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I was, at the time I started this blog, part of a class at Kalamazoo College on food and travel writing. So if you like food, or travel, or participating in interesting discussions having to do with both or either of those things, you are in the right place. Also, you should check out my classmates' blogs because they're awesome.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner Part 2 (Reading Response 2)

            The second half of this book, at least for me, was much easier to relate to than the first part. I think I understand the first part better from our class discussions on Tuesday (thank you McKenna) about why Bit would have wanted to separate herself from her Vietnamese origins, and that understanding prompted what I wrote about during the in-class writing, which I am hereby dubbing The Bosco Breadstick Incident and which I promise to expand upon and post this weekend. The second part of Stealing Buddha’s Dinner has, as a couple of people mentioned in class, several moments that are like looking at a reflection of myself that is eerily accurate yet part of someone else’s life, especially the parts about books and giant family gatherings.
            Several times in the book, Bit mentions her love of books and reading. This was a bit odd in her family, but not in mine. In school, however, we were eerily similar. She talks about staying quiet and getting good grades so that the teachers would leave her alone; this was also one of my tactics, especially in middle school. I had friends, but they were mostly people I only saw at school. Like Bit, I rarely went to friends’ houses, and they almost never came to mine. I especially hated lunch periods, when my school crammed everyone in one grade into the cafeteria at once. I learned very quickly that the cafeteria was someplace that I did not want to be. I was too ignorant of computers and video games to fit in with the serious geek crowd and not pretty enough or outgoing enough to fit in with the popular crowd. I had no ego to speak of, so using my intelligence to impress my greatness upon my teachers and classmates along with the rest of the teachers’ pets was useless, and I was too independent to fall in with the rest of the misfits who banded together in their shared exclusion from everything. So most days, especially in sixth and seventh grade, I would wolf down my homemade lunch and then I would escape to my school’s library. I had a corner I would sit in, at the junction between the more advanced fantasy and fiction novels (a.k.a. the Harry Potter books, Eragon, things of that nature) and the series aimed at younger kids like Boxcar Children and the series about racehorses that began with the book A Horse Called Wonder. Bit writes about her habit of bringing books with her wherever she went, saying “they were my safety blanket, by stay against boredom, conversation, and interaction” (168). This is exactly what books did for me. With books, I did not have to keep my mouth shut for fear of becoming a character not unlike Hermione in the eyes of my classmates. In the words of the author, “I read to be alone. I read so as not to be alone” (152). Like Bit, I had a need to be something other than what I was, and so I borrowed the lives of the characters in my books.
            The author also talks about being highly uncomfortable during the large gatherings with Rosa’s family. This I also understand. Every four years my mother’s family gets together and has a massive reunion, which for me is an exceedingly uncomfortable and slightly frightening event. The author says she and her sister “hesitated, overwhelmed by the great number of people we were suddenly supposed to claim as our aunts, uncles, and cousins” (166). It’s a similar situation with my mother’s family. Firstly, my mother’s family is absolutely enormous, thus the author’s line about suddenly having “all these tías and tíos to keep track of” (167) is something easily relatable on my part, minus the whole language barrier problem. On the one hand, I know I’m biologically related to them somehow, they actually are my aunts, uncles, cousins and so on, which is different from Bit’s position as a relation by marriage. On the other hand, they are people I hardly ever see, and then suddenly for a week every four years they expect me to hug them and be all lovey-dovey-let’s-all-be-one-big-happy-family, and I just can’t do it. I don’t know how to act around people I don’t know—and despite the fact that they are somehow family, I don’t actually know them—so I shut down. Bit tries to explain this phenomenon without success to Rosa, stating, “I couldn’t explain to her that it wasn’t dislike; it was unfamiliarity. Her family didn’t know me as I didn’t know them” (176). At the last one I did exactly what Bit did every time she and her family went to visit Rosa’s parents: I brought a stack of books with me and buried myself in them. I emerged from the cabin I shared with four other women supposedly around my own age but in reality all at least five years older than me for meals and mandatory events like Sunday Brunch or Game Night, and I even made an appearance for Talent Night, which is always a distinctly uncomfortable experience even though I’m never the one performing because my mother’s family is very…boisterous. (Meaning: most of those who are performing are either already drunk, or well on their way to getting drunk.)
            Anyway, to wrap up this large amount of nostalgic story-time about my life, the point is that the second half of Stealing Buddha’s Dinner was much easier to relate to, and in my opinion, more interesting. The reader gets to see Bit as she becomes her own person and comes to the realization that “in truth, everything that was real lay right in front of me: oranges after dinner; pomegranates in winter; mangoes cubed off their skin” (247). She relates her own attempts at cha gio to her grandmother’s: “When the mixture was ready I tried to help shape some cha gio: a forkful of the filling on a triangle of banh trang spring roll wrapper; the left and right corners folded in; a quick roll and it all came together, smooth and slim, sealed with a dab of egg yolk” (248), the keyword there being tried. Just like she tried so hard to be white, to be normal, her attempts at cha gio didn’t work. The author says she was “trying to know what her grandmother [had] always known: this amount of pepper, that amount of fish sauce. She had always been there to show me this world without measurements” (248). To me, this means that normalcy is not something that can be measured, but is subjective to each of our own experiences.


