Chapter8: Whimsically Wanders Wildly Wherever by Gale Myers
Whimsically Wanders Wildly Wherever
It’s surprising how many Thai women have a similar marking just on, or just below their inner calf, usually the right. I noticed it quite awhile ago on the streets, subways, markets, wherever women were walking or sitting in skirts or shorts. The marks vary slightly in size and shape, but they are generally small, often kind of triangular, usually just a smooth square inch or two of slightly darker skin. Not really that noticeable until I realized how often it appeared on so many women of such a variety of ages, shapes, and social classes. It finally dawned on me that I had one myself, and with apologies to several women friends, I have made my own contributions to this, shall we say, mark of initiation. Motorcycle exhaust pipe burn. Biker chick tattoo. With a society whose major means of transportation is the 125cc motorbike it’s almost a given occurrence. I’ve seen whole families from infants to grandmas piled on these tiny conveyances weaving off through traffic as nonchalant as a family of Americans in an SUV. Children spend their first few years riding in front of the driver. Then they graduate to the back, sometimes their tiny feet still dangling above the pipes. Time and repetition seem to inevitably take their toll and, one day, zap!
I’ve commented before about how placid so many of the dogs and cats appear in Thailand. I’ve seen dogs lying in curbs of busy streets, on subway exits just inches from teeming pedestrian traffic. Sound asleep. Yesterday I was walking down a sidewalk alongside a major city street and there was a cat sprawled out in the scant shade of.scrawny tree. Even the feral cats here aren’t super high strung. In the States if you put out a hand and go “Hey kitty, kitty” in that falsetto we seem to presume cats respond to, you’ll be lucky to bring back a bloody stump. Here the cats just look at you as they stalk away stuffily, as if saying, “Hey man, what are you doing? Can’t you see I’m a cat?!”
Well, I went to the local week-end night market last Saturday and observed a new parameter in Thailand animal equanimity. Now I know most of you have noticed that I do exaggerate some incidents for the sake of humor (no, no, it’s true) or just to more vividly illustrate the essence of the experience. (I prefer that explanation) but in this, I am not making this up one bit nor exaggerating a jot or a tittle.
I was strolling along with the throng and I noticed a woman selling bottles of honey. The same size and shape bottle as a fifth of booze. I think that’s 750 cc’s, you all know the size of a fifth of booze. That’s a pretty good size jar of honey! The price was 120 baht, or a little less than $4. The exchange is about 30 baht to a dollar. We usually round out a 100 baht note to $3. Although I don’t have a toaster, nor have I ever bought bread here, I couldn’t pass up the deal. Plus it was really fresh honey. To illustrate this she had the bottles lined up next to a small pile of honey combs with the honey just oozing through all the cells. And lying around, all around the combs, were the commie workers themselves. A couple of hundred bees were just lounging around on the honey combs, lying flat out on the small table while people walked by and the lady was selling their hard earned barf right out in the open.
Now the last time I had any experience around a live bee hive, I was with Gordy Lee and we were returning home after a day at the bluffs messing around the Kern River in my home town of Bakersfield. We spotted a bunch of bees trickling in and out of a hole where there was a gap in the support pipes supporting the road up the bluffs. We could see the honey combs just an arm length back into the hole. “Well, hell, that ain’t far.” we agreed. So the next logical thing would be to put our t-shirts back on and reach back in real quick and grab some honey comb, then high tail it out of there. It took a couple of tries and I wound up only getting stung about 4 times but the 5th time, that little commie sucker got me right on the eyelid.
I decided right then and there that I would be better off a couple of hundred yards on the home side of what was, by then, an angry swarm of buzzing, stingy stinging ass holes, and I mean that literally. By the time I got home I looked like Charles Laughton playing Quasimodo. The only bell being rung was my head. For a day or so I couldn’t decide which was worse, the itching, or the pain when I tried to scratch the itch. Consequently I experienced both conditions repeatedly during my recovery. Oh….. no honey.
