22.03.2009 35 °C
March 22nd, 2009 – 1:44 pm
Went to the noodle shop round the corner with my work buddies for lunch the other day. Hot and humid and raucous with all the office workers on break, the fans struggling mightily but barely making a dent. I’ve been getting by most lunch times with pointing to pictures on menus or gesticulating wildly at items being dished out up front. It’s been working so far. But not today!
No menus, no pictures, no public dishing out to point at. And one can’t very well flip through her Lonely Planet Thai phrasebook looking for “can I have a bowl of noodles” when there’s a whole restaurant devoted to them. My eyes beseeched the Thai work buddies.
“OK, do you want thick, medium or thin noodles?”
“Medium” (seemed safe)
“Egg noodles or rice?”
“Fried, boiled, or in soup?”
“Beef broth or fish broth”
“Pork pieces or fish pieces in the soup?”
"OK, she'll bring you chilies and fish sauce and sugar so you can season it how you like."
<my order is communicated to the sweating and harried server in rapid-fire Thai>
Uh yeah, there is noooo way the old LP would have prepared me to handle that little exchange on my own. The “pork pieces” were in fact sad little grey balls of processed pork smashed into globes. Wielding my chopsticks like a pro, I deftly transferred the slippery little suckers into Mim’s noodle bowl as payment for her translation services. I need to sign up for Thai lessons STAT!
Whilst happily slurping noodles and sipping on iced coconut juice, our meandering lunchtime conversation moved towards ghosts. It appears we have to move an upcoming event we were hosting to a different hotel because the one we have chosen is haunted. A gas cylinder in a nearby apartment exploded ten years ago, killing pretty much an entire block of people on the street. They’re pissed. They’re not going away and they’re concentrating their ghosty malevolence on the hotel. Explains why we got such a good rate.
Like other parts of Asia that I’ve been to, people here take their ghosts very seriously. There are different categories of ghosts and then different individual kinds of ghosts within those categories. It’s all very complicated. Everyone at the table told a spooky ghost story they’ve heard or that had happened to someone they knew. It was my turn. Hmmmm…not having a story to tell but not wanting to scoff, I said I could believe in their existence but I’d never seen one.
“Oh, well you just need to visit one of our tsunami reconstruction projects then! There are ghosts everywhere!,” my friend grimly informs me.
My buddy goes on to explain how directly after the tsunami, the fancy tourist hotels in many areas were used as makeshift morgues, with hundreds upon hundreds of bodies just laid out on the floor in rows. With everything in chaos and nowhere to take the bodies, loved ones stayed on those posh marble floors for days. In the tropical heat. We all shuddered.
And then it kind of dawned on me. I’ve talked about “the tsunami” tons. It was a tragic touchstone in my work at the Canadian Red Cross and I spent lots of time telling donors and reporters about our work in “the tsunami-effected areas”.
But this was the first time it was really made real for me. It wasn’t just some heartbreaking but essentially abstract event that happened a world away, but a very real thing that killed thousands upon thousands of people here, decimated the livelihoods of many, and had implications for this country and the entire region that are still felt to this day.
Our noodle slurping got pretty quiet after that. I finished my coconut juice and we went back to the office and into the blessed air-con.