the truth about pineapples

Fruit. Veg. It’s confusing out here. One minute you’re strolling along a quiet, shady lane in the park and the next you’re confronted with a load of enormous green dildos hanging from the sky. Except they’re not hanging from the sky, they’re hanging from vines, and they’re not enormous green dildos, they’re the eye-wateringly shaped vegetable known as gourds.

Yeah. Gourds. They’re a Thing. They’re like cucumbers, if cucumbers tasted like armpit-flavoured celery.

Fruit and veg out here isn’t what you imagine it to be. I mean, it’s incredibly varied and utterly delicious and everything, but it’s just not quite what you EXPECT.

Take pineapples. I discovered the truth about pineapples last Christmas. There we were, driving on the road to Chiang Mai quite innocently, when this pineapple-shaped monstrosity appeared along the road. Not being one to pass up an opportunity to admire gaudy fruit-shaped statues, I convinced James to stop so we could explore. It was some kind of weird pineapple-themed rest stop. Because… y’know… pineapples.

James got out, ordered a cha nom yen, and my eyes were snagged by a field, rows of small, spikey-leaved explosions planted at regular intervals along farrowed ground. I wandered over and stared for a second before my sun-fried brain (look, it was the middle of the day, ok?) suddenly realised what I must be looking at.

“Oh!” I said, actually exclaiming out loud like some badly-written Thai drama version of myself, “Pineapples grow underground?

I’d never bothered to wonder before this how pineapples grew. I suppose I’d assumed they grew on trees like coconuts. Come on, palm tree leaves look a lot like pineapple leaves.

My other half had meandered over by this point. He stopped beside me and stared at the plants in front of us.

“What are you talking about?”

“Pineapples,” I explained, surprised and pleased by my revelation, “they grow underground. I always thought they grew on trees! This is so weird!”

It was as if the world had been off-kilter, but now it was balanced. Everything made sense.

The Other Half, who grew up in Thailand and so knows better, stares at me. Stares a bit longer. Then starts to smile suspiciously, like I’m making fun of him.

“I’d just never thought about it before,” I explain, feeling the new knowledge push back the boundaries of reality in my brain, basking in the warmth of my newfou…

James starts laughing.

I scowl.

“I can totally see how you’d think that!”

He continues laughing, which I appreciate not a lot at all. I turn up the volume on my scowl. Add some narrowed eyes. Inexplicably, he doesn’t burst into flames.

I venture to ask him what he’s on about.

“Pineapples” he explains, helpfully. “I see why you’d think that.”

Not exactly over-endowed with patience in my daily life, I take an extremely long, extremely deep, extremely slow breath in.

“What,” I ask in my most patient voice, “do you mean?”

“They’re not like potatoes,” He tells me, as if I hadn’t realised the difference, “They grow on top of the plant”.

You what? Pineapple

Clearly that’s ridiculous.

In fact, the only thing that could be more ridiculous than the idea of pineapples growing on top of the leaves of these weird, spiky plants is the fact that this is ACTUALLY HOW THEY GROW.

In real life. Like, this actual reality.

Longwood_Pineapples

Never mind that bananas grow upside down, with the neck at the bottom and the bottom pointing towards the sky. Never mind that jackfruit hang down from tree trunks like uncomfortably swollen and dangerously spikey tree scrotums (and taste like perfumed condom-fruits). Never mind that dragonfruit come from creeping cactuses and durien… well, imagine the most wonderfully fragranced flowers you’ve ever experienced. Imagine meadows and meadows of them. Imagine them in the sun. Decaying. Cloying. Rot-warm and sickly soft on the inside, flowery cum custard.

Imagine that.

But never mind it. That’s nothing. Pineapples grow, absurdly, on giraffe stalks in the middle of bushes.

Did you all already know this?

born on a yellow day

Well, THAT happened.

I’m back in the Big Kok. I’ve been back here for four weeks, already worked for three. I’d hoped to have a little holiday to recover from the massive holiday I just had but, being secretly sensible, took the first desperate job offer I received. I now work at a SCHOOL. A PRIMARY school. Teaching the absurd, semi-formed human beings that some people refer to as children. Excuse the shudder. Let’s move on.

