me. Or so I like to think.

But ne’ertheless, the last time I was out, the waiter stooped over as he served my soup (Irish people love soup you know) and whispered tenderly into my ear – “Eating alone is very bad for you.”
“Oh, it’s not that bad,” I insist, but he shook his head, as though he knew I would say that, “really. It’s not that bad.”

Believing I was in the depths of depression, the waiter never strayed far. Perhaps he was worried I might have ended it all right there in front of him. A quick hari kari with the chopsticks, perhaps.

So to pass the time – his or mine, I’m not sure – we traded wayward sentences in each other’s language. I learnt there was even a phrase in Vietnamese – an mot minh dau tuc, which means, literally, eating alone hurts. Which I told him was “a bit harsh.”
“Yes,” he replied, clutching his chest, “big heart.”

Slightly paranoid that I was in physical danger, I wondered, could it be true? Was there a chemical process created by solitary eating that is detrimental to my cardiovascular system? If so, what of the opposite, is group gorging (group gorgy anyone?) the way forward?

I decided to tell him, to explain why I was alone and to ease his pain, that I was working. But that didn’t impress him one bit. He taught me another expression – “Lam mot minh cuc than”, which means to work alone will cause you trouble.

Which made me reflect on the words I wrote, as if to work alone is also bad – perhaps you, dear reader, can see a tinge of sadness between these very lines – should I try and find a writing partner?

In the end, desiring to be alone, I decided to tell him I was a poet. That would excuse the solitude, surely. I watched his face, expecting it to brighten like sunshine pouring through the gloom, but no, he shook his head, pulled out a cigarette, offered me one and said, miserably, “Em ngheo nhu thi si.” Which in Vietnamese, means, I’m as poor as a poet.

As he slinked away I felt pretty guilty. It seems, even talking to someone eating alone will cause you pain in Vietnam.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could try unfolding a lifesize cardboard cutout, and photograph the experience...