The precious (Saigon)

Some weeks ago, while I was waiting for some gyoza at a cafe in Saigon’s Japanese town. I saw a girl sitting at the far end of the counter on the high stool, talking to the owner. It appeared to be an interview. The owner was often interrupted by other customers and staff, but the girl maintained her poise. She would glance around the cafe trying to absorb the place. I could detect half a smile aimed at no particular direction on her face, only to return to seriousness when the owner came back to talk to her. It was an elegant face. I started to sketch. I wanted to draw her like a princess, a bold but kind princess, on a high throne donned in jewels and golds. Then I figured that I don’t need to do that. Her composure was more precious than any jewels. Last weekend, a couple of alleys away from that cafe, I was looking for dinner. A boy at an Izakaya called out to me. He tried to explain the food in English, but he struggled - they hire for Japanese language skills in these parts. I heard a voice in English. I turned around to see another member of their staff. She calmly explained the menu. I realised that she was the person that I had sketched a few weeks earlier. I unlocked my phone and showed her the sketch, and explained how how her calm demeanour encouraged me to sketch her. I expected her to kick me for my amateur depiction of her, but she borrowed my phone and started showing the sketch to all her colleagues, proud at her new celebrity status. You can travel half the world, but there is no point if you can’t make a little girl smile.