Bangkok is not the same as it was when I left. My favourite chumbles have departed and I’m no longer hunkering down in my lovely, lonely, dark little apartment. I’m staying with the BBF and young Martian, who uses the wrong prepositions and who can’t tell the difference between the ground floor and the first floor because he’s American. There seem to be fewer Alan carcasses. There are more mosquitos. The loudest birds in existence have moved into the trees around the apartment block. They love sunrise. They REALLY love sunrise. Before sunrise has even begun to lighten the sky to the dark navy of dawn, they get excited and start cawing and cawing and cawing and CAWING AND BLOODY CAWING. It lasts for A Very Long Time. It is impossible to sleep through. 4 o’clock and I’m awake and furious and daydreaming about a gun I’ve never owned but feel increasingly nostalgic for. I’m furious because they’re alive and waking me up too early in the morning, and because nobody is shooting them for me. WHY IS NOBODY SHOOTING THEM FOR ME? My new workplace is just under an hour’s commute – the train in the sky, change lines, dismount, walk, coffee, done. I will move, soon – tomorrow in fact – into an apartment across the road from my new workplace because waking up at 6am to go to work IS NOT A THING.

I don’t really mind my job. One good thing about it is the holidays. There seem to be many. I don’t get as many as BBF, who only works approximately 3 hours a day, except Wednesdays and Fridays, and Thai holidays and all the days that surround them. He does write maths exams, though. Wordy maths exams. Sit down to one of BBF’s maths exams and you’ll sample something along the lines of: Pleng and Best were at school one day and they both wanted some sweets. Pleng had B20 but Best had B120 and a broken leg. To get to the sweet shop, Pleng thought they should walk730m along Henry Durant road and up Ratchadamri road, but Best thought it would be shorter if they bought a jetpack and flew straight there at 120mph. If, on the way, a building caught fire and a fireman needed to rescue an old, old Chinese lady who was staying in her son’s top-floor flat 150m up while he went on an extended holiday to Rome in order to escape suspicion in a murder enquiry, what would the shortest length of a plank of wood be that the woman would require to traverse a bridge in a cup of tea with a 50m radius and a height of 80m and in which the spoon kept falling in because the sides were too slippery?

Hum.

Back to holidays. The most recent public holiday – Father’s Day and the birthday of His Majesty The King – was a yellow holiday. HMTK was born on a yellow day, and yellow is worn, by choice and requirement, throughout the month to celebrate and show respect. We had a long weekend, spent it in camping bliss at Erewan waterfalls. You may recall Erewan Waterfalls from a previous post, in which I said almost nothing about Erewan waterfalls but posted a rather spectacular photograph instead. Here’s a reminder:

P1000283

Erewan National Park is an easy trek north of Bangkok. Except when you leave in an airconless minivan from Victory Monument, crawling through the city’s sweltering, greasy, orange-lit night for 40 minutes before glancing out the window and, in horror, surely you’re mistaken, James, is that… that’s not VICTORY MONUMENT? And being back, after all that traffic, that waiting, that uncomfortable sweating, in Victory Monument, back where you started, a man steps onto the minivan and presses the button for the aircon that is broken and looks at you all and says, The aircon is broken, gets out, leaves you to crawl once again through the city’s sweltering, greasy, orange-lit night like some annihilating cyclical nightmare. Only this time you escape the city, windows down and a warm breeze cooling the engine-hot van you stop by the side of a road somewhere and the van disgorges and a new van fills up and the new van has aircon and the journey continues, cooler now, soaring away from the glow.

Getting to Kanchanabri you hear the driver call Farang! Farang! (foreigners! foreigners!) to the taxi guys on their motos, their tuktuks, their sidecarts. And when you get off you walk away from the taxi madaaaame?s to research what you should have researched before, not liking the scrum of arrival in an unknown place and at night and the taxi drivers being always all men. But this time you see BBF chatting away, Thai and English, looking at leaflets, and you think uhoh, but you go with it, and you get into the songthaew and are driven, not far, not too bad, to a hostel where you can sleep in a bungalow or sleep on the water, and you choose – of course, why wouldn’t you – to spend the night on the water, drinkng wine and looking at the lights down the banks of the river Kwai.

