Old Lady Shakes Fist at Sky

Mala skewers at the Chiang Mai Gate night market

If you need concrete evidence that popular culture sucks more today than 30 years ago, look no further than “Jurassic Park” (1993). If you haven’t seen “Jurassic Park” (and my 11-year-old son hadn’t until just a few nights ago), it’s the first movie of the series, based on books by Michael Crichton, in which scientists manage to figure out a way to recreate actual living dinosaurs with drops of blood taken from prehistoric mosquitoes. I didn’t fully appreciate it as much as it deserved when it came out, but rewatching it now, I see that it’s a fantastic movie with fantastic actors, fantastically directed by Steven Spielberg. The hero is a smart scientist who uses his intelligence and knowledge to make his way through a jungle hellscape populated by very hungry creatures with very big teeth. He does this, all the while shepherding two children who play the audience surrogates (one a dinosaur nerd, the other an unlikely computer hacker). Meanwhile, the woman is another brilliant scientist who spends the entire movie in khaki shorts and hiking boots. The rich guy is a well-meaning but dim Scottish person who unwittingly puts his grandchildren in danger. The bad guys are a greedy IT employee and a blood-sucking corporate lawyer. And the eye-candy bimbo is Jeff Goldblum.

In “Jurassic World” (2015), the heroes and villains have all switched places. The hero (Chris Pratt) is a former military guy who would be the like the game warden in the original movie, Robert Muldoon, but only if he were fused with the guy who trains orcas at Sea World and is also the walking embodiment of Axe Body Spray. The woman is the blood-sucking corporate cog whose sole superpower appears to be the ability to run full tilt in high heels (thanks to her improbably all-white outfit, she also does double-duty as the eye-candy). The rich guy is a South Asian man who is also a bad (helicopter) driver *wink wink*. And the bad guys are the scientists, because all that book learning leads to jerkfaces who use all their superior knowledge for their own nefarious devices. Watching both back-to-back, it’s easy to think the world — via pop culture, at least — has backtracked, especially when it comes to attitudes towards women, science, businesspeople, and Chris Pratt.

Well, I’m here to say that not everything has degenerated. I was pleasantly surprised on my most recent trip to Chiang Mai to find the streets liberally studded with “mala” stalls, modeled after similar stalls in China where you point to various ingredients, they get put on a wooden skewer, and are slathered in a spicy sauce and grilled over an open flame. Apparently these stalls are in every city where there are a lot of Chinese tourists, but somehow they are not really popular (yet) in Bangkok.

For someone who is *trying* to get through the short month of February with as much of a plant-based diet as is Glutton-ly possible, these mala stalls are a godsend. You can pick what you want — mushrooms, tofu, what have you — and even modulate the level of spice (original spicy, which boasts tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns), medium (really a little spicy), or not at all (sweet soy sauce). You can watch what you choose as it cooks in front of you. And it’s a mere 5 baht per skewer. It’s a clean eating meal (for the most part) that also costs a handful of coins. You don’t need to be a blood-sucking corporate cog to recognize this for the deal that it is.

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