Delightful Thailand 2
Jingle bells…. it is a lively Christmas party in Old Europe. Anke next to me is munching away on fat greasy chocolate biscuits. She wants some conversation: "So in Asia – what do people eat over there?" I remember my visit to Mukdahan's pleasant night market, so I go: "Oh, they like fresh fried cockroaches, black and oily!"
A spattering of semi-chewed fat greasy chocolate biscuit goes all over the table.
Anke covers her mouth with both hands. Her eyes scream horror. I hand her a napkin. 20 people around us send uncomfortable looks. But now I feel compelled to explain further. "Yes", I go, "customers squeeze the fried black oily cockroaches with one finger to check if they were fried correctly, you know, consistency and all, like we do with a mango."
One more chocolate spattering.
Anke is really really upset. She looks sick. But what's the problem here? Now, I feel responsible to keep up conversation: "I think, a well done cockroach Mukdahan style is actually a more healthy snack than those industrial fat greasy chocolate biscuits you are munching all evening." Alternative-minded Anke, who likes to think of herself as an open-minded lady agrees, still with a pale face: "Yes, I guess so". So I ask her: "Then, would you like to try fried cockroach?"
One more spattering.
Nakhon Phanom (1)
I sit in this Restaurant alone, like so many times. Two tables across, there is a mixed group of five young, interesting people, I guess academics. There is one especially interesting girl, with her ethno style bandana she looks somewhat arty and individualistic by Isaan standards. While I my very good fish from Mekong river floating almost under my feet, I get the occasional look from over there. (Not that I do not stare.)
The waiter removes the empty plate, I lean back – and the group invites me to their table. Sometimes I deeply enjoy being alone, especially for my after dinner koma. But of course this is Thailand, and I would be really stupid to turn down an invitation from interesting people. So there we are, 5 Thais and a farang, sharing some beer and coke, talk-talking in some Thai-English mix. They are all academics who have graduated about two years ago, and yes – they did study arts, including the interesting, but very shy girl.
I mention my knack for luuk thung, Thai folk pop, so they decide to finish meal and take me to some live venue. We have some nice talk there – as far as possible. The interesting girl remains interesting, but incredibly shy. I merely find out her name, Khun Noi, and we talk about some interesting old photographs she found in her parents' home.
Around midnight, they want to treat me for a snack. They know I do stay in that most expensive hotel right on Mae Nam Khong, so they want to take me to the hotel restaurant. Me, I like to sleep in a comfy clean quiet hotel room for the night. But I never fancied hotel restaurants, I prefer night markets etc. But it is not possible to stop them from going to that posh, bland place with me. Have they ever been there? We sit down, have some fruit juices plus very delicious finger food and some super boring karaoke performance from some singer. The bill turns up, it is about 780 Baht for the six of us. One girl pays everything. I want to pay that bill, to slip her at least 500 baht, but I have no chance. "NO!!! NO!!! We friends!!!!" I accompany them to the door, and I see that everybody is giving one or two hundred baht to the girl who paid everything first. I like that way of sharing, and of course I want to join in and want to smuggle at least 200 baht into her wallet. I am doing that as discreetly as possible, no big words or gestures, but no chance: "NO!!! NO!!!" I tried hard, but maybe I should have tried harder? Even today I feel bad about not contributing to the costs of that late night snack. I really wanted to contribute, offer my money – but "NOOO!!, We friends!!!"
An airport security man smiling, chuckling, giggling, flushing? At Bangkok's Don Muang airport? Can it be? Here is how you do it:
1. Walk through the electronic security gate, beeping or not.
2. Let him check you with his hand-held metal detector, beeeeeep, finding some metal somewhere.
3. There are some coins in your purse. Let him browse your purse, which also holds ticket, passport and airport tax bill.
4. And now, suddenly, your security man, who already had checked 10.000 other passengers today, he smiles, chuckles, giggles, flushes. What is this?
5. You slowly awake from your usual airport trance. This security man has some very obscure behaviour. His head looking down, but his eyes looking up to you, you see in his hand what he found in your purse…
6. Now you flush – heck, what are those t h r e e c o n d o m s doing in your purse??
7. The security man giggles like a child, looking at you, looking at them rubbers… He looks like "Boy o boy, I do know you!"
8. You smile back like "Gentleman, everything ok, no?"
9. Obviously, condoms are not deemed a security threat to aerial mass transport: He lets you walk away to your gate.
10. You look back to him – and his eyes do follow you.
11. You smile, he smiles.
12. Hey, you have a new buddy at Don Muang. Enjoy your flight.
Nakhon Phanom (2)
Near the clock tower, right on the edge of lazy Mekong river, there is a string of internet services. Khun Noi walks in and buys the usual password for one-hour-usage, that’s a mere 15 baht up there. As so many Asians, she has a Yahoo account, so she logs into Yahoo-dot-com, and for the first time she will write to a farang! Shy Khun Noi, believe it. There she goes: "Sawaas dee khaaa Khun Pothole Research :-)… Sabai-dee mai khaa ? :-)" All her Thai smiles she is transcripting into smiley emoticons. I guess she had pondered her move for weeks, she may have consulted dictionaries, friends and family, but now she finally types across the miles: "You remember we talked about the old photographs my parents have? 🙂 ? You like to see them, chai mai? OK! But you promise me, you send pictures back? You send me promise, OK, I can send pictures to you 🙂 Oh, and Isaan now not so hot anymore 🙂 Can sleep well now! 🙂 Good luck to you, from Noi :-)!" Khun Noi hits "Send".
