Congnai had that pleasant
conversation with Sumati on the telephone and even tho they agreed to meet
for an interview, Neng is still in doubt whether
'e really should
employ someone for the job. However hopeful 'e is that the restaurant 'e
bought will be a success eventually, every time again that one fact
thrusts itself on the owner's mind: no-one has come in yet since the new
restaurant opened almost three months ago.
It would have been infinitely easier if Neng Congnai, a Dutch citizen of
Chinese descent, had started a Chinese restaurant in the
Netherlands, for such restaurants, which serve Indonesian food as well, are
very popular among the Dutch natives. Neng understands this only too well.
Yet, Neng's restaurant is in the center of Amsterdam close to a busy
street, so its location is near-perfect. And copies of the menu are clearly
displayed on both the window and the door, the letters in big, colorful
fonts. And people have been looking at them. Nevertheless, not one person
has ever decided to enter until now.
Well, this is not the whole truth, for on the day of the opening Neng's
parents and a sibling came for dinner, and they were very polite and they
seemed to be pleased when they left. But even they, Congnai's own
relatives, never returned or inquired how things were going, except that
Congnai's parents ask
'im every once in a
while if it would not be better to add some of the well-known wholesome and
delicious Chinese meals to the menu. And then, one time there were no fewer
than four people who came in around three o'clock in the afternoon, not for
dinner but for 'a light snack' -- as they called it.
They were foreign students on a tour and said that they certainly would
have come back for dinner sometime, if they had lived in Holland. However,
they lived somewhere in North America and never came back.
In spite of all this, Neng Congnai has decided to grant Sumati a job
interview for two reasons. Firstly, 'e has noticed that some people have
been looking at the menu on the window a little bit longer than before.
It even seems as if they are sometimes seriously discussing the menu. So 'e
entertains the expectation that the restaurant will soon have its first
visitor for dinner. At the same time, however, Neng cannot afford it much
longer to stay at the restaurant 'imself every afternoon and evening. For
even Neng Congnai needs to pay for the maintenance of the building and even
Neng Congnai needs money for all the petty and less petty expenses of daily
life. So if there is someone who could take care of the restaurant, a neat
and intelligent person, this would be a great relief for 'im; provided, of
course, that that person can be trusted.
Everyone will agree that quite a few things were already in Sumati's favor
when Neng Congnai talked to 'im on the phone. First of all, Sumati had
a pleasant voice and spoke quietly and clearly. 'E used a rich
idiom and correct grammar. And 'e is a Dutch citizen, not like Neng
of Chinese but of Hindustani descent. Sumati's family hails from
Surinam and, further back in time, from Indonesia and India. More
importantly, however, 'e studied in England for two years and therefore
also Sumati's English is far superior to that of those who speak it in the
average bar or in an ordinary restaurant. In a city like Amsterdam, with
tourists from all over the world visiting and nowadays also with people of
so many different ethnic backgrounds living there, this is not a
Neng Congnai was also pleased to notice that Sumati addressed 'im with
Dear Person. For 'e knows, and 'e is certain Sumati knows too,
that traditional Sirs and Madams frown on this usage and protest
that it will lead to a sexless or, even worse, a loveless world. As if the
Person-users do not have equally male and equally female bodies,
and additional masculine and feminine names and pronouns to be used
especially in a context in which sex or gender is relevant. But if
and when it is not, they use gender-transcending pronouns, like the
high-pitched Chinese ta for the third person regardless of sex.
Neng pities those who desperately want to be regarded not as people but as
men and women in every and any situation, day and night. 'E would like to
tell them of the Dao, the Way, in Lao Zi.
Reversing is the movement of the Chinese Dao. Everything involves its own
negation. The general rule for the person practising enlightenment is to
begin with the opposite of what 'e wants to achieve. Be the owner of little
and you shall obtain. Be hollow and you shall be filled. And the Old Master
should not mind a new example: Be nonsexual and you shall enjoy the
erotic. For being nonsexual, that is, refraining from this kind of
irrelevantism, is what Person Neng aims at in
When Sumati comes for the interview the good impression Neng Congnai has
formed of 'im at the telephone is only enhanced. Sumati is impeccably
dressed, not at all fashionably, perhaps, even not elegantly, but
definitely in a simple and tasteful manner. It is exactly the way Neng
wants 'er future servant to be dressed. In addition --and 'e
could never have demanded it-- Neng finds the young person
opposite 'im fairly attractive: 'e possesses a natural beauty which will
definitely appeal to everybody, to every man and to every woman, with a
sense for the esthetics of the human face and body. 'Er certificates, too,
are good, but there is still one thing to be found out. Does Sumati realize
what 'e is getting 'imself into and can Sumati handle the situation?
