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Delightful Farangland – Ning And I In Europe (2/4): Taking Over


Of course everybody wants to see her. We start our tour a few days after her touch down – too early, as I know now.

Visiting

The weekend after her arrival it's cake & tea time at Mr. John's and his Mrs Gilda. John has just been watching a Mozart opera on DVD and now asks Ning for her opinion about the great composer. She smiles, a bit helpless, and I suggest for her he might at least pronounced "Mozart" French or English style. John is surprised, if not disappointed, that she has never heard of Mozart, but he drags her to the monitor right away for a few educational minutes of "Figaro"! – "Mrs Ning, I am sure you like it?!?" – "Yes, very nice."

They have fresh rhubarb in the garden, so he drags her to the veggies bed to admire his gardening efforts. John is also kind of a fashion Buddhist, so he suggests she and him should visit a Buddhist festival in the big city, and what else, each Monday there is a meditation group at his own house – of course, he assumes, she would be most interested to participate there. Ning declines as softly as possible, but on and on John insists he cannot understand why she doesn't join in all his restless "Buddhist" activism. "You just want to get her into a 'horizontal meditation'", I joke to him while Ning helps Gilda in the kitchen; "no, I don't", he assures me most seriously as if I had read his mind, or as if there really is anything like a "horizontal meditation". Heck, maybe there is.

Ning rarely comments on anything (except food), but this time I do get an opinion at last. In the car back home, I tell her sorry, maybe she didn't understand too much of Mr. John's monologueing, "sorry, but he didn't try to talk understandable for you, he didn't care if you understand him or not." Ning: "Yes." Quite a harsh judgement by her own standards.

Dorothy is different. We visit her, because Ning wants to learn about making a good pizza, one of the few western foods that really make her mouth water. As we sit around Dorothy's kitchen table, kneading dough and cutting tons of veggies, Ning takes down notes. Dorothy would never presume anything, but asks very simple questions that allow any kind of answer without loss of face. She realizes quickly that Ning is very shy, so she doesn't ask that much at all. Around noon Dorothy's four kids come home from school and kindergarten, while her husband will stay working until 8 p.m. We sit around a big table in the garden and do our best to reduce the two trays of pizza we did in the morning.
Dorothy has this four-year-old girl; this kid is always silent, actually doesn't speak at all. I wonder if she is retarded. Ning, who normally does not hug each baby around, soon makes good friends with this silent, thoughtful young one. She takes the little girl on her lap, and they seem content with each other: Two slightly melancholic human beings who do not want, and cannot speak, much in this world.

I had also taken Ning to Dorothy's to show Ning that families can be organised in a more "alternative" way and things do not have to be all that bourgeois. For instance, Dorothy is in no hurry to remove each mess her lively kids create; the kitchen table may not be cleaned for some hours if sunny weather invites for a trip to the lake. So, in the car back home, Ning gives one more of her rare comments: "Dorothy's husband – does he like a dirty house like that?"

Dorothy, like other ladies we visit, is one of my former western lovers. Is that fact of interest to Ning? I decide it is not. These days all my exes have husband, kids, VCRs and Japanese-made family vans. They would all love to see Ning and me knit closely, because me as part of a couple would be more suitable and less dangerous for dinner invitations etc.

Haha, and then it is back to talkative Mr. John's, but this time for a big garden party. There is a pale white US American lady. She has a pitch black husband in tow and seems kind of happy to meet more "minorities" – she quickly drags Ning into a conversation about eating rice in SE Asia versus Eastern Africa, where she met her husband. Now Ning is obviously uncomfortable: This US lady is too well-meaning and too solicitous in her drive to befriend the oppressed and exotic; and then her tall pitch black husband stands by silently – Ning doesn't like black people, she is so un-PC that she could tell me that earlier. Squeezed in between the talkative pale lady and the silent black man, my polite Asian lady looks more and more sour. Should I help her? Should I take her out of there? Oh no! I am glad to meet a few people on this party, and I am glad to enjoy good music at high volume. If Ning doesn't like this talk, she can get out of it on her own. If she is too polite – her problem.

