What really happened to Boxer

Thailand is obsessed with food, and nowhere more so than Bangkok. Days after I should have processed my visa for Laos and moved on, I linger here waddling from one food stand to the next. I’ve got good at casing plates of food as I sidle by, and pointing at anything that looks promising: ‘Same-same. One.’

Even in Bangkok where tourists scurry like cockroaches, street vendors still seem tickled when foreigners sit down with them rather than enduring another banana pancake at the guesthouse. Last night, I spotted a family dipping goodies into a hotpot on a tabletop charcoal brazier.
   ‘Sukiyaki. Beef.’ said the stallholder.
Sukiyaki. Just like the Korean barbeque places on 32nd St.
   ‘Same-same. One. And one Tiger beer.’

First they brought a brazier, then an earthenware pot of broth. A plate of vermicelli, cabbage leaves, holy basil and chilis followed. Then—oh sweet Jesus—a plate of raw tripe, cartilage, and tendon. The tripe was yellow like old net curtains, and the cartilage had the look of long slices of quince jelly. But I knew it wasn’t.

At the next table, the family whose dinner I ordered became enthusiastic. They crowded around to show me how to pick up the tripe and cartilage on a slotted spoon and cook it in the bubbling soup, adding the garnishes at the end. They smiled and nodded as they waited for me to pronounce on my first delicious bite. As I choked down the gluey mouthful, I caught sight of a handsome Swedish couple pointing at my dish from a few tables over.
   ‘What’s that?’
   ‘Sukiyaki. Beef.’
   ‘Ah. We try. Same-same. Two.’
I smiled at my new Thai friends and said nothing to the Swedes. Hell, I can’t afford real dinner theater.

‘Oh, I like fruit fine, but I’d just as soon have a piece of cake.’ — Shirley MacLaine

— Shirley MacLaine

I always thought Shirley MacLaine spoke for all of us on this one, but that was before I discovered my new mantra.
Rambutan. Durian. Mangosteen. Papaya. Lychee. Mango. Coconut. ’10-baht-one-kilo-you-come-back-tomorrow-thank you.’

I mean, the fruit here even looks cool. The rambutan, for one, ought to win a few design awards for innovative packaging. Bright red skin covered in rubbery lime green spikes, opening cleanly to reveal a glistening white egg of sweet, gelatinous fruit. And a nice little seed in the middle to suck.

I just ate a kilo of them. Life is sweet.

Nostalgie de la boue

On my last visit to Central Park, there was a small patch of mud just inside the entrance gate to the Sheep Meadow. People hopped over it or walked around the edge. As I was leaving, a pair of toddlers approached. She was about three and a half, he was two. Their matching navy-blue outfits were immaculate. At the patch of mud, they stopped dead. Alien substance. Bad?

Mom followed, pushing a huge sports-utility stroller. She was as blondely, blandly perfect as they were.
    ‘Ewwwwwww!’ she said, as though they were forced to ford a twenty-foot latrine. ‘Get in the stroller! Now!’

I felt sorry for these kids who didn’t know what mud was for. I remember making mud pies with my friend Danielle, stirring them with sticks and fingers and singing ‘Shit-ty, shit-ty, shit-ty’ until our mothers came out to explain that that wasn’t a nice word for little girls to say.

Thai kids have a very different life. Ton picked me up in a jeep yesterday as I walked back to my bungalow. There was a borrowed three-year-old in his lap (no seatbelt, of course). He belonged to one of the kitchen staff.
    ‘He like to drive. When I go in jeep, he come.’
Ton’s hands were by his side. The little boy flicked the turn signal at the bottom of the road, and Ton helped him haul the steering wheel around to the left. The kid steered us home single-handed while Ton worked the pedals and the gears. They chattered the whole way. Bear in mind that Koh Samui has the highest rate of traffic accidents in all of Thailand, which chills my heart as I walk to the fruit market every morning, flinching at the onslaught of 18-wheelers driven by toddlers.