P1000177The next morning you get the bus to the National Park, easy peasy, only an hour or an hour and a half, away from the city and up into the hills it gets greener, cleaner, fresher. You get off at the campsite and rent your gear and the ranger shows you some tents, lets you choose, and you’re overlooking the river again, just up from where you were last time.

P1000267You spend your time at the waterfalls, snoozing in or around your tent, reading In Cold Blood and drinking so much cha nom yen and ohcha that you’ll get a caffeine withdrawal headache on Monday. You get your feet eaten by fish but in a non-threatening way, and you make fires in a stove and cook your own food – corn cobs, stir frys, bacon, bananas, apples. BBF impresses you by opening a can of chick peas using only a cement step, and you impress him by mixing a perfect cocktail out of pineapple and aloe vera juices with spiced rum.

P1000216 Now, back at work. Tomorrow is another public holiday, and then next week our kids have exams. Then Christmas for the next big trip – festivities with a Karen hilltribe and BBF and his parentals, followed by a road trip around northern Thailand – the hills, villages, maybe Myanmar, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai.

And then a new year. Last in Thailand for a while. Best make it a good one!

internal monologue, cockroaches, a poo.

I am too lazy to write a real post. Instead, I leave you with this offering. If you ever wondered what my inner life is like, here it is. This started off as a Line message and got rapidly out of hand as I amused myself with melodrama and cliche in increasing terribleness.

When I’m not being anxious about things, or eating, or other things of that nature, this is basically what the landscape of my mind looks like.

Sorry to disappoint.

“What a morning it’s been. I told you about the epic Alan battle (it’s very difficult to convey the toil and terror of battle in the space of a Line message. How can I describe it? That first sight of the enemy; the revulsion; the slow-rising mists of hate; and then the battle cries! “FUCK YOU ALAN, YOU BASTARD!”; the adrenaline shooting arrowlike through the body; molten blood charging the veins; the misting, insensible; the bloodlust!; and then, YES!, the final thrill!; – the kill! – the glorific flush of victory…

…and then the slowing of things. Of the beats and the breaths. Sated. Spent.

But…
But…
The dawning. The terrific realisation. The sharp guilt egdeways on the heart. ALAN! Murmured disgust, “MURDERER!”. To have exulted in death, in the taking of life! And, worse!, from Alan! An innocent! Defenseless! No enemy of mine, not really; no deception, no fell intent! My hands! My good, strong hands now sullied with the mulch of my murdered foe.

Far away, the Counting Alan, the Alan connected to all other Alans, adding another line to the wall in a cavernous grotto: “Rest in Peace Beloved Alan (12.05.14 – 18.06.14) Stolen From Us Too Soon”, and above the litany of Alans, the tirade, the endless repetition etched out on walls that wind worlds, the words ingrained on every Alan’s soul: NEVER FORGET. NEVER SURRENDER. And somewhere a grieving Alan, alone, lowing loss into the night. And I, alone, a murderer, return it’s woeful cry), didn’t I?

Thought so. I told you about the battle and I told you about my adorable little frankfurter. So unassuming. But what happened next? What followed that innocent hotdog sausage?

Well… I felt the call, that war horn of the bowls as if from a great distance. An ancient knowledge sparks, flares, throwing shadows on the wall of an old and dormant corner of the mind. Lower the drawbridge! The monster must be loosed!

I did not walk but was driven, treading the footsteps of my forepoos. Entranced, I stepped into the shining hall of the gods, gleaming white and mirrorlike, feet bathed in its waters like flowers in morning dew. And there, like Thor’s mighty Mjolnir, like Odin’s single eye, stood my throne, my seat of power, redemption! I drew near and readied my stance, a mountain bowed, gazed unsheathed upon the placid pool below. A tremor, and it began.

Afterwards, empty, sunken, I look back at the great wreck left behind, the monster’s muddy carcass in the depths. The waters begin to boil, swirl. A dervish dances, animates the great weight, which lurches then twirls whirling round and around and finally, slowly, sinking down.

