Thursday, January 19, 2006

After many stressful years living in the U.S., playing the all-American money game, I am finally resigned to a relaxed, peaceful life in Asia. Alas, part of this relaxed, peaceful life is contingent upon humor and when you live in a foreign country; definitions of humor are decidedly different.

Thai humor only mildly amuses me, so I turn to more familiar sources such as the Bangkok Post newspaper, which is Internationally inclined and in English. The Bangkok Post has many familiar contributors to its humor columns, such as Dave Barry, Roger Crutchley and other local favorites.

The “funny pages” as I am used to calling them, offer more comic relief, peddling my familiar favorites such as Garfieldâ, Peanuts®, Monty®, and Bizarro®.

But all this humor is not sufficient. So, I have included a new source of humor to my daily readings…”Miss Manners,” Judith Martin’s widely read column on the code of (supposed) correct conduct according to (ahem) social standards. Martha Stewart is old news, so I’m tramping on new ground now.

Knife or fork? A recent reader wrote in to Ms. Manners, in a quandary over whether a knife should be used on a normal broken salad, especially with a whole cherry tomato and a salad plate included in the equation.

The reader states she (he?) was taught that a salad fork must be used to cut the salad, but their “partner” says that as a cherry tomato tends to scoot across the table when attempting to cut it with a salad fork, a knife should be used. The reader adds, “Can a knife be used if the lettuce is not sufficiently torn?”

Jesus freaking Christ!

After I stopped laughing and rolling about on the floor, I read Ms. Manners answer…

”Miss Manners recommends dropping whatever else you are doing to go hunt for salad knives. It will not be easy, but the small knife, also sometimes called a tea knife or a youth knife, is the only correct one to use. You need them, because you are at an impasse. You are right that meat knives should never be used on salad, but your partner is right that one has to defend oneself against inconsiderate and lazy salad-makers.”

To knife or not to knife, that is the question. Tis…

My God! Who are these people?

I try very hard…(okay, I try sorta hard) to value other people’s opinions and cultural differences, but there are just some things that I consider weird…and Ms. Manner’s column exposes a good majority of them.

Another article is titled: “Use Patience.” The patient writer states that her husband maintains that it is rude to blow on hot food to cool it.

Hey, sounds cool to me…(pun intended)

However, the husband’s troubled spouse maintains that her husband’s practice of cooling the food by inhaling as he takes a bite is rude, since he makes a slurping noise while doing so. She goes on to point out the inherent dangers of children practicing this, “inhaling food” practice, since they can accidentally ingest large pieces of food whilst inhaling.

The answer? Ms. Manners states that both parties are wrong and neither should inhale or exhale on their victuals, but rather have patience and wait until their dishes have cooled.

Lord help me.

I use any convenient knife I can find to cut salad, meat or anything else on my plate, and I use (horror) mason jars for drinking glasses. When knives are not convenient, I rip things apart with my bare hands or cut them with my pair of industrial bandage scissors. I have no clue what a tea or youth knife looks like, nor would I ever purchase one if I saw one.

When food is hot, I blow on it, inhale when eating it, and even go as far as turning on a nearby fan to further cool said grub.

Miss Manners, my hat is off to you in regards to your getting paid to actually answer this obvious foolishness and walk away unscathed. I will continue to monitor your column for my regular humor boost, and I suggest you continue to laugh all the way to the bank.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Once again, like a bad habit, I’m back to blog yet again.

This time it was computer problems of the fatal kind and my laptop is all but dead. I’m trying to salvage the data on its hard drive, but have yet to make any headway. So I’m back in business with a new computer (PC) purchased at Tesco Lotus, but not without annoying snags.

It was difficult enough just securing a loan for the computer, being a foreigner in an Asian country. I had to come forth with my passport, up-to-date bank statement, work permit, teachers license and a gob of other documents before they would even consider giving me the loan, and even then they wouldn’t allow a two-year loan since my visa and work permit are limited to one-year renewals.