Well this time, the lady just smiled, put the bottle of honey in a bag and took my 120 baht. I looked in the bag though and there was a bee walking around his product. I laughed and said, “All right, I got one of the workers.” She just laughed (although she didn’t know what I had said), reached in and plucked that sucker between her thumb and index finger and put him back on the comb. He didn’t buzz or fuss a bit. As far as I know he just lay there and resumed sawing a few zzz’z
I forgot to mention another experience I had in Chang Mai. When I was in Bangkok going to the Gemology courses at the Asian Institute of Gemological Science back in 1986, I had dinner one evening with one of the other students and her family. Pummy was a sweet young motherly type that everyone in the class just adored. She and her husband were from India. They were quite wealthy. They owned a compound downtown that took up several lots, had several homes housing various branches of their extended family, and could only be entered through a security gate with several guards patrolling it.
I remember having an exquisite dinner with many courses involved. When we were through with all the courses, Pummy said to me, “Now we are having desert but don’t worry, we won’t be offended if you don’t like it. I must warn you it smells very powerful and most people who aren’t acquainted with the Durian fruit are turned off by the smell.”
I so appreciated her forethought because, even with the powerful smell I managed to try a bite but I couldn’t get past that smell and declined any further pieces.
There are signs at the entry to the subways listing the things that aren’t allowed on the premises. No smoking, no firearms, no photos or video, no large packages, no food or drink, and, it gets its own sign…no durian fruit. Most hotels don’t allow durian in their rooms. I’ve never seen or smelled it in restaurants either. But I have seen it being sold on the sides of the road in Chang Mai. The only place it seems available are from isolated pick up trucks, or I’ve seen a few on stands near an outdoor market but they generally have their own little area. They are about the size of a large pineapple and they are usually sold in sections wrapped tightly in plastic. They are quite expensive and touted as the King of Fruit. My favorite descriptions of Durian are from an author quoted by Jerry Hopkins in his excellent book Thailand Confidential. The writer described the durian as looking “like a cross between a pineapple and an armadillo.” I can’t add a thing to that that would make the appearance any more clear. He went on to describe the experience of eating durian is like “eating your favorite ice cream while sitting on the toilet.” Again, I bow to a master of experience and erudition.
So, not withstanding my long ago experience with this unique fruit, I was eager to try it again. I finally persuaded Tic to pull over to one of the stands and I purchased a bag containing a pretty good size couple of sections of the pale white, slippery fruit. Probably a little less than a kilo, costing about $5. It kind of looked like large flat grapefruit sections with a tougher membrane separating the sections. It was gooier in some parts than others and some parts, Tic said, were better than others, kind of like mango, I guess. Very sensitive in its ripening stages and one fruit can have several stages of maturity randomly distributed throughout the single fruit.
We motored over to a pleasantly shaded park near one of the border canals, rented a reed mat and settled down to a pleasant lunch. We had also bought some barbeque chicken and pork strips and some bottled water. I opened the durian first because I wanted to be hungry when I tried it to give it every chance of winning me over. Well, it smelled pretty much as I remembered but not as shocking as my first experience. Probably because I was prepared for it and had even exaggerating the smell in my imagination. But it was still pungent, to put it kindly. Tic tried some and gave me the sections she said were the best pieces. I tried. I even ate a whole section, biting into the portion at least five times. I savored it, I tried to locate all the subtle nuances of the flavor. I employed the same degree of appreciation as my indulgence in the intricacy of a fine scotch. I love the way a fine scotch plays with your taste buds and olfactory senses for long minutes as it hops around the spectrum of gustatory pleasure.
Nope. I tried, I really tried. And I will try again. I checked with Tic. She said, “yes it’s a good one.” I let her have the rest of mine and I dug into the barbeque chicken and pork. She polished off the durian then had some som tan (I probably totally missed this spelling), it’s an Essan green mango, pepper salad that most of the Thais seem to love. I haven’t taken to it either. I prefer ripe sweet mangoes but that’s a whole different dish. After lunch I read some more of the Game of Thrones series on my Kindle and Tic did some knitting then we both fell asleep in the shade.
I just lost a good 3 hours of typing. I’m really not feeling too good. I’m going to take a break, It was a stupid, stupid click of the key that really shouldn’t have happened. #$%!!
