How I made my first Thai mate. It was early days for me in Thailand -I had met my future wife and done the traditional things like taken her friends out for a meal and also taken her mother and two young daughters out to a restaurant. This I found out is all part of being accepted gradually by the Thai family and friends -non of this bringing a guy home and he’s part of the family. As the family was all ladies-mother, auntie, two daughters, and my future wife and I was a man and older except for future mother in law I was in the position of higher status therefore as tradition I had to pick up the bill. This sometimes gets some people hot under the collar as if they are being taken advantage of.
Anyway it was my turn to be entertained at the family house. The family house is a large teak-wood traditional house about 50 years old and slightly dilapidated since my future wife’s father had passed away and her husband had died also after being hit by a motorcycle it was left for the women to struggle on.
The one remaining male was “uncle Akhey” (the late fathers younger brother) a charismatic guy around my age (55) and the official head of the family. He had fought and worked with the Americans during the Vietnam war and had a smattering of English. That smattering and my smattering of Thai were hardly enough to communicate but we both had a mutual liking for beer which eased the process enormously. Uncle also loves whiskey like most Thai men. He had a business two hairdressers shops If I remember rightly and was fairly well off -drove a BMW and dressed smartly but a bit “cowboyish” he reminded me of the swinging sixties -full of devil may care character. He came along the first night I was invited to the family home with his wife “auntie Gan” a charming Chinese looking lady. After the introductions which I made the usual hash of by waiing the wrong people (my first year I was waiing even the bloody shopkeepers DUH!) We all sat down at the large table in the garden they normally use for selling Kwaytiao noodle from. The wooden benches were not comfortable for a “farang” like me with a tender behind but my lady friend brought me a cushion.
Feeling pretty embarrassed and at a loss with the ten or so Thais my face started to ache trying to smile like I knew everything going on and I knew who everyone was. So when I was asked “want drink” I jumped at the offer and said “beer please”. Fortunately the house has a shop joined on to it which is rented out to “Pen” so beer is always only a few meters away. Two bottles of Singha appeared on the table and I wasted no time on getting stuck in so as to relieve the facial muscles I had burned out with my sickly smiling. There was mother and auntie and two young daughters Ploy who was 15 and Nulek (which means “little mouse” who is the furthest thing from a little mouse you could think of being a food lover but a pretty girl all the same) she was @ 9. Also there was some other family I can’t remember and Uncle Akhey and auntie Gan.
It was sort of a “thing” to eat the large “kung” or prawns and expensive but as uncle was the natural highest rank in the family he had the privilege of asserting his position by spoiling everyone-(this is one aspect of Thailand I came to know and love -if you want to feel important you pay -nothing is free here).
The ladies busied about making rice and sauces and always moving the “padlomb” (fans) around to keep us cool and the mosquitoes away as well as blowing on the charcoal burner to get it hot enough for the kung. Mangoes were pulled from the large tree in the garden and the dangerous art of chop chop chopping with a sharp knife on them then the slicing away from themselves to make “somtam” that spicy vegetable salad that can “clear a farang out” for a month was being prepared (why do Thais always slice outwards -so bloody dangerous)?
Meanwhile I was having a conversation with uncle -when I say conversation that is stretching it a bit as I hadn’t a clue what he was saying (it was like talking to a drunk but he wasn’t drunk and I’m sure my six Thai words were just the same but later after some more Singha we sort of spoke the same language) 555
As we were waiting for the prawns and food to be cooked we had an audience of kids in the small two meter wide soi -their eyes were pressed up against the fence and I guess maybe hoping for an odd prawn to come their way (the soi is the best and safest playground for kids apart for the “motorsai” that seem riderless all the time but everyone knows everyone and any funny people would be spotted straight away -it reminded me of my own childhood where we could even play in thick woods in safety)
So the food started arriving at the table which was good because it relieved me of trying to talk sense to uncle. The best and biggest prawn was handed to me the “special” guest and I started tearing it apart both burning my fingers and pricking them with the sharp shell. “Nice” I thought and dipped it into the special sauce -WOW BLOODY HELL THAT WAS HOT! Better take care with that stuff as my nether regions have a short emptying fuse. “ Here have some rice it takes the hot away” said my new lady-friend.
So the night wore on and the beer kept coming and I kept trying to speak Thai and uncle kept trying to speak English and the food kept coming and uncle got out his favourite “Johnny Walker” which fortunately I declined and stuck to the Singha. And after two hours we were mates like we had fought the Vietnam war together -arms round each other and laughing like brain dead (which I guess we were) and I had made my first Thai friend. Mother kept asking “mao mai” which I hadn’t a clue what it meant but my future wife told me it means “is he pissed” but more polite than that.
Anyway every one enjoyed themselves (I think) the ladies love to serve and be of service without any feeling of being used they love this and it shows they are the main ones in the family as they are the ones who feed.
The night wore on and the beer kept coming and I started to think “no more”. Eventually uncle and auntie had to go home -good job she was driving after only a glass of whiskey. Uncle Akhey turned to me and said “ you come dinner Saturday OK” I nodded without a clue what he meant but by this time it didn’t matter we were beer mates and only needed a nod.
I think I got a taxi back to my hotel that night but I could be wrong -anyway I did wake up the next day.
