Things I'm learning on airlines and in eateries
I'm sorry that I haven't blogged since Sunday. I began work at General Motors Thailand early Monday morning and the days have been very full. Commuting eats up 3 hours a day. I lament not having more time to explore after work, but I love looking out at the countryside while my driver masterfully avoids hitting water buffalo, scooters, huge buses transporting workers into the industrial zone and monks. Yes, I did say, "Monks".
The monks are up very early in the morning seeking food donations from the hotels in the city and strolling the shoulders of the road looking for a complimentary breakfast from village folks. I see them on my ride to work. I hope to discuss more about them later.
Whoops! I am off-track . . . This is supposed to be a short blog discussing Asian table culture.
Funny, I have been eating take-out Thai food in U.S. for years and have always used chopsticks. Guess what? The Thai folks don't use chopsticks they prefer a large spoon and a fork to shove the already bite-size morsels onto the spoon. Knives are not usually offered because the soups, curries and stews are prepared so that no sawing is necessary. Sensible.
Last year I discovered that chopsticks in China are wooden or plastic. However, after departing Shanghai and working in Seoul the following week I could not find a single pair of wooden or plastic chopsticks in S. Korea. It seems that a Korean king some time ago was worried about being poisoned. Thereby, he refused to eat with anything except sterling silver chopsticks that would oxidize quickly (it was hoped) when coming into contact with poison alerting him that treachery was afoot. Whether this is truly a workable solution to mitigate the risk I can't guarantee. And so, the people of Korea heard that the royal family only ate with silver chopsticks and a trend was launched. The peons could not afford silver chopsticks but Korea has plenty of steel and to this day everyone uses stainless steel chopsticks in that country. On my flight from Detroit I ordered an Asian meal and the Delta flight attendant brought me wooden chopsticks. 15 hours later after boarding Korean Airlines for Bangkok at Incheon International, S. Korea, dinner turned out to be kim chee with bibimbop (Korean stew). Yup, you guessed it. Stainless steel chopsticks.
So, you see, these kings are very influential. In Thailand it was King Mongkut, Rama IV, (remember Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I"?) striving to be Western by introducing the fork and spoon. Until then Thais ate with their right hand. No more. Why be sensible and use something as wonderful a your hand to scoop up your grub? If the King wants to complicate things, go for it and try something new requiring more coordination! (More on influential kings and their odd notions later this week when I discuss the Fanta pop I'm seeing on all of the Buddhist shrines.)
In Thailand each time I order Pad Thai or Tom Yum or Gang Ga- Ree the waiter or my hostess at General Motors will look at me with a concerned, wrinkled brow and ask, "Can you eat spicy?" When I tell her, "Absolutely!", she continues to look concerned and orders extra water for the table -- just in case old "round eyes" keels over from too much heat.
Over the past three days I have developed a theory regarding all of the folded toilet paper that our mothers cautioned us to fold and pack in our duffels when we went camping or to stuff in our luggage when we traveled to undeveloped areas of the world. I think that many of these packets have been stolen from our luggage by TSA and are being sold on the black market to Thai restaurants. Honestly, haven't these people every heard of a proper napkin?. Even at the cafeteria at General Motors they offer toilet paper scraps for napkins. Tonight I ate at a rather fine, outdoor restaurant. The food was good and the prices were hardly budget. My annoyance with these horrible, tissue excuses for napkins was re-ignited. Thank goodness that Thais no longer eat with their right hand. There is absolutely no way these flimsy tissues could possibly clean up fingers dripping with coconut milk and lime juice! At least the restaurant had beautifully designed dispensers to set alongside the candle and the wine goblet. Geesh!
I have grown fascinated by bus art and Fanta red pop placed on Buddhist roadside shrines. I keep clicking photos and hope to have a collection amassed by the end of this week. Also, I am thrilled to be in Thailand for one of their most beloved national holidays, The Queen's Birthday or Mother's Day, this Friday. My students tipped me off that the queen will be televised on Thursday and Friday evening. Can't wait!!!