We do visit more people. Ning isn't keen on that, actually. She is shy and wants to be on her own or with me only. We do get a party invitation from Sunny. This lady once told me after she had heard five – no, three – words about Ning: "Yes I do know those girls are so soft and submissive that we tough outspoken western women stand no chance against them. They are just so comfortable for you lazy men, as you don't have to explain your macho habits and all to them…" (more reactions on Ning at reader598). I would like to go to Sunny's party to meet a few certain people. But then I would not like to go there, because Ning doesn't like to meet strangers, and I don't like to see Sunny with all her prejudices meeting Ning. So I tell Sunny we don't come, and I don't tell Ning anything about the party invitation.

But Ning is definitely confused that we never visit my mother. Ning has even brought a present for her, a very nice silk fabric. I tell Ning my mother lives six hours away, which is true, and that she is on a holiday trip, which is not true for all of Ning's three months in Farangland. Quite a lame excuse. I do NOT tell her that my mother once stated about Asian women, "they have all this misery. They just want a ticket to the rich countries and to grab your money". This comment is the real reason why I refuse to see mom with Ning. One time my mother calls me while Ning and I rest on the couch. I small-talk with mom, and she doesn't know that Ning is sitting beside me, while Ning doesn't know I am talking to my mother; I simply avoid the universal word "Mama".

Taking Over the House

After breakfast, about a second before I get up, she jumps up and carries everything to the dishwasher and to the fridge. I want to remove a few cups, but I get a pleading look: "You no need to work in the kitchen, dear, I can do that." She squeezes the newspaper into my hands: "You read, I take care kitchen, ok?"

It goes on like that. I have almost no chance to do anything in the house. When I want to start the dishwasher for the first time, she stands by like a dog watching his master opening the fridge. Pothole: "Oh, you want to learn this?" – Ning: "OF COURSE I want" So I show her, "here is for the powder, then you check if this rotor still can turn, heck, maybe we have to shift this pot over here, sometimes we need special salt or liquid, but not today, ok, close the door tightly, then you press 'On' here and 'Start' there…" For three months after that first instruction, I am not allowed to touch the dishwasher again. Occasionally, when she is in a fish frying frenzy over the stove, I might put the odd coffee spoon into the dishwasher; then I get her most regretful look like "Oh sorry my man that you have to do low work like this, sorry that I didn't foresee your plan to place in this spoon at this time, but evil circumstances just force me to take care of this frying fish…"
Cappuccino machine, washing machine, vacuum cleaner ("everyone has this in your country?"): Ning doesn't like to see me working with those gadgets. She also irons my dresses and stitches my trousers and bed sheets on her own initiative.

There may be several reasons why she tries to do all house work and never tires three months long. Maybe she wants to give something in return because I had paid for her airplane ticket and food. Maybe she wants to prove she comes in handy as a partner. But I feel the real reason is somewhere else: Taking care of food and a tidy home is part of her female self-conception; should I take over duties like dish washing, this would mean I don't recognise her as a real woman.

She likes the Ceran cooktop panel: "Please take a picture with me and the panel, I only know this from TV commercials". We turn on all four hobs and take a few pics until it gets too hot. On the PC, before ordering prints, I even boost up the reddish glow until it radiates almost as strong as her smile.

With rice, fish and veggies, I see her using three hobs at the same time one night. She has turned on the central kitchen lamp, but she does not use the very helpful extra light over the stove. "My dear", I go, "why don't you use the stove light, it is handy and better for your eyes." – "No need", she replies, "no need to pay for more electricity."

We try to repeat what we learned from Dorothy about how to do a good pizza. Without success: One night we hang out in front of the stove for three hours, and the mysterious dough plus veggies in there wouldn't turn into something like a pizza. At 22.30 pm, hungry like wolves, after hours of staring into the stove like Dana into a hair shampoo commercial, we try to eat the clammy something anyway.

