So, this one’s on the longer side but sit tight and stay with me and I’ll tell you a little about Thai kindness and generosity . . .
I had a bit of a surprise on the first day of orientation during which we were told that the country was still in mourning following the well-loved king’s passing and, as such, all teachers were expected to wear only black or white while on campus. I had left all my black clothes behind, so I had some shopping to do. There were massive malls near me, so it wasn’t a problem, but I didn’t feel like hunting so spent about as much money as I would have back home, just wanting to be done with it.
While at the mall, I also tried to get a Thai phone number but realized that, despite a friend’s reminder, I had forgotten to unlock my phone before leaving Canada, so I couldn’t get any of it done just then.
Anyway, having spent money I didn’t want to spend on clothes I didn’t want to wear, and having learned that I had an extra hassle to deal with regarding my phone, and also having spent about three hours in a mall, I headed back to my hotel feeling genuinely annoyed for the first time since arriving.
On the way home I looked over the food stalls for a late dinner but my general annoyance ensured that I saw nothing that appealed to me.
Then I heard someone call out to me, a guy sitting with three other men at a wooden table among a few food stalls. “Do you want to try Thai whiskey?” the guy asked in stilted English.
Yes. Yes I did.
They pulled over a plastic stool for me and handed me a shot of caramel-colored liquid. I took a sip. It was actually sweet, more like rum than whiskey, and quite good.
They all grinned and nodded when I shot the rest and my glass was quickly refilled.
They showed me how a shot was to be followed by a sliver of mango dipped in a mixture of salt, spices and sugar.
My host was the only one who spoke any English and I soon learned that his name was Siam, that he was 41, and that he sold neck ties.
We got to talking food. They thought it was hilarious that, to Canadians, Thai food consists primarily of pad Thai. One of the other men bought me a bowl of a type of sweet and sour soup heavy with meat. It was excellent and paired well with the whiskey.
I noticed that the whiskey was being poured from bottles of varying sizes and asked if it was all the same or different brands. They said it was all the same. Then I noticed the older man manning the stall as he refilled these small glass bottles from a large plastic jug. This old guy obviously made the stuff himself and brought it over to sell. This was the real deal: Thai moonshine.
At this point a new guy had joined our group but he was selling snacks. The men asked if I’d be willing to buy a couple bags of snacks for all of us to share (another guy bought two more bags). I agreed immediately, given that they’d treated me to booze and a meal, and the snacks would cost me all of 40 baht (less than $3).
They showed me what I’d purchased: one bag was filled with roasted and seasoned crickets, which were actually excellent. The other bag contained peanut-sized cocoons. One of the men grinned and said, “butterfly”. These were actually a little bland so I mostly stuck to the crickets.
Eventually I said I had to head to bed and Siam gave me a ride to my hotel on the back of his scooter.
It was exactly what I’d needed to get me out of my temporary funk and had also given me a few unique experiences that may normally have been hard to come by (these whiskey stalls are not common in my current area and, as of this writing, I’d yet to see another cricket merchant).*
*I would later see many and sample an entire menagerie of insects over the course of my two years in Thailand