Love in Southeast Asia: Cookies for My Facebook

About three times I week I decide to delete my Facebook account.

I call my best friend:

“I’m going off Facebook.”

“Oh great, I should do that too.”

She knows I’m full of shit.

I imagine all of the life-enriching consequences: All that free time! A break from my computer screen! A unique, non-digital identity!

But Wait! What if someone gets married or engaged? How will I know when to feel bad about myself?

I call my best friend:

“I can’t do it.”

“It’s o.k., maybe next time.”

At the Hanoi Cooking Centre in Hanoi, Vietnam, Priyan, Parker and I are taking a break from rice paper rolling and banana flower chopping. I’m eying three giant cookie sheets lined with freshly baked chocolate cookies. I haven’t seen a cookie in two and a half weeks. My first thought is to stash a couple of them in the front of my dress and sneak out to the patio to eat them.

Somehow, I resist.

As I’m ogling and drooling, a tiny Vietnamese man appears. He’s an inch or two taller than me and weighs maybe eighty pounds. I’m wondering how he ended up here, and not on the disney theme park circuit playing Tinkerbell.

He bounds in front of us wearing a flour-dusted black Cooking Centre apron.

“Do you want a cookie?”

Yes. He speaks my language.

“I like to bake cookies and put them on my Facebook.”

I almost fell over.

I am on the other side of the world having a magical moment at the intersection of globalization and social media.

I look up at my friends and I see their acknowledgement. This guy is my Southeast Asian soulmate.

I squeal with delight, “I bake cookies and put them on MY facebook**!” We jump up and down uncontrollably yelling nonsense back and forth. The words don’t matter. We are having a moment of pure, human connection.

Our cooking instructor calls us back to attention at the front of the kitchen. I reluctantly leave my new friend behind.

When class is over, we head upstairs to feast on our creations. I look longingly towards the oven in the back of the kitchen hoping to get a glimpse of my Vietnamese keebler elf.

No luck.

I sigh, it was good while it lasted.

Then, at the top of the staircase, I see him, beaming.

LET’S BE FACEBOOK FRIENDS! I scream in his face without even greeting him, “hello.”

With complete sincerity and uncensored satisfaction he says, “really? that would make me so happy.”

Minutes later me and Link are Facebook official, posing for our first tagged photo together, still overwhelmed by the joy of the entire experience.

Before we leave, my new friend invites us out for a beer with him in Hanoi to celebrate Vietnamese Independence Day.

When we say goodbye, I squeeze Link extra tight. I hold him in the space of our similarity, in awe of our unlikely exchange, moved by the first-hand experience of the truth that, deep down, we are all the same.

I traveled all the way to Vietnam, to finally find something beautiful, positive and life-affirming, on Facebook.

** I love to bake. I bake cookies. Frequently. I’ve never once put them on my Facebook. But my ideal self does. She posts exquisite shots of perfectly rounded, delicately browned, elegantly arranged chocolate chip cookies. In that honest moment with Link, my ideal self was talking.

Do you Bake?

I spent 7 hours alone in my apartment. I washed my sheets. I watched a four hour lecture on torts. I made an elaborate lunch. I looked at 72 cookie recipes.

I day-dreamed about what it felt like in the sunshine.

When I finally made it out in public I felt quiet and disoriented. It felt like emerging from a three month hibernation.

I wandered around Wholefoods aimlessly for twenty minutes. I was sweaty, and hungry and reluctant to go home. I was barely conscious, staring at gluten-free cookie mixes when a young woman interrupted my zone-out.

“Do you bake?”

I froze. I couldn’t remember. I’d been out of body and not present since early this morning. It took at least thirty seconds to feel my feet, breathe in, and respond, “YES!”

I looked up and saw a young woman with a bright smile. She was carrying a gluten-free yellow cake mix box and was clearly on a mission. She needed to know how to make Funfetti cupcakes. She had inadvertently stumbled upon an unofficial expert. I’ve probably made four thousand Funfetti cupcakes in my lifetime. Maybe more.

Without hesitation, she told me the whole plan. There’s a boy. It’s his birthday. He eats healthy and “likes confetti.” Immediately I can tell she wants to marry the guy. Later she admits, “I obviously have a crush.”

I give her the five-minute rundown on the art of rainbow sprinkles. I hit the finer points of brand preference and color balance. I recommended she add a little at a time, get an even distribution, then repeat the process until she looks down and thinks, “yes. it’s perfect.” Then, in an unexpected moment of complete, twenty-eight year old woman honesty, I laid it down for her.

“Girl. Lemme tell you. I spent years trying to get boys attention by being pretty and skinny and giggly and well dressed. The truth is, none of it ever worked even close to as well as giving them food I made with enthusiasm and love. You’re on the right track. Keep up the good work.”

She grabbed my arm and screeched with delight. “I’m going to top them with fondant and make them extra pretty. I think he’s going to love it!”

We shared a few more moments of uncensored womanhood before I wished her good luck and proceeded purposefully to the check out line. I loaded two packs of strawberries and a bag of pretzels on to the conveyer belt, paused and felt a warmth of love come over me. I felt deep gratitude for human connection. For sharing myself. For connecting to another woman in a uniquely feminine space.

Not so many years ago I would have never connected with anyone in the baking aisle. If another woman approached me she would have been met immediately and abruptly with sarcasm and dismissal. I would have never encouraged anyone to bake their way into a man’s heart.

Today I feel grateful for growth, perspective and my love for cooking. I feel grateful for that young woman’s wide open heart and determined spirit. I feel grateful for Funfetti cupcakes and all the boys who have ignored my flirtation, but eaten what I’ve baked.