Saturday, March 17, 2018


What are friends?  That sounds like an age old philosophical question.

What prompted me to write is this;  I have a friend named Ann.  She is my nail lady- the person who does my manicures and pedicures.   We met when I went into the shop about ten years or more ago.   She is from Vietnam, a place I have been close to, but have never actually been there.

We have lived in South East Asia for almost 6 years.  Four years in Thailand in two year stints.  A year in Taiwan. And, we expected to live in China for a few years, but our preemie baby who needed medical care changed all that.

I recognize that there are big cultural differences between those places, but there is still something that makes me identify.  In Australia, the Asian moms (parents of the kids where my boys went to school) and the "white" Australians didn't click.  There wasn't any animosity, just, didn't click.  Then, somehow, I became an "honorary Asian" and got to have the best of both worlds.  Friends!

When we first went to Thailand, in 1976, Nick went to work every day, and I tried to figure out what I was supposed to do.  I had been fortunate enough to study Thai at FSI (the Foreign Service Institute) along side Nick, for ten months.  And, being someone who likes to talk anyway, my spoken Thai was pretty darn good.

I was all of 22 years old when we first went abroad.   I didn't really feel like I fit into the Embassy community.   People thought I was someone's daughter who was on break from college.

But, I had Ampai.  She was our maid, but we spent hours and hours together.  We went shopping in the  "fresh" everything market- meat, fish, live eels and frogs as well as flowers and clothing.  We took a boat up the river to who knows where and had a blast!  Somewhere I have the pictures to prove it!

Ampia was a maid, and we did pay her to work for us.  But she was also my best friend.  We really loved each other!  In 1978, when we left Bangkok, we left Ampai.  She and I hugged and cried.  And, all these years later, we keep in touch.  That's what a friend is.

All of the places we lived I had friends.  Or at least I tried.   I get too lonely and sad if I don't have a woman friend, or a bunch of women friends.  Some come into and out of your life.  Some, you never hear from again.  And some seem to be forever.

Don't get the idea that it has been easy.  When we arrived in Taiwan, all of the kids got chicken pox, so I missed all of the meet and greet activities.   I didn't know anyone.   So, I invited everyone with little kids to our house for Darcy's birthday party.  It wasn't about getting presents, it was about meeting people.   I didn't become friends with all of those people- or even most of them, but I did meet a few who I hung out with.

 Sometimes I have tried to get into a conversation only to be ignored by the others- the people who are already talking to each another.  Sometimes they don't even realize that they are ignoring me.  Sometimes they are really shits who I wouldn't want to be friends with anyway.

In October of this last year I made a trip to San Diego.  It was a La Leche League Alumni trip.  My second.  Some of the women I know only by name- having seen their names in print somewhere- in a newsletter or something.  And at least one of them and I met for the first time in October, and we "clicked".  Not sure what or why it happened, but we seem to share the same empathy for the same things  Also, while on that trip, I met with a friend who I have kept in touch with, but had not seen in over 40 years!  It felt like we picked up right where we left off!

In 2014 when I found out that I had a brain tumor, Ann was so very worried about me.  She called my house to see how I was, but Nick didn't understand who she was.
And now, back to Ann, my nail lady.   We have a friendship that is almost impossible to explain.  Her English is not always easy for me to understand, and I don't speak a word of Vietnamese.    But we matter to each other.  She tells me about her husband and their travels.  I tell her about my children.   Sometimes we don't talk at all, and sometimes we get the silly laughs.

All of the people I consider my friends, aside from my sister, are people that I had to make some effort to get to know.   By effort, I don't mean it was hard work.  But I did have to be a part of the conversation if I wanted to be in it.  When I finally was able to go back to the nail salon, Ann jumped up to great me.  We both stood there bawling like babies.

Then, in November 2017 I had another brain surgery.  Ann knew about it.  Turns out, my next door neighbor goes to Ann too.  So Kathy has kept Ann up to date.   Ann gave Kathy a Buddha to give to me.  She believes it will help me stay healthier and recover faster.    The Buddha is very tiny.  I think I will try to figure out how to make it into a necklace.

Yesterday I went to the nail salon and saw Ann for the first time in around four months.  We hugged and cried.  She wept like a baby.   It is friendship.  It is love.  It is wonderful.  It takes work to maintain, but it is worth it.

My tiny Buddha, a gift from Ann

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