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



Fruits of hilarious failures

This entry is from a few weeks ago. Apparently I typed it all up then pressed ‘save’ instead of ‘publish’. GOOD ONE.

It starts like this:

Did I tell you about the time I got chewing gum in my hair? About the time I fell over the ground and landed on my chin? About ALL the times I’ve spent wobbling on one leg in uncomfortable proximity to a moto driver because I can only dismount moto taxis with extreme clumsiness? What about the time I didn’t eat a proper dinner because I’m too awkward?

My experiences of the world – particularly of human interaction – are DRENCHED in awkwardness. Not just that cutesy, oh-isn’t-that-adorable kind of awkwardness. It’s more of an OMIGOD-SOMETHING-COMPLETELY-MINOR-JUST-HAPPENED-AND-NOW-I-WILL-HAVE-TO-CHANGE-MY-IDENTITY-AND-MOVE-TO-AN-UNINHABITED-MOUNTAINOUS-REIGON-SOMEWHERE-IN-ORDER-TO-ESCAPE-MY-SHAME kind of awkwardness. If it takes more than 7 seconds to find my purse at the checkout, I’m hitting an uneasy 3 on the awkwometer. If I’m at the front of a queue, it’s a face–warming 6. SPEAKING WITH WORDS FROM MY FACE (never recommended) usually registers around 7 awks as a general background level of awkwardness, with additional awks for the horrible pauses, misspeaks, musunderstandings and general tripe registering additional awk levels on top. Much of my life is lived on these secret and imaginary upper plains of awkwardness. It’s catastrophizing. It’s ridiculous.

I moved house this weekend (reminder: this is an old post!). Everything resets. Remember all those walk-bys I did when I first started living in BKK? Well, by the time I left Bang Na, I was positively NORMAL in my food ordering. I’d just wander up to a stall and just GET something, as if it was EASY. I said stuff in Thai and they gave me food. Sometimes we extended the conversation: they let me taste it and I told them AROY MAAAAAK! (very delicious). Well, I’m in a new neighbourhood. The food places here are less numerous and different – I don’t know them and I don’t recognise their wares. There is no yam nam. No stewed pork. No chicken-foot soup. I am bereft. The process starts again.

On the day in question, I’d had an annoying afternoon that meant I missed a Cultural Tuesday day trip. I was feeling tired and disheartened. Despite the sticky heat, I fancied a hot meal to warm my cockles (I don’t have a kettle yet, therefore NO TEA), so I went for a food search, my first proper exploration of the area. I employed the age-old technique of the walk-by, of course, for that is my way. One of the stalls I saw had a sign written in Thai and English: sliced grilled beef salad, among other things. Clearly my best bet, I thought. I’ll go there. It was decided.I was committed.

I carried on walking.

I went to the 7-11 to look for an iced tea and some courage. When I came out of the 7-11, I started to wander off towards the BTS for reasons that aren’t exactly clear to me, but managed to remember the plan and turned around. I approached the salad man’s stall. Yes, the sign is in English. Yes, the prices are displayed. This is the one.

I almost walked past for a second time.

My body was turning towards the guy but my legs hadn’t seen the memo and continued marching resolutely forwards. Clearly I hadn’t fully committed to this venture. Memo to Legs, Your cooperation is appreciated. Best, Brain. I probably would’ve carried right on walking had the guy not looked up at me just before I drew level with him. BUSTED! I had to stop after that. He’d spied my interest so walking on at this point would’ve been even MORE awkward, and I did actually want to eat there so what’s the problem? LEGS, WE’RE STOPPING OK?

I stopped. I said hello. In Thai. Awkwardly. The man nodded at me, waiting. I asked for a grilled beef salad. In English. Because it was written on the sign in English and I don’t know how to ask for it in Thai. I only know the words for rice (khao), chicken (gai), spicy papaya salad (som tam), that other salad I like (yam nam), soup (nam sup), pork (moo) and others equally as useless in the situation I’m describing. Ignorant bloody farang.

So anyway. I asked. And – and here’s where it got problematic – the man responded. With WORDS. Uhoh. Not only that, he responded with words in Thai, as if I’m living in THAILAND and that’s the LANGUAGE or something. An immediate 20 awks because I KNOW I should be able to understand what’s going on here, and I’m paralysed at the side of the road, gaping at this poor guy because I don’t speak the language and my brain’s sidled off somewhere and left me to deal with the situation alone. Cheers brain, nice to have you on board.

I mumbled. Looked quizzical. He spoke. I nodded a bit, tried to pick out a word I might know. I think I said ‘yesno’ at one point. Pointed. He tried again. I smiled apologetically. Shrugged. Made vague, meaningless gestures. He came around the front of the stall and jabbed his finger at the item I’d ordered, speaking in what was clearly the most basic Thai he had at his disposal. Still, ignorance reigned. What techniques do normal people have to deal with these situations? NOTHING bad has happened, yet I’m looking around for a hole to jump into. WHY CAN’T I COMMUNICATE WITH THIS MAN? WHY IS IT ALL SO HORRIBLE? Probably a normal person would shrug this off, find some alternative method of communication, or maybe they just wouldn’t care? There was a long moment in which he looked at me in frustrated irritation.

I stood there, umming and aaahing.

Kept standing there.

It was a REALLY long moment. That probably lasted about 3 seconds.

In the end some kid I hadn’t noticed at the other end of the stall (Jesus, I thought, there are WITNESSES) explained: he didn’t have any beef left. Simplez. I smiled, grateful, guilty, waved, apologised profusely – and uselessly – in English, walked away quickly with my cheeks prickling, face down, determined to learn Thai or never step outside my room again.

After that, there didn’t seem to be any other food anywhere in the world. There were other stalls, obvs, though not many, but I felt too awkward to try again. I managed to purchase two oranges and some rambutan from a woman a few stalls up and returned to my room in disgrace. I ate the oranges. The rambutan had beetles on them, but I ate them anyway. Minus the beetles.

There’s always tomorrow, right?

PS/ I did eventually go back and get a spicy beef salad… TWO WEEKS LATER after having walked past the stall at LEAST 4 times every day. It was spicy, beefy, salady and delicious.