We call her Thai cafe lady because she runs a take-out Thai restaurant known as “the window.” It’s a window on the basement of the Psych building. There is no sign, no table, no chair, and during the hours when the window is close, there is nothing to show that behind this window is the most feared woman at Stanford.
Everyone knows her but nobody knows who she really is. Nobody knows her name. Nobody knows where she comes from. No one is known to have a conversation with her and still alive. The only thing we ever hear her say is: “What would you want?”, “6 dollars”, and “next please.” Hundreds of people line up in front of the window during lunch hours everyday to get some of her delicious noodle soup. The line is long but moves extremely fast. She entertains no credit cards and no indecisiveness. The look on her face can send chill down the spine of a world famous professor who happens to forget to have cash with him and make a freshman who doesn’t already know what she wants when she is at the front of the line burst into tears. People dream of the day when she runs for president and makes America efficient again.
After 2 years of internalization, I decided to take on the ultimate Stanford challenge: go talk to the Thai cafe lady. Today, with a tall and bearded James Garth by my side, I went to Thai cafe 15 minutes before it was open to make sure I was first in line. When she asked me: “What would you want?”, I took a deep breath, gathered my courage and asked back:
“What’s your name?”
She looked at me in disbelief, and for a second I thought she was going to go soup nazi on me.
But she did not.
“What would you want?”
“Pork soup. And what’s your name?”
“Name is not important.” She said curtly and turned to the person behind me. “Next please.”
“But I eat here all the time. It’d be nice to know your name.”
“You wouldn’t remember.”
“Are you from Thailand?” I persevered. You see, I didn’t get into Stanford by just giving up.
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Vietnam too,” I said eagerly. “What’s your name?”
“May Khanh,” I repeated. “See, I remember.”
She blushed and smiled at me. OMG, the Thai cafe lady smiled at me.
Not only did find out about her first name, I also found out that her full name is “MayKhanh Bahlman”. She was born in the war-torn Vietnam and moved here after the war. She is sister-in-law of Harry Bahlman, the facilities manager of Jordan Hall. Fun fact, the cafe was originally known as the Jordan Hall Cafe because it was first located in Jordan Hall. She never named it Thai cafe, because it is not even Thai. It serves mostly Vietnamese soups and salads. But people kept calling it Thai cafe so she went along. The cafe has been around for 29 years, since 1987.
Can I petition to change the cafe’s name to Vietnamese cafe?