The lengthiest cuts came out of the Thailand chapter. They won’t mean a lot to you if you haven’t read the book. I suggest you hold off reading this until you’ve met some of these characters. I’m not even going to try to write introductions to the material. Once you’ve read the chapter, the cuts will have a context.
From page 282.
“If you call Fon,” Jip e-mailed to New Zealand, “she will pick you up at the station. Rim Haad is her family’s business.” Before I board the train in Bangkok, I find someone to make the call.
John, Jip’s husband, e-mailed separately. “Take a motorcycle taxi from the station. Fon is very nice and I’m sure she’ll be a great help, but she drives too fast.”
I ignore his advice.
From page 286.
My alarm wakes me up at 6:30. Last night, Fon charaded that her mother was going to the market at 6:30 in the morning. But when I step out of my bungalow, Manit is still asleep.
I cross the street and walk on the beach. The sky is filled with strips of pink and gray clouds. Way out at the end of the sea, a single fishing boat is silhouetting across the horizon, the only moving object in the bay.
On my left, several miles down the beach and up the hill that encloses the northern end of the bay, is the huge Buddhist temple where I was yesterday. And just down from the temple, sitting on his own hill, is the giant golden Buddha, surrounded by a gold aura from the reflected sun, serenely guarding the green and blue sea.
Soon boats begin to fill the bay, and people arrive on the beach with big triangular nets for collecting toothpick-size fish that will be mashed into a paste and used in cooking. Five dogs, two of them puppies, are chasing each other along the wet sand at the water’s edge.
At 7:30, Manit and I board the motorcycle-driven transport . . .
From page 287.
. . . too much fish paste for my palette.
When we finish lunch, Nark tells me he is a singer, and that last night, while I slept, he performed at a local nightclub from 10 to 1. He charades that he came over to tell me, but I was sleeping and he didn’t want to wake me up. Actually, what he said was, “You sleep, no wake.” Damn! I would have loved to have gone.
From page 289.
. . . And I still love feeling included.
“Very good,” say the women in Thai as I pluck basil leaves and put them into the bowl. They look at each other and nod. They ask me how old I am. I answer them in Thai. “Chan ayuk hok sip song.” 62.
“Aaaah,” they respond and comment to each other about the information.
From page 292.
. . . shouting its brilliance and cooking it for people I love.
A few mornings later, Fon tells me, “Today, mother Jip.” She spreads both sets of fingers out, indicating the time.
Around ten-ish I climb onto the back of her motorcycle. First we go to a store where the proprietor gift-wraps the Balinese sarong that I have brought for Jip’s mother. The storekeeper puts it in a box, wraps the box, and finishes it off with a ribbon and bow.
Mother Jip works in the credit union office which is next to her house. When we walk in the door, she smiles and hands me and Fon letters that Jip has sent for us. I give her the gift box and we all go to the house.
The sitting room of the home where Jip grew up is large, perhaps 25 feet square, with tile floors and couches off to one corner, one wooden and one naugahyde. Grandma joins us, but she sits to the side. Jip’s father, a retired teacher, is out tending to his coconut grove.
Fon is my translator! Mostly Jip’s mother and I use sign language. I motion that I see Jip in her face. She brings out pictures from the wedding and points to John and Jip and her other children. I point to each person in the picture and she charades the relationships. We understand each other. After about fifteen minutes, I suggest that she probably has to go back to work. And we say good-bye.
Fon takes the long way home through coconut tree groves. Ban Krud is coconut groves.
“Monkeys?” I ask. Jip has told me about the monkeys who harvest coconuts.
From page 293.
. . . Everybody loves him.
Later that afternoon, Su calls me as I am emerging from my cabin. She, Fon, and Ei are sitting at an outdoor shady table eating bowls of noodles with cabbage, bean sprouts, long beans, cucumbers, and some sauces: a sweet peanut sauce and the one with lime juice, fish sauce, shallots, and chopped chili. Ei rushes off to get me a bowl.
On Friday of my second week, Manit, wearing a tan hat and her ubiquitous sunglasses, returns from the big market south of Ban Krud. She empties onto the table eight different kinds of fish and seafood, and five or six vegetables, spicy roots, bottles of Chinese sauces, and a giant bag of wun-sen (glassy) noodles.
The big shop is for tomorrow, Saturday, when thirty people are coming down from Bangkok. I try to find out if it is a tour, a family, a business, or an organization, but all I understand is that there will be a very big dinner…..and I am welcome to help in the kitchen.
Today’s excitement is that later today we are going to cook ho mok for us. I go to my bungalow and write, waiting, salivating for the knock that will announce it’s time to begin.
Late in the afternoon, there’s the knock and the call, “Lita, Lita, ma.” I rush to the kitchen.