I don't like extensive cooking sessions so much, but it is one of the few things that we can really do together – even though she would prefer to cook alone, for western dishes she still needs my input about the right amounts etc. Finally we discover that quiche is much easier and no less delightful than pizza. We use a recipe from a cooking book, and it works fine, and preparing it all is fun for her and me! A rare chance for team work. We prepare two trays at a time and use the quiche over several days. It seems to be even more delicious after being heated up on later days; and it makes great provisions for our day trips.

Quiche, pizza or Asian food – Ning likes dining the romantic way, as long as it is at home and not in the restaurant. Her eyes light up when I produce candles, fine table cloth, elegant napkins and huge Bordeaux wine glasses: "Oh, ROMANTIKKK! Please take a picture like this". Sometimes we spread the table cloth on the carpet, where we put napkins, candles and the whole array of pots, bowls, plates and glasses. I put a piano concert on the CD player (Mozart again, but I don't tell her). Then, while enjoying lunch, we lean on big cushions and on each other, and it is very peaceful and memorable, a mix of western and Asian dining styles.

Ning especially takes to the balloon like wine glasses and enjoys the bell-like sound when we clink glasses. She even sips one mililitre or two of wine from those glasses. I think she wants to try western ways, and she wants to share my own wine experience. But mostly she uses her wine glass for her beloved still mineral water.

I had bought several boxes of mineral water for her; I knew from her country how much she needs it. In my place, I do NOT tell her that she can drink tap water as well. Many people in my area never buy mineral water at all, they only drink from tap. I am sure she will stop the mineral water and only drink tap water if she knows about that; tap water is ok, but not tasty. One day in the kitchen we talk about health and food in general. I forget my concept and tell her she can drink water from the tap anywhere in my country. She simply ignores my sentence. I don't like that, I walk to the sink, fill a glass of tap water and move it towards my mouth – "POTHOLE!", she yells. – I say, "I told you before, here you can drink house water." – "CANNOT!!!" – I start to drink – she jumps up, stands in front of me, VERY angry look, trembling, "POTHOLE!!!" – I drink – "You crazy, crazy, CRAZY!!!", she jumps, she yells at me! She still believes I drink inedible water only to impress her. A little later she respects that tap water in Europe is not unhealthy, and of course from now on she refuses to buy mineral water in the supermarket. As I think tap water does not taste so good, I bring mineral water for her when I am shopping alone.

I always talked derogatorily about those housewives who serve their husbands and kids Fanta and hard-boiled eggs during long car rides to the Adria. Still now I enjoy Ning playing that same role. We do several day- or weekend-trips. And we share the tasks in classic manner: I leaf through maps, prepare car, bicycles or train tickets – while Ning arranges whole heaps of provisions plus spare dresses for us. I don't check what she gathers – it is always thoughtful and delightful, including fruit, yoghurt, biscuits, water and the extra dresses I might need. She might tell me in the car: "Pothole, stop at the next supermarket please, we need something before we sit down for dinner." She walks in alone and returns with some more fruit and my favorite cookies. On trips like this she can well do with western stuff like yoghurt, muesli or whole wheat bread; we have quite a few picnics with this kind of food, sit somewhere in the countryside munching away, watching sunset – and it is most harmonious and peaceful. I guess we both have a sense for long hours outside, for "making a home in the wilderness". Or maybe with her picnic preparations she just wanted to get me away from all the "expensive" restaurants she likes so much less than me?

At home, sometimes we share western food, sometimes we share Asian food, and sometimes we prepare different dishes for her and me. At lunchtime I feel a bit lonely, actually. I am used to reading books and newspapers over lunch and I like that very much; but with her at the table, I wouldn't open a newspaper of course. Still there is not much we can talk about: discussions about the Palestinian dilemma, the late John Updike or the ozone layer are not an option. So we chew on in silence. Until the moment she tells me: "I can't finish my Asian food, please help me!" I say "I can't eat your lunch, too much chili on your food". She then meticulously eats all chili off her dish; after which she says with a mild smile: "Now it is okay for you, no more chili at all." And right she is – I try and I pass out for less than five minutes. That's really okay.

