Maintenance Needed on Road Less Travelled (in Thailand)
I would like to think it is my boyish charm, my aptitude for getting along with older women, which landed me this grocery bag full of milk cartons from the local school.
The woman who gave me the milk is a restaurant owner. After I ordered the cheapest item on her menu for four consecutive days she started trying to improve my diet. It began with a few bananas, which she would slip into my bag when I came in for breakfast.
Eventually, irregardless of what I ordered, she would load my plate with eggs and vegetables. I have tried explaining to her, without success, that the cheapest item on the menu is my favorite: sticky rice with mango. The whole dish swims in syrupy condensed milk and coconut, a culinary coupling so sweet it would give a donut diabetes. It also so happens that I can pronounce the name of this dish: Kow nee-o mah mooang. I cannot say the forty or so other items on the menu. And so while I continue to proudly and haltingly order my sticky rice with mango twice a day, this restaurant owner persists in making me eggs and rice and bringing me milk from the local school. Is this restaurant owner unusually kind? Or do I actually seem malnourished?
No matter, it has become clear I have too much time to think, or at least more time to think than I am used to. I tumbled into this realization when I arrived to Bangkok two weeks ago. My luggage was lost at the airport and that led to a minor crisis, though not necessarily because my luggage was lost. That was simply the cherry on top of an ice cream sunday that was already melting. Rather, my crisis came from having hours to reflect, contemplate, plan, and rehash every day. Repeat this daily pattern for two months and outbursts are inevitable. To avoid reliving the difficult week that followed, suffice it to say I was having second thoughts about fishing.
After arriving to Bangkok I bought my first ever pair of flip flops and wandered around for five days. In my wanderings I experienced what nearly everyone refers to as “the chaos” and “hedonism” of Bangkok. That is, the diesel, the hawkers, the street vendors, the sex workers, and the massages that begin with happy endings, or so they are advertised. But instead of being overwhelmed by the noise and crowds I found the busy atmosphere relaxing. The city mirrored my conflict as I struggled with the ethicality and impacts of recreational fishing and my personal connection to the sport. All the while I gorged on street food.
I left Bangkok when I retrieved my luggage. Mind you, this is not insignificant when your lackluster airline does not ship lost luggage or allow their staff to make international phone calls. (That lackluster airline would be Tiger Airway. I hope they are grounded, again.) After an overnight train- and bus ride, I arrived to Koh Samui, an island in southern Thailand popular with tourists for its beaches. Once there, I resolved to continue fishing despite my reservations and after a flurry of emails exchanged with Watson staff.
This, then, brings me back to the incident of the milk. For the same woman (her name is Piqul, pronounced “pee-cull”) who gave me the milk also connected me to the fishing community. Everyday I would eat at her shop, and when I was finished eating she would tell me where the fishermen were and who among them she knew. I would walk to the beach, or drive on a rented scooter, and strike up conversations with fishers who would shake their heads incredulously and refuse to allow me on their boats. Of course, these refusals are understandable. I would likely stab myself with a hook and flop overboard in the heavy waves of the wet season, dragging with me countless buckets of bait and irretrievable gear. This, I imagine, is an unwanted complication for people who are simply trying to make their livings.
After a week of these refusals I decided it was time to try another approach. Armed with several written notes in Thai I broke out my fly rod and spent some time casting into the surf, hoping the novelty of my actions would at least attract other fishers, if not fish. However my fly fishing days were short lived. While making my way to speak with two fishermen I sliced open my foot on a rock. My flip flop had floated away — it was the only time I waded without shoes. Presently I am stuck waiting for my foot to heal, limping ridiculously but surprisingly content. For now I am resigned to a few good novels and an endless supply of milk, which I drink twice a day as directed.
As I finish this last paragraph I raise my carton of lactose and calcium to future adventure without injury and reflection without madness.