Thai kids run naked on the beach. They clamber over guests at beach huts and shout ‘Hallo! Spiderman!’ They sing and chase skinny chickens. They are tickled half to death and folded into deckchairs at Bangkok market stalls. On the buses, adults stand up to give them seats. They are so free that’s it’s never quite clear who their parents are. I would like to be reborn as a Thai child. And I swear I’ll never raise a Manhattan veal calf of a kid.

I’m still here at the Starvation Spa, determined to make up in the second week for the privations of the first. Cruelly, the Spa has one of the 50 best restaurants in the world according to some magazine or other, and the aromas had tormented me throughout the fast. But an odd thing has happened: I now want to eat fruit, salads, steamed vegetables, goat yoghurt, occasional fish. I bounce out of bed at 6.30 a.m., though I haven’t had a cup of coffee in two weeks. I’m all shiny. You’d find me obnoxious.

Aside from food, the other great delight here is the company I keep. On a one-week vacation, I’d never give up a precious day to spend with, say, a psychologist who’d lived in India for thirty years, or a professor of Criminology, or a landmine control activist, or a San Francisco software engineer (okay, maybe the latter). But with an open-ended year ahead, I can putter about from one to another, listening to their stories like a little girl at bedtime. I feel rich in people. And I’m starting to believe my life’s work lies in persuading others not to miss out on their own lives.

New Age Boot Camp

I could have eaten a farmer’s arse coming through a ditch. A baby’s arm through a wicker chair. I was that hungry.

Today is Day Eight of my seven-day fast. Mostly, I felt dreadful, while others glowed like Christmas lights. The advertised seven days was a marketing lie told to lure in clueless softies like me. The day before, I was only allowed fruit and salads, which don’t really count as food. Today, though I’m supposed to be finished, I’m still only allowed fruit and salad, and had a special bonus colema in the morning. So that counts as nine days of suffering by my reckoning. There’s a German lunatic here on Day Twenty.

And the regimen! So much for sitting on a beach contemplating a changed life.

    07.00:     Cleanse drink (disgusting: pineapple-flavored frogspawn)
    07.30:    1 hour meditation
    08.30:    6 herbal pills (disgusting)
    08.45:     1.5 hour yoga
    10.15:    (Late for) cleanse drink (still disgusting)
    10:15:    1 hour colema (unspeakable)
    11.30:    6 herbal pills
    13.00:     Cleanse drink and clear vegetable broth
    14.30:    6 herbal pills
    16:00:    Cleanse drink
    16.30:    1 hour colema (unspeakable)
    17.30:    6 herbal pills
    17.30:    1 hour chi gung
    19:00:    Cleanse drink and coconut juice
    20.30:    6 herbal pills
    21:00:    Last pills
    22:00:    Bed

As for the colemas, which are eliciting reader interest, Spa Samui is the Disneyworld of dysentry. Experience the thrill of cholera in a controlled, safe environment. Buzz, the manager/instructor, is worldweary as only someone who has trained 4,000 strangers to administer a tube up the butt connected to 16 gallons of weak coffee solution can be. He struts about, the (Aussie) Jeff Goldblum of this movie.
    ‘Here’s yer cappucino,’ he says, pointing at the bucket, ‘I’m off to have a beer and a pizza. Heh, heh. Just kidding.’

It’s very low-tech. We got a plastic catering bucket, a tube, a bulldog clip, and our ‘own personal colema tip’, which connects to the tube. There’s a white plastic board that you balance between the toilet seat and a plastic stool. Lie down. Grease up. Away you go.

I had a pet gecko that stared at me throughout each operation, while I swore at him for not eating the mosquitos. One particularly bleak morning he ran up the wall, all cocky-like, and fell off and landed on his back on the floor. He lay still for a while, then slowly crawled back up and stared balefully for the rest of the time. I think he blamed me.

A large coconut had caused my bathroom ceiling to cave in slightly, so that when the rains started in the afternoons I was pelted with wet leaves. I began to contemplate what an ignominious end it would be to be brained by a coconut, indoors, while pinned to a colema board on Koh Samui. A fitting end for a reluctant New Ager.