Sunday, February 12, 2012

Feast to Flight

Our departure from Sukhothai did not start out well.

To celebrate his wife’s birthday, our host, Marco, graciously invited us to a traditional Thai luncheon along with the other hotel guests. After checking out of our rooms, Dave, Casey, Karis and I gathered with the others on the porch at the main house. The cool refreshment of the morning’s dip in the pool had sweated away in stuffing the backpacks, hauling them to our shoulders, and lugging them to the front entrance. While the view from the shelter of the porch was sunlight on neat patches of lawn bordered by green fronds and flowers, it was sweltering hot.

Stretched the length of the table, browned and grinning, was a roast pig. A whole pig. I glanced at Dave, chagrined. Since childhood, I’ve been a fan of pigs – Wilbur of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and the plucky Babe of the 1995 movie by that name. Pigs are smarter than dogs, and with a forgiving permanent smile, greet a world that sees them as pork and bacon. Where many would relish this feast as a delightful native experience, Dave and I don’t eat meat, so we were grateful for the hospitality, but tentative. One hears stories of guests eating monkey brains and eyeballs rather than offending a Chinese host, and while this was not as dramatic, I wished not to be rude, but was not going to eat that pig.

Ceramic bowls heaped with steaming concoctions were arrayed around the main course. Perfect. I ladled onto my plate a generous portion of pasta-like tubes in thick red sauce. The dish smelled rich and spicy, but I was wary enough to ask before digging in. It was not pasta and tomatoes, but a stew of blood sauce well stocked with assorted arteries, veins, and ducts. Surprisingly, I was not hungry. There was a lovely bowl of fresh fruit on the table, thank God, and I can report that orange and banana peels make excellent cover.

After picking and poking through the meal, artfully arranging the remnants on our plates, we thanked Marco and his wife effusively, then requested a tuk tuk for our trip to the airport. Marco waved the idea aside – cordial as he was, we’d found he was a man of strong opinion, accustomed to control – and declared a minivan was better, given the length of the trip and the nature of the roads. He made the arrangements and indicated a cost of 300 baht, or nine dollars. Not bad for a forty-five minute ride for four people.

Upon arrival at the airport, the driver turned and requested payment, 1200 baht.

Casey leaned forward from the back seat, her spine rigid, uncompromising. Her eyes locked with those of the driver, her gaze strong as a steel beam. “That is not what we were told.” She said.

The man spoke little English and repeated the price. Held up four fingers. Pointed at the four of us. Perhaps we were unaware of our number? Couldn’t add?

My daughter shook her head, lips set in a tight line. “Not acceptable. I realize this is not your fault, but we will not pay 1200 baht.”

Who was this woman, so firm, so noble, in her pursuit of right? Her antennae had been quivering with caution about Marco since she met him. He was out of her reach, beyond the laser of her indignation, but she was glorious in her determination to shield her parents from his conniving.

Unfortunately, Dave and I were not up to the battle. Soothing others, seeking agreement: that’s what we do. Maybe this was a misunderstanding? Given the option of striding from the van trailed by a protesting driver, Casey and Karis with heads high, Lea and Dave, heads down, hoping no one would see us, we paid. “I’ve learned to sniff out scams, Mom, and that’s what this was.”


But what better way to ease resentment than to spend an hour or two at Sukhothai airport? I jest not; the place was a joy. The waiting area was an open-air shelter, breezy and aromatic with the scent of surrounding gardens. Rows of comfortable wooden chairs branched from the central focus, an artful arrangement of sea-swept gray driftwood and sinuous purple and white orchids. To increase the pleasure of our stay, a complimentary self-serve counter offered juice, tea, cappuccino, hot chocolate and coffee, as well as banana chips and crispy rice treats studded with sesame seeds and cashews. It was festive, light-filled, as we chatted, snacks in hand, with a couple from Australia.

A winged vision in pink, red, yellow and coral glided to the gate, and our flight was announced. I fairly danced to the plane with its mural of fanciful fish and flora painted on the fuselage. Smiling attendants bowed in greeting as we boarded, and once we were seated and buckled in, outside the window, the ground crew, in neon vests and goggles, waved as we rolled away.

Asian airlines return fun to flight.

On this one-hour jaunt, lunch was served; one of the best meals I’ve had on the trip so far. Wide noodles, shrimp, carrots and baby corn in a sauce with a hint of curry. I don’t like cooked carrots as a rule, but these were cooked to the point of just the right crunch. Oh, and did I mention the free beer and wine?

Who do I write to lodge compliments and complaints? I’ve come to accept the harsh conditions of the airlines we usually travel. Delta seating allows no room to shift or stretch and throws a defiant gauntlet to one my age. Creaky knees? As if we care. Sore coccyx? Alternate butt cheeks. Hungry? Have some peanuts. But Bangkok Airways? May I offer more fresh pineapple and papaya? How can I make you more comfortable?

While we relaxed with our wine, fruit, and curry, the view out the windows of the land passing below was grim: swaths of brown mud with geometrical borders of spindly green: flooded rice paddies. On the ride from the Lotus Hotel to the airport, we’d seen our first glimpses of the devastation reaped by the floods: people picking around in yards strewn with debris, porches askew, roads and bridges washed out. This plane ride had been the only viable route open, as we’d heard that buses were forced to take detours up to twelve hours long, and even then, some bogged down, water seeping into the vehicles' interior.

What would await us in Bangkok?


Casey said...

I...LOVE this. I had completely forgotten about the festive friendly flying machine! And the free snacks were so clutch as well, after a lunch of tendon tubes and arteries. Vom in my mouth. I sound like I have a solid backbone in your eyes. NICE.

Love you xoxoxox

Tricia said...

I can't wait!! Please write the next installment soon. (although I fear the end of this trip is in sight!)