Today is a long anticipated day, years in the making. Our friend Kory put us on to Yui who runs a cooking class out of Chiang Mai. It fills up months in advance, especially since Gordon Ramsey took this class to improve his Pad Thai. "A Lot of Thai" is a must do in Chiang Mai. Yui picks us up, two cars come together into a larger pickup truck taxi that holds 8 people in the covered truck bed, and once at her home 2 others join us. We are complete. We are British, Irish, Korean and American. We are 10, and we are excited.
Yui has a unique style of teaching and cooking. She does it with rough menus and a lot of tasting, and tries to describe to us how creamy, sweet, salty and spicy profiles combined can make or break a dish. The cookbook she provides is far from complete. You just have to come to learn about all the secrets of the Thai kitchen that aren't written down anywhere. The reasons are that (1) there is no one-size-fits-all, so you need learn what flavors create the dish to be able to improvise, and (2) ingredients just aren't cloned; a green pepper can be very spicy or very-very spicy, and you need to recognize and adjust to that. Kory has been 3 or 4 times, and let me tell you, he puts all the meals we've had in Thailand so far to shame.
The class is entertaining. Yui is a very smart and well-educated person with a heart and soul driven by the creation and taste of foods. Her stories are both interesting and engaging. Her cooking is out of this world. We humbly try to copy her, and even though we far from exceed, I'm excited to make red or green curry or pad Thai at home now. Unlike the Balinese, Thai very much believe the food should be served hot. After some internal debate of about 10, maybe 15 seconds, I decide it is okay to serve Balinese food warm and Thai food hot. I'm just going to roll with that. I'm on vacation.
We buy some parting gifts (knifes, for ourselves) and she takes us through the market at the end of the class. The reason is that if she takes a group of 10 at the start of the class, during the regular market hours, the regular shoppers are going to be a little intimidated and too polite to ask to get in and get some lemon grass, and thus the vendor looses the sale to another vendor. That's what we call a lose-lose-lose. The vendor loses the sale, the shopper loses for having to take second pick, and Yui loses popularity points with the locals. Not good.
We watch, we cook, we eat, we rinse and repeat 3 more times. It is fantastic. At around 3:30, after we complete the market visit, we are released. Liz and I are still looking for three decorative gongs in three different sizes (we can stack those on a wall pyramid style), and our friend and chef recommends a place close to the market. At this Buddhist shop, the next adventure of the day commences.
Completely off the beaten path, we are dropped off at a shop for locals looking for shrines, statues, symbols to build their own temples at their homes and other personal places of worship. They have gongs (locals pronounce it kong), and they kinda sorta maybe understand what we're trying to do here. So they pick up an extra small, small, medium-small gong. Hurray, we have good sizes! The extra small looks a little old metalish while the small and medium are more finished in shiny black, and all are decorated in gold, although the smallest one definitely less bright gold than the other two. We try to explain that we will stack the three, and the difference in finishing isn't going to work. They start making calls. Can we wait 10 minutes? Sure. It's only 3:45, what else are we going to do?
More gongs come out. They are more shiny. They are trying to match the design of the smallest gong they seem to understand we like. We try to explain we want the old look, not the new. I can tell by their expression that they don't get it, probably think "what do these people want with old??". They make calls. Can we wait 10 minutes? Sure, what else are we going to do?
Someone takes a scooter ride, we wait 10 more minutes, more gongs show up. Now we have 2 oldish looking and 1 shiny medium-small gong, and the gold on the (middle) small oldish gong is much shinier than the extra-small gong. I try to show that we want the older look, and that extra small gong has disappeared. We try to communicate. They are all smiles, and one person speaks a little bit of English. I find the old gong, put away in a corner. They are still confused that we don't want the clean new look. Why do you want old looking crap in your temple? Can we wait 10 minutes? Sure, what else are we going to do?
These guys are really trying to make it work. You can't turn your back on that. But now I think we're getting somewhere. We have two old looking gongs. Only, they're the same size. Rather than putting them on top of each other, they search for and find a measuring tape and determine that, yes, indeed, we are correct, both are 19cm in diameter. Also, two don't make three, but that's a moot point right now. We do some more sign language and key word communication, they go off again. Can we wait 10 minutes? Sure, what else are we going to do?
Someone else gets involved, a flurry of activity later with at least 5 people working the problem, and having been in the shop for over an hour now, they bring us 3 similarly old looking gongs with the desired varying sizes. Eureka! We are happy. What does this cost? Confusion all around. There is a price on one gong, and not on the other two. Solution! Let's weigh the one and apply the kilogram-price of that one to the total weight of the three! A scale comes out. They want to make sure we find it accurate and they charge us 1.9 kilogram of gong. We are happy. They are happy. We all bow, they carefully wrap, and we are on our way for a Tuk-Tuk ride home.
Did we mind waiting an hour? Absolutely not. These people worked hard to solve the problem, adjusted course several times, charged us what I thought was a fair price through creative mechanism of weight (given the absence of prices), and they were friendly every step of the way. I was happy to watch it unfold, and I am excited about the catch!
It was a great day in Chiang Mai.