“What sort of ill-wrought churls would commandeer a sick man’s breakfast table?” Michael Britton asks as his abode — and sustenance — is unabashedly commandeered by callous tour groups.
Five months of travel in SE Asia on a carbohydrate diet comprised of chicken and rice, pork and rice and the occasional snack of chicken ankles has rendered me a malnourished wretch. I am tired and sleeping almost 14 hours a day. My joints hurt and my hair is falling out. But, by Jove! I am remarkably slim.
Tourists in Thailand appear to exist on Pad Thai and Chang beer. The bulk of their nutrition comes from the beer. You can do that for a little while. And I have. Now I would eagerly French kiss a brussel sprout.
The 7-11’s and Fresh Marts, fresh is a misnomer, sell little bottles of instant energy concoctions and vegetable slurries boasting a dose of chlorophyl. They are about a buck a shot. I suspect they are worthless but I try them anyway.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are difficult to come by and expensive. A mango can cost as much as a meal. And if you select a bad one your daily budget is done for.
I guess I should be making my own meals, but doing so works out to be more expensive than eating out. Foreigners are overcharged in the markets and it isn’t feasible to lug the extra weight of groceries from town to town.
My sorry fate could easily have been avoided by taking vitamin supplements.
I began my journey with a three-month supply bursting with vitamins A, B, C,D, E and even F, I think. Plus iron, magnesium copper, gold — a veritable foundry of minerals. Seeing my once bountiful supply diminished I warily wandered into a Watson’s drug store in Kuala Lumpur and was shocked. Shocked! I tell you. Traumatized, actually, by the price of a 60-tablet bottle. ‘It’s an outrage, an absolute outrage!’ I declared to the perplexed store staff who, no doubt, wondered from which asylum I had escaped.
My folly bushwhacked me in Mae Sariang, a small town within spitting distance of the Myanmar border. The epic 120 meter stagger from the dusty field that masqueraded as a bus depot to my guesthouse exhausted me. I was done for.
Dinner would be served in a couple of hours and my guesthouse, the North West, is reputed to have one of the best cooks in the region.
Vegetables. I would order lots and lots of vegetables. A deep slumber ensued filled with dreams of carrots and peas and brussel sprouts frolicking in fields of little golden corn like brightly hued lambs enjoying a sunlit spring day. Soon I will eat them.The clattering sounds of merriment rudely roused me from my drooling slumber. I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled down the stairs toward a menu. A tableau of horror unfolded before me: A tour group—what the hell is a tour group doing here? I am very confused and put out, I might add—had overrun and claimed sovereignty to the joint. They had booked rooms elsewhere but had decided to dine and cavort here. A surprise attack that caught me completely off-guard.
Tukta, the owner of the North West, looked at me and shrugged. ‘I cannot serve you tonight.’ She gestured toward the pillaging horde of nattily attired tourists self-absorbed in their collective trite boasts of that day’s banal adventures.
In Moby Dick, Herman Melville wrote of how a pursued sperm whale would sometimes just give up, an ‘inert irresolution’ is Melville’s wonderful phrasing, and await their awful fate. They would just float and stare dully as the harpoons were raised and flung. The mid-19th Century term was ‘gallied’.
I, too, was gallied. This boisterous, masticating trope of parasites had verily assigned me to my doom. With casual, carefree abandon they gorged upon my vegetables. My nutrients. Nothing would be left for me.
Consigned to find nourishment elsewhere I stumbled forth into the darkened streets of Mae Sariang. Packs of feral dogs roam here after sunset. Woe to the mutt that might snarl at me. They knew it. They could smell my anger and slunk deep into the shadows as I, an avenging angel possessed of a mighty pissed off attitude, approached.
I settled on the Sawatee Cafe and ordered a Burmese dish of sweet curried pork and what looked to be peas and slivers of green beans. Heaps of what looked to be peas. I eagerly scooped up a spoonful of what looked to be peas and merrily chomped down. Alack! These middling imposters were not peas. They were evilly disguised bomblets. Bouncing Bettys. With ample explosive power to tear a weary traveller to pieces. An inferno raged within my rictus. My face melted. ‘Death to tour groups!’ I hollered. But the licking flames of bursting pods smothered my cry of fury.
I fell to the floor writhing and squirming like a wing-plucked insect.
‘Is everything okay, sir?’ the young woman who was my server asked.
‘Everything is fine,’ I replied. ‘Thank you.’
Having other, saner customers to attend to she abandoned me to my spiced agony.
Knowing that this meal will have to paid for compelled me to further advance into the epicurean minefield of the plate before me. I suffered greatly. My tongue was reduced to ashes. My eyeballs jellied before liquifying and oozing from their sockets. Diners from neighboring tables looked on in horror. ‘What an ass!’ they gasped in unison.
‘Water,’ I pleaded. My glass was hastily filled. I gulped striving to extinguish the raging inferno. The water ignited what fiery seeds had not yet exploded. My spoon foolishly ventured into the seething mass of spiced peppers. My fork, a tine bent coward, shrank from the fight.
The battle was lost. Utterly defeated I lay down my utensils. I paid my bill. And as all walking wounded do, I solemnly staggered back to my lonely room. The enemy, that dirty, rotten tour group, were in the full swing of a loud and drunken bacchanal that would continue until the wee hours. Then they would be gone. Forever. And with that dim consolation I attempted a fitful sleep.
The morning broke with promises of renewal and hope for a hearty breakfast. I could hear the clatter of plates and smell the seductive aroma of fresh brewed coffee. I gingerly minced down the stairs and bore witness to … fuck. Not again. That maleficent tour group had returned for breakfast. This was beyond the comport of all human decency. They were not even guests here, yet they felt it their due to infest my guesthouse like a plague of cockroaches.
Have they not even the dullest comprehension of empathy? What sort of ill-wrought churls would commandeer a sick man’s breakfast table?
I cast my coldest, most murderous gaze onto this unholy grouping of masticating reprobates. My clapped eyes went unheeded. If I had a rocket launcher … this is how terrorists are made … an obscene injustice … a denied breakfast … damn all tour groups to hell!
I just want a fucking cup of coffee.