Friday, 27 February 2009

The Bird That Said 'Fuck'!

How does the power supply in Bangkok ever work?!

... let alone the internet!

Wires and rubbish seen from a spotless Skytrain escalator..

Sphagetti for the rampant rodents in our roof space.

Big C drill bits... melting moments!

An elephant comes to visit our soi.

I spy a passing pachyderm from upstairs.

What's Cat been hanging in the tree? Read on and see.

I was woken early the other morning by someone saying fuck, not once but several times in a strange, guttural voice. The sound seemed to be high above us and was moving fast. It was either the disembodied spirit of a departed farang or could even have been a bird.

It might have been a tit babbler but more likely it was one of those big crow-like things you see swooping between the palm trees looking for baby chickens. It really is very loud and well spoken.

And if it isn’t the crow keeping us awake, it’s a rat in the roof that keeps gnawing on something metallic, a steel beam perhaps. It’s very loud and persistent and the damned thing takes little notice when I open the window and bang the gutters with a broom.

Coincidentally just as we were trying to sleep that night, one of the square gypsum ceiling tiles in the next room chose that moment to make its death leap and came down with a godalmighty crash. The ceiling, fitted by a flirty team of fairies five years ago, is an accident waiting to happen, especially when rats walk across it.

Cat was aquiver but I decided to get the ladder and poke my head through the hole to look for the rat which was still up there eating steel. On peering into the roof space I saw no rats, only a tangled spaghetti of wires that serves as rodent food. Recently the television has failed and numerous wires in the kitchen have been dangerously chewed but, never say die, these super rats only come back for more.

Exposed electric wiring in Thailand is a great national treasure and five star tours should be put on to view sites of special interest in the streets. Cities are held together by wires on poles and these entanglements have become a veritable art form. As a result the internet never works and it’s a miracle that there aren’t power cuts every day. Certainly, when there’s flooding more die from electrocution than drowning.

But this is Thailand so while you benefit from its pleasant relaxed atmosphere, you can’t expect all of the things to work all of the time… or even some of them.

As predicted our local electrician who took away the water heater at the beginning of the cold season has just brought it back and fitted it again. Now is the time for cold showers as it’s getting hot again, 38 degrees already, but, mai pen rai, we can use it again next year. And he’s taken away the ceiling fan which isn’t working, and I guess it’ll be back just in time for the next cold season.

It’s not just local services that are a little relaxed. Even if you buy glossy products from a big superstore they’re probably sub-standard too. Recently I bought an electric drill at Big C in Surin which I chose because it included a good range of drill bits which can be quite expensive.

The drill worked okay when you pressed the trigger but the masonry bits hardly made any impression on the hard concrete of our wall. My pictures remained unhung until I bough some real masonry bits from a proper builders’ merchant.

Then I tried some of the bits for drilling wood and they were even worse.

I wasn’t surprised when Saniam, who’d promised to rehang the door to the rice barn after I’d paid to get him out of jail, failed to come back and do the work. So I bought the drill and did it myself.

The door was hanging off its hinges which were secured by a mix of rusty screws and nails that had buckled and been hammered flat. All I had to do was pull them out, drill a few holes and drive in some new screws. The Thais don’t go in for screwing as they only ever have a hammer, but my new drill meant I could now do the job properly.

Strangely though, the first drill bit began letting off clouds of smoke but was hardly cutting into the wood. Then abruptly it seemed to melt and self-destructed in a twisted tangle. This was bizarre and had to be a one-off, so I tried another drill bit and then another. I only stopped trying when the third one melted and I cut my hand.

You cannot buy serious tools from a place like that, a friend told me. They’re only there to look nice on the shelves.

Then Cat had a motorbike accident. I’m terrified of her travelling on two wheels but of course she has to be mobile. A year ago in Bangkok she’d bought a licence to drive the car but as she can’t really drive at all, the motorbike it has to be. Anyway, going into Sangkha on our motorbike with Noi on the back she’d stopped at a bottleneck to let an approaching vehicle come through when a pickup ran slap into them from behind.

The bike was okay but they were both shaken and jarred which put Cat in fighting mood to get immediate compensation. Okay it wasn’t millions but after some argument she took the driver of the pickup for half his worldly wealth.

Of course he put up a spirited defense, saying that it wasn’t his fault. He was wearing dark glasses so he couldn’t see anything in the failing light!

Eventually he opened his wallet (he said he had no bank account), showed them that he only had 200 baht and gave them a hundred. Cat and Noi took fifty each and felt vindicated.

Small victories like this can sometimes be as good as the big ones and equally it hurts when they’re taken way. In different chapters of “MY THAI GIRL AND I” I talk smugly of how my ‘Thai girl’, Cat was rational enough not to go to the village sooth-sayer to have her fortune expensively told, like her two friends. I also describe the ‘battle of the wall’ and how I successfully resisted her pleas to build a huge concrete wall around our house, another satisfying victory for economy and common sense.

