Well, Pheung and I developed a taste for each other : My ribs had healed so I could laugh again. She was a natural comedian and never ever scared to take the piss out of any situation. I like Lao folks!
She was also very gentle and many a Sunday afternoon were spent in Lumpini Park just watching the sun travel across the sky whilst I tried to work out what she was actually saying – always with a sort of trilling but throaty laugh.
I soon learned to say, “Nahm Pheung”, (Honey), which seemed to make her want to slap me, hard, on the back whilst she laughed even harder. Just a character.
She was a cook or a chef, this I knew, but one afternoon I cooked up a pot of potato soup. I have no idea if U.S. citizens enjoy potato soup but in Europe we eat this instead of breast milk!
Pheung had a sniff, then a taste, and declared it to be, ‘soup farang’. Then she ate three bowls, burped, got her magazine, read for a while then went to sleep.
I went into the courtyard, saw Rob so we retired into the soi to down a couple of beers. Rob nearly always had a pork chop with chips for his evening meal, why I don’t know, but perhaps it was the only thing that his wife had learned
to cook? (She was bone idle). He asked how the woman that he couldn’t understand was doing. I replied that she was having a ‘norn’. (sleep).
“Aha”, he replied, “Getting up to speed with the locals, is she?"
Got to laugh haven’t you?
Later I returned to my room ; Pheung was wearing those blue silky pyjamas and asleep. Her hair, just so long was spread across the bed and my thoughts were anything but honourable.
However, she was asleep so carefully and quietly I got into bed, put an arm around her, my head into her shoulder and drifted off….she was ever so cuddly.
Two days later I came home from work. Alain had arrived once more and was sitting on the porch eating what looked suspiciously like a bowl of potato soup.
“Sawatdii Alain, tam arai." (‘Hello Alain, what are you doing?’).
“Eh, Coleen, your lady give me this soup, it is very good, does she have a sister?"
This was confusing but within minutes the mighty Pheung appeared at the porch with a steaming bowl of soup and a lump of bread.
It took some time to get the explanation / translation from her how she knew how to make this, but it appeared that all she had done was to watch me previously, remember the taste, and the rest was easy.
Talk about pig in a mudhole ; that was me from then on. Pheung could cook, gosh could she cook.
You know that Lao dish made from pork and pineapple with chilli? Oh arrghh……just so fresh and lovely. Or the eggs in the shell steamed in rice with ginger? Help!
She got a fish once from the market across the way, cleaned it then packed it with limes and garlic.
Then steamed it. All the time laughing away to herself as she threw glances in my direction. (I never quite knew if her eyes were sending flirtitious looks or ‘soon you die’ looks – it could be on occasion a bit confusing).
Then one Sunday we went to a place in Nana which used to, (maybe still does?), give out free chilli con carne on Sunday lunch times. The only reason we were there was a friend had been seen off and needed to borrow some money, Pheung not
being a fan of the bar scene at all. We ate the chilli then a cheesy grin announced, “Mai phet." (Not spicy).
But she had another couple of bowls…..
Later that evening she decided to show me how to make some Lao food. All you need is a lettuce, some minced pork, garlic and ginger. Water and Nahm Pla are essential of course. Bloody good and I still cook it to this day.
The week went on, I went to work, Pheung was was trying to organise her poster business, then one evening I arrived to find the construction workers from the Bumrumgrad Hospital extension sitting at tables outside the shoppete.
Pheung was there also with a very large cooking pot.
She looked happy and gave me the biggest grin that I think that I have ever received in my life.
She had knocked up a whole load of chilli con carne – spiced to satisfy the Isaan taste! 10 Baht a helping and 2 Baht for rice, she reckoned she’d scored 100 Baht profit.
I manfully tried a plate before deciding that edible napalm was not to my particular taste before wandering off to find Rob.
He was wolfing this concotion down his neck as I looked on amazed. I have no problem with Som Tam bep lao pet pet, but this was too much.
“Rob?”, I asked, “Is that not a bit strong?"
“No,”, he replied, “I’m already drunk."
I was reading the ‘Quiet American’ once more when Pheung arrived in the room having cleaned her cooking utensils. She announced, or I think she did, that everyone liked her ‘Ahaan farang’.
Then she gave that lovely chortle and legged it for a shower.
The next morning Rob was into the Saeng Som early ; I asked why.
“Neutralise the colon Col, that’s why. Emm, can she make lentil soup?"
I laughed. He continued, “Can you teach her English or even Thai, I don’t have a clue what she’s on about ninety percent of the time."
I laughed again. “Any chance of that recipe? Make a bloody fortune so we could!."
Turning to my door I shouted, “Pheung, maa nee, leo!."
Comments to follow.