Stickman Readers' Submissions March 22nd, 2004

Gone Fishing (In Isaan) Part 6

A couple of the guys with the rice picking troupe started a small fire behind the big shade tree with some straw and twigs. From their pockets they pulled out a couple of small plastic bags filled with something I couldn't make out, and probably didn't want to see, really. You never really know what the hell a Thai person will pull out of their pockets at times. It's sometimes best not to know!

One of them went to the big tree and pulled off a largish chunk of curved bark from its trunk and returned with it to the fire. The two of them squatted there, passing back and forth one of the bottles of Lao Khao I had brought, like a couple of witches around a smokey boiling cauldron of potions, made up of probably the same things these guys were cooking. I looked away, and chatted some more with the wife and her Sis.

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I ate some sticky rice, which I do love, some chicken and other bits of this and that which the wife and Sis would offer to me.

Like a boob I tried one of the chilli dishes that everyone seemed to be enjoying so much and eating with much relish. Just had a small taste. The stuff was like eating nuclear waste, and burned another layer off my damned esophagus on the way down to my gut, where it sat like a ball of molten lava. I quickly sucked down half my beer, and stuffed my face with a huge glob of sticky rice to try to salvage my innards and put out the fire. "Jesus Christ woman!" I exclaim to my wife in a croaking voice, "What the hell is that? Pure peppers?!"

Everyone who noticed found this amusing, jabbing those around them with their elbows, and cackling and pointing with undisguised laughter and glee at the silly farang who can't handle the peppers they find so easy to digest. Friggin' mental cases. How the hell can they eat this stuff?!!

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The thing is, I like hot and spicy foods! I eat Mex all the time, love chillies and jalapenos, even jabenieros (sic?), and have it made as hot and spicy as I can usually. BUT, this Thai stuff can be lethal to your insides. Fucking hot these little peppers are!! Being the fool I am though I always HAVE to taste everything, just to see if I'll like it, especially if it's something I don't recognize as having had before. I crossed this dish off my list of things to ask for at dinner. Ever.

The two warlocks came back to the picnic feast after a few minutes, walking around and offering their recently campfire cooked fare to all and sundry on its now slightly charred plate of bark, including me, who politely refused upon seeing the huge grubs and grasshoppers they'd found while picking the rice fields, and saved to prepare later for their lunch. I'll pass fellas. More for you guys, okay?

I know guys who eat this fare, farangs. They all swear it's very tasty. Just protein after all really. I suppose I'd eat it gladly if I was starving, but I'm not, and don't need to. And hopefully will never be so badly off as to need to supplement my protein intake with friggin' bugs, no matter how tasty they are claimed to be. Another dish I'll pass on for dinner.

Sis and wife, once over with their own traitorous giggling, proceeded to pull a couple writhing bags of bugs from my wife's own pockets to further regale themselves at my expense. They explained that the rice fields were full of them, and the wife was saving them for our daughter, who loves them, to eat later that evening. "I know that." I tell them, "I've bought enough of the things for her to eat haven't I? More fresh Lao popcorn for her right?" They giggle and explain to some of the others my calling the fried grasshoppers "Lao popcorn", which gets them all laughing.

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Once the lunch feasting is finished they all sit about in the shade drinking the last of the beers and lao khao, most just drinking cool ice water, smoking cigarettes, a few chewing betal nut, joking and laughing, some napping for a bit, all preparing themselves for the back-breaking labors ahead for the next few hours under the hottest part of the day's sun.

The sister who owns the rice fields finally starts to rouse everyone up and back to working the fields after the lunch hour is up. Sis and wife and a couple other women gather the plates and utensils and such together, and I help Sis carry it all back to the back of the pick-up truck for cleaning later.

Everyone else starts to replace their earlier removed layers of sun protecting clothing back on. The two guys who started the small campfire go behind the tree and help Smokey the Bear prevent rice field fires by pissing on the flames, and effectively get the job done in a cloud of urine steam and some chuckling.

A few take out sharpening stones, spit on them, and whet those curved rice picking sickle blades that need a better edge. Wicked looking instruments these. Never argue with a Thai when he has one of these in his hands, nor the wife. Not that I'm afraid of the little wench, but when she has a sharp instrument in her hand I know when to keep my fresh mouth shut! Heads are wrapped with a variety of dark cloths, cheap 17 baht straw hats tied back on, and they all start to walk back to where they had left off working in the fields before going to lunch.

I said goodbye to all, and to my wife, and Sis and I headed back to the pick-up to spend the rest of the day lazing about fishing while the rest worked the fields.

"Where to Sis?" I asked her once we were in the truck. She pointed to a small pond way over in the already picked rice fields down another dirt road that branched off from the other sister's farm. More property owned by her family, actually by her now, as it was left to her when her father died.

In the distance I could see a shimmering spot of water a few hundred yards away. I started up the truck and we trundled along the red dusty pot-holed dirt road to a spot where we could park off the side at a closer point to where we needed to walk in. The cab of the truck was sweltering, even though I had left the windows down. I put on my shades, wiped my forehead of sweat, and whistled my fishing ditty as we bounced along.

(to be continued)

Stickman says:

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