The Westernization of Thailand

Fried egg and bologna sandwiches on fresh baked mini-baguettes (batons?)
Fried egg and bologna sandwiches on fresh baked mini-baguettes (batons?)

This was all all procured locally. This part of the world will be hit with a metabolic syndrome epidemic in the coming years that will surely rival that of Mexico and their pudgy northern neighbors – we have a Starbucks three minutes from my house, for Christ’s sake.

Note: This round of Hate Gaijin Expansion may be finished for now.

Neither Washington nor Colorado

Just say woe
Just say woe

Forty years of failed US drug policy has culminated in my daughter wearing what appears to be an anti-hemp headband in her preschool parade in Thailand… A country where you can buy marijuana-seasoned chicken soup (not easily, but still), but where possessing it can get you all kinds of ganked, gaffled, or even shot by the police, all thanks to US drug policy.

In fairness, there were also anti-drinking, -smoking, and -injecting headbands worn by other kids, and the only thing frowned upon among those by Theravada Buddhism is the alcohol. That’s why Buddhism is so fucking cool – in a place with such high road fatalities due to DUI, it actually makes sense!

The Hidden River

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Last month, the kids and I went searching for a hidden river rumored to run along the property line of our friend’s dirt farm (have no idea what he’ll end up growing there, but it’ll have to be something hardy!!). We went as far as the eucalyptus stand, but didn’t find it. It was a fairly hot day.

Catching Giant Snakeheads with an Excavator

In the past couple of years, the pond in front of our house got seriously overgrown on the banks (as well as on the surface) with reeds, vines, and other opportunistic vegetation. Yesterday, the banks were cleaned up with a Caterpillar 313b excavator:

A lot of heavy machinery we see up here in Northeast Thailand is imported used from Japan. This model was produced from 1996, so it's not really that old.
A lot of heavy machinery in Northeast Thailand is imported used from Japan. This model was produced from 1996, so it’s not really that old.

 

For a brief second, I saw the archway I've always wanted in front of my home.
For a brief second, I saw the archway I’ve always wanted in front of my home.

 

The road hasn’t been cleaned up yet, and I’m not sure that it actually will be (since the predominant way of thinking is that it will get washed away by the rain – even if rainy season is half a year away!), and the weeds need to be pulled off the surface of the pond, but it’s good start. Here are some before-and-after pics:

BEFORE:

September 23, 2013
September 23, 2013

AFTER:

February 5, 2014
February 5, 2014

 

Enthralled by the rumble of heavy machinery, I took some video of the big, beat up machines working:

When the dumper took off to unload nearby, I noticed that the excavator was scooping mud from the pond. The operator got and out and started rooting around the bucket… He was fishing!

A bit slow with the camera, I didn’t take video of him grabbing a freshwater eel or the fat, brutish snakeheads from the bucket, but I did get a good shot of what was left:

I have no idea what kind of snake it was.

After the work was done and the machines had retired for the day, I found a slightly smaller specimen of the snakeheads (this species is actually called the Giant Snakehead) I had seen earlier, wiggling around on the road. I saved it to show the kids when they got home:

While the cat operator was saving his catch to eat (we went so far as to ask how he would cook them: “spicy stir fry!”), we were not. I originally thought I would give our snakehead to a random worker on the street for dinner – this is a prized eating fish, I just refuse to eat from what I know is a polluted water source – Max got really upset about it. He asked of we could keep it, and I told him he had to choose between keeping our current fish, an antisocial plecostomus and a juvenile gourami, or just the snakehead (since the snakehead will kill, but necessarily eat, any other fish in the tank). The one(s) we didn’t keep would have to be thrown back to the pond. He chose the snakehead, but I talked him out of it by basically explaining that snakeheads, this species in particular, are vicious little assholes, and that I’d need to feed it other poor little fishies on a regular basis. The snakehead ended up being thrown back from whence it came, simultaneously dooming other little denizens of the pond and making merit for us by returning an animal back to nature.

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It occurs to me that my go-to book on local fish species backs up the stories I’ve heard about this fish perfectly:

Ophicephalus micropeltes
Laotian: PA DO
Thai: Pla Chado
Cambodian: Trey Chhdor (diep for small ones)
Vietnamese: Ca Bong
Others: Toman (Indonesia and Malay)

NOTES: Maximum length about 1 metre, usual length 30 to 70 cm.

This fish has an unpleasant character. According to Hellei it attacks isolated Khmer fishermen. Worse, it is one of the few fish which devour their own young, at least in certain circumstances. Maxwell explains that the parents protect their offspring to begin with but then, when the little ones are big enough to fend for themselves, drive them from the nest. It is those which are too obstinateto leave which are eaten. The Malays have a saying: “Bagai toman makan anak”. This means “like the Toman fish which eats its own young”; the phrase is applied to persons in high places who misuse their powers, oppressing those whom they should protect.

CUISINE: Some say this is not quite as good as the preceding species (pla chon); but it is still of high quality. The firmness of the flesh makes all the snakeheads suitable for fish salads and cold fish dishes.

Fish and Fish Dishes of Laos by Alan Davidson

The only thing I can add to this is that the latin name for this fish species seems to have changed more than once. It seems that the currently accepted name for it is Channa micropeltes, the Giant Snakehead.