Chicken Assholes and Fish Eyeballs

Khon Khaen, Thailand April, 1993

I arrived by bus at 6:30 AM. After getting off the bus I was confronted by the usual phalanx of rickshaw drivers. My rickshaw driver of choice was a man in his late thirties named Pohn. First task of the day was to get a hotel room (which showed a lack of understanding of hotel customs everywhere). We hit about 5 hotels, all of which responded "come back in the afternoon", even the short time hotels (i.e. whorehouses, one of which was named, honest to god I have a photo, Suksawad). Pohn, who spoke very little english (about as much as I spoke thai), then proposed that we go to the morning market and drink coffee for a while.

At the morning market we proceeded to drink coffee (almost vietnamese style, little drip device sitting on top of the cup, mixed with large quantities of sweetened condensed milk) for about 40 minutes. By this time it was about 8:30. Pohn then proposed that we do some shots of elixir (rice liquor {moonshine} with medicinal roots soaking in it). We proceeded to split a pint of (medicinal) liquor. Smoking cigarettes and shooting the breeze (with large quantities of hand gestures, since we had about 3 words in common, and two of those were our names). Pohn then suggested that I buy him a fish. The fish market was incredible, lots of plastic tubs and garbage cans filled with live fresh water fish, eels, frogs, and some creatures that I could not recognize. After much bargaining, I bought a live 3 lb fish, which was put into a large plastic bag with lots of water. I then got into Pohn's rickshaw, and we pedaled to his house.

At Pohn’s house (two room two story cinderblock construction with plumbing but no running water {i.e. the shower had a drain}) I met his wife and two children. He directed me to hand the fish to his wife, who then laid it out on a chopping block and started to scale and clean it (a process which upset the fish to no end). I then followed Pohn over two blocks to a little kiosk where I bought him a pint of Mae Khong (non-moonshine {i.e. taxes paid} rice liquor) and some rice and raw beef mixture wrapped up in banana leaves. We then sat there and drank whiskey and ate raw beef (I am still amazed it didn’t make me sick) for about an hour, smoking cigarettes and shooting the breeze. By this time it is all of 10, and I am beginning to develop a pretty vicious buzz. When we finished the whiskey we walked (after a fashion) back to Pohn’s house, where his wife had started coals on a device that looked just like an Old Smokey (TM). Pohn then announced that I ought to buy some beer (pronounced, in thai, as whiskey-bia’). While waiting for the whiskey-bia’ woman (a neighborhood entrepreneur with a refrigerator) to show up we adjourned upstairs for some medicinal herb induced therapeutic coughing (mixed with cigarette tobacco and consumed w/ a bamboo bong). When we came back downstairs, the fish (prepared as soup) was ready and the whiskey-bia’ woman had shown up. (Yes, this story has a point, and we are almost there). Actually not just one bowl of soup, but rather three bowls of soup. One for me and Pohn, one for the neighborhood women (we had begun to draw a decent crowd by then), and one for the children. Served with the soup was sticky rice (glutinous rice, stored in a bamboo steamer, and handrolled into a ball and dipped into either the soup or nam phla’ {thai fish sauce}).

Why three bowls of soup? Well, a combination of thrifty recycling and a vicious pecking order. The bowl of soup I was sharing with Pohn had the two filets off the fish. This was a fair amount of meat, and a wonderful soup as well (vegetables I didn’t recognize, and lots of flavorful spices). Pohn and I were also the only ones drinking the beer (Singha, an indigenous thai beer which {allegedly} owes its distinctive whap to formaldehyde). Needless to say, by now I am trashed (well, it is almost 11:30 in the morning). The women (about 8 of them) are sharing the second bowl of soup, and drinking Mae Khong that I have bought them. Their bowl of soup consists of stock, vegetables, the fish’s skeleton, and the fish’s head. Pohn’s wife got the fish's head, and it was like watching a cajun eat. Yes, she ate the eyeballs. The third bowl of soup, shared by about a dozen children, was stock and the fish tail (they ate most of the rice, the soup being quite insubstantial).

Somewhere along the way, it was decided that Pohn’s children were going to stay with the neighbors, and I was going to pay $5 a day to stay with Pohn and his wife. I stayed four days (before going to Sukothai for Song Kran) and I do not think I have ever eaten better in my life (or more cheaply {on a per capita basis}). When I came back nine months later to stay with them again (and share all the photos I had taken) Pohn made me a catfish curry that was the hottest thing I have ever eaten in my life (but that is another story).

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Celtic Knots and Directed Panspermia / / revised April 2001