Luqman's Day 19 - Same same, but different
Today's blog follows a very popular saying here in Thailand and in neighboring countries of Southeast Asia. It is "same same, but different." Our tour guide has used this saying numerous times, and there are even t-shirts expressing the same adage. It is basically used to describe the commonalities between various aspects of Thai and Southeast Asian culture, yet it still respects the subtle differences that make every experience unique. This blog will be more of the same, as I will continue to relay what happens on my daily trek through a world that is new to me. However, today we will mix it up a little. This morning, there were two optional tours that our group could choose to do (and in case you are wondering, "optional" it means that the price was not included in the tour package costs). The first option was to go to the Erawan waterfall, which is a wonderful place to see nature's beauty for tourists and locals alike. It is known for having 7 different tiers or levels at different points of a long nature hike, all of which can be accessed with the right level of commitment. You have to walk a couple hundred meters to reach the first tier, but if you want to see them all, you have to hike through relatively challenging terrain for 2.2 kilometers (nearly a mile and a half for those making that snooty, 'I don't know metric units, and the world needs to start using American numbers' face). You can literally swim with the fishes at any tier you like, but of course some are better than others. The second option was to get a detailed lesson in Thai cooking from a local chef. Hannah thought it would be best for us to each do one option so we can both explain something different. Well, I cannot cook at all pretty much, and I wanted to do the cooking to better myself and become a more well rounded person, but in the end I punked out. I justified this by saying that I needed the exercise from the waterfall more and it would provide more immediate benefit since I obviously won't be cooking for a while, especially not before my health insurance game is tight (maybe around November 08, wink, wink, keep your fingers and toes crossed). Thus, I will explain my experience at the waterfall and Hannah will follow with a short composition detailing the intricacies of the preparation of fine Thai cuisine. Judging from previous blogs she will use gripping prose and diction, probably even utilizing things from the English language like gerunds and past participles that I still don't understand to this day. We hope you like the change in pace.
Erawan waterfall was amazing. The task of walking a mile and a half to reach the top was pretty intimidating, but the perceived reward of waterfall bliss on the seventh level was encouraging. We only had 3 hours, and about two hours and 40 minutes ended up being spent trekking either up or down this mountain. This only left twenty minutes for swimming, which was of course disappointing, but spending it under a small waterfall on the second level definitely made it worth it. It was extremely peaceful if you could tone out the 5 other people near you on the rocks screaming or ignore the fish that were "kissing" you on your ankles as you stood there. That was surely the weirdest thing. There are tons of fish in the pool-like flat regions of the waterfalls and instead of swimming away when you jump in, they swim to you and start sucking on your skin like you have some type of fish crack coming out your pores. It is like going on a nature trail and seeing a deer, and just when you are excited that he lets you get close, he starts head butting the hell out of you. And he follows you so he can continue the harassment, and you know you aint about to outrun a deer. It was weird like that. Anyway, the pictures were very nice, but you could see that the fact that it is dry season takes a lot from the experience. I can only imagine how beautiful the scene is after some rain. Maybe one day I will make it back and check out the waterfall at its full splendor. And then again, maybe not. But now I will let Hannah pontificate on the minutia that enhances Thai culinary sciences.
Hannah's part starting…
Well let me first just say that I am thrilled to be able to have an excerpt in Luqman's blog. His blogs are poppin' so I'm gonna try and not embarrass myself and not be too boring so here we go…
Since everybody in our group seemed to want to go to the waterfalls, I decided to be different and try the other option. Luckily, my new mate Nick also wanted to try his hand at Thai cooking. We met at the Apple Guesthouse and we were surprised to find that we were the youngest people in our group. Everyone else was in their mid-late 30's as well as a Canadian gentleman who was well… how do I say it… a bit more elderly. Our teacher, Noi, introduced herself and told us that we would be cooking three traditional Thai dishes: Pad Thai with chicken, green curry with beef, and cashew chicken stir fry. In addition, we would also be making a trip to the local market to look at the ingredients we would be working with as well as learn more about Thai cuisine.
We boarded the songathaew and got off at the market. Noi, who studied at the Bangkok Culinary Institute and who runs the Apple Guesthouse Restaurant, showed us around the market and made us try many customary Thai snacks and desserts that the vendors were selling. Many of the desserts were made from tapioca and sticky rice so they had a jelly like consistency. Nick wasn't really a fan of these desserts. Noi told us a lot of interesting facts about Thai cuisine and Thai culture. She talked about how Thai people like smaller vegetables and fruits because they are a lot crunchier than the larger ones. She also showed us many indigenous fruits and vegetables to Thailand such as the Thai eggplant, which is green in color as well as the various different types of bananas that are indigenous to Siam. The most important thing I learned at the market and from Noi was that when you eat something spicy, don't use liquids such as water to cool your mouth. This is because the more water you drink, the more the hot, spicy foods just slosh around in your stomach and intestines. Accordingly, you're supposed to eat rice or bread or some other types of foods that will soak up and balance out the spiciness. Learning this was invaluable because Lord knows I love my spicy foods!
After our trip to the market, we arrived at Noi's cooking and training school. Nick and I were both blown away at the beautiful view of the river from Noi's school. We quickly put on our aprons and got straight to work. Noi cooked the dishes first and let us sample them. Then we were on our own. Nick and I both looked at each other and sighed because we knew we absolutely had to do a good job because we had to eat what we created. I guess our prayers and the Thai cooking gods blessed us because our food turned out amazing! On top of our food turning out well, I really had fun cooking with Nick and getting to know him better. My favorite dish was the cashew chicken stir-fry and least favorite was the green curry. We were enjoying eating our creations and chatting with our other fellow novice chefs when Noi informed us that Nick and I had to leave right away because our other group members were back from the waterfalls and we had to get on the road. She whistled and we were greeted by a huge Toyota pick up truck. I looked at the pickup truck and suddenly, I felt a pang of nostalgia for Atlanta. We headed back to Apple Guesthouse and met up with our other group members, who all seemed sunburned and sweaty while Nick and I looked full and satiated from cooking and eating our delicious Thai meals.
Hannah's part ending…
After coming back to the guesthouse from the optional activities, we ate another wonderful lunch and hopped back on the city bus to go for another 2 and a half hour trip to a small town called Nonthaburi right outside of Bangkok. Here we will spend the night at the Thai House, which is a beautiful house in which the owners stay downstairs and rent rooms on the second floor. It is one of the nicest places I have ever seen, with everything made out of stunning wood and with plant life enhancing the grounds and the house tremendously. We were to get another taste of Thai culture by having a home cooked meal from our hosts, and to my dismay, we were required to wear a Thai 'sarong' (this is another word for dress that you use to tell the story to big dumb people so they won't beat you up). They took a group photo, and I would post it, but a picture is worth a thousand words, and a picture of me in a 'sarong' without proper explanation is worth about a million words, all of them surely wrong and out of context. Knowing my luck, that thing would probably end up in a lonely planet book somewhere or pop up when you google "man in dress" or something like it. Thus and thus, I will definitely refrain from posting this pictue. So if you don't mind I will just let that image die from your minds righhhhhht now (I appreciate it, and if you bring it up when I see you in person I will act like I don't know what you are talking about). Following a wonderful dinner some of the group went to a nearby Buddhist temple festival (I went to sleep, so all I know is that this is what it was called) and called it a night. Today was another packed but exciting day, and I know that these are now extremely short lived with our last tour day being Monday. However, I will continue to make the most of my experience, and hope that just reading it will bring you that much closer to Thailand. Can you feel it (if you aint sweating yet, trust me, you can't). It's all good anyway, I guess. Until next time, peace.