Sunday, January 10, 2010

Three Days

"Going to the kitchen after three days
Washing hands before making a soup
Not knowing my in-laws' taste
I ask the little sister to try it first"1

Suey got up before dawn and washed her face in a hurry. She had everything she needed for the morning ready last night, and now she just had to change.

Hoi said softly: “You’re up so early?”

It didn’t sound like a real question though. Farming families rose and rested in harmony with the sun. It was more of his way of saying good morning.

She replied: “Go back to sleep. I think I heard mom in the kitchen…” and out she went.

There was a faint light from the brick stove, and she saw the back of her mother-in-law. She turned and saw Suey standing by the door timidly. With a smile she said:

“Up already?”

“Yes, mom. You’re early.” Suey felt embarrassed that she might give the impression of laziness, but “mom” didn’t seem to be upset. She was also relieved that she had the foresight to put on her darker, plainer clothes made of cotton.

The first thing mom showed her was how to start a fire in the stove. Within minutes her brand new clothes were stained with soot, and her sleeves were used to dab sweat off her forehead. The only comfort was she might have hot water to use the next morning.

She watched and kept the soy milk and rice porridge from being burnt, but the flat bread and pickled side dishes were out of her ability completely. The steamed buns were so complicated to her she just wanted to cry. Her mind was busy making sense of all the steps in preparing those foods, but it was overwhelmingly frustrating that she was on the brink of panic.

Mom seemed to see through her thoughts, and told her: “Don’t worry. You’ll get a handle on it soon enough.”

She didn’t think that day would come, but she didn’t tell mom.

Together they served the breakfast to the men. Some were family – Hoi among them. Some were hired hands. They ate almost all of it before they left for the fields. Harvest was done, but there were wheat to be turned on the flat land waiting to dry, the rice fields needed to be turned upside down before it turned too cold, so the roots would serve as the fertilizer for next year’s planting.

Women in the house would be making mid-day snacks for the men while they worked, then sending it to the fields. There was not a moment to waste. They ate their breakfast after the men left and, after they returned to the kitchen, mom whispered to her:

“Don’t forget to give me your ‘proof’ later.” 2

Her face burned like the fire under the stove. Her husband did the "deed" last night, and she had carefully saved the “proof;” but to think she had to show it to his mother and father was both horrifying and awkward. No matter how gentle Hoi was, he couldn’t save her now. She would have to do this on her own.

“Come. Let me show you how to make noodles as a starter. It’s the simplest task.” Her mom beckoned. She followed her to the corner of the kitchen where the big board was. Hoi’s sister joined them for breakfast, but disappeared to her room afterward. She had the luxury to enjoy life as an unmarried girl, just like Suey before her own wedding.

It felt like a lifetime ago.

(1. An ancient poem describing the mood of a new bride making her first meal. 2. Proof of virginity was required from the bride, or she would be expelled from her husband’s home and deeply shamed.)

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  1. Wow! It's so fascinating to learn of such a different way of life. What a change for a young woman marriage was. You are doing so well in describing it. Utterly compelling.

  2. tina - thanks for the comment. i thought i didn't write fiction. turns out i do!

  3. Another brilliant installment! While it is also pleasantly surprising to note the similarities between our cultures, since most of the traditions you say are still followed in my country by almost 90% of the people even today.
    Cant wait to read more.

    Have a wonderful week ahead.
    Leah :-)

  4. Sarah, firstly I have to say a big thank you for nominating me for a Weblog award- i'm honoured! So thank you.

    Secondly, you are so good at stories. It's definately your forte! I'm fascinated by these stories especially as i love learning about different cultures and ways of life. Keep it up! :)

  5. leah - don't tell me they still require proof of virginity in your country?! to me that's just so cruel.

    lou - you're welcome, and thank you for the comment. i'm really glad you liked it.

  6. Most families still do my dear. Its proof of how honourable you are! Although I'm personally against it, the fact remains 9/10 families still require it, hence the tradition lives on.

  7. Sarah ~ You are such a gifted story teller and I so look forward to each and every post. What an incredible gift to your family this is. To put your grandmother's life on paper for future generations to read and enjoy is so thoughtful.

    Have you ever seen the movie, The Road Home? It is one of my favorites. Everytime I read your posts regarding your grandmother, I think of that movie and smile.

  8. Fantastic story again, Sarah! Your prose is REALLY progressing. Your so much more fluid and disciplined. My hat is off to you!

    And WOW!, Sarah, Thank-you for that 2010 Weblog Nomination!

    Wasn't seeing that coming, that's for sure, I am almost speechless!

    Thank-you ever so much and I just hope my online articles continue to deserve such an honour!

    xoxo MsBurb

  9. Beautifully written. At least the proof of virginity was a little more subtle than hanging the bed sheet out of the window for the entire village to se!

    Kitty x

  10. leah - make sure the brides smuggle a pigeon to the bedroom on the wedding night.

    marla - thank you. i have to get that movie now. :)

    msburb - thanks for the comment, and you're quite welcome!

    kitty - lol! thank god for that!!

  11. I'm loving it...and I'd like some of that soup, too. Pretty please?

  12. melissa - i don't know. do you dare to try her first meal ever? i'd think it twice... :)

  13. Sarah, I love the way you have taken your grandmother's accounts and written them so beautifully. I can't wait for the next. The thought of "proof", did make my stomach tie in knots for her. eeks

  14. bren - isn't it awful? what women had to put up to in those days was amazing.

  15. I love this - I think my favourite yet. So beautifully written.

    Kate xx

  16. I think I'd rather be the unmarried sister! At least she got three days grace, huh? And "the proof"? Oh, please. Very well written.

  17. sandra - sooner or later the unmarried sister would have to be married. she didn't have a choise. yeah, so glad they don't ask for proof nowadays, but there's always the pigeons!

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  20. I like to be back reading your posts. As I told you before, they take me into another dimension and I like to explore it.


  21. gigimae - thanks for stopping by. went to your site and commented.

    lorenza - your retreat sounds very interesting. looking forward to reading more about it.



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