Free The Animal

Making It Easy In A World Gone Crazy

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Sure, 11 year old