Saturday, February 03, 2007

Eating Bugs at Coco Bar

It was in my mouth before I knew what was happening: a bug. And, truth be told, it tasted pretty good, crunchy and spicy. Up till last night, I had been a big virgin. I'd seen them for sale. You can't miss the outside stalls with woks of oil and piles of fried bugs. But I'd managed to avoid that cultural experience. On my first trip to Thailand several years ago, Jerry had taken me to a market that sold everything (except feathered creatures, it being the time of the bird flu scare). I saw piles of bugs, big and little, including ants. Only they were alive. The vendors prefer them that way. It means they will be fresh when cooked. At least that's how I interpreted it. I took photos of the strange edibles. Jerry, the author of a book called Extreme Cuisine, was an expert. And he'd sampled everything. But I was not so adventurous.

Until last night. We were sitting at the Coco Bar, and I was innocently sipping a Heineken. A vendor came by to make a delivery, and Nat dumped the load onto a couple of plates. I caught a glimpse of feelers and antennas as Thim scooped a portion into a spoon and quickly slipped it into my mouth. I was given a green leaf to chew along with it. It was an offer I couldn't refuse.

You know, it didn't taste half bad, whatever it was. There were two plates. The first held what looked like portions of different insects, along with some seasoning. The second was more recognizable as a plate of bugs. They were too small to be grasshoppers and too large to be ants. Crunchy and crispy, and a little chewy. The antennas or feelers stuck in my teeth and I needed to toohpick them out (why is it that toothpicks are universal here and almost always absent in U.S. eateries?). The expected repulsion never materialized. I'd lost my bug cherry.

Today dawned stormy, with white caps out on the bay and omnious dark clouds over the hills inland. Thim and I took a long walk through the village and along the beach. It was more windy the closer we got to the water. Dedicated sun worshippers were arrayed on lounges, their bodies open to the sky, despite the absence of sun. I saw heads rolling in the surf. But on closer inspection they turned out to be coconuts. Two wind surfers skipped over the waves, their colorful parchutes bobbing in the breeze. I saw an umbrella blown over.

Yesterday, in my post on what's in a wat, I neglected to explain the wai. A wai is the ubiquitous salute in Thailand, what would be described as "namaste" in India. With hands folded together at the chest, I honor the divinity within you. Wais in the wats to a monk are a little more elaborate, and usually involve kneeling or squatting, so as to be below the head of the monk. But my body fails to move that way. So I bow and position my wai at the head, as we did at Shantivanam when the host was raised, honoring God on the altar. Kneeling is trouble for me. My knees long ago gave up the ghost. So I sit on my haunches with knees to the side and brace myself from falling with one arm. It's rather awkward and I'm sure embarrassing to Thim who takes her rituals seriously. But she is patient, and unfailingly lights the incense and candles for me.

The tension is rising here in Ko Samui as each night's moon gets fuller. Every travel agent here in Lamai Beach is offering speed boat rides to Ko Pha-Ngan for the gigantic full moon beach party at Hat Rin. The old girl looked full to me last night, but the party is on Saturday, tomorrow night. All the backpackers and hippies will be absent and Lamai should become the sole property of overweight aging westerners. I'll probably watch TV.

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