We’re nearing the one month anniversary of our jobs in Nakhon. One whole month. Some days it feels like we’ve been here for years. Some days it feels like we’re aliens, recently landed on a foreign planet where the locals are perpetually curious about your appearance, habits and speech.
One month and counting. Well, here’s the skinny on our small town:
Nakhon Si Thammarat is a big small town, the capital in the province known by the same name. It’s situated near the coast on a narrow runway stretching from north to south. Two parallel main roads host the majority of the town’s attractions and lead to the neighboring cities of Hat Yai to the south and Surat Thani to the north.
Population is just over 100,000. Just big enough for us to frequently meet new people. Just small enough to be recognized by at least a handful of people almost everywhere we go. Locals, mostly students, will shout “Hello!” anytime we’re spotted outside of school. Other locals shout “Hello!” simply because they probably don’t see too many farangs.
The farang population here isn’t terribly large, so I’m sure locals begin to identify most of us Westerners after only a few months. (Farang is the local term for any Westerner living in Thailand. Pronounced “fah-rang,” it often carries a negative connotation but to most Thais, it simply means you’re often unfamiliar with Thai cultural quirks. So they tend to let you ride on a get-out-of-jail-free card if you wind up causing a social faux pas.)
Speaking of sliding out of social faux pas, the Thai people are incredibly generous. We’ve spent a little time learning Thai phrases and culture from them, trying new Thai foods-particularly the spiciest kinds. Which brings me to food.
Much of the existence here revolves around food. I can understand why. Most of it, especially the street food, is particularly excellent. One benefit of the Thai system is the lack of suffocating health code laws (which are both a blessing and a curse in the States). The lax laws here make street food both ubiquitous as well as a thriving industry. Don’t expect the street vendors to be terribly clean. But do expect to nosh on some of the tastiest food you’ve ever eaten.
Here are a few of the recent edible highlights:
A little bar called ChumCha with a grand total of 5 tables, most of which are planted smack in the middle of the sidewalk. Their shrimp Som Tam was so spicy, my taste buds picketed for a week.
Best Phad Thai (so far) was from a little street cart where we stopped randomly one afternoon as the sun was slowly dipping below the west end buildings. Phad Thai is surprisingly difficult to find here. So the delicately fried noodles were a wonderful treat.
*Isan food: northern Thai cuisine that focuses on spices (lots of spices), sticky rice, grilled meats or on a spicy soup, called Tom Yum, that arrives on your table in an fascinating sharable terrine. Isan street food is usually eaten sitting cross-legged beneath an overhang on the sidewalk with a crowd of other hungry Thais gathered on the colorful straw mats, mawing on sticky rice with their fingers.
The most interesting place we’ve eaten so far has been a seafood restaurant with a fellow Thai teacher. The process:
- Walk up to the vendor, choose your basket of raw seafood then take a seat.
(We ordered three crabs, a basket of conch shells and a plate of the biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen.)
- The vendors will grab the seafood you’ve chosen, grill it, saute it, boil it, or cook by any means necessary, then deliver to your table.
- Proceed to demolish the meat inside the shells. Smash with a hammer. Pry the meat with a toothpick, claw with your hands. Do what you have to do to secure the delicate meat in your fingers. Then dip their tender meat in one of three sauces. Enjoy.
- This process is not complete until you’ve left behind a giant pile of shells, shrimp legs and heads, egg-shell pieces of crab shells, claws. Along with your plate piled high with debris, you will inevitably leave your table with sticky fingers, a testament to the hard-work and well-fought battle! (Don’t worry, behind the kitchen is a trash can filled with clean water to wash your hands in).
One month. We’re well fed and enjoying the new scenery.
Next task: find a bigger place to live!