The first of my own personal travel experiences: Thailand, 2014
Unfamiliar smells filled my lungs as unfamiliar sights entered the windows to my own personal happiness. I wondered if the key to happiness was locked inside the minds of the people who had so little yet smiling to them is a state of mind.
Wearing my oversized t-shirt with a motivational, life affirming quote on that I had bought from the side of the street for 200bahrt, reading: ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’- I ventured far from the secure hotel and got a tuk tuk into the night life, being driven by a high Thai who charged less than an English pound and was without a doubt the happiest man I had ever seen.
They call it the ‘land of smiles’ because it is just that.
Market stalls of Thai street food leaked new and fragrant smells into my otherwise English nose that had grown accustomed to British roast chicken and not chicken infused in spices with sticky rice and perfectly cooked vegetables, all coming together to make a dish I couldn’t pronounce.
It was a set up restaurant on a corner by a stall selling Thai jewellery that caught my attention where I went on to buy myself the one thing I recognised off the menu only partly in English. Green Thai curry. I had eaten versions of the delicacy bought from Tesco’s so it would be fine, I thought.
I suppose if you count having to order four large cokes and turning my already sticky clothing wet then yes, I was fine. Authenticity is something profound you don’t think about when Lloyd Grossman’s smug face is being placed into your shopping trolley with empty promises of ‘a taste of Thailand’ being drilled into your head, making you think your dislike for spice will be okay because at least you’ll have one dish you can fall back on.
The overwhelming flavour of what I was eating was something indescribable. It was delicious and filling and refreshing. This all came after the starter, of course, which explains my mood of dread before this meal.
I was presented, for free, a generous platter of leaves with exotic colour spices and sauces in little traditional pots that would come together to produce a spectacle I would have to eat. I was shown how to make one and then given it to try. I took a leap of faith and shoved the whole thing in my mouth as the waiter stayed in anticipation of what I thought to their beautifully made leaf starter. I nodded my head in approval and thanked the Buddha himself he was satisfied with that so left me and my family to it so I could make the face seven years of acting had taught me to hide.
I had to swallow what the enzymes in my mouth got confused over whether they should digest it or not. The intense sharpness the leaf sent to my jaw mixed with some powder that refused to mix with my saliva, mixed with a sauce that contained chunks of what I can only describe as cat food that had been warmed up, slowly made its way down my throat, back up a little then with one last push it was my stomachs problem.
My eyes had streamed tears and more came as I joined in with my family’s laughter. I was in Thailand, eating a leaf grown from Satan’s fingernails and I realised why they call this place the ‘land of smiles.’
They don’t care if their open sewers aren’t the most hygienic or if a prostitute asks my father, who is standing next to his wife and children, if he wants a ‘fun night’ where he declines in his most British politeness. They smile here; even at a blonde English girl trying to hide her misfortune in taste buds.
Anyone who asks me why I ordered Thai food every night when I don’t like spice, I answer them this: ‘it is worth it. If we never tried anything or went out of our comfort zones, how can we expect to understand one another? So, every night I ordered something different because all of them were so unique and offered me something the other couldn’t. Yes, some I didn’t really like and some came to haunt me later on, usually the next morning but I gave it a good go.’
I still went back to green Thai curry some nights even though in Thailand it is one of the spiciest curries they have (Lloyd Grossman needs to learn a thing or two) because I was in Thailand and that was enough.