We even have a quarrel about spicy food one time: She says, this dish is not spicy, I can eat it. I try – and I'm on fire, I explode, and no water can help, but there is no plain rice or white bread. My god! Ok, I don't pass out. I say to her, slightly annoyed: "Why you call this 'not spicy'? This is spicy like hell!" – "NOT spicy!" – "My dear, there is a pound of chili in there, of course it is spicy, no Farang can eat that." – "You can!" – "Yes, 'can', but I have too much pain!" – "Yes, but you can. When I say 'not spicy', I mean it IS spicy, but not TOO spicy." This is maybe the biggest cultural difference we experience.

The after lunch siesta is well estimated by both of us. And she definitely likes couches, a newly discovered convenience for her. So after lunch we fix a cappuccino and stretch out on the sofa. First she had given my cappuccinos very sceptical looks, but she definitely grows to enjoy them. When the cups are empty, she jumps up: "Dear, I prepare one more for you." – "No", I protest, "I do one for you!" But she is already over there, triumphantly swinging the milk pot; she comes back with cappuccino, my newspaper and a heartbreaking smile. Now it is okay for her if I do read the paper. And after the second cup, we are in for the next fight: "You take a nap on my lap", she suggests. – "No, you on my lap", I insist! Finally we find a compromise, but for that we have to change to an even more comfortable piece of furniture.

Taking Over the Garden

She is an Asian lady, so she likes garden work. Fine for me if she wants to fight the bugs on the jasmine! But one time she walks out into the garden with a pyjama. I know some Asians don't see it as a pyjama, they even go to the market in a dress like this. But my neighbours have never been beyond Ibiza. While mostly I let Ning do what she wants, so that she can find out herself about customs in my country, this time I feel I should let her know. I walk out and say, "Ning, sorry… you know… dress like this, I know in your country everybody wears this dress on the market. But people here think this is dress for sleeping only. Not so good for the garden in a residential area…" She looks shocked: "Oh, sorry!!! You know, I will never wear this to town! But I thought around the house it is ok! Sorry!!!" Off she is into the house, bugs start to relax, but then Ning returns to take up the fight again – in proper street dress.

One day she eyes me starting the lawn mower. "Pothole – no need for you to do this", she says firm and convincingly: "I can do this." She pauses for a moment: "But what is it after all? Please explain how to use it."

I know I cannot stop her. She would feel sad or insulted if I continue garden work on my own. I feel a bit shy that all the neighbours see her mowing – maybe they think I flew her in as cheap labour? On the other hand, I never liked lawn mowing, so if she really wants to take over? But there is the small steep hill on the western side. All the cleaning ladies who did mow for me before, they always refused to cut over this tiny cliff of grass – too steep, too difficult, the mower too heavy for a lady, they moaned; and I had always believed their complaints and done this slope myself.

So I go to Ning: "Okay, over here on the flat square, you cut the grass, ok? But on the steep hill over there, that's too difficult, I will do this when you have finished the flat part, ok? This slope very difficult, machine too heavy for lady." She agrees. I do NOT tell her that all the cleaning girls shied away from the hill, because Ning might feel challenged to perform better.

I happily disappear into the home office where I close all windows against the noise. About an hour later I figure she might have done something and walk into the garden. And guess what – she has not only cut the grass on the flat square, but she also mowed down the difficult steep slope that I myself wanted to do! "Hey, you did this already," I smile to her. "Yes, no problem," she says with a busy face, removing some last weeds with her hands. Okay, now I tell her that my cleaning ladies never wanted to do this mini-hill, "they told me this hill too difficult for a lady". Ning looks mildly surprised and shrugs: "Easy."

Fly Flap and Ironing Board

One time I sit in the home office, brooding over a difficult task. I feel a mild wind; then a small plate of biscuits and a cup of tea touch down softly on my desk between arms and keyboard. I look up quickly, but she already made it back to the door. "Thank you, my dear!" She floats off with a heartbreaking shy smile.

