KC and I have noticed a strangely consistent phenomenon in eating establishments around the world: the use of the word “finished.” Many times it has happened that one of us orders from a menu only to discover that the item isn’t available. And for some reason, the word “finished” seems to apply universally where English is not the first language of the wait staff.
Sometimes, it happens after we’ve ordered: a waitress tiptoes back to our table from the kitchen and whispers, “Pad Thai? … very sorry … finished.”
Other times, our waiter knows immediately; it’s as if he’s a beach volleyball player waiting for the serve so he can spike the word across the net: he draws himself fully upright, take a deep breath, and before I can say “fish and chips” he pounces: “FINISHED!”
In some restaurants, the menu is disproportionately large for what is often the front room of a family home, so it’s more like a practiced drill. This always happens when the food is particularly hard to pronounce:
“I’ll have the kangung belacan.” “Finished.” “Ok, let’s try the penang rojak.” “Finished.” “Do you have the nyonya kuih?” “Finished.” “Hmmmm. What do you have?”
“Nasi goreng” [generic term for a plate of fried rice stir-fried with a few bits of green things for about $1.50]
And so it goes with our slow-traveling lifestyle; the time has come for us to say “Finished.”
As we knew was inevitable, our fabulous telecommuting work contracts have slowly dropped to the point where we couldn’t afford to move to our next destination (South America) and still maintain our commitment to contribute to our pension funds. It was time to start looking for more work, and we began job searches from Vietnam. (KC had his first phone interview from his hospital bed in Vietnam! Technology… gotta love Skype!)
Ultimately, I found another contract with a utility company back in Oregon and KC picked up another legal research contract while he awaits his first assignment as a logistician for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) – they hired him even after the hospital-bed interview! We returned to Oregon in March and busied ourselves reconnecting with friends and family, replacing the furniture and car we’d sold back in ’12, and readjusting to life in America.
People ask if the adjustment was hard, and the hard parts are hard enough that I hold them close and only talk to KC about them. But the good parts are many, too: Live Cajun music and dancing with my dad! Our first vegetable garden in 3 years! My sister and girlfriends only an hour away! Legalized gay marriage! Blueberry pie! And despite her ongoing struggles with racism, America’s multitude of skin colors and accents and cultures are a delight.
Before I close, it seems appropriate to thank the bloggers I follow… there are only 4 or 5 of you but I think most of you read my posts as well. Your thoughtful and entertaining writings filled my need for engaging, intelligent conversation when I couldn’t easily converse with my neighbors or when time zones made it hard to pick up the phone and call Mom. You’ve likely noticed how infrequently I’ve commented on your posts in recent months (a new desk job makes screen time in the evenings/weekends so unappealing!) but I often catch myself thinking, “now there’s a random collection of trivia I’d like to see on Clearing Customs” or “hmmm…wonder what Hilton would have to say about the explosions in China last week” or “if I were The Archer, how would I end this post with a clever transition back to the Finished theme?”
Let me try…
One night we sat late into the night watching a matriarch and her herd of elephants drinking at a water hole. The floodlight focused in the foreground, near where a pipe spilled fresh water into the pond. The elephants fanned out around the edge of the water hole – about half the size of an Olympic swimming pool – and waded in or drank from the sandy edge, and when the matriarch had finished drinking straight from the freshest water at the pipe’s discharge, the rest of the adults took turns with the occasional infant wriggling between the great legs for a quick slurp. For hours a teenager hung around the edge of the pipe waiting for a drink from the ellie-sized water fountain, only to be rebuffed and shoved aside, time and time again, by her full-grown aunts.
Eventually, the matriarch trumpeted and strode off into the night, followed closely by the rest of the herd. Finally! The teen had her chance… she trotted over to the pipe, but just as she was about to dip her trunk into the fountain, one final adult came ’round from the far end of the pond and shoved the poor dear away from the pipe.
She trailed behind again, slowing to a stop once the entire water hole was deserted save for the hyena skulking at the far end. She turned and faced us, her trunk reaching towards us – she could smell us but the lights kept her from seeing us. She swayed back and forth, her ears alert. She sidled nearer to the pipe, nonchalantly, still sniffing the air as if trying to decide whether we would tattle on her. A call came from down the trail and she ran toward the herd 2 steps, busted. She stopped. More swaying. More sidling back toward the pond. All the time, facing us directly in the floodlights; she was Hamlet on center stage, so convincing was her turmoil. Those of us who were still awake were trying to obey the “silence” rules but we’d lost control of our giggles minutes into her performance.
Finally, she turned and bolted back to the spigot and plunged into the pond to her knees. She lowered her trunk to the pipe and started drinking; I don’t think a small-town newspaper critic could have been happier had he found himself invited to a free dinner at a 5-star restaurant. This girl was BLISSED OUT.
Suddenly, one final trumpet shook the forest around us; the young ellie flew straight out the water and galloped into the night, squeaking sheepishly, “I’m coming Mama!” The meaning of that trumpet was unmistakable:
“Young Lady! Get! Out! Of! That! Water!
And stop holding up the herd! Or else you’ll be …”
<wait for it>