  1. I am totally with you. I related more to Bich in the second half of the book compared to the first because of her love for books. I also would read to escape, to be someone else for awhile. I still enjoy taking a break from reality just so I can enjoy some character's life for awhile. It is nice to have that escape.

  2. Hey girl! I really thought it was helpful that you included quotes, it helped with context and flowed well. I totally agree with Bich, you, and Kelsey... reading is a complete escape for me. I love people, but I need time to myself and the oportunity to imagine-to be someone different. I went through a tough time in high school and read/studied a lot to power through it. It really helped me get my mind off things in a productive way. I still hold on to that habit today. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading your work (:

    1. Thank you! It's amazing how just an hour or so of being somewhere else immersed in someone else's life can make things more bearable. I probably could have cut most of the storytelling out of the post with the same effect, but my fingers tend to do a lot more talking than my mouth does. :)

  3. On a personal note, it sounds like you, Bich and I used (and probably still do use) books in a similar manner. They offer escape in a way not many other things can, and allow you to feel like a hero for just a little bit by walking in someone else's shoes. I think memoirs have a way of making us walk in our own shoes more than in the main characters'. All the times we've also tried and failed, or tried and succeeded, or our own coping methods when situations arose.
    In a way, I think food does the same. Whether it's in the cooking or baking (I can't wait to try some of your stuff. Baking lessons?), or eating of a dish, there are memories and connections, or new ones made. I also had my corner in the library, but I also remember reading all three of the first Harry Potter books on a pontoon boat. Or picking out Mac&Cheese and having the internal debate of Annie's (which I can never make the same as my Mom) or easy Mac because I won't have to feel that disappointment.
    Are there certain dishes you make/bake to bring you closer to memories or family? Or books that you read or keep around or smell? ...Yes I said smell. That might just be a me thing...

    ~ Vorousmore

    1. Oh goodness yes. BREAD. I have a special place in my heart for my mom's fresh-baked bread. I can remember coming home from school and the WHOLE HOUSE smelled like fresh bread. Chicken tetrazzini is another one, only that one is my special dish. I identify it with fall, because the first time I had it was at a friend's house before we went trick-or-treating. Then there's raclette (pronounced rock-LET), which is a traditionally Swiss dish that consists mainly of cheese and potatoes. My mom brought the tradition back from when she lived in Switzerland for a few years. That one is my winter dish, especially around Christmas because raclette is best eaten after a long day of skiing when you have lots and lots of people to share it with. Summer is garlic, roasted in the oven until it's spreadable, and then put on French bread. I know that sounds bad, but actually it's delicious, especially with a teensy bit of butter.

      Also, yes. I smell books. Especially old books. :)