Letters From Bangkok: To London From Abroad
4th October 2018
Today is the first day it didn’t rain since I’ve been in Bangkok. At least, I think. I didn’t wake up until noon.
The good weather gave me some much needed time to leisurely stroll. Usually, I’m limited in how far I can make it from Khao San Road before it starts raining and I have to take a taxi home. Today, I got properly lost.
I ended up on the north side of the city. I’d never been there before. Things over there look pretty much the same as at my end of Bangkok. You still have to watch where you walk (even on the pavement) because a scooter could run you off path at any moment. You still get whiffs of decaying matter every few blocks. And the street food looks equally intimidating to order.
I can’t remember exactly where I was (that’s what Google is for), but at one point, I ran into a crowd of people lined up outside of a building. They all looked young, but most Thai people have an unfathomably young appearance no matter their actual age.
It looked intriguing so I figured I’d cross the street and see what all the jazz was about. I took a spot at the end of the line and asked a few people around me what was going on. None of them spoke English well and the best I could get out of them was a couple of head nods to my questions that I knew they didn’t understand.
The line seemed to be moving rapidly, so I decided to wait it out. We were queued up for about half-an-hour as they let in groups of 10-15 at a time. Soon enough, I was at the front of the building. It was a place called Thipsamai.
I still didn’t know what was so special about it, but they had a kitchen rigged up in front of the building so I knew it was food, at least. By the looks of it, they were only preparing one kind of dish and had ten-or-so chefs vehemently going at it in assembly-line fashion. It was a makeshift kitchen outside the restaurant to allow for more seating inside.
The entire staff operated systematically. Although it looked like a war zone, it was efficient. The chefs who manned the stoves used enormous pans that could feed dozens. Though I couldn’t even tell you what was in the pans and that’s even after eating it.
Once each pan finished cooking, they’d pass it down the line to the next person who garnished the food with something else. While this was happening, a few hosts hustled customers in and out of the building as quickly as I’ve ever seen at a restaurant. Even so, everyone came out looking happy and sated.
I kept glancing back at the line that I was now at the front of. It wasn’t getting smaller. By now, it had grown halfway down the block. This place had to be special.
When there was finally a seat for me inside, a host shuffled me in and held a menu open in front of me as we walked to my table. There were three different options. He tried to explain each, but I understood nothing. By the time I got to my table, he was waiting for my order. I pointed to the cheapest one (of course) and waited three minutes until it was in front of me.
Not only did I have no idea what it was, but I had no idea how to eat it. It looked like a thinly wrapped burrito but they gave me chopsticks. Confused, I observed the Thai people next to me and how they were preparing their plate and followed their lead. Right after, I took a photo of my meal. . . because who doesn’t?
As I took more time waiting for the people next to me to start eating, I looked around at the walls decorated in framed newspapers, magazine clippings, and online articles printed poster-size. The New York Times gave it a good wall review. As did Time Magazine, CNN Travel, BBC, and Lonely Planet. There were plenty more raving reviews with similar headlines reading something like, “Thipsamai: The Real Deal of Bangkok Pad Thai.”
So, it was Pad Thai. But it didn’t look like any Pad Thai I’d ever seen.
As I got to the end of the dish, my chopstick-skills let me down once again. Usually, on Khao San Road, I can put the Styrofoam bowl up to my mouth and shovel the last bits in like a pig. Here, though, probably less acceptable. Again, I subtly attempted to mimic the techniques of people around me.
It didn’t work. I’ve been meaning to watch a YouTube video on how to use these damn chopsticks since I arrived but I always forget. No way in Hell I’d just ask someone how to use them; that’s too sensible.
Before anyone could see me struggle, I hand-forked the rest of my noodle-looking-things and shoveled them into my mouth. Not an ounce of shame.
There’s obviously some things I need more time to become accustomed to, but I can see myself staying over here for a long time. I feel really good about where I’m at and am digging the few struggles that the ‘third world’ brings.
I was going to tell another story of my stimulating conversation with a monk today, but I wrote too much about my damn Pad Thai. Maybe next time.
I hope you make it over to this side of the world while I’m here and I wish London goes well for you. Say hello to Charlotte for me.
Donald Trump is not my president,