In the country that believes in ghosts that mess up the plumbing, in spirits that live in the trees, in black magic that can be thwarted by a few trips to the temple, you can also stumble upon a free meal. Like, literally stumble, while buying handkerchiefs for your dad and doilies for your dining table. A pair of shopkeepers, doing nothing more than taking their midday break. A tableful of food, brought from home, cooked by shopkeeper Sukanya’s mother from her very own recipe. A short conversation that leads to my favorite line of questioning: “Do you know about nam nueng?” “Would you like to have a taste?” “There’s so much food; can you help out? It’s unlucky to eat alone.” Who do they take me for?
Of course I stayed, of course I ate. I ate fully half of everything they had. Sukanya’s mother makes skewers and skewers of the pork meatballs, spending a good week to mix and cook the pork meat mix and several days to put together the dipping sauce, enriched with grilled pork liver and ground roasted peanuts. The sauce is what makes it — it is delicious. And although the shop, Mai Mai (which is leaving OP Place for a new location on Rama IX in May), sells a cutesy collection of linens and whatnot, they could do a good side-business with this nam nueng. Is there anything better than home-cooked food, slaved over by someone’s mother? Is there anyplace else where I could bumble into someone’s lunch, welcomed and fed like a friend and not some rando buying placemats? I suspect not. This is Thailand.
Thailand is also the country where you can be going about your regular day-to-day business only to find yourself surrounded by throngs of screaming girls at the Skytrain, bellowing at someone you can’t even see and forcing you to ask the guard what all the fuss is about. “It’s a Korean pop star,” he says, and, of course, it makes sense. My own daughter obsessively watches a string of Korean boys on Youtube all day long, doing things like wearing wigs and walking into doors. My daughter thinks it’s hilarious. It only reminds me of how old I’ve become, where I’m now that person, bewildered by her daughter’s choices in entertainment. And then I remember that it’s probably karma for Duran Duran.
Duran Duran’s music was good enough. It was passable, like how One Direction songs are considered passable and people debate with a straight face the merits of Niall’s or Harry’s songwriting skills. Duran Duran’s music was a bit like that, but with better musicianship and the most ridiculous, ludicrous lyrics ever recorded. Do you remember them? The “Union of the Snake?” “New Moon on Monday?” I dare you to reread “The Reflex” lyrics. Tell me that it isn’t a cocaine-fueled Pictionary game gone wrong. Tell me what Simon Le Bon is singing about, and I will quit writing forever.
The music wasn’t really the point though. It was really about five English angels come down to earth from a heaven called Birmingham. There was the little one, in the mold of all boy bands who have a little one. There was the cute quiet one who was shy. The androgynous one. The outgoing front man. But the prettiest one of all was John Taylor, the bassist. There is no debate about this. It’s simply a fact. And although I eventually grew and matured, and ditched my glasses and braces and changed my hair, John Taylor did not marry me. No, he chose some other woman, WHO WAS ONLY A FEW MONTHS OLDER THAN ME. And what did that woman do? She started hanging out with Courtney Love.
Unsurprisingly, they broke up. John found a very sensible woman, who was ALSO NOT ME. And this woman, she married one of the Strokes. Later, she said in an interview that she could, finally, enjoy listening to the music of her significant other. I found that a not very nice thing to say about her ex-husband. Especially since (even though Julian Casablancas was cute), the Strokes were overrated and John Taylor is a great bassist. Also, he should have picked me.
Maybe she regrets what she said. I regret what I once said, about Krua Aroy Aroy (corner of Silom and Pan Roads, 02-635-2365). I regret it so much I’m not even going to link to it. I wrote it ages ago, when this blog first started. I hadn’t been back since. But one day, meandering through the backstreets of Silom for an assignment, I found myself back there, and instead of passing it by for a quick avocado toast at Luka, I sat down.
What turned me off on my last visit, the laminated menus, the pad Thai, the salad kaek (peanut sauce-drenched greenery that is an iffy dish even under the best of circumstances) — all of that was gone. No one was there to hurry my order, no one to hover over my table as I perused a “menu”. There were specials written in Thai on a chalkboard, dishes and curries set out on the counter, and a bored-looking old woman staring off into the middle distance. Everything was as it should be in the Thai street food world.
I ordered a plate of kanom jeen (fermented rice noodles) slathered in an Indian-style yellow chicken curry with a side of ajad (cucumber-chili relish), and although it wasn’t really a proper thing to order — kanom been is usually eaten with nam ya, or nam prik, or maybe gang kiew wan — the man at the counter didn’t blink an eye. The curry was well-seasoned, the kanom jeen fresh, the chicken tender enough to fall apart from the slightest pressure of a spoon. And maybe it was the heat, or the quiet, or the pleasure of just being somewhere on my own, but my lunch made me happier for having eaten it. It’s all anyone really asks for, from a lunch, and it was at a place that I thought I disliked. This is Thailand.