I was alone this evening with no plans, as my significant other was off doing whatever it is she does when she feels like she needs a night to herself. I enjoy the time alone as well. I haven’t had it in a while, and It gives me time to clear my head and experience life from the fresh perspective of individualism. When I am alone I can interact without dualistic impression on others; it is only I that can make the decisions and dictate how others perceive me. I decided that I would indulge in a sole meal from my favorite corner-throw-up, always packed with people, might or might not have diarrhea for a month restaurant.
Nestled in the heart of Phra Khanong/On Nut area is a quaint little spot, settled on the sidewalk, on a corner adjacent to the corner with the large Tesco Lotus sign looming over it on Sukhumvit soi 50. This restaurant is a family-run business and they do serious numbers, day in and day out, with a smile and the quickness. They enjoy a sense of pride in their work, as they put their tent-covered opponents on the opposite Tesco/market corner to shame.
Their dish specialties are som tam thai(papaya salad), gai yaang and kaw moo yaang(marinated and grilled chicken and pork neck), and gang hed(mushroom soup). Simple. The family knows me well, as I used to eat there at least three times a week, being that our apartment was less than a block away. We downsized about a month ago to save money for an embarkation to Australia that we have planned, where we will pick fruit for three months in order to live an the back of a 4×4 Pajero Sport. Go figure. Long story short, we don’t venture out farther than we need to for dinner. They were overly enthused to see ol’ pasty standing in line for a table with his shit-eating farang grin. Farang means “foreigner”.
After 10 or so minutes, they called me over and went over my order with me: “som tam thai”(no sugar, no small shrimp, not spicy), grilled chicken with good ol’ “Nam Jim Chaew” sauce, grilled pork neck, and sticky rice, along with an iced cold Leo tall boy and glass of ice, because Bangkok weather is anti cold beer. They guided me to my old table, right on the street corner so I could watch the traffic go by. They always knew that I liked to sit close to the sidewalk. I enjoy watching having a seat where I can see the traffic go by, because the chances of seeing an accident are high, and the occasional opportunity to witness an accident in Thailand is an experience worth relishing.
In Buddhist-influenced Thai culture, conflict and sudden displays of anger are instantly eschewed, which makes for awkwardly funny situations if you’ve one’s just been rear-ended. So I sit, and I watch.
After about ten minutes, my beer comes, and in another five, my food has arrived. I make haste in chowing down. A minute or so goes by when I make eye contact with a passing pedestrian, and he sits right down at my table. He says hello. Within seconds, I can tell that something is off with this fellow, but I can’t quite pinpoint what. However, opportunities like this rarely arise when I am with my significant other, as Thais of either gender are hesitant to approach a random farang that’s alone when together if not prompted.
He asks me in broken English if I am good, and I politely respond that I am feeling quite well. Without asking, he calls for another plate and cup, and digs into my delicious pork neck. My initial reaction is to shoo him away, but I soon justify that if this guy with the crazy eyes is in the position to sit down at a random farang man’s table and chow into the man’s meal without remorse, I have to concede to his courage and hold on for this one.
Between bites, he makes small talk. Mainly about how his brother is sick or something along those lines. My thai extends to ordering delicious food, giving basic directions, and saying that I like lots of delicious foods and numbers and other random useful information. So I chalk all of five sentences to this being the gist of it.
He motions over to my som tam, but then complains about it afterwards, explaining in thai that it “lacks in taste”. I laugh at this because just previously I had told him that we wasn’t going to like the “som-tam farang”. He motions over to the last grilled chicken piece on my plate, and I give him a cringing nod. At this point, I’m semi-relaxed. The guy isn’t making a huge issue, so I have surrendered myself to the moment at hand.
When I pour myself another glass of beer, he tells me that drinking beer is not good, but I kindly explain that for me, drinking a bottle of any alcohol to myself is a very, very enjoyable experience. After a couple more bites of food, he drains his glass of water and asks if he can fill up a glass of beer for himself. I say no because I see this as 1: a complete contradiction to his what he just said and 2. a complete intrusion into my happy solitary beer bubble. He smiles at me and urges me to drink more of my beer. I smile back, drink down some beer, and smile inside about how I am going to politely end this conversation. When he finishes eating his fill and asking me how many pairs of shoes I own, he asks me in thai:
He says it with a huge grin on his face. It’s a comment which I’m not expecting at this point in the meal. At first I think that he’s asking me how much for my ratty Nikes, by then I had forgotten about miniscule things like why this guy randomly sat down at my table and started eating my food.
“Mai Pen Rai”, I respond with a genuine smile. It doesn’t matter. He nods, gets up, and waddles this strange jive out into and across the line of fast-moving traffic in his suede canvas shoes, and disappears into the night. After he leaves, I glance around to see if anybody else had just noticed how random of a conversation/interaction had taken place.
When I finished my beer, I paid my meal and walked back the quarter mile or so until I reached the quiet street that we live down at the end of.
I usually catch a 10 baht motorcycle taxi, but tonight I decided that I am going to walk. As I walk down the street, I notice for the first time that most of the houses have a mango tree in their yards, if the trees are large enough to overshadow the massive fences that guard these massive dwellings. When I pass one of these high-walled, barbed-wired, compound-like fortresses, a boy has the door open in order to drop a bag of trash onto the street. I take a quick glance inside and see 50 or so classic cars stacked on top of each other on loading racks, waiting in line to be serviced. Two 12 year olds on motorbikes whiz past on the street, shrieking through the neighborhood on their muffler-alterated noise machines. The commotion stirs the 10 albino peacocks hanging out in the rafters of the opposite house across from me, and they make screeching noises that sound like an angry toddler yelling “oh NOOOOO, oh NOOOOO” in a high pitched tone. I chuckle to myself and find it hard to wipe the shit-eating farang grin off my face that has been present since leaving dinner.
Bangkok is a city like no other.