Pâtissière, M.D

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My alarm wakes me up on a cold, March morning and I hit the snooze button for the 3rd time. I am usually the type to rise before the sun, but last night I was up late trying to master a recipe for scones. After studying for a chemistry test for five hours, the only thing I could do to relax was to bake. The alarm sounds for a fourth time now, but the warmth of my sheets pull me under. It is still cold outside, and the combination of my winter duvet and my flannel sheets are too tempting to stay. I finally decide to depart from my bed and get ready for another day of school.

Although, this morning I rise late, and out of routine, I am still up earlier than my parents. Every morning, for the past 4 years, I have set my alarm for exactly 6:00 am, even though school doesn’t start until 9 and the bus don’t get to my stop until 8:15. Now, 6:20, I feel like I am running late. I change into a new denim shirt and my pleated skirt; an outfit I have wanted to wear forever! I put on the denim shirt and realise that it is still a bit cold, so I layer it with a knit sweater.

I try to tip-toe down stairs, and start the coffee maker as quietly as I possibly can. It is now 6:45, and my parents are just now waking up for work. This is one of the perks of being a business owner; you can take the Mondays off, making every weekend a long one.

I turn on the TV to the morning news, upset that I already missed a large portion of it. I go to the refrigerator and select a cartoon of 2% milk. I pour myself a nice tall glass and watch the condensation quickly form on the outside and drinking it down with one gulp. Curious, I watch a bit of the news and wait for the coffee to finish. Then, I go back to the fridge and remove a Tupperware container full of cranberry-orange scones I had made the night before. As the coffee finishes brewing, I hear my mother descend down the stairs in a loud, zombie-like manner. I know she must be tired, so I make her a coffee, double cream one sugar just the way she likes it, and hand her the mug. She gives me a small smile; her way of saying “thank you”. What she doesn’t notice are the scones that I have now microwaved. I smile with pride at my home-made scones, placed on a blue, ceramic plate in front of her. The commercials on the news are now on and she looks down for a second, catching a glimpse of the baked-goods. Then she looks at me.

“Where did these come from?” she asks with a serious voice, even though we both know the answer to that.

“I made them”, I say. “There are cranberries and orange zest and…” I trail off, knowing she’s not listening.

Mom is not impressed. But to be frank, she never is. “When did you make them?” she asks while taking a bite of a scone.

“Oh, you know, I, um, made them last night. You know, after studying for chemistry, I just wanted to de-stress so, um, I made them.”

I avoid fights with my mother, especially when it comes to cooking of any sort. But it’s the morning, and she doesn’t want to fight with me now either, so she leaves the arguing for later.

It doesn’t matter how cold the temperature is outside; my mother is always colder.

                                                                                                                       

When I get home from school, Mom is sitting at the table looking at one of my scones. My father is there too, but he really doesn’t get a chance to talk; Mom does enough talking for both of them.

“How was your test today?” she asks. Mom is always very concerned when it comes to school.

“It was fine. It’s chemistry. Same old, same old…”

From under her magazine, Mom pulls out a large, thick envelope from Berkeley. I know exactly what it is but I pretend, as much as possible, to be surprised, or at least happy.

“Here”, my mother hands me the heavy package, “Open it”.

I open the envelope and see a letter with the university’s letterhead printed across the top. The letter reads:

Dear Miss. Jennifer Nguyen,

Congratulations! It is with my great pleasure to offer you admission to the University of California, Berkeley for the Pre-Medical Under-graduate program for the Fall semester…

“Oh, um, wow. I can’t believe it! Ha! I got in!” I tried to sound enthusiastic for my mother, I really did. But Mom knows me better than I know me, and she knew that I couldn’t care less.

“Oh god, Jenny. Why are you not happy?! I don’t understand, I really don’t understand. You got accepted to university and you have NO REACTION AT ALL!!” And then she looked down at the scones.

“Really, Jenny”, her voice changed to extremely annoyed in a split second.

The room was dead silent for once and I could’ve cut the tension with a knife.

“You know that I don’t like it, Mom. You force me to take courses I hate, and then expect me to be happy. I got into university, great! What else do you want from me?!”

“Jennifer”, my mother says, now pushing the plate of scones closer to me and picking one up in her hand. “This is unrealistic. Not to mention a HUGE insult to the family!” Mom and I have this discussion often: she wants me to become a doctor; I want to become a professional chef. In my mother’s world, this is an example of regression.

“You don’t understand, Jenny. You are so smart and so educated. When I came to this country, I discovered fields of work, business, medicine, and politics. That was never an option for women back home. Women are allowed to become chefs in Vietnam because it is a lower class job. A servant’s job!  Food doesn’t matter that much, Jenny. Not as much as politics and medicine. Don’t you see that?”

