Whilst my acquisition of the Vietnamese language has been fairly minimal thus far, there is one term I heard today on my food tour in Hoi An that I took note of: “khéo tay” which means skilful, deft, dexterous or, as the tour guide’s wife says, “loving care”. The context in which it was used was the loving care, concern and art that a vivacious young lady named Trung put into making Vietnamese iced coffee. So much so that it was dubbed the best Vietnamese coffee in the world. So far, based on my consumption of at least two of these coffees per day here, I would agree with this claim. In the next few days we are also set to dine at a seafood restaurant that makes the best spring rolls in the world. I assume a lot of “khéo tay” must go into being the best in the world at something.
Not a lot of people have a claim to being the best in the world at something. Except maybe… Beethoven, or Van Gogh or, by his own ruling, Kanye West.
It has been all too poignant that I learnt this term today, considering I received the very sad news this morning that one of my closest friend’s mother gave up her fight with leukaemia in her sleep last night. The family have been at her side for the past month or so but the battle has gone on for over a decade. Thankfully, a few days prior to today, I read an amazing blog by Dan Vineberg called, “We’re told not to travel.” http://www.danvineberg.com/told-not-to-travel/ It talks about how there is no perfect time to travel; our calendars will always try to dictate something else to us. Right now, for us, Matt’s sister could have a baby at any moment, I have an uncle undergoing major heart surgery, and now there is a friend in mourning 6,800km away with whom I just want to hug and sit and talk about all of the things that Phyllis Vanderheld gave her “khéo tay” to. She was a strong woman. She had resolve. She was a fighter: for her kids, her grandchildren, their futures and ultimately died fighting a disease that many of us would banish from this good earth if we could.
Today I have learnt, albeit painfully, that we must find our art in life – something to which we give our “khéo tay” to, otherwise, what will there be to talk about when we give up our spirits?
My hope is that this post will in someway pay homage to all of those people who have lost the best mum in the whole world – a mum who has perfected the art of “khéo tay”. We celebrate you, Phyllis Vanderheld, and the amazing children you have raised and the people you have inspired with your life.
NB: If you are ever in Hoi An – the greatest culinary destination in the world – make sure you take a tour with Neville, a lovely Australian man born and bred not far from where I cut my teeth, whose “khéo tay” is sharing the Vietnamese culture with people.
Check out “The Last Great Taste of Hoi An” on TripAdvisor: