This is a story that has absolutely nothing to do with me. It, uh, happened to a friend. Let’s call her Shmangkok Shmutton*.
Anyway, she was at a party last night. She doesn’t get invited to many parties. So her default behavior at parties is either abject terror or overzealous socializing, with much European-style kissy-kissy and blithe misreading of obvious body language. She was in the latter mode.
About halfway into the evening, it gradually dawned on me, I mean her: no one was coming up to me to talk. All my conversations were because of me coming up to other people, and with the exception of a couple of extremely heroic people, almost all conversations ended with pleas to go get beer/wine/noodles/haircut/lobotomy within the span of a few minutes. I was that person at the party. I was That Person At The Party! Oh, I mean She. Shmangkok Shmutton.
You know that person. Who goes up to talk to a group of people, and one person politely obliges, taking the flack for the benefit of the herd, who form their own self-protective little circle, leaving their friend out in the cold until the threat passes. You know what I’m talking about.
It takes a while, but she gradually gets it. They’re just not that into you. And when I say “you”, I mean “me”. And when I say “me”, I mean “she”. Things change, people change, and that mysterious alchemy that dictates alliances and connections: work, money, fat, success or lack of it — all of these things tinker with the balance of things, rearranging the world by degrees as the years press inexorably on. Some people will like you (I mean her. Is this tiresome yet?) Some people will not. It is supposed to be a natural thing, this liking and disliking, this shift that dictates one person is awesome while another is The Worst. Why fight it?
So I’ll come clean. Even though I like to think of myself as a “food person”, I thought I hated Chinese food. It was hard, because it is a big country and my parents are both the most gigantimongous fans of this food ever. Like most Thais, they see it as the epitome of cuisine, particularly Cantonese, the abalone and the shark’s fin, edible Louis Vuitton. But I was just not that into it, remembering the countless 2-hour journeys to Cleveland to a Cantonese restaurant called Bo Loong, sitting with my forehead to the table with dry rice on my plate as my parents ate their fill.
But that mysterious alchemy has since worked its magic. Now, I cannot get enough of it. I’m not talking gloopy canned asparagus and evil shark’s fin. I’m talking the Sichuan security blanket that is mabo tofu, garlicky long beans, the long list of dumplings that come in every possible variation.
Because there is a blossoming of northern Chinese-style restaurants in Bangkok that shun the usual trappings — Cantonese prestige dishes, Peking duck (there must always be Peking duck), lobster sashimi. They are the anti-status restaurants: dingy, hole-in-the-wall places with no-nonsense service still redolent of the mainland, staff who barely speak Thai, and a menu brimming with dumplings, green beans, sweet lacquered eggplant “fries”, and, of course, tofu slathered in a black bean sauce studded with pork.
They all have basically the same menu. They are either off of Sukhumvit (Dalian behind Villa supermarket on Sukhumvit 33, or the suspiciously slick one off of Sukhumvit 39); on Rama IV (Longcheu near the entrance to Sukhumvit 22, or Sun Moon on Ngam Dumplee Road); or in the business district (Ran Nam Toahu Yung Her near Chong Nonsi BTS stop). And although those dishes are executed with varying degrees of skill and enjoy varying degrees of popularity, these restaurants are all delicious. In short: I am into them.
*Names are changed in this story.
8 responses to “Mysterious alchemy”
This is great!
I love a Bangkok Chinese breakfast in particular.
Well, breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
Although I’ve “just not that into” Chinese, I have no problem eating it because my need to blindly stuff my face is more pressing. But I have ALWAYS been a whole-hearted dumpling person and would love to explore exotic unknown areas just trying different forms of dumplings if you ever want to!
Until then, I will keep myself happy with neighborhood perogies.
You know, pierogies really are very similar to Chinese dumplings in many ways. I wonder if those cultures came up with them independently, or if influence from one place to the other was involved.
Dear BG – sorry to hear about your ‘not so jolly’ party experience. I can relate to that, although in a different way…. CT and I have recently moved home to a new state 700kms away from where we were living, and are having to start over to find parties….. not so easy 🙂
So far we have had 3 visitors from our ‘old lives’, but have not yet found enough new friends to manage a party! One of the challenges of life can be to stay connected to the people that you value. I have had some very big disappointments in the past when people that I thought valued me seemed to stop caring – it is natural to think that I must have done something to cause a rift, but CT reminds me that, as you say – people and things move on.
I did not try Chinese food until I was in my late teens, and while it was ‘interesting and different’ I’m sure it was noting like the delights of real Chinese food. We’ll have to hunt those restaurants out when we are next in Bangkok.
Yes! What I’m seeing is that the Chinese restaurant scene — as old and well-entrenched as it is here — is showing more varieties of Chinese food, finally. People are taking more risks, if only by degrees.
I’m sure people tell you to give yourself time to settle in after a big move — it really is all you need. Plenty of time to make friends, lose some, and make them again!
More names of Northern Chinese restaurants, please? I’m making a little list for when I come–Sichuan pepper is one of my primary addictions and that region’s cookery is my second favorite next to Thai.
I will definitely be searching new places out before your visit — every week someone is saying “have you tried…”
and I am forever making a mental note to find this or that place. Sichuan on the top of my list!