Once the computer was home and hooked up, I hit another brick wall. The operating system was Linux / Unix based and on top of that, it was all in Thai. So, back to the drawing board it was for me. Mam, my lovely counterpart, took the CPU into Tesco to have Microsoft Windows installed and ended up causing a major disturbance since security thought she was lugging a bomb into the store.

Once home, we discovered that although Windows was installed, several programs such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel were still in Thai. So, we finally ended up contracting with a local computer repairman who spent three days converting my CPU into an English friendly unit.

As many of my faithful readers may be wondering, my trip to Chum Phae in Isaan was a wonderful one. The train ride took three days and my layover in Bangkok was long and grueling, but worth it. Mam and her small entourage of local villagers met me at the Khon Kaen train station early in the morning and I can’t say that I’ve ever met friendlier people.

We drove from Khon Kaen to Chum Phae in a small pickup, piloted by Noi, a rather attractive lady boy, if I say so myself. I have to admit that it took me a while to notice that this “woman” was really a man, but if you know Thailand, katoey’s, as they are referred to, are about as commonplace as rice.

Most of the first day was a blur because of my lack of sleep, but once I arrived in the village, the hustle and bustle of meeting everyone (and I do mean “everyone”), didn’t allow for time to be tired.

Mam’s mom was awesome and greeted me with a huge hug. Her father was cordial, but all in all fairly accepting, which according to Mam, is a bit of a stretch for him. Her father is a rather eccentric, yet interesting man who lives away from the home in a small house on his rice farm. He chooses the tranquility of the farm over the hustle and bustle of the village. Several times during my stay of just over two weeks, Mam and I traveled out to his farm to bring him food and provisions and he seemed polite, if not a bit guarded.

Naturally, being a farang (westerner) and the major love interest of a popular, local village girl, I was in high demand. Everybody wanted to meet me. This was novel for the first few days, but became rather annoying after a week or so (We Westerners so covet our privacy and quiet time you know). My Thai is rudimentary at best, and my Lao and Isaan dialect is non-existent, so communication often came to an uncomfortable standstill since Mam often had difficulty translating what the villagers were saying to me.

Nonetheless, I had a wonderful time with these wonderful, gracious and exceedingly friendly people. My personal favorites were three women… Paan, Jaanta and Phuta. Paan is Noi’s mother. She owns and operates a beauty salon next to Mam’s home and openly jokes about her son/daughter’s gender issue.

Jannta and Phuta are two local villagers who have more character than could possibly be put down into words. Both these women are very dark, with deeply wrinkled, yet attractive faces from long hours in the hot Northeast Thailand sun, cutting rice in the rice paddies. Both typically wore turban style headgear and greeted me with red, syrupy smiles and blackened teeth, from years of betel nut chewing.

Waving sharp sickle knives about, they greeted me enthusiastically one particular morning, sputtering Lao and cajoling me to join them in the rice paddies to cut rice. As banal as this may seem to the reader, I must say it was one of the highlights of my visit and an experience I will not soon forget.

About fifteen to twenty of the local villagers showed up that day to cut rice in the burning sun, including Mam’s aged, yet agile mother. Once finished, the villagers were paid 100 baht (the equivalent of about $2.50) apiece and treated to a meal of duck. I, meanwhile, was graciously complemented by the landowner, as a (near) rice-harvesting expert.

It’s impossible to list all my experiences here, so I plan to blog about them as my memory banks retrieve them. At present, however, Mam is here with me in Songkhla and adjusting to life in the deep, restive south, quite well. Two months into Mam’s stay, we suffered a massive deluge of monsoon rains, which flooded the river basin and inundated our village. Mam and I were lucky though, and only had water enter our carport, up to the third step leading to our front door.

I hope to be contributing to this site more often now that I’m set up with a new computer, and I hope all of you who read my stuff had a safe and peaceful holiday season.

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