Two days later there is one e-mail from Farangland in her Yahoo in folder: Of course I do promise to return her family pictures promptly. So Noi visits her parents' house and gets those pictures about 40 to 10 years old now: Her father as a young, serious man. Her mother as his fiancée – in a very conservative, yet sexy dress, and breathtakingly beautiful. Her parents' wedding with strange rituals. A little Khun Noi as a baby, lots of relatives, her going to school… old old Thailand, miraculous, lost in time, she dreams away over the pictures as I dream away later, 10000 kilometers apart… Some photographs are just few centimeters wide, many black-and-white, some faded, some with coffee stains or notes in Thai on them. A treasure. Noi writes a number on the back of every picture, and for every number she writes a comment for me. So I can learn about her pompous graduation celebration, but also about her trips to cold national parks. Sometimes she wants to show me one certain person in a group picture, so she cuts a triangle out of some silver duct tape and fixes it right on the photographs, pointing to that brother or friend she wants to talk about. Shy Khun Noi! Everything into an envelope, and off to the post office.
About one week later, Khun Noi receives another e-mail from Farangland. "Dear Khun Noi! Khop khun maaaaak khrap, the pictures already arrived today 🙂 I will have a closer look tonight or tomorrow and send them back this same week, ok?"
About 10 more days later, Khun Noi receives a big padded envelope with a farang stamp on it. She walks back to the internet places on the river side, she still has 10 free minutes on the one-hour-password she bought about 3 weeks ago: "Dear Khun Pothole 🙂 Khop khun khaa for sending back the pictures so quickly! Everything back here now 🙂 And thank you for including these 'jelly baby chewing gum bears' 🙂 Arroy maak… When do you come back to Isaan? You can bring more of them 🙂 "
About 200 school kids in blue and white uniform practice gymnastics on the dusty school yard. Some huge old trees protect them from the scorching sun. Their movements are quite precisely in sync, it even looks like some military exercise. It is sleepy old countryside on Isaan's outer reaches, west of Chiang Khan. Roads are empty except for just one farang, on his fake 125 cc Honda, roaring about in a semi-clean shirt, doing pothole research on Isaan's rocky roads. The school kids do their exercises very nicely, simultaneously. Just another sunny day in Isaan…
Suddenly all hell breaks loose on the school yard. The youngsters give up their formation and jump in every direction. All discipline is gone. What a mess. They scream… Obviously, farangs are thin on the ground in that part of Loei province. When the school kids see me bumping along their school yard, they forget their teachers, their exercise, their surprising discipline. 200 young ones scream: "Hello mistAAAH, farAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAng, hellOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" I wave back, hit some more potholes, avoid to look at the teachers' faces, shake my head, withhold tears, roar on – "HellOOOOOOO mistAAAAAAAAAH!!!" Only in Thailand.
Nakhon Phanom (3)
Every now and then, Khun Noi visits one of the internet shops on the river side. She has bought more one-hour-passwords. She sends some lines to Europe. Shy Khun Noi, by e-mail she is more talkative than offline. She keeps Pothole up to date about the cool season, problems at the office. She discovers they do scan paper pictures which she can put right into her e-mails. So one day she sends pictures of her friends at the office to Khun Pothole, one time it is just her face that she pastes into the mail. Some lovely snapshots from Loy Khratong too, I had told her how much I wanted to see that special holiday. One week later, something new is on her mind: "Maybe you think funny… 🙂 But i never have boyfriend… maybe now i like boyfriend… 🙂 I am 29 now! 🙂 What is your advice?"
Tuan is a cute little boy, about five years old. Initially he is shy towards farangs or maybe towards everybody, but his lust for some rough action is stronger. So whenever his Thai parents start one of their rude marital arguments, I suggest a football match or a bicycle trip to him. Little Tuan obviously is not sure about this farang, but anyway has fun playing football or riding the bike with me.
Another very disturbing marital quarrel, it is really disgusting. Tuan is watching his parents with very big brown worried eyes. "Play football, chawp mai?" I ask Tuan. We can communicate like that. Yes, good idea for him, so we venture out into the garden. But the football has disappeared. Too bad that the bicycle is broken, too. Now what? I remember a game that is called "helicopter" or "carousel", Italians call it "giratonda": With my both hands I take Tuan's hands. He looks sceptical as ever, but definitely wants to know what's next. So I lift him up and turn around myself quickly. Tuan is flying horizontally through the air like the seat of a chairoplane. He is shrieking with joy – first time is see him extrovert like that.
Of course, after a few rounds I am tired. I have to stop, l lie down under a tree. Little Tuan waiting patiently, his eyes saying "one more round, ok, chawp mai?" Ok, ok, young one – just o n e more session, ok? I take him up again, turn him around faster and faster, almost smash him into a tree. Tuan again is shrieking with joy, while I soon will break down. I am too dizzy, I have to lie down again.
With big brown eyes, little Tuan is watching a heavily breathing farang in the grass. "One more round", his eyes are saying. But I cannot: "Sorry, Tuan, I am tired now – mai dai!" Tuan turns away. Boring adults, boring farangs! He walks off. Cat "Didi" passes his way. Tuan smiles. With a few sweet sounds, the cat can be convinced to walk right into Tuan's hands – he might have some delicious fish or meat for her? Not so: Tuan takes Didi's forelegs and plays helicopter/carousel/giratonda with the poor animal. He is turning the cat in the air in ever faster circles…
The feline is not shrieking with joy.
Nakhon Phanom (4)
This part still has to be lived and written. But I am sure it will delightful as ever, or even more so.