My trip to Thailand coincided not only with the red shirt revolution, but with the eruption of a volcano in Iceland. Not a big deal, really, unless you were in Iceland. Or—thanks to the large sheet of ash filling the skies—Europe, in general. Or anywhere in the world that Europeans may travel, including countries whose internal issues were causing Western embassies to send out warnings such as, “Do not go to [Thailand],” or “If you are in [Thailand], leave [Thailand].” One of these countries? Thailand.
This is a long way of saying that Bangkok’s hotels were full of Europeans who were, simply put, stuck. Suvarnabhumi (Bangkok’s airport) had people living on its floors, all exhausted, all wanting to go home. I learned this from a new English friend of mine, who had been stranded in Bangkok for several days. Truth be told, I don’t remember his name. Another confession (or two): I befriended him because he spoke English and had a working laptop. (Although my hotel was proficient at taking me to a pharmacy in the middle of the night, their public computers were less than helpful.)
We made a sort of non-verbal pact to spend the afternoon together, and I was happy to have the company. I was not happy, however, to learn that my British companion (a karate instructor, of all things) was a culinary wimp. Armed with a few hours of sleep and some antibiotics, I’d recovered from my food sickness and was ready to hit the streets to find my only non-airport Thailand meal. My companion, on the other hand, insisted that street food was dangerous, that he’d only eat at malls.
His logic was flawed, according to my very accurate scientific study of Asian cuisine. Every day that I ate food from the streets, homes and holes of the Philippines, I was fine. The day that all of my food came from shiny American-esque restaurants, I became horribly ill. I wanted to scream at the guy, “Look dude, I’m the one who got sick. And it sure wasn’t from street food.” But instead, I followed along. He had internet access and knew where he was going. And I had nothing better to do.
Had Maya been with me on this portion of the trip, this post would be different. For one, we would have ditched the English dude and gone straight for the meat-on-a-stick in the alley behind the hotel. Also, there would be details. She would have made sure to write down the name of the mall cafeteria and what we ate. And we would have had twice as many meals to try. (Because although I could ask a complete stranger for access to his laptop, I couldn’t ask to try—and photograph—his lunch.)
I have fewer memories of the actual meal than of the process. Not unlike a food court in a mall in the states, several businesses lined the walls, each vying for the attention of the diners. The center of the room was filled with cafeteria-style seating. Payment involved purchasing tickets from a centralized stand. I remember being in a state of utter confusion. I had no idea of the value of the tickets that my dining partner had generously provided me. I wanted all the food (of course), but didn’t want to seem greedy or ungrateful. I lifted my tickets to the young lady at one of the stands, pointed at her food and asked, “How many?” That’s how I ended up with the Stewy Meaty Thing With The Egg, which was most certainly less tasty than anything on the streets on our walk to the mall.
I’m a lessons-learned sort of gal, and when I think about that experience, I spend more time regretting what I didn’t eat than anything— anything— I did eat. Next time, I’m dining alone.