Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Facts of Life

One of the things about Thailand that's very different from the US is how much less prudish, how much more honest things are here. Don't get me wrong, women are modest here (well, aside from the bar girls, naturally). You don't see many bare shoulders, low cut tops or plumbers cracks. But they're not at all prudish. I remember one of my first days, one of the office gals was joking about her big fat belly (yeah, she weighs about 110 lbs - anyway). She went up to one of the male teachers, picked up her shirt and holding out her belly told him "Look I'm pregnant. No, just kidding - I'm on my period, I'm so fat." Now I know girls in the US who would say something like that to a guy friend. But I have never gone up to a male coworker, lifted up my shirt, and complained about being bloated. It's just goes against the social mores.

They're far less prudish about sex too. Condoms aren't hidden on the top shelf of the feminine hygeine asile, or in the back of the store next to the pharmacy. No, they're at the check out next to the gum and while you're waiting in line you can remember to pick some up. Not that I have any need... but you theory.

Just this week Key told me one of the women in the office is pregnant. The woman had just found out that day. She's young & unmarried (although she lives with her boyfriend) & wasn't exactly planning this. I was surprised that Key had taken me into her confidence like that. But then the very next day the woman in question came into the teacher's room and told another teacher, and there were three other people in the room, "Chan mee baby laao." (which literally translates into "I have baby already."... when Key told me that I was like 'she has a kid?' but Key mimed pregnancy and I figured it out. I don't know if this is an idiom or what.) But there was no shame, no hesitation, just a statement of fact.

It was in a similar fashion that Key pointed out the prostitutes on the main street as we drove to dinner one night. She flat out told me there was a lot of AIDS in Rayong and that she and her boyfriend both got tested when they started dating. Again, I was still practically a stranger, but she shared this with me with no hesitation, as easily as she told me they went bowling on their first date.

It's not just their openness in discussing things of a sexual nature... I've also noticed a real honesty about food. In the US it's very easy to forget that the meat we buy boneless & skinless & chopped into unrecognizable bits was actually a living breathing animal at one point. Here... yeah, in the supermarkets you can get neatly saran-wrapped meats... but there are also whole animals and many more animal parts available.

And in the street markets... well, you can hardly get anything more honest than seeing a fish flopping around in a bucket next to a grill full of it's quickly sizzling brothers.
The food here has faces... and feet... and eyes... and bills. I think I've mentioned before that I've seen chickens roaming free in a yard down the street... a yard right next one of the restaurants where I regularly eat chicken. I'm pretty sure there's a connection.

Yes it can be a bit disturbing to see all these things at the market, I was buying some bananas and this guy walked by carrying a pig's head, but I eat pork. I love pork. So why should I cringe when seeing the face of animal that I, however indirectly, killed?

And I don't know, in some ways it seems more humane, less disturbing to know that these crabs were probably crawling around the beach this morning. They didn't spend days on end couped up in a supermarket tank.

It has been a shock to my western sensibilities, but I'm getting used to it. I actually like getting to see what animal it is I'm eating. And honestly from a purely gustatorial standpoint; chicken on the bone with skin & fat attached is MUCH yummier than boneless-skinless-97% fat free chicken breast. I'm willing to look at a real chicken in order to eat something that tasty.

Still not quite so interested in trying the squid though.

TAG: Code Pineapple. Everything's fine, but I'm getting a cold, and I've been staying up entirely too late for no good reason at all. Not a good combo!

No comments: