when i left the philippines, i had one more stopover in hawaii before i headed back to seattle. so while i was there, i got with some friends and made Lao food. they'd gotten a ride into town, and i'd given them a list of stuff to buy. and i didn't have a cookbook or nothing with me, so i stuck to stuff that was easy that i could make from memory. so we'd decided to make laap, red curry, and some vegetables. emerson had some sticky rice at his friend, heather neilson's house, and she graciously invited us to come eat there - besides, her landlord had lived in thailand before, had owned a thai restaurant, and thus had several ingredients on hand (such as fish sauce, msg, etc.) so we wouldn't have to buy everything.
so i was kinda in my groove - i had my ingredients all laid out, was starting to cook the curry paste a bit - and then the landlord comes home, and then things got kinda weird...
first off, she was white. i guess i'd just assumed that she'd be chinese or something. i figured she wasn't thai, or they would've said that, right? but when you say, "the landlord used to live in thailand, and she owned a thai restaurant," why would anybody guess she was white? (not that being white is a problem - i mean, i like white people; three of my best friends are white. seriously.) and second, i didn't know she actually lived at the house. (she was old, and it was her house...) and so i already felt uncomfortable that i am cooking food in this woman's kitchen - cause she kinda gave me crazy eye when she walked in the door tugging large bags of groceries with her too-old-to-be-living-with-mom adult son following behind.
"what are you making?" she asked me.
"oh, just some Lao food." I felt rather awkward when she came over to get a closer look.
"looks like curry to me - and that's not Lao food, that's thai food." she responded and then turned away to put stuff in the refrigerator. and she had a hefty helping of smugness in her voice.
i didn't know how to respond, but i felt myself getting the slightest bit defensive and irritated. her son came into the kitchen as well, toting bags of his own, a constant stream of words coming out of his mouth... (apparently he's one of those people whose brain and mouth have only the slightest barrier of gauze separating them.) i mumbled something about "sticky rice" and "padek," but i really couldn't think of something coherent to say - mostly because she kinda caught me... i mean, what i was cooking really wasn't Lao food...and i wish i had a big bottle of padek to pour into the pan. (i don't think it's wrong to say that if you add padek to any dish, it immediately becomes Lao food. at least it seems to work with my rice chex.)
well i didn't have to think long on some retort because the landlord lady picked up where she left off: "Lao people really didn't know how to cook anyway until the thai came in and taught 'em."
my anger really flared up at this one - and i looked around at emerson and his friends for some sort of validation that this lady was crazy. my face must have contorted because they all started to smile, or maybe it was because my fist was tightening around the knife i was using to cut the vegetables. but i really couldn't say anything. i mean, if i'd spoken at this point, i mighta said something real ugly. and my friends kept staring at me with varying degrees of silent laughter on their faces, waiting to see if i had some response to volley back at her, but i just had to back away from the counter and put down the knife.
"ok!" (i think i said... who really knows... i just remember what she said next...)
she started on some nonsense about Lao people and then ended with this declaration: "yeah, the Lao language is really just a dialect of thai, y'know."
and all i could answer was, "actually, it's not." i was so angry at this point. i mean, this was ridiculous. what so is wrong in the world that two white people are in a kitchen somewhere on the north shore of ohau acting out the centuries-long battles and resentments between Lao and thai people? and was she really that unaware of this history that she felt it was okay to make her comment?
i couldn't even think after this. (and maybe i am revealing too much of my personality here,) but i was so mad, the food had no chance of tasting good. i couldn't remember when and what and how much to put in the pan to make the curry. and the laap... i couldn't get it to taste right either. if only i'd had padek. i swear i woulda poured it all over that laap, held it up to that crazy lady's face and proclaimed it Lao food.
i couldn't collect my thoughts for real; she wouldn't even leave the kitchen!
and then, to make things weirder and to put me even more off kilter, my brother's nephew, alan, randomly strolls into the kitchen with a cookie sheet with little balls of cookie dough on them.
"alan, what are you doing here?" I asked him.
"i live here." he responds, and then the old crazy lady snuggles up to the side of him and declares, "this is my son!"
now i was really confused. did she mean that alan had married her daughter??? (he recently married and i had yet to meet his wife.) but thankfully i found out that wasn't the case - it just so happened that alan lived in her house too, alongside heather, the crazy old lady, her son, and an assortment of other people who were clearly paying too much for rent for a living situation that just aint worth it.
i did finally find my own way to insult her... i asked her about bangkok (where she used to live) and told her that she must've loved living in such a beautiful city. and then went on to praise bangkok for all its splendor and wonder.
i did eventually settle down and pretend that the food tasted okay...but danno's salsa tasted way better.
well, the old lady ended it evening with one final insult. after dinner was over, i was sitting at the table, and she comes in wearing her nightgown and pushes my chair so she can get to the fridge.
"oh, sorry!" i say, "i'm in your way!"
"that's okay. you've only been in my way for the past four hours." she replied, smiled at me, and then walked out the room.
well, thanks emerson, bethany, connie, francisco, danno, felix, and of course heather, for putting up with my volatility that evening...
and i won't name the crazy woman... in order to protect her tenants.