A stone’s throw from my building are three streetside eating places – restaurants is too fancy a word for them – that serve authentic Thai food at reasonable prices and despite the closeness of the passing traffic and the fumes i breathe and consume in the food i like eating there.
Each has its own set of tables separated from the next by a small but noticeable space and three women do the cooking in their flimsy kitchens and do the serving as well. The one i come to first is my favourite because the food is the best: spicy fried beef, hot and sour soup and yam wunsen khung – spicy salad with glass noodles and prawns – among many dishes. From such a small kitchen how does she manage to offer so much and such variety? I eat there three evenings a week.
Over the months i’ve come to know the faces of her regulars and though we seldom greet one another by word we do exchange nods and smiles and that’s all that’s needed. Among her regulars are two policemen who share a bike, standard police issue. They’re members of Bkk’s street patrols these boys in brown uniforms and black boots. I’ve never been fond of black boots. I’m not sure what else these cops do other than ride up and down their assigned turf for only twice have i seen them in action, on one occasion breaking up a fight between two urchins and on another trying to resolve a dispute between motorists; other than that, they ride their bikes up and down. I suppose their presence is enough to assure the citizenry and to offer protection of a kind.
On monday evenings our local duo eat at ‘my’ woman’s place. They park the bike and stroll to a table and sit. No one makes eye contact with them and they don’t look at anyone. The woman lets them sit a while before bringing two large bottles of beer and two glasses. Not a word is said. She returns to her kitchen, cooks for them and serves. Again, not a word and no smiles. They eat the food, finish the beer and leave.
On tuesday they eat at another place a hundred yards down the street. Same ritual. Wednesday they’re at the second of my eating places; thursday up the street at another..and so it goes.
These women show no sign they like or dislike the boys in brown. They serve them beer and food and in their minds probably write it off as the price they have to pay for keeping on the right side of the law.
If i’m at the bus-stop and a #4 happens to come along i’ll take it because it has comfortable seats (if i’m lucky to get one) and air-conditioning, a gentler travel experience than the rattly #15 or #73 with runningboard availability only and unkind suspension.
The one drawback of the #4 is that a seat or standing room at the front is no value because
the drivers in coats Arctic explorers would covet don’t like the a/c and always leave the front door wide open so they can be warmed by the polluted city air.
On a recent ride i was standing close to the front next to a little old lady and a wiry kid of about fifteen. The little old lady was in a pretty blue dress, carried a black leather handbag and around her neck hung a gold chain and from her wrist dangled a gold bracelet, a well-heeled little old lady.
As the bus crawled down Silom Road i noticed that standing was difficult for her and she had a look of anguish on her face and i was hoping someone seated would get off at the next stop and she could have their place. And just as i was thinking that the poor little dear keeled over, down she went like a felled ox. The wiry kid pushed past me and bent over her and i said to myself good boy, helping a little old lady is a kind deed. In a flash he had the gold chain off her neck and the bracelet off her arm – what nimble fingers! – and was out the open front door and on the street. A man sitting in the front seat behind the Arctic explorer shouted after him and Artful Dodger stopped, turned and smiled – very Thai! – before disappearing with the loot. While i in no way admired his theft i had to grudgingly acknowledge the little bugger’s opportunism.