Incantations offered up like a prayer, and I myself and all my gods witness the passing of the beast.”

cockroach on toilet roll

 

Cats, cakes and chicken coups

Well, here we are. It’s early evening and I’m sticky both because it’s the usual amount of too-much-hot and also because I’ve just finished eating my third mango of the day. Allow me to repeat that: my THIRD mango of the day. I didn’t even like mango before I got here. Too mushy, too sweet. But that was YELLOW mango. I had no idea that other kinds of mango existed. Green mango is where it’s at. Green mango is sour… unless you buy them soft and let them overripen in your fridge, at which point they level up into SUNSHINE JUICYSWEET OMNOM OF THE GODS. Fuckin’ A.

But let’s restart. Relax back into the chair. Fingers poised over the keyboard. It’s early evening and I’m sticky. FUCK. Remember that you were boiling water for a cup of tea? Run the two steps to the fridge, atop which is the “kettle”, notice that it’s almost boiled dry, that the room’s hotter and more humid than a Bangkok sauna filled with caricatures, fill it (the kettle) back up to the tea line with water from the one baht machine and – well, you’re near the fridge anyway, right, and you’re writing tonight, right? – grab a yoghurt, pour in some roasted sunflower seeds, DEMOLISH. Water’s boiled, pour the tea – I really need to find a ceramic mug, this plastic thing is starting to taste plasticy – and get back to it. Hold onto your hats, people.

And wait. An ellipse; a pause; the space between breaths; please note the mounting anticipation on your way out.

Well, here we are (again). It’s early evening and I’m sticky both because it’s the usual amount of too-much-hot and also because I’ve just finished eating my third mango of the day. Curfew hasn’t kicked in yet but I’m at home on my balcony and have no plans or desire to go out nonetheless. Yes. You may have noticed the word ‘CURFEW’, there, and we’re not talking about the kind that your parents gave you as a kid. I live in a country that has a MILITARY-IMPOSED CURFEW. It’s the grown-up version. How exotic.

Imagine, if you will, a public space in a hot country that is not your own. A train station, perhaps, or a popular public park. Imagine this place at 17:58: busy and crawling with commuters, hustlers and bustlers, wishers and liars, world-losers, world-foresakers and magic bean buyers. Imagine the heat. The moving bodies. The activity. Here, jogging; there, selfies; skateboarding; running for the train before the doors close; laughter soars above the chuntering clamour then drops like a stone; sharp kidcries tear the air and fade away. Random, unconnected, continuous action. And now, imagine this place at 18:00, after the warning beeps, when the music starts to play. Commuters turn to statues at the tune. Activity ceases; everyone freezes. Look around, the still bodies, breathing, warm with the memory of action. Like the slow zombies, like a brainwashing sci-fi, like a real-life dystopian novel. It lasts a minute or so. Uncomfortable. Try not to let that inappropriate and mildly hysterical burble of laughter slips through those strictly serious lips, ok?

I live in a country where the rush hour commute ceases for civilians to pay homage to their country, where running groups and badminton players pause their game to meditate a moment on the interconnectedness of their nation, the unity of their people. It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty weird.

We were living a fantasy adventure in Dreamland when we discovered that Thailand had lost it’s shit and declared martial law. And then, afterwards, I was looking forward to an evening at the Cat Cafe, eating cake and cuddling kittens when we discovered that there had been a military coup, as of 6 minutes ago, Tom said at work, eyes Twitter-bright and eager. There is a vague sense of excitement and of inconvenience, and of interest – how long? what will happen? will we have to cancel roller derby?

The chicken coup d’etat has some quite serious implications. Curfew meant we couldn’t go to the Cat Cafe so I was left lacking kitty cuddles for the entire evening (therefore bogus). On the other hand, the chicken coup d’etat meant that two of my students cancelled their classes today (therefore bonus). It means that if I want to go out and see friends, I have to make sure I’m at the BTS way before it closes at 9pm, and that I can no longer make last minute night-out decisions, and that maybe, just maybe, the 7/11 at the bottom of my road is closed (GASP). It means that I have to carry my passport at all times, and genuinely – apparently – be in my home by 10pm.

