Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Plastic Chairs

One of the simple, easily missed but distinctive elements of life in Vietnam is the ubiquity of fragile plastic furniture.
I’m a great breaker of these flimsy plastic stools designed to hold the weight of the slender Vietnamese. At restaurants where I am known the owners make a great charade of stacking 3 or 4 stools one on top of the other in order to take my weight. I frequent a Benedictine monastery on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, and when I share the monks’ lunch in the refectory, they go to hunt down a truly massive mahogany chair, intended for the hallowed buttocks of visiting Bishops, and drag it into the communal eating hall for my benefit. Once, having suffered the indignity of breaking a chair at a bbq rabbit restaurant, a mother pointed me out to her child and said, “See that fat foreigner over there, the one who broke the chair? If you’re not good he’ll eat you up.”

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