One time I sit in the home office; when I wake up from my working trance, I notice there had been hard hits somewhere in the house over the last 15 minutes. What is this? I open the door – WHOMMM! – one more hard hit! What's going on? I walk over to the kitchen. First I see something on the floor – about 20 dead flies. Behind this killing field stands my Asian lady, trembling with anger and swinging a fly flap. It is a hot summer, a rural area with lots of farms and a house with many windows wide open, so there are quite a few flies. I never thought it a problem, but she did! WHOMMM!, one more low-radius, well-calculated assault, one more innocent fly bound for reincarnation. She gives me a busy, angry, actually blood-hungry look. Silently, I tip-toe back to the office and close the door firmly. WHOMMM!

One time I sit in the home office; I know she wants to do a lot of ironing – including my stuff, of course – and I suggest she might do it in the home office while I work on my papers. Ok, we log the ironing board over to the office. These are very intense hours, even though we do not exchange one word. I can work with full concentration, but still I am 100 percent aware that SHE is there. When I get phone calls or when the PC speaks things like "You've got mail!", she does not ask anything. She says she liked it, but she doesn't want to repeat it.

Fly flap and ironing board – I had not even been fully aware that I do own things like that. She had discovered them on her wanderings around the house and into remote corners of basement, garage and garden tools shack. Every now and then she surprises me with comments like: "Wow, all the wine you have, I guess you like wine" or "I saw nine more of the flower paper welcome bags you gave me, I guess you bought them in Bangkok?" I never wanted her to find those things. I know that Asians are not into privacy and separate spheres as westerners. Still I react a bit nervous on her explorations, but I do not forbid any further investigations. She senses my nervousness anyway and says slightly offended, "ok, I will not look around any more".

One thing I don't want her to find, actually, is a big box of paper pictures of an Asian ex girlfriend. Ning knows of that lady. But she does not know how beautiful the ex is and how graciously she posed for my camera. I don't need Ning's comment on that, and Ning would feel bad, seeing those pics and comparing herself to the ex. Ning definitely looks great on her own and has a much better heart, but she wouldn't believe it when I tell this to her after she found the striking beauty shots of my ex.

Do I ever worry Ning wants to steal something? Not in the least! I have seen her very decent family, that was enough. Like always, I keep my wallet on the sideboard in the corridor. Often enough I leave Ning alone in the house, for jogging in the rain or concerts she doesn't like – she could run away with my money, hard disk and passport if she wants to. Now guess what she did.

Money

For the first two weeks, I really pay for all food. When she buys our chicken, fish, veggies, fruit and bread with her spending money from me, I refund her expenses – against her will, but finally she can't say no. After about two weeks she manages to convince me: "You give me so much money already! I can pay for our food! No need to give more money to me!" Ok, fine.

She is reasonable about the phone, too: All the time I invite her to call her Pa or anybody else from my phones. She does so only three or five times during her stay, and never longer than 10 minutes. So strange to hear her fast Asian talk in my living room! But then – how she livens up! The talk with friends and family definitely heightens her spirits. Her smiles go up, she gets lively and informs me of the newest developments over there. I can understand her emotions, but on the other hand I am jealous and sad that she is not fully happy at my place and needs vibes from outside. Ah, but this is just minor thinking, I WANT her to call friends and family, I want her to feel strong and connected. (So many things I just do to distract her from me and to give a bit of responsibility for her mood to others; I wonder if she sees this point.)

Delightful Farangland – Ning and I in Europe (1/4): Arrival

Delightful Farangland – Ning and I in Europe (2/4): Taking Over

Delightful Farangland – Ning and I in Europe (3/4): Togetherness

Delightful Farangland – Ning and I in Europe (4/4): Departure

© Pothole Research
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My e-mail: PotholeResearch@aol.com

Stickman's thoughts:

Absolutely marvellous!