Of course, there are other things to say, other meanings. But I won’t say them. I think about the wrong things all the time, anyway. Doesn’t coup d’etat sound like a delicious pastry? How does someone declare a coup? Is it ever OK? Who are the army accountable to, and who regulates their actions? If it’s so easy to coup the shit out of a government then why doesn’t it happen all the time? Is there just one button to shut down all the TV channels in a country or is it a complicated process? Did they prepare the static Please Bear With Us As We Have A Coup image before the actual coup, after it, or did they just have one lying around ready to be beamed out around the country? If you live in the sticks, do you have a curfew? Do you know? How much do you care?

Anyway. Here I am. It’s late evening and I’m tired and I need to go to bed, and I’m sticky because I’ve been sitting in the sweltering heat of my balcony for 100 hours, relaxed back into the chair, fingers poised over the keyboard then rolling, tapping out rhythms like piano hammers. Curfew’s well and truly kicked in. In the distance, a few cars, dogs. A siren or two. The sound of water from somewhere below me. My gurgling fridge.

As usual, I’ve written 1000 words and told you absolutely nothing. Happy days. Good night all.

(Night Gma. I’m fine, honestly. Miss you.)

woman selling food sits in sunshine at the foot of the BTS

 

Songkran. [Photos pending]

It’s been one year, one month, and 29 days. I’m still in Bangkok and – inconceivably – I’m still not dead.

This time last year I was studying for my CELTA. Man alive, I remember that month of insanity as if it were only a year ago: the late nights, the hysteria, the stress, the constant stream of food, the pool that looked so inviting but that none of us ever had any time to use… and before that – SONGKRAN! Thai New Year, water festival, public holiday and city-wide water fight. The craziness of Chiang Mai, the 3-day long water battles, dance music throbbing in the streets, foam sprayed from stages in the square, buckets of ice water paralysingly cold in the midday heat. Wet and wild it certainly was.

Songkran this year couldn’t have been more different. We finished work on the Thursday and went straight from the school to the station, boarded the train and settled into our seats. The others hated the journey – I adored it. We got the cheapest tickets – 11 hours on hard seats, 4 of us squashed into a space that would be comfortable for 2, slightly awkward for 3 and laughable for any more than that. We drank beer and roared laughter playing Cards Against Humanity. Of the countries represented – England, the US, NZ – I can confirm that us Englanders have by far the best sense of humour, boasting a heady absurdism utterly unappreciated by our companions. The chumps. It got late and the train rattled on through the night. The others attempted fitful sleeping with limited success, but you know me and trains out here. I stayed awake, listening to the tracks, watching inky countryside sweeping past Having Moments and writing bad poetry. The trains out here. They’re special.

We reached Chumpon as the sun rose, and from our coach to the ferry port watched the morning colours wheel across the sky, turn to golden light, caught our first glimpse of the sea – the Gulf of Thailand – dream-blue and calm. By the time we boarded the ferry, the fizzy hysteria of sleep deprivation was setting in and we’d collected our 5th group member, well-rested and smug from his earlier, more luxurious train journey. An extended game of CAH and we arrived.

The first thing we learnt on our PADI Open Water Diver course was that the number one rule of scuba-diving is this: breathe consistently or YOUR LUNGS WILL EXPLODE. I immediately broke out into fear-sweats. Unconsciously holding my breath is a little weird habit of mine. I don’t know why. Sometimes I suppose all this Doing Life Things gets a bit complicated, so I decide to momentarily suspend one of my essential bodily functions in order to focus properly on whatever important thing is happening, such as having just stubbed my toe or dropped a glass or seen a DRAGON in the park (oh, it’s “only” a monitor lizard? Whatever.) You know, the big stuff.

So, after the first HELLISH day – the day of Songkran, in fact – when we were in the pool for 8 consecutive hours doing skills in the searing heat, skin burning and chafing from the BCDs, dehydrated, eyes and nose burning with chlorine from doing mask removals, I had absolutely no fear whatsoever about the normal concerns (running out of air, getting the bends, having an equipment failure, having to make an emergency ascent, panicking underwater, being eaten alive by sharks), I was simply afraid that I’d see a pretty fish, get distracted, forget rule #1 and do an innocent and accidental breath hold, thereby EXPLODING MY LUNGS.

