Oh for a Plastic Cup

 |  May 30, 2011

Daughter #1 will finish her law degree in a couple of weeks and already has a job lined up in Sydney. As a parent, this is great news and we now have three years to save up before D2 spreads her wings and leaves the Daring household. No doubt she will also require great dollops of money as she does whatever she ends up doing. Then it will just be Mrs. D and I. Oh God.

Mind you, we don’t really see much of D2 now. She’s out with friends at the weekend and spends the rest of the time ensconced in her room, doing homework or other things that as a father I don’t want to know about. She emerges only for food or money.

She came home from school the other day complaining about an essay she had to write. “Why the Mekong and the other major rivers were pivotal to the development of trade and political turmoil in Indochina,” she explained as she disappeared upstairs.

Although I’ve lived in South East Asia for several years, I don’t really know much about its history. Mrs. D was reading her Kindle, sprawled on the couch.

“Come on then,” I said, “what do you know about Indochina?”, my tone goading her into a response. She stopped reading, sighed and fixed me with the kind of expression that a cobra makes just before it strikes.

“More than you,” she started. “The term Indochina was coined by the French and described the countries of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam that they occupied or influenced from the late eighteenth century. Its use has been extended to include Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia and today it can be thought of as the large peninsular that divides the Indian Ocean and the China Sea.”

“Its large rivers, such as the Mekong, provided easy access from the coast to the lush agricultural lands and the region became a source of spices, silks and other goods to satisfy the demands of the Middle East, Europe and later, the Americas. The wealth that was created soon became the subject of colonial wars between the Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese and the British with each trying to exert its control over the region. It was only in the late twentieth century that some of the countries could be considered to be truly independent.”

Bugger me. I wasn’t expecting that. “No Spanish then?” I asked.

“No, they were in South America nicking all the gold,” she replied and returned to reading her book. I decided to keep quiet, as the last thing I wanted to confirm was that she knew more about something than I did. That would never do.

I haven’t been to Laos or Cambodia but I have been to Vietnam. You can see the French influence everywhere. Wonderful coffee and baguettes of bread can be bought on the side of the road. And if you have driven in Paris, then you can understand why the Vietnamese drive as they do too. No cheese though; I guess the westerner’s desire for solidified, rotting milk being seen for exactly what it was.

In fact coffee is now only second to rice in Vietnam’s exports. First planted there in 1857, they have had a lot of practice growing the stuff and in 2010, shipped over one million tons around the world. There’s a lot of coffee in Brazil but there’s a fair bit in Vietnam too.

Inspired by thoughts of cafetieres, sidewalk cafes and fresh warm bread, I headed to the kitchen to make us a snack. Found some coffee beans but no grinder. My attempts to smash them with a hammer were less than successful and so it would have to be instant. “Made in Germany,” it said on the label, which was quite a surprise. Still, I am sure that they made it with ruthless efficiency.

No baguettes either and so supermarket “plastic bread” would have to suffice instead. To add insult to injury, there was no butter; only some fat free, unsalted, tasteless margarine. This was not working out as I planned and so abandoned the thought of a sandwich.

Still, I poured the coffee into my favourite mug and handed Mrs. D’s to her as she continued to read. The sun was setting and I walked outside to look at the reddening sky. I sipped my coffee as I stood there and soon started thinking about nothing, a skill that no woman can master or understand.

“What are you doing?” a voice next to my ear inquired. I hadn’t heard Mrs. D walk out and jumped, my feet lifting off the ground. Unfortunately, I also let go of my mug and watched in horror as it smashed to pieces on the ground. There was a moment’s silence, broken by Mrs. D.

“Thought I knew more about it than you did,” she said.

“About what? That was my best mug!” I wailed.

“Shouldn’t have been outside,” she said.

“And why, pray, is that?”

“That mug was indoor china‚Ķ.”.

Hah. Bloody. Hah.