Asia | South East Asia | Thailand | North Thailand | Chiang Mai – Uninvited
5.12.2003, Friday, Chiang Mai
Define: pathetic – sitting in a guesthouse room, drinking Singha mixed with Sprite and Red Bull to make it last longer and eating tom yam-flavoured crisps. To all my Muslim friends – sorry for that beer, but you would be delighted to know that Ive explicitly asked at the cooking school to be allowed to cook with chicken instead of pork. I should have asked for the same for fish, as the only two dishes I cooked and didnt enjoy eating were red curry with fish yesterday and steamed fish in banana leaves today, although, as some of you might have guessed, the pyramid-shaped banana wrapping of mine was immaculately correct.
Yesterday evening Andrea, a Spanish girl I met at the cooking school, and I went to Chiang Mais night market, unequivocally discovering the ultimate purpose of Thailand as the enormous shopping feast. I didnt know if Andrea liked shopping or not, yet it was me, a sworn shopping-hater, going crazy and ending up with a bag full of local so-called art. All in all, walking did me good, as after breakfast and six dishes at the school that day I felt more than satiated. I felt I could burst.
So I decided to take it easy today, that one thing wiser, and had no breakfast. Instead, I started my day with a little success of mine – fried big noodles with sweet soy sauce, after which we had a short break in eating and busied ourselves with three successive dishes meant for lunch – yellow curry with chicken, steamed fish in banana leaves and my personal favourite, chicken with cashew nuts. Although I had only some of the noodles and curry, and hardly touched the fish, when the time came for the spicy prawn salad north-eastern style and soon after bananas in coconut milk, I was just as overfed as the previous day. And yet now, only a few hours later, I sit on the bed, munch my crisps and drink a horrid mix with an alcoholic aftertaste as if it were lemonade.
If any of you ever thought a hamburger to be a good example of fast food, Ive got some news for you – cooking Thai takes seconds. And if, like me, you ever thought youre on the opposite end of talented when it comes to cooking, you should really visit Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. On my second day people who were attending for the first time were asking where did I learn to chop everything so quickly and nicely and to make stir-fry as if I was a chef. My answer was simple: Here. Yesterday. And although the last thing I would like to become would be a housewife, being able to cook little miracles in just a few minutes gives me a strange and fullfilling sense of accomplishment. I did it! Finally!
Although showing off has its drawbacks. Ive cut myself today, trying to chop garlic without looking. And I would be fine, but next on the list were hot chillies and their juice got into the wound, driving me mad for the rest of the day. But I was brave and didnt let a single whimper out. Showing off till the very (sad) end.
Two more days to go and if the teachers decide that Ive passed, Ill have a certificate to show for all this drudgery. Seems like all life is about is geting more and more papers. One needs a proof of everything. Anyway, if I hadnt been as good as I hope Ive been, there will always be a nice pot belly to show for all the eating done. No chance of loosing it, as Thai food doesnt seem to cause me any problems of the kind familiar to most travellers in this part of the world. I love it and the feeling seems to be mutual.
– Whats that? – asks our teacher, a small Thai girl with a mischievious smile.
– Chilli – we answer dutifully.
– Which chilli more hot? – asks she, showing us a big red one and a handful of small ones.
– Small – we say automatically.
– Which small? – asks she, holding up some green and some red ones.
– Good – she says in her melodious way – We call it small shit chilli, because its small but deadly. How many should I put in my salad? Ten? Eight?
– One – says a guy in the row behind me and the girls jaw drops visibly.
– That baby food, that no food! – she cries out and throws a handful in. I brace myself for the sampling to come.
– You in my country – she says – In your country tea-time, in my country chilli-time. Time to wake up! Come and try my salad – she finishes, holding up the plate. I walk up soft-legged again.
Its kings birthday in Thailand today. One should wear yellow and bars are not allowed to sell alcohol (7-eleven doesnt seem to be bothered). I declined going to the birthday party, Im having one of my own. Its not particularly sophisticated, but suits me just fine. On the truck back to the city I expressed the desire to kill for a nice rare steak (eating with a knife and a fork again, the warm and still red blood oozing from where Ive just cut a mouthful…) with black pepper sauce and a heap of french fries, but as I am too well fed to stuff anything of the kind down my throat, I have to make do with some beer.
I went for a swim and walking back from the pool I saw a new constellation on the sky – dancing yellow and orange lights. I stopped and frowned, only after a few seconds realising those were miniature hot-air baloons rising from the city square, carrying a candle each. The party has begun. Soon the fireworks will start blossoming on the black silk of the sky, but I need to go to sleep. An early day tomorrow again.
No joy without annoy. No pleasure without repentance – a Thai proverb.