Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Like School on a Saturday..."

I worked for many years in a French restaurant where the kitchen was staffed almost entirely by Vietnamese immigrants. For whatever reason, we got along like gangbusters (well, I can think of one reason - they had the raunchiest sense of humor of any group I've ever met, and I'm a big fan of the raunch).

There were two brothers, Nyun and Tun,* who I was particularly tight with. Tun aspired to be a musician, earnestly singing Vietnamese pop ballads as he worked, and chatting with me about his favorite songs (although I must confess that I barely understood a word he said).** Nyun was incredibly tender (not the least bit raunchy).*** He was determined to improve his English and would regularly quiz me on various English idioms.

One night, after dealing with a particularly unpleasant customer, I tossed out the old Fat Albert-ism, "man, they're like school on a Saturday... no class." Nyun immediately latched on to it, asked me to explain, and adopted it as a personal catch phrase. From then on, when I would walk into the kitchen, he would say the first part: "David, David - like school on a Saturday..." Then we would say the second part in slow, hyper-articulated unison: "noooo claaassss". We would both bust a gut. I hope he still uses it.

They lived in New Orleans East. I wonder where they are now.

* Sorry, these spellings are grossly phonetic. I did learn how to write their names, but time and unfamiliarity have wiped the slate clean.

** Miscellaneous details about Tun that I can't quite fit into the flow of the story:

  • I gave him a guitar lesson.
  • In exchange for the lesson, he brought me a really good Vietnamese po-boy (yes, they exist).
  • He once sat in with local garage rock heroes (and co-workers), the Royal Pendletons, and sang "Donna".
  • He eventually left the restaurant to work in his cousin's jewelry store.
*** Miscellaneous details about Nyun that I can't quite fit into the flow of the story:
  • He had a wife in Vietnam who he had not seen in a very long time.
  • He hoped to bring her to the U.S. someday.


  1. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Wow, I remember those two well. Nyun and I used to email each other, but lost touch a few years ago. Were you there when Tun ran away to New York?

    I wonder how all the guys from the kitchen are doing...

    Emily S.

  2. I missed the runaway episode though I've heard it mentioned.

    I think the guys who lived on the Westbank mostly did alright. Obviously the ones in N.O. East had more trouble, but apparently the Little Vietnam area has rebounded more rapidly than the rest of the area. Prior to the storm, Khan had apparently opened a gas station in Jefferson Parish (where he worked while not at the restaurant). He was one of the first stations open after the storm, made big money, and has permanently quit the restaurant.

    At least, that's what the grapevine tells me. My team of fact checkers is currently at lunch.

  3. Wow....did you get some Vietnamese Coffee and croissants out of your time with them?