03 Jun 2007 | Things are not what they seem, or are they?
It's impossible to escape the feeling of hovering over Holland, coming in to Amsterdam airport, with an overcast sky, a drizzle and very, very green scenery, when you're actually going in for landing at Bangkok international. But at the same time, even from some five kilometers up, Thailand also looks slightly different.
I had to wait for the plane to fly lower to see what it was. The vegetation is different, and planning, at least around the airport, is even more straightforward than in Holland. Rectangular plots of land, either for farming or housing estates, not unlike the ones I've just left behind me in South Africa.
What's for dinner in Thailand? Part 1
I considered taking pictures of everything I consume, here in Thailand, mostly to stir up emotions back home. But I won't. In stead, I will only post new/different/weird stuff which passes my lips.
I've already seen fried insects. The grasshoppers I don't see as a problem. Some of the other bugs are huge, though. But luckily, no spiders, yet. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
At Bangkok airport, I had to wait six hours for my connecting flight. Luckily it wasn't on a budget airline as for all passengers, a lounge with free food and drinks (and internet) was available. Besides more western stuff such as tea, coffee and cheese sandwiches, they also offered sweet rice clumps in banana leaves. Not bad, but getting the banana leaves off was hell and they were too tough to bite through. And there were other doughy sweets, also wrapped up in leaves, but with an explanation only in Thai.
Needless to say, as practically all the waiting passengers were bloody tourists, practically no one consumed the leaves.
If Chiang Mai is representative for the rest of the country, beyond a doubt, this nation must be going through an identity crisis.
One typical feature of Thailand are the all night markets. Chiang Mai has a famous one and although I didn't visit that one today, half the inner city was blocked off for stalls selling everything that a man can carry, that you can think of, and more. And that included the fried insects.
What's for dinner in Thailand? Part 2
I figured that if I'm going to get the Delhi belly (or should that be Thai-i belly), I'd better get it over with quick. For 20 Baht, a bit under half a euro, I ordered roti with eggs and banana. The lady, a street vendor, peeled then sliced the banana in a bowl, threw in a raw egg and mixed the two up.
Then she took a sliver of dough, flattened it and threw it on a hot plate, stretching it out. The banana-egg mix went on top and, after some 30 seconds, the roti was folded inwards, turned around, baked off and handed over to me with some extra sweetening. With a large toothpick as a fork, it was delicious.
Japan is probably the world leader in Kawai (meaning 'sweet', in Japanese), but Thailand might just be a close second. Over half of the things being sold were cute things, Japanese style. Think Pukka, Pokemon, Hello Kitty. On key chains, drawings, paintings, t-shirts, puppets, everything you can think of.
What's for dinner in Thailand? Part 3
After sweets, something hearty. This street seller had no signs to photograph and, since I'm still struggling with 'hello' and 'thank you' in Thai, asking him also wouldn't help. He was selling what looked like meatballs, but they were attached on what seemed like a string, but wasn't. They were one Baht each, about two eurocents, and the seller used a pair of scissors to cut them from the strings on his braai.
The taste wasn't too bad, a bit sharp and I suddenly got the idea that they might have been filled pieces of pigskin. On the side, he threw in raw, cut up cabbage, slightly fried ginger slices and FUCKING HOT tiny green peppers.
Last week, the ruling party was sentenced to disband and step down because of unethical and illegal behavior during elections. Many observers considered the last few years, under this party, the worst of the past three decades, so many are probably happy to see them go.
It's also probably the reason why, what seemed like, election campaigning was going on in town, mostly at the night market
One of the parties was handing out small packages with a gel-like substance. I received two, even though it's very unlikely I'll vote in Thailand anytime soon. One was labeled 'satay pork', the other 'fruit juice pork'...
What's for dinner in Thailand? Part 4
After my suspected pigskin and the peppers, I felt like I was standing under a shower, so much sweat was dripping down my head and neck. I needed something to cool down, something sweet.
One stall was selling drinks in McDonalds-like drinks containers, but made of thin bendable plastic and semi see through. The drink had the color of coke and was sweet, but in it went a healthy scraping from a big black block of what looked like ice, but generated spaghetti-like pasta strings. I got to suck those strings up through my straw.
I thought I faintly tasted coconut.
Shortly after, the black drink digested easily, I had a bunch of spicy tiny fried quail eggs. Yummy yummy!
And then, public life stopped in its tracks.
Every day, at 6pm, speakers throughout town start to play the royal anthem. Everyone, and I mean everyone, stops what they're doing and stands up for the duration of the tune.
What's for dinner in Thailand? Part 5
A nice cold Singha (pronounce 'Sing').
But the night market had more to offer. A huge kids-run fairground-like anti smoking campaign, with kids handing out posters with really disturbing pictures of smokers with very bad cancers, interesting music which reminded me of throatsingers from Mongolia, fire dancers and a huge musical instrument possibly called a Lanna.
Shortly after I sat down to listen to the music, I realised I had to go home. I was falling asleep, thinking I was awake and under the impression I could understand the Thai singers perfectly, in that they were mixing up Dutch, German, English, Hungarian and Persian. And it made sense!
After obtaining an M. Sc in maths, Babak Fakhamzadeh started with an office job at a major blue chip company but soon realised he'd do better on his own. Babak is often on the move, with a restless desire for travel, a penchant for doing good and a love for visual and experimental art. Together with Eduardo Cachucho, he won the World Summit Award in the m-Tourism and Culture category in 2012 for Dérive app. With Ismail Farouk, he won the Highway Africa new media award in 2007 for Soweto Uprisings . com. Check out Babak's CV.
Babak was last seen in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where it's currently 22.3° C and partly cloudy.
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