I found myself sitting at lunch today with six of my fellow Thai teachers. Before us sat a cornucopia of deliciousness. What was on the menu, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. Today’s delicacies included pork bone soup, water chestnuts, rice, egg, and my personal favorite, congealed chicken blood. Normally, the food is spread out on a table in banquet fashion, allowing me to pick and choose what exactly I would like to eat. Today, however, the cooks had graciously compiled our portions for us. Everyone seems to think that I truly enjoy eating because for me, they piled the congealed chicken blood high.
Sometimes I truly feel like a lucky man.
As I stared at the mound of congealed blood, I tried not to vomit. The Thai’s waste nothing when eating. Before slaughtering the chicken, they drain the blood and leave it in a pot. Over time this blood “congeals” and resembles a cross between brown tofu and jello. After this gelatinous mass is formed, it is sliced and served. From what I’ve seen, there seems to be no limit to its uses. I’ve learned you can throw it on a bowl of rice, enjoy it in your noodle soup, or just eat it ala carte (yummy!). The options, for Thais, are endless. For me, the options are less complicated. Find the nearest stray dog (which only takes about ten seconds, one is always about) and share my bounty with him.
I knew as I rose from the table that I ran the risk of offending my Thai coworkers, but on some things you have to say, “to hell with culture.” This was such a time. I hurried outside and plopped my pieces of congealed chicken blood from my bowl, watching as they plummeted to the ground. As they hit, they didn’t bounce. They absorbed the inertia from the impact like a spring and remained in place. I turned to leave, but then found myself curious to whether or not the dog would accept my offering. I glanced back to see the dog happily chomping away, and I thought to myself, Finally, a use for congealed chicken blood that I can get behind: dog food.
I returned to the table and took my place amongst a cacophony of Thai banter. I attempted to resume my meal, but the memory of the flubberish chicken blood had soured my appetite. I turned to the conversation before me and tried to pick out pieces of Thai. I’ve lived in Thailand for about six months, so I’ve picked up more than they’re aware (cue evil laugh). But still it is less than enough to participate.
Thankfully, every now and then the Thai teachers throw me a bone and either teaches me some Thai or tries to have a conversation in English. Today was such an occasion. I initiated it by asking the following question: Sanuke mai? “What do you do for fun?” Now in case you speak Thai fluently and are already rifling towards the comment section, I’m not sure if what I said was grammatically correct. In fact, I’m quite sure that I sound like the Thai equivalent of a cave man. Regardless of how proper or improper my Thai grammar was though, it worked.
All of them began to regale with me with tales of…nothing. The only thing they did for fun was watch television. Unsatisfied, I delved deeper, asking if they read books, played cards, went to the movies etc…Amidst my sea of questions, one of the items I mentioned peaked their interest. Pia, my friend and a senior teacher, leaned forward and in a hushed voice whispered, “You know how to play cards?”
“Yes,” I replied in a normal tone of voice, wishing I knew how to ask, “Why are you whispering.” But I didn’t so I left it at “yes.”
My answer brought more attention my direction, and I now found five sets of eyes boring into my very soul. An older gentlemen, who I was previously unaware even spoke a lick of English, leaned forward and spoke, “What [sic] you know how to play?”
It took me a moment to recover from the revelation that the man spoke English. I paused to try and recollect what I had said in front of the man to see if I needed to be wary about anything. When no one around you speaks English, you can let any thought that comes into your mind fly, and I do. Eventually, I decided I couldn’t remember and didn’t care about what he might of heard. So I answered him, “I know how to play black jack, poker, hearts, spades, and rummy to name a few.”
Everyone’s eyes went wide. I assumed it was because they were impressed by my immense card experience. Everyone was still staring at me so I continued, “If you want, I’ll bring a deck from my house and teach you some different games.”
“No!” said three Thai voices in unison. The only reason it wasn’t five was that two of the teachers sitting with me spoke no English at all. One of the teachers that did speak English quickly translated what I had said and the other two barked out a sound that I took to mean, “Are you mad?”
While I can’t say what I looked like, I can only imagine a confused expression came over my face because Pia began explaining their reaction. “Cards,” she said, “are illegal in Thailand. The police are always watching, and you can get in trouble.”
At this point I smiled because I thought she was joking. When I realized no one else was smiling, I spoke, “What do you mean trouble? Like jail?”
She nodded solemnly.
“Oh,” I said. “Why?”
“Because it’s illegal,” Pia answered.
“I know,” I said. “I’m asking why is it illegal.” At first she didn’t understand at all. It took many back and forths for her to understand what exactly I meant by asking “why.”
Eventually she got it and replied, “If people played cards, they would play them all the time and get lazy.” She paused for a moment while all the teachers around her nodded and then continued, “If they did that, then they wouldn’t want to work and then the government would have to take care of them.”
“Oh,” I said. “What about movies?”
“They are okay,” she said.
“Video games? Soccer? ” I asked.
“No,” she said. “Only cards.”
We spoke about it for a few more minutes and then I left the lunch table to return back to my desk. As I walked, a few things crossed my mind. I was amazed at her answer for why cards are illegal. I’m not sure if it’s true (Thai law is in Thai, and honestly I don’t even know every US law), but I’m astounded that she and her coworkers believe it. Even the concept of why was a complicated notion for her. I began to feel superior and then I decided to research our own laws and found we had a similar one in the great state of Indiana. It reads as follows:
A three-dollar fine, per pack, will be imposed on anyone playing cards in Indiana, under the Act for the Prevention of Gaming.
It seems we’ve got some backward laws that are still in effect on both the state and federal level. Don’t believe me? Check out dumblaws.com. When you have some time, grab a coke and a friend and prepare yourself for merriment. Some of my favorites are as follows:
- “A man can legally beat his wife, but not more than once a month.” Arkansas
- “Women may go topless in public, providing it is not being used as a business.” New York
- “The entire Encyclopedia Britannica is banned in Texas because it contains a formula for making beer at home.” Texas
I suppose it’s no different. So much for my illusionary superiority. I still don’t like congealed chicken blood though.
Just another day in Thailand.
Until Next Time,
This is the last day my book, Following After Trek, will be available on the Nook (for 90 days). I am doing something special in honor of Trek’s passing. 12/21/12 marks six months since Trek’s death. For that day, Following After Trek, will be free on the Kindle store. Chelsea and I are asking everyone to share about the free book and tell as many people as you can to get Trek’s story out.