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Sunday, 4 March 2012

Poisonous duck's blood. Tan Dinh, Saigon. Vietnam memories 1965 1975

Poisonous duck's blood. Tan Dinh, Saigon.

One of the dishes that was always prepared was duck. I'm always very partial to it. Strangely Vietnam is the only country where I've eaten duck's eggs. My mother would never touch them as she said the water the ducks drank was so foul. I was most fond of what are called one thousand year eggs. However the twenty one day eggs I could never eat sober. The ducks like the chickens were always bought live and so were fresh. I remember KC and her cousin and myself trying to decide how to kill the first chicken we had. The maid seemed to be absent. That was also typical. My father used to wring their necks; I was all for shooting it. I think one of them must have slit its throat. Very messy.

Anyway whilst preparing the chicken KC had frozen the blood and then eaten it. Is frozen duck's blood a delicacy? It had not been cooked. After the maid left KC fell ill. During Tet, particularly at the beginning it is very difficult to contact anybody. I had my own French doctor but he was closed for the holidays. KC had many doctors in the family but always preferred to see a Chinese herb specialist. This was very common in Vietnam where many people preferred traditional Chinese medicine to that of the west. We always kept a bottle of some black liquid, full of plants that seemed to cure most stomach problems. There was also a thick banana with big seeds in it which one ate for diarrhea, seeds and all, which acted like a concrete mix to solidify the mess in one's guts. Luckily neither of us was really ever sick.

On this occasion KC would not let me find a doctor. She preferred to suffer alone in a dark room. Looking back on it I wonder why I ever listened to her. It’s possible that I had got used to the Vietnamese way of life where people who were sick suffered at home. I had also been brought up in a world where one did not call doctors for every ache and pain. After all during the Second World War my mother and I had scarlet fever and along with my two year old sister we spent two weeks living in the kitchen on the farm without visitors trying to keep warm in the winter.

I should have at least called a neighbour but I was also rather callous and hardened by the suffering and killing I had seen. In any case, despite the swollen limbs, discoloration of the skin and pain after three days the crisis passed and she recovered. I called her a damn fool woman for getting sick and she apologized for spoiling the Tet festivities. Anyway we were young at the time.

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