First, Thank you all who commiserated and sent me like examples of their own folly, and even anecdotes from well known authors who suffered even greater setbacks in their writing experience. I will endeavor to persevere. (Chief Dan George in Little Big Man)
I’ve been back in Bangkok a couple of weeks now. I made a visa run to a small burg on the Cambodian border. I lazed out and took a chartered bus with a company who specializes in renewing visas. The Thais have a constantly changing, ever confusing visa system. It’s easier to just pay a couple of thousand baht and the pros take care of all the maddening details for you.
Has anyone not heard of the 3 Iranian “terrorists” who managed to set off 3 explosions one afternoon in Bangkok. The first one was by accident. They blew the roof off their hotel room down on Sukhumvit 71. As they ran out the neighbors observed them, one of them whose face was bleeding tried to hail a taxi. The taxi wouldn’t pick him up. He threw another packet of C4 at the taxi, damaging the taxi and injuring two bystanders slightly. This pissed off the taxi driver so he got out and started chasing the Iranian and yelling for others to help. The crowd was chasing the bleeding guy who then lobbed another “grenade”, the Bangkok Post called it, at a police car that was approaching. The grenade bounced off a passing truck, rolled back to the terrorist and blew his legs off. They caught him, the guy who shortened himself by a couple of feet, at the scene. They caught another one at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport, and the Malaysian authorities caught the third guy at their airport in Kuala Lumpor. Now there is going to be weeks of international haggling about extradition of the one guy, trials and motivation of the trio, travel warnings and the subsequent protests by the tourism bureau of Thailand, finger pointing and hyperbole galore. An Israeli group is tying it in with some other attempts against an Israeli embassy in another country. That may well be true. I just have trouble with the idea that such bumbling amateurs could hold together an international activity. They actually had photos taken of themselves partying with some Thai ladies in Phuket a couple of weeks ago. Right in the Bangkok Post the picture wound up. Their code names must be Larry, Curly, and Mo. Ironically, the bus that took us on the visa run that same day picked us up at a coffee house on Sukhumvit 63, and I stopped in Soi Cowboy at Sukhumvit 23 that evening for a beer to ease the jitters from 8 hours on a bus.
On a lighter note I attended an outdoor concert last Sunday at the Lumphini Park outdoor amphitheater. It was the last in a seasonal series by the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra. They are actually quite good. A European opera singer was a guest with them. They played standards like the William Tell Overture, Carmen’s Toreador Aria, a selection from The King and I, and Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld among others. They also played some of the present King’s compositions which were quite pleasing to my ear. He plays saxophone, I believe, and has some recordings out ranging from jazz, to modern classical. He is quite an enlightened individual and the Thais truly revere and love him. An old expat here was telling me that he is very concerned about what may happen when the King dies. He is 84 now, and has had some health problems lately. He is a significant force in the Thai society He is a uniting and calming force between the people and the political-military factions of the government. I swear it seems to be a world wide phenomenon that political parties are self serving parasites who maintain control but not harmony, are composed of politicians but not statesmen, and whose only good comes as a bi-product of manipulation rather than a quest for serving their country in an honorable effort to serve the people. My Dad used to say the best government is a benign dictatorship. Only problem is it’s only guaranteed for one generation. The present King Bumiphol does not actually rule the politics of Thailand but he is a strong influence with the masses and the political factions have to be very careful in their public regard for his personage.
Oddly, the movie The King and I, about a former king in the early 20th century of late 19th century, with Yul Brynner, is still banned in Thailand. Yet they play the music from it and it’s performed by the official Bangkok Symphony Orchestra. This evening the opera singer also sang Whitney Huston’s, She, in tribute to her passing this day. (forgive my spelling for the king’s name and Whitney Huston, I might have them wrong)(but they’re phonetically close!) This coming Sunday, the 19th, a Japanese fusion group is playing at the park with those big drums and all that primitive powerful sound. I don’t know how it’s going to add up to fusion but it should be an interesting evening.
Gotta go. Restaurant is getting crowded…..more later.