Wednesday, October 07, 2009
I returned from Thailand seven days ago. It seems longer than that and already like another world away (perhaps the nineteen air hours it took to get there contributed to that). It was another world in many way, though. Warm and humid and sandy and tasty and sensual. Massages to be touched. Cooking class creations to taste and smell. Elephant skin and warm coral filled water to feel. Tonal language with unfamiliar rhythms to hear. Blue salt water lagoons, green rice patties, pink dragon fruit to see. Sensual paradise.
And now I'm seasoning a wok I bought. Or trying. They made the cooking look so easy in the class in the warm kitchen under the papaya tree with the garden out back. Ingredients chosen expertly by the team from the fresh outdoor market, portions divided up, sauces mixed for us. All we had to do was chop and heat basically. Even though heating did involve purposeful flames at one point. I'm in between oil seasonings now. The wok is cooling. I have no idea if I'm doing this right. The instructions in black and white don't have the color of the smoking oil coated pan included. Even the internet pictures aren't helping much.
I'm thinking that our cooking instructor's guarantee for perfect Thai food is sounding better and better: "Go to the night bazaar," pausing while she stirs her perfectly cut and beautiful vegetables, "Buy a big suitcase." I'm wondering if there are secret ingredients to take back--something that will magically transform me into San Diego's best Thai amateur cook. I stop stirring and look up. "And take me back with you! No visa required!" A smile crosses her face as she cocks her head to the side, daring us kindly to laugh as she looks up and I hurry to start stirring again.
"Four secrets to good Thai stir fry: 1) Thin wok, 2) High heat, 3) Fresh ingredients, 4) Small quantity," her words echo in my head as I'm back in my own country and dreading work the next day with an anxiety that has become ever more familiar but no less uncomfortable. The woman at the Great News cooking store which is layered with aisles and aisles of shiny pots and pans, tiny overpriced mortars like the big one I carried back with me from Thailand, and coconut spoons with stickers and manufacturer information on them tells me about woks as I think about the difference between this clean well-stocked orderly store and the chaotic market with pots and pans hanging, knives out to examine, and coconut spoons made from tying the actual husk of the coconut to a stick. No price tags, no labels. Nothing shiny. Questionably clean. And the puppies with price tags on their head yipping nearby and the smell of fried and seasoned insects and ever present sticky rice on the hot wet breeze.
The woman in the sterile cooking store tells me about their fancy woks made of some sort of conducting material that heats everything evenly but if you put it put them on high heat the expensive surfacing could bubble or crack. I remember the four tenants of good stir fry and the woks we used in class--simple thin, dented steel affairs with a wooden handle which we held with three fingers as we tipped the oil closer to the gas flames just before we threw in the vegetables that went up in brief flames in an instant.
I choose the thinnest wok, which still is shiny and comes with rubber long handle and a shorter one across which will preclude a repetition of the flaming stir fry even if we did have a gas stove. She tells me I have to season it and that she will give me a hand out. It doesn't sound so hard.
I start to smell the stir fry as I place it and the wok brush (also well-labeled but at least wooden) in with my trunk full of food and large quantities of Costco purchases in the cloth bags I reuse. A far cry again from the bustling crowded market full of fresh produce, more eggplants and mushrooms than I knew existed, fragrant spices and roots, and fish swimming in their version of a feed lot. Costco is big and crowded but the high ceilings with artificial light don't recall the high grey blue sky over the jumble of canopies and make-shift roofs. Our instructor tells us about the eggs (which they leave out) and rice (which is in different grades and prices) and eggplants (which are small and green) and roots (ginza, a relative of ginger) and encourages us to take picture of her as she is "so bootiful!" People in Costco rarely make eye contact.
Granted, it is vacation, and therefore an immediate distance from the reality which pays for the fantasy, but still, I choose to take it for such in this moment, perhaps because that is what I need.
The entire time in Thailand, my head did not hurt, my joints did not ache, my ankles which were swollen from the plane ride over recovered effortlessly. I remembered my pills in the mornings but not every night. Otherwise, I didn't think about the lupus. It was irrelevant.
I did think about it again back in the States. I wondered, as I have before, if I would be alive if I'd lived 100 years ago, or even if I lived now in Thailand where I doubt MRVs are as readily available. If I had never taken the hormones which I think precipitated the clotting (to which I seemed to already have a strong disposition) would they have been avoided? Or would pregnancy hormones have mimicked the same and sent me into fits of brain clots without which the MRV and heparin drip I likely would have stroked and died, perhaps with a baby inside of me. I won't know. I can only guess. I know I'm here now and I still wonder. And learn how to season a wok (I'm about to start round #4).
The knots in my neck and back melted away under the expert comfortable rhythm of the beach-side aloe or oil massages. They tiny women would point to have us lay on our stomachs and start with the back, warming and rubbing up and down, untying the damp bathing suit top to make it a smooth plane for hand on back to touch, extending out to the upper arms briefly. They'd finish there with a sideways loose karate-type chop which livened up the muscles and then would move to the legs, covering the butt with a small towel and leaning into the muscles that gradually released under the stabilizing but non-expectant pressure of her weight. The legs were next. She'd sit at the end of the bed near my feet and closest to the flat warm ocean and bend one up, then the other. My calves were tight and painful on the first day at the beach. By the last they were loose and pliable under her strong sure hands. Rubbing my feet was one of my favorite parts. Sometimes she'd hold pressure in one place on the sole of my foot and I'd feel the tension release from my neck or face or chest. Just float away. Even when she released the foot, the freedom from that small piece of anxiety stayed away.
She karate chopped the legs, retied the back of my bathing suit and asked me to turn over, squirting the cooled aloe on my slightly sunburned belly with a momentary shock and I twitched and smiled and she smiled warmly back, chattering in Thai to the other women awaiting customers. She'd put one hand on each of my hips and apply her weight, holding steadily, releasing the tension there out into nothingness where it could no longer hurt anyone. She rubbed the front of my legs again and cupped her hand around my warmed and loosened calves rubbing repeatedly toward my feet. My arms got more attention on this side as she rubbed the muscles of my forearms and stretched my hands and snapped in a slip off the end of my fingers. My middle finger almost always cracked gratefully. Sometimes she'd rub aloe gently on my face. With concluding chops, she'd ask me to sit up and rubbed my back and neck (the corporeal resting spot for the deepest of my worries). Knots were left sometimes when she'd finish, but it was okay. They would leave in their own time; I felt sure. Maybe with the next touch, or the next banana pancake, or the next dive into the warm waters, or the realization of a long warm day ahead without expectations or responsibility, with people taking care of me and directing me and making decisions for me.