Then yesterday Cat casually told me that the reason she gave up wanting me to build the wall was that a fortune teller had told her the old lady next door would soon sell us a strip of land down the side of our house, so we could build the wall later when we’d extended the boundary. Mortified, I asked her how much she’d paid the fortune teller. At least it was only a packet of cigarettes which wasn’t too bad!

Thankfully Cat doesn’t gamble our money away like many Thais do because looking for lottery numbers can become a real obsession. A farang friend told me that one day his lady was gently caressing his shaven scalp with talcum powder. He asked her why she was so affectionate that night… but no, she was searching for lottery numbers in the powdery patterns on his skin.

There are never any lottery wins round here but a week or two ago we went with Peter to Ubon airport to pick up some friends of his arriving from England. As we had a few hours to kill before the flight arrived, we decided to look for a farang hostelry in town called the “Wrong Way Bar’. I had only a vague idea where it was so we looked around for a samlor, one of those tricycle cabs ridden by old men with skinny knees. We soon found one and to my surprise the driver spoke a little Engrish.

“Wrong Way Bar?” I asked him. ‘We go Wrong Way.”

“Okay, okay, go Wrong Way.”

After a few minutes I began to get worried that he didn’t know where we were going or that he was taking us round the houses to ramp up the fare.

“We’re going an awfully long way, aren’t we?” I ask him as he pedals slowly down a slope.

“Long way?” he asks quizzically.

“Are you sure you’re going the right way.”

“No,” he says, “Not go the right way. We go the Wrong Way.”

When eventually we got there we had fish and chips, Thai style. It was well worth the trouble.

Nothing else exciting has happened recently, except the other evening when an elephant came wandering up our soi… which is pretty normal I suppose. And Cat’s been hanging bits of meat and bone in the trees and bamboo.

A tree spirit fetish perhaps?

I’ve ceased asking questions about things like this any more. The farang already talks too much! But I eventually discovered why. There’s no greater delicacy for the locals than red ants eggs and the carrion in the tree was to attract the ants in the hope they’d build their nests there. They were certainly crawling with ants.

Well, I suppose we farang like caviare so why not eat ants eggs too.

Which gives me an idea about the rats in the roof. They must be a bit thin if they only eat steel but couldn’t we lay traps and eat them? Then we’d only have the bird that swears disturbing our sleep.

Now there’s a thought!

Andrew Hicks The ‘Thai Girl’ Blog February 2009

PS D H Lawrence got prosecuted and Kenneth Tynan caused a storm when he was the first to use the 'f' word on the BBC. I contemplated writing 'f..k' but that really would have been a bit silly. Have I offended anyone?

Thanks to Jen Hite for sending me the great pics of wires in Bangkok.


Mike said...

Great post Andrew, I am sure all Thai women go to the same finishing school when it comes to choosing lottery numbers.

MTF casually announced the other day that by counting the buds on some water plants she had found the winning combination- needless to say we are still waiting for the prize and my wallet is groaning again!

Malcolm and CieJay Burgess said...

Love reading about your life with your Thai Girl and you village. Now i know why you wrote the book My Thai Girl , you are as long winded as me , I never know when to end a post , I JUST STOP.
Our village is a lot like yours , something happening all the time , I just live and learn and try not to sweat the small stuff.Two heart attacks is enough.
The wiring looks like the house up the street from where we live. ha ha .
My next post is going to be on the Lotto and the numbers game .
keep on enjoying life and of course posting as often as you find time . Malcolm

Bodhi Bum said...

I think gambling is an Asian affliction. You ever notice how thai girls, and khmer girls even worse, can spend the entire day playing cards for baht coins (or riel in Cambo). I hate cards with a passion, so instead of banning cards, I always say no gambling in my house because gambling is immoral. Don't much give a stick about the immorality of gambling, I just hate card games. And sure enough, when they can't bet money over the game, they lose interest in cards immediately.

Camille said...

The elctrical spaghetti keeps amazing time after time!

Imagine they would start to put it in the ground and it needs to be fixed than! Creative scenarios arise!

This stuff is actually pretty dangerous in all seriousness, we just had one of them spaghetti soups catch fire near our house, directly next to our wall and my wife pretty much freaked out and didn't like it one single bit.

Smorg said...

O man... I don't know if I ever want to live in Thailand for any extended amount of time, but the place sure is fascinating to read about!

The Thamuang Farang. said...

The electrical spaghetti is amazing but don't you think this is typical of the total disregard for electricity and its dangers our Thai friends have? I visited a relative of Khamma's the other day who is in the process of building a new house and literally living in the yard whilst the work is being done. Cable all over the place open to the elements! TV, rice cooker, lamps all held together with dodgy cable and linked to extension boxes covered in mud and dust. 'Oh never mind tirak you think too much'.

Darrell said...

Well Andrew . . you know that I love to help out whenever I can . . so in the same spirit, I hope this helps your sleep pattern . . .

Roof Rats aren't that bad.

Especially not with chilies and tortillas! It's all how you look at them.