As my mother scolds me for the fortieth time about how food doesn’t matter, my dad is making an instant Mr. Noodles bowl. Watching him add the hot water and dehydrated vegetable packets to the plastic disposable bowl makes me want to vomit. The only thing I can think of is, “ How can she tell me that food doesn’t matter in this world, when I live with two very educated Vietnamese people, who voluntarily eat crap, when they come from a rich culture with excellent food?!” This ridiculous notion passes through my thoughts multiple times during that day, but I never tell my parents. I usually just keep it to myself.

                                                                                                                       

Most people don’t know this, but even though Mom lectures me on ‘what’s best for me’ every day and how I have so much potential to become anything I want, I still applied to the top culinary school in the entire world: Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France. But, similar to everything else that I do or think about or struggle with in my life, I chose to not tell my parents. Mia thinks that I am acting ridiculous to not tell them. Mia, if you may ask, if my best friend in the entire world. She lives across the street from me. She’s that friend; the one you don’t remember meeting but has always been there for everything. To be perfectly honest, I think we are only friends because both our parents have the same mentality. Mia’s parents are also Vietnamese, we are the only Asian kids on the block, and we both can’t wait to move out of our parents’ homes as soon as possible. The only difference is the Mia is more scared of her parents; she cares about what they have to say. But I already told Mia, I’m only going to tell my parents about Le Cordon Bleu applications if and when I get accepted. One of the scariest things in the world is to not be accepted by the people around you. It is a whole different level when your parents don’t accept you. If I were to tell them and not get in, it would be the most humiliating thing in the world.

As we walk in to Calculus, the only class Mia and I have together this year, I realize that there are some very strange characters in my grade. These people around me, my peers, have all been acting so weird lately. This one kid, Leo, is probably the palest person I have ever seen. I have known him for a long time and I always thought he was a nice guy, but for some reason what I go to say hi to him, he doesn’t even say anything. He just sits there, contemplating life, and shaking his, when bottom half. I guess he might have some form of poison ivy because some people say he likes to hang out in the woods a lot. This other guy James, only sits in the back of the class and acts like no one else is around him. He must be having so deep thoughts inside that brain of his. He’s pretty cute, now that I come to think of it. And finally, Liz Baker. Liz is probably the most popular, un-popular person I know. Everyone knows her and talks about her, but she doesn’t really have that many friends. It just puzzles me how the rest of my grade is just so interesting and I’m really not.

Once class starts, Mr. Ross stands up at the front of the room and I try to focus all my attention to the front instead of the guy sitting behind me.

“So guys, you know, I can’t believe it’s almost done; the school year and all. And I was thinking, since my other class is a day behind on a lesson, we could just skip the note for today.” I highly doubt that he actually had a lesson plan today.

“But Sir”, some kid at the front raised their hand, “What are we going to day?”

“I was thinking of going around the room and just, you know, sharing with the class of what our plans are, our future endeavours. And we could just respect each other and chat a bit about post-secondary and stuff like that.”

The class was not too pleased. Mr. Ross, on the other hand, was very excited over these kinds of activities. “So”, he said in a very shy voice, “Who wants to go first?”

I have never likes sharing my ideas to people or volunteering for anything. I don’t know what got into me but I suddenly felt myself raising my hand and offering to share first.

“Well I found out that I got accepted to the pre-med program at Berkeley yesterday. My parents want me to become a doctor, but don’t know that I really want to become a chef,” and I sat down. I guess my little announcement was much unexpected because the entire class, including Mia, was dead silent.

“Well, um, thank you for sharing, Miss. Nguyen. I am sure we all wish you great luck in all your future endeavours with that. Um, any other volunteers?”

                                                                                                                       

Mia was not very pleased with me afterwards.

“How could you have the guts to share that kind of thing to the class but not even bother telling your parents?!” She was right. She knew it, I even knew it.

As I entered my home that day, I was ready. I was going to tell my Mom about Le Cordon Bleu, about the application, about everything. I entered the house and felt so ready. Mom and Dad weren’t home yet when I got home today. I decided to put my things down, grabs the keys and went for a little walk to get the mail. As I walked up to the mailbox, I stuck the key in the lock. Before I even opened the box, I could already tell what was coming. I opened the box to find a large envelope with my name on it. Most of the writing on it is in French and in a fancy blue-sparkly ink. I didn’t even have to open in to know exactly what it was; my acceptance package from Le Cordon Bleu. Now might be a good time to inform my parents about my application.

                                                                                                                                                                               

See the continuation at captaincielrose.tumblr.com. The writer of this site is so fantastic at depicting the exact emotions that are involved with universal experiences, such as love, fear, loss, and despair. She is such a great writer and I feel speechless every time I read her work. Doing the collaboration with her was a real joy for me and I hope you like it too!

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