21 September 2008

Letter 3.41

I'm still in the Northeast at Wat Boong Wai. The Northeast is very different from Bangkok and the North -- the people are of Laotian descent and are much like the Laotians I met in the refugee village in the North -- the finest people I've met in Thailand, though I believe they're scorned in the city as ignorant village peasants. Not to say there isn't banditry etc. around here (though I've not been bothered), but the people seen naturally friendly and helpful, not reserved. They have ways different from Bangkok and foods also. For instance, their staple is a heavy sticky brown rice that I quite like -- the light white rice will seem insubstantial after this. We get one meal a day here, but the food is good, and vegetarian for those (like me) who wish it -- fresh green leaves of many strange sorts (including the touch-me-not plant that closes its leaves when touched-I never knew they were edible before, but now I know why they close their leaves), some of which take some getting used to, are steamed and eaten spinach-like. One villager brings a pot of soy milk every morning, and we each have a glassful. Eggplant made into a kind of spicy paste is common. Fried crickets are considered a special delicacy (I'll try one when they come up with a vegetable variety). Also a sort of olive that, pickled, is quite tasty -- sharp, a bit musty. Only after I ate some did I learn that they're pickled in urine. And then, there are other delicacies that not only will I not even consider trying, I wouldn't even consider describing to you. Fortunately, I can depend on plenty of less exotic fare for my meals-bamboo shoots, yams, boiled pickles, fried cucumbers, boiled peanuts, raw ears of baby corn, about 2-3 inches long and eaten cob and all -- all quite satisfying.

Bits and pieces of fact and rumor about the trouble in Vietnam filter through the jungle, but it doesn't affect us here though we're closer to Saigon than to Bangkok -- not only in terms of miles, but in terms of culture too, perhaps.

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