Two days seeing the sights of Bangkok a place I hated with a passion only later to fall in love with as the best city on the planet (yes it has to grow on you). Kitty my girlfriend said “tonight we see uncle for dinner” ah (by this time walking around the “Big Mango” I was knackered but as tradition demands I had to go to dinner with my new mate). We got a taxi and I had no idea where to but we ended up down some soi by the side of a “klon” one of those canals that are everywhere in Bangkok. The taxi dropped us off and Uncle Akhay and auntie Gan with a couple of friends were waiting to meet us. After I waiied and shook hands with everyone we crushed into the BMW and within a few minutes we were at a wooden pier that stretched out into the river which ran alongside the canal. The pier looked shabby but was as I found out real old Teak wood and would be worth a few million baht if it was sold. The staff led us to our table right over the river and we sat down. I looked around and loved the scene -I could see for miles down river and it was such a balmy night I had that feeling of being completely relaxed even with Uncle auntie and the couple of Thai friends I hadn’t a clue about.
“What you like to eat” asked uncle? Er I didn’t know what to say and my girlfriend didn’t help me out (she was being typical Thai and just showing her respect to her uncle as I found out is normal in Thai families -or at least mine). Without waiting for me to answer he said “like fish”? “Yes I like fish” I replied. “Like moo” (pork)? “Yes I like pork”. “like kung”? “Yes I like kung” and on it went. So then he waved over a very pretty young waitress (why are there so many pretty girls in Thailand)? Anyway he gabble the order and I hadn’t a clue what he did order but he reached down and got his Johnnie Walker Black label box from under the table and got the glasses and ice for him his wife auntie Gan and his two friends -opened the bottle and poured ample amber liquid for them all. Meanwhile my bottle of Singha arrived and my girlfriends fruit juice and the pretty girl poured some beer into my glass. Great I could feel the first gulp relaxing me even more as I looked down the beautiful river. Small talk went on with my girl and uncle and friends but I gave up trying to join in and decided just to lay back -it was a wonderful night. Shortly the pretty girl brought a large dish containing some cooked rice and another pretty girl brought some other dished when a third pretty girl brought a large barbecued fish on a massive plate. Wow this was looking good. Even more stuff arrived -”hoi” or shellfish – and the table was filling up with sauces and all-sorts Finally a big plate of steaming “poo” was sat in the very middle but before anyone gets squeamish poo is wonderful “crab”.
So we started and I had to wait to be shown the etiquette by my girlfriend who put some rice on my dish and then I got stuck in -some of this and some of that. A bit of excellent fish and some prawn then some curried pork and some lovely poo. Washing a mouth-full down with Singha I noticed uncle and friends had no plates. “Funny” I thought. But we kept on eating but still they just drank from their whiskey. “Really funny” I thought so I whispered to Kitty “they are not eating”. Kitty said to them to get some plates and get stuck in in Thai language but they just shook their heads. I asked Kitty what was going on and she was as confused as me . “They have eaten already” she whispered to me. “What”! The table was bulging with food and it was just for us two! Now I love food but I have never been a big eater and stuffing myself to bursting has never been my forte.
-Uncle and his friend went to the “gents” and the ladies were deep in conversation so I said to Kitty “I can’t eat all this” -she nodded as embarrassed as me. Well the night wore on and our stomachs were bulging and we were down to “pecking” but there still was tons of food. Oh My God I didn’t want to be disrespectful and I was grateful for being so valued but this was torture. I was bloated and so was Kitty. The other four kept pouring the Johnny and chatting amongst themselves when uncle asked “ want sweet” now he was my first Thai friend but I could have choked him haha so Kitty and I shook our heads like lunatics –” mai mai im mak mak kah” spluttered Kitty (no we are bloated). Still they sat and drank Johnny and watched as we kept pretending to eat a morsel. That’s when I had a plan –when they look away I will dump a load of rice and stuff into the river below. Yes this is terrible taboo and can get you almost killed -throwing food away is sacrilege in Thailand but also dying of a burst intestine is probably more painful. So I waited while they were deep in Johnny Walker conversation and scooped a large spoon-full of food behind me straight down to the Chao Phraya river. Now anyone who knows the Chao Phraya will know it has a good stock of large hungry fish. As soon as my spoon of food hit the water the vibrations of piranha hungry fish were slapping the wooden supports of the pier as if there was an earthquake and everyone looked up expecting a tsunami to follow. I did another of my Mr Bean impersonations and looked around as if it was someone at the next table. That was it -I couldn’t pretend any more I was feeling sick. Kitty said in Thai “can we have a doggy bag and take some home for mother and aunty” -I could have kissed her haha. “Yes sure” of course the ladies at home should share this feast. And Uncle waved over the three pretty girls and waved his arms about and the food was taken away to be brought back in glorious bags.
Uncle Akhey is a wonderful guy who would give you the world but sadly he is sick -I’m not sure what he has but I think it is like motor neurone disease -he is in a wheelchair and struggling to talk -been like this 8 years. A lovely strong man brought down in his prime -my first Thai mate -auntie Gan still works to earn money to support them and pay for the Vietnamese girl who cares for him. He gave me such a great welcome and stuffed me so full of food and beer but that was his way -the head of the family Thai way and if anyone ever says to me I was “taken for a ride” I will put them straight -join a real Thai family and get everything that family has.