The ingredients are all on the table. So are a stack of banana-leaf baskets. Ei begins with the pounding of black pepper; she adds the peeled root called gatchai that is light brown with many fingers just slightly longer than mine, and the hot orange paste (already made up in a bag).
I am given my first job: picking off the leaves from basil stems.
From page 294.
The next day, Saturday, the kids are home from school and the place is jumping with grandchildren, eight of them from five to fifteen. It is also pulsing with the anticipation of the thirty guests who are arriving from Bangkok. The first car pulls in around one. Then a couple of vans. Soon, every room and bungalow is filled. There are twelve cabins, and ten rooms in a big two-story building; but for as long as I’ve been here, I’ve been the only guest. Today’s guests are all Thai.
As people arrive, the kitchen goes into action preparing lunches. The family-and-occasional-guest kitchen has turned into a full-fledged restaurant. Orders are clipped onto a string that is stretched over the table, and all of the four fires are cooking. When I walk in, the stainless island has five plates lined up, each with raw celery, scallions in one-inch pieces, and thin vertical slices of onions. These ingredients are mixed into a lot of dishes.
There is also plenty of red paste, waiting to go into the various dishes. And a big pot of broth on the stove that will be used as the base of all the soupy things. In it big meat bones and cut-up daikon radishes are swimming around.
The bottled flavorings are all lined up too. There’s a quart bottle of freshly squeezed lime juice. And bottled fish sauce, oyster sauce, sweet soy and regular soy, and fermented bean sauce (there’s a lot of Chinese cooking in Thailand). And containers with sugar, salt, and msg. And a bread-crumb like crunch that is raw rice browned and ground. There are also bags of the brown sugar that comes from a palm tree.
As each dish is cooked, a little is put on a plate so the cooks who walk by can try a bit. That includes me.
Later that night there is a banquet for the guests. Shrimp and crab and squid, fried and grilled and boiled; soups with fish and squid and shrimp and pork; chicken dishes, pork dishes; dishes with coconut milk and dishes with cashews; cold, minty salads with lemon grass, and deep-fried squid in a tempura batter. Two different kinds of noodles and massive bowls of rice. I am in heaven in the kitchen, tasting, noting, watching, and occasionally chopping or slicing. The guests eat on the beach patio across the street and the teen-age grandchildren run back and forth serving the food and drinks.
The following day is Jan’s birthday. I sent her a gift before I left New Zealand, but I always feel sad when I can’t talk to my kids on their birthdays and tell them I love them and miss them, voice to voice. There’s a phone here, but I can’t use it for international calls. Nor can I connect my e-mail. So I walk across the street and sit on the sand, meditating and trying to send her birthday wishes telepathically, over the waves.
As I sit staring out at the ocean, dozens of boats suddenly appear and move back and forth within fifty feet of the beach, dragging nets. I watch for a while and then go back to ask the family what they are catching…it’s the first time I’ve seen this.
No one knows the English word, but everyone pinches me and waves her arms in the air. Finally Fon draws me a picture. Jelly fish have invaded our shore waters.
“Do you eat it?” I ask Fon.
“Thai no. Sell Japan.”
The guests go back to Bangkok after lunch, and life returns to normal. Except the following day is moving day for Fon’s family. She, her husband, and their two sons have been living in town, but now her parents have built them a house just a few doors from my bungalow. While Fon and her friends are driving back and forth in a pick-up with their possessions, I am babysitting Boat, the five-year-old.
From page 296.
The next day Ei’s replacement arrives. Won is a woman in her fifties, a wonderfully irreverent woman who stands on no ceremony, tells it like it is, and harbors no secrets. And she also knows considerably more English words than anyone else around.
Won opens our first conversation by telling me that Manit is her mother. When I question this (Everyone has told me that Manit has only one daughter, Fon.), she amends it by explaining that she was adopted as a child and grew up in Manit’s household.
For more than an hour, Won fills me with gossip, about her marriage, about Fon and about Manit. (Manit’s sunglasses are hiding the fact that she lost an eye many years ago.) I am exhausted when she finishes. I’m not sure the stories are true, but it does spice things up for my last days at Rim Haad.
The next day I see Won stitching up some torn pillowcases. I am excited. I have this knitted cotton shirt that I like a lot. It has buttons down the front. Whenever I wear it, it pulls open between the buttons, and I’m constantly pulling it forward to close the gaps. I’ve been wanting to stitch it permanently closed and just slip it on and off over my head, but I don’t have a needle and thread. Now I see both a needle and thread…and someone I can talk to! And I just happen to be wearing the shirt.
“Won,” I say. “Do you have a needle and thread?” I show her how the shirt pulls open. I pretend to stitch up the front of the shirt.
She’s quick and understands immediately. “Yes,” she says. “I have.”
Then she thinks for a moment, wrinkles her nose, cocks her head, and says, “But you old. Nobody care.”
And having dispensed her opinion, she does not give me the needle and thread.