Neng is honest and tells Sumati everything about it. Not only will 'er
wages of necessity be low; 'e will even not be able to start on 'er new
job right away. Neng 'imself will stay in the restaurant for a few more
weeks before Sumati will be asked to take over.
"Sumati", Neng Congnai says,
"i very much
appreciate it that you'd like to work in my restaurant. You speak several
languages, you have studied at some very good schools, your appearance and
attitude please me, but i'm still in doubt whether i should take you on as
my servant. Do you realize, since i can't afford a cook yet, you'll also
have to prepare the dishes in the kitchen yourself?"
"I do, Dear Person" Sumati answers, "But why are you in doubt?
I'm prepared to give myself, just as anyone should be prepared to give
under these circumstances."
"Yes, yes, i know. The merchant gives merchandise, the farmer rice or
potatoes and the teacher teachings. But what can you give now, that will be
of special use under the present difficult circumstances?"
And this Sumati answers: "I can think, i can wait, i can fast."
And Neng Congnai does not ask any further questions, for Neng, too, is
familiar with Hesse's novel in which these famous words are spoken by
Siddhartha of India. At once, Neng is 300% sure that here in front of 'im
there is the right person for the right job at the right time. All Neng's
previous doubts evaporate. 'E gets a form out of the top drawer of 'er
desk and begins to fill in the contract.
Sumati is hired on the spot.
After three weeks Neng Congnai informs Sumati that 'e can start.
The first day no-one comes in.
The second day no-one comes in.
The third day no-one comes in.
But around 7.50 p.m. on the fourth day a couple suddenly rushes into the
restaurant. A heavy rain has just started and their thin coats drip water
into a puddle on the floor.
Sumati turns out to be an excellent servant. 'E is exraordinarily helpful
and polite, takes the coats of the couple, and asks them where they would
like to sit: at the window or rather closer to the kitchen. As the weather
is so bad outside the two guests do not care about the window and sit down
at a table in the middle. They speak Dutch and call each other "Piet" and
Before even having had a look at the menu Piet asks: "Can i have a beer,
"I'm sorry, My Dear, we don't serve beer in this restaurant."
"Well, what other drinks do you have, then, if i may ask?"
"We only serve water, neither alkaline nor acid, My Dear."
"Would you mind stopping your My Dear? In this country a gentleman
"We're a civilized restaurant, Dear Person, and i'm afraid we don't use
male or female titles in the present context." Piet looks puzzled and the
answer does not seem to fully satisfy 'im, but 'e leaves it at that.
After Piet and Pietje have accepted water for their drinks, it is time to
have a look at the menu. In their rush to get inside, they never had a
chance to look at it outside on the window or the door. Pretty soon they
discover that the only things on the restaurant's menu are 'Wisdoms',
albeit of a number of different sorts. The guests may order a 'Chinese', an
'Indian', an 'African' or an 'English Wisdom'.
"Wisdoms?" Pietje exclaims. They immediately call Sumati, who has
gone to the kitchen, and ask for an explanation. Sumati explains that that
is correct and that it is also shown on the menu on the window and on the
door. They must have noticed that the name of the restaurant is Food for
Reflection, and that is exactly what they serve: food for thought.
Since this story is being used as material for the novel
Triptych of Times,
you are presently being given free access to less than a fifth part of it.
(For more info about this novel by Vincent van Mechelen see
||Neng is the family name pronounced
|NANG|, with rising tone;
Congnai is the given name pronounced approximately as
|TSUNG NAI|, with high-level
and falling tone. See
Given Names For Persons for further
information about such a Chinese name. There you will also find the
Indian name Sumati|
||Pronounced approximately as
|PEEtja|. Pietje is
the diminutive of Piet. In traditional Dutch, as in other such
languages, a feminine given name is often a diminutive formed from a
masculine given name|
||Pronounced approximately as
|ma-NIR|, with long |I|. When
not followed by a family name it means Sir|
||The first-person singular pronoun is spelled
with a small i, as no-one in this story considers 'imself a
Supreme Being or anything else of that Ilk. The third-person
singular pronoun used is 'e, with 'im, objective case, and
'er, possessive pronoun. He and she are used when
it is believed or suggested that sex or gender is or could be relevant.
(Al)tho and thru are more phonetic lexical variants than
(al)though and through. From a phonemic point of view,
however, it would be better to spell these words (al)thoh and
The values of linguistic systems and the
Vocabulary of Alliteration.|