Evening in downtown Salida was a little spooky. Our restaurant faced a partly demolished theater, which may or may not be resurrected as a high-end condo. An upturned clawfoot tub was something out of a Stephen King novel. During the day, the wind-whipped streets was right out of a movie from the Old West.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Frannie’s favorite dish at the old Yank Sing on Broadway was “gold coin buns.” Gold coin buns. First you had to pry open the seams of a small white bun without tearing it. Then you stuffed it full of fatty, bright red roasted pork bits dripping in honey. Your fingers got sticky from the glistening fat but who cared? You bit into that fat little sandwich and your tongue understood the meaning of riches. And because “gold coin buns” were indulgent, and as such, bad for your health, Yank Sing banished it in their new upscale location at Rincon Annex. Frannie and I cherished the memory of this dish, and as food optimists, always expected this dish to be resurrected at the new Yank Sing some day. Food, indulgent food, was our common bond.
Identity. when I first met Frannie, she told me that she was Dutch. After a pause she added that she was half Indonesian. For much of our friendship, it was the Dutch side that mattered to her. She spoke the language, studied it in university, worked in Holland for a time, liked traveling there. She wore sturdy Dutch jewelry. She had the wooden clogs in her closet. Frannie's Indonesian side was in some ways as elusive as stories told by shadow puppets. She had her superstitions, such as putting sapulitis (brooms) by the door and she knew all the best dishes to order at Indonesian restaurants. But she never defined herself as an Indonesian in quite the same way as she did as an American and as Dutch. It was a colonial dilemma, this issue of identity, being born a "half" that straddled two very different cultures. Where does one belong? Perhaps because her family was forced to abandon their land and home, she was more adamant about being Dutch than Indonesian. She was not interested in Indonesia. She did not want to go there. Then one day Frannie began talking about Indonesia. She and her mother planned a trip, but her mother got ill. So Frannie and I decided to go. Thanks to our friend Hessy, who helped with all the arrangements, we visited Bandung, where her parents had lived. We walked around the hospital where she was born. We visited the grand post office that her grandfather worked in. We lit candles in the church where her parents attended mass. And best of all, we went to the Dago Tea House, which her grandfather had built. We had tea and cakes in an outdoor tatami-floored veranda overlooking the lush green hills. On the same land was a university that had been built after the property was confiscated by Sukarno. it was a bittersweet moment for Frannie - amazed that the teahouse was still there, sad that the land no longer belonged to her family. I like to think that this trip helped Frannie fill in the side of her that was Indonesian. She looked lovely in her batik sarong that she purchased in Yogyakarta. She cherished her friendships with Susana and Ira, and Johar and Toni and Hessy. Having also come from a colonial background, I am grateful for our many conversations about identity and about belonging.