Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On a Mission

I gave a presentation today on how to survive in Chiang Mai.  I talked about how to catch a songtaew, pay the right price and get to where I wanted to go.  The assignment was to talk for 15 to 20 minutes but most of us, including myself, went over that.  Still, we managed to get out on time.  Yesterday, we voted for class to begin at 9 and end at 2.  We will stick to that schedule until we have to visit a classroom.  Then it is a matter of the school schedule.

All through class my mind was on something far more important.  Something that was in my thoughts again and again.  I checked my notes several times to be sure I was going to perform correctly.  I was thinking, of course, about how I was going to order lunch.

A few days ago, Nee and I went out for dinner at one of the roadside food stands.  Several types of food were available including pad thai, fried chicken and steamed chicken.  The one dish that caught my eye was a lovely piece of meat boiling away in a steel tub.  It was a pork leg and I wanted to try it.  The meal came with rice, some pickled vegetable and some slices of pork.  I loved it and ate it slowly to enjoy each bite.  Eating slowly is not something I normally do so I was truly enjoying it. 

Last night, I told Nee that I wanted to take a chance and order some of the same for lunch, as it is a fairly common dish served around Thailand.  To order it, I have to understand Thai grammar.  I start with the rice, kaaw, followed by the adjective for the meat, the bone, or kaa.  The meat is pork, muu with rising inflection on the on the last U sounding a bit like a question.  In addition, there is also a hard-boiled egg, kai.  And finally, I want one plate, nung jaan.  Thus Nee taught me to say:

Kaaw kaa muu gap kai nung jaan. 

She wrote it down for me but I had promise to not pin it on my shirt.  All through class I kept repeating kaaw kaa muu gap kai nung jaan.  I muttered it to myself to the restroom, back to the class and sometimes when a speaker or two lost my attention.  Finally class was over and I was on my way.  Yesterday I joined the class for lunch but with two vegans and another vegetarian, I was starved from that.  I wanted to head out on my own. 

As I walked out I mentioned to the teacher my plans to see if he might know of a good place.  He said there was a place down the street called "The Bamboo" that catered to foreigners, farang, and if I told them I was from class, they would take care of me.  I said I would consider it.  Walking past it, I decided I wanted no Farang food today.  I wanted to be a native.  I walked down the block, turned the corner and went from shop to shop looking for pork leg.  I saw fried chicken, fried bananas, noodles, and a few more Farang places, but none seemed to have my goal.  Besides, I didn't know how to order anything else.

I walked to the end of that block and then turned right for the moat.  The shops I saw sold tires, fans, furniture, keys, bikes, pharmacy, and any number of things I was not looking for.  I wanted my damned pork leg.  I finally made it to the moat.  There was another Mike's Hamburgers as well as a few coffee places, dessert places and such.  Still no pork leg.  I crossed the first street then the next, dodging motorcycles, trucks and cars, arriving at the inside of the moated portion of town.  Inside the moat, Farangville gets even heavier. 

My journey continued past boiled chicken, vegetarian, fruit, more tires, another drug store and a fresh market.  I toured down into the market and back again.  Back to the main street, I finally walked into a likely subject.  "Kaa muu?" I asked.
"Mai," she said and pointed me next door. 
"Kaa muu?"  Nope.  No kaa muu. 

At this time, it was 2:30 and I was hungry.  There was plenty of food around and, though it looked good, I was on a mission.  I must use my Thai.  I walked and walked and finally came to a Thai shop with two ladies sitting at wooden tables and a pot of something boiling away.  I looked at the menu and saw no pictures of my desired meal.  She called to me and said, "Noodle soup."  Damn.  OK.  I will have noodle soup. 

I walked in and she was starting my order when there, before me, in all its glory, floating in a wonderful broth, was a pork leg.  "Kaa muu?" I asked.

She looked suprised at my question and pointed to the rice cooker.  "Kaaw kaa muu," she replied, pointing to the rice. 

"Nung jaan," I replied.  I sat down and then remembered.  "Gap kai?"  She nodded and smiled.  She seemed quite pleased that I could speak to her and I almost started tap dancing.  The food was wonderful.  I ordered some cold water, naam yen, and sat quietly in my joyous celebration of success.  As I left, she gave me the price, 50 baht, about a dollar and a half, and I paid.  The other lady started complimenting my Thai but I had to say that Ionly knew a little, nit noi, Thai.  They both laughed pleasantly and I caught my songtaew home. 

Mission completed.  Tomorrow, noodle soup with large noodles, sen yai.


  1. Bravo!! Wonderful piece of writing :)

  2. Thanks, Mati. I am enjoying writing and there is so much here to see and do.