Deep Fried Field Rat

4 mature rats or 8 small rats
10-15 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbs. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper,

Skin and gut the rats, removing the head and toes. Mix garlic, salt, and pepper into a paste, spread on the meat, then place in direct sunlight for 6 to 8 hours, until dry. Fry in deep vegetable oil for about 6-7 minutes, until crispy and yellow in color. Serve with sticky rice, sweet-sour sauce, fish sauce, or a hot chili paste, and raw vegetables.

Enough of the fun stuff, after all, we want to Save The Roof Rats, (in your freezer if necessary).

Oh and yes . . . I think you were on the right track there with that final thought . . .

Grilled Crow Breast

Breast out crows the same way you would a duck. Soak the breast
in water with a tablespoon of salt for 30 minutes to draw out some
of the blood. Marinate the breast for 20 minutes in Steak
Sauce or other soy based sauce. Red wine also works well but
needs to soak overnight.
Drain off the marinade and place the breast on a hot grill with wet
hickory chips andcook for 10 minutes on each side. Avoid over
cooking as this tends to dry out the meat and toughen it. When
cooked properly the meat cuts and looks like grilled venison.

or as a more European variation:

Crow Stroganoff

Remove breast meat from the bone. Slice into strips about 1/2"
thick. Place in a pressure cooker with several cloves of garlic, 1/2
cup diced onion, 3 cups of water, 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper,
1 teaspoon dried lovage leaves (can substitute 1/4 cup celery). Cook
under pressure (10 pounds) for 30 minutes. Cool. Remove and
discard garlic. Add broth from 4 oz. can of mushrooms. Adjust
liquid to measure 3 cups. In a shaker mix 1/4 cup of flour with 1
cup cool broth. Heat remaining broth and add flour mixture;
simmer until thickened. Add meat and mushrooms and bring to a
simmer again. Just before serving, remove from heat and add 1/2
cup sour cream. Serve over noodles or rice.

Arroy mak mak . . . surely!!

. . its just a thought!!

Gotta run . . . she "who must be obeyed" has asked me to go for some shopping: rice, somtum, lottery tickets, red bull, ant eggs etc . . . just the absolute necessities she tells me!!!

And I dreamt of fish and chips last night dammit!!!

Martyn said...

Looking at the spaghetti wiring then I can only conclude that Thai electricians play life's lottery every time they go to work. I could well imagine an electrical apprenticeship in Thailand could be very short lived.

Thai Girl said...

Thanks for some great responses, especially the recipes.

It's a good principle... if you can't beat it, eat it!

The funny thing about the wiring is that it generally works... though I admit that when I switch on the fan in the bedroom the lights come on.


Talen said...

I was lucky enough to witness the installation of new main electrical lines on my last trip to Thailand...if you see them do the work you wouldn't have to ask why it's such a mess.

My girl is practical when it comes to spending my money as it seems I am the lottery. To her credit though she only ever wants to buy wood...stacks of it! I'm assuming the jackpot will be a Thai style house on the farm where she too will hang dead things in a tree to get more ants. They are tasty.

Anonymous said...

"Quality" isn't really on offer in BigC :)

Last week my wife bought a fancy looking baby three-wheeler in BigC and after our ten-months-old toppled over with it twice in two days (and hurt herself, too) I got angry with that useless piece of plastic trash and spontaneously smashed it in front of our house. The neighbors were of course shocked by that display of raw violence and the farang losing his temper. I wasn't "kicking the dog" but had this heartfelt feeling to destroy something that is not just utterly ugly and useless but harmful.

Which caused a great deal of bewilderment eventually overcome by relief because I wasn't kicking the dog (a metaphor for being angry with someone but letting someone weaker than the culprit have it, instead).

It took only about five minutes for someone to carry the mangled piece of plastic I left at the trashcan home as a priced possession, of course...

Andrew, you're doing fine. Stay cool :)

Noon said...

Hi! I stumbled upon your blog and I liked it. I am currently helping a friend of mine to set up her own blog and I am now looking for blogs/websites with good contents. Yours fit the bill! I am therefore asking if you could consider posting a link to her blog in exchange for one to yours? As it happens she is also from Surin, but from just outside the city.


Robert and Noon

Darrell said...

OK Andrew . . I think you should just come clean and tell us what really happened . .

. . . you had a couple of whiskys and thought to yourself . . hey, I could just quietly slip up that tree and sneak a few ants eggs . . then everything . . . well you . . came tumbling down right . . .

Get well soon, and happy blending . . . from someone who knows . . but no rat or crow stroganoff for now i'm afraid!!!

(Banana chocolate milkshakes with ice cream were a favourite, often with an egg thrown in for extra nutrition, and many fruit smoothies with some yoghurt or ice cream. My Mom came over to Canada and cooked me some great soups that were nutritious and tasty, even through a straw . . . and some of them could be icy cold.)

Well . . pleny of time to write . . or edit . . lol.

Hang in there and see you soon, just stay out of the trees!! Whisky is OK though :-)

Darrell and Apple