As it happens, I didn’t EXPLODE MY LUNGS. Not on the first day when we did our first two dives in REAL OCEAN and saw a white-eyed Moray eel at The Twins and a lionfish and a porcupine fish and a giant pufferfish at The Junkyard. Not even on the second day when we dived at White Rock and saw prawn gobis and where I took the longest piss EVER in my wetsuit, and when we went back to The Twins and saw a Ribbontail ray and did our emergency ascent skills. I did explode a bit on the 5th dive – our first dive as qualified divers and where we didn’t have to do ANY skills at all – but it was my LPI hose and not my lungs, and it was after we’d surfaced and not on the bottom so there was no reason to worry whatsoever. The 6th dive, however, when we went back to The Junkyard and – being qualified divers now, thank you very much – did a free descent and swam through the tunnels and saw all the usual fishes. Ah, friends. It was a glorious time.

We’d been on the island for 5 or 6 days and people were leaving to get back to Real Life. I moved from our accommodation – we’d stayed with the superb people who ran our course, Crystal Dive – and found a room in a 70s porn den. I liked it because the smell of the plywood walls brought back memories of the old caravan in Gma’s garden that was always filled with fly corpses and that we’d sometimes sleep in if we were lucky enough to be allowed the adventure. My island holiday was blissful. I’d get up early, walk along the beach to the north and get breakfast, then head south through the town, across beaches, through woods and over rocks to get to two small bays that were quiet and had excellent snorkelling and an incredibly relaxed restaurant overlooking the sea.

The first time I saw the sharks, it was with fear and fascination in near-equal amounts. It was immediately obvious that they were only juveniles but, even though they were small, they looked already like killers, gliding lazily through the water, looking all shark-like. Black tipped reef sharks. Those fins. I’ve never been so close to something in the wild that I felt was a threat to my life. And, wow, did I feel it, right the way through and into the marrow. My body tensed. ‘THREAT! THERE IS A THREAT!’ But they didn’t come close, didn’t want to. I popped my head up to look around – was it safe? did people know there were SHARKS here? There were a few people snorkelling in the bay, one or two kids. It was probably safe, right? I mean, there were adults, they knew what they were doing, right? I decided not to run screaming from the water.

The juvenile sharks became almost normal. I was still filled with apprehension every time I saw them – they just look so damn DANGEROUS! – but there was less fear. There was so much other life under the water and it made it easy to forget the sharks. And the sealife changed the deeper you went, and the deeper you went the more you realised that the different kinds of fish lived in different stratas. Yellowtail barracuda near the surface, parrotfish at the bottom. There were shoals of tiny fish, flashing silver in the light, and shoals of different types of coral-eating fish that would descent together on one place, chow down for a while, then move on.

I twice saw the muma shark. Huge. Distant. There was no fascination then, only fear. I would freeze in the water, keep it in-sight until it disappeared. Both times I swam back to shore, slightly shaky from the adrenaline.

And once, thanks to pure and perfect luck, I saw a sea turtle. Like a dream. She was on the bottom, chomping on coral. She didn’t seem to mind me watching from the surface. After a while I dived down to touch her, put my hand on her shell. She looked at me, black eyes glintingWhen she left the bottom, she swam more gracefully than you’d imagine. I thought of a spaceship – an unlikely shape, bulky but gliding effortlessly nonetheless. I swum with her until it got too deep, and I trod water, watched her surface to breathe, her leathery face wrinkled and lipless, and swim away. Magnificent.

The next day I bought an underwater camera, but the photos are terrible and I didn’t see her again anyway. I didn’t really expect to. Once in a lifetime is good enough for me.

But that was a week ago. I’ve worked a week since then. Right now, I’m on my balcony drinking a coffee and enjoying the breeze that occasionally wafts its way through the washing that’s hanging out to dry. This morning I awoke to distant sky rumblings. Though it’s still obnoxiously hot, it’s cooler today than it’s been in a while. Hot season – finally – might be coming to an end. The heat these past weeks has been intolerable. I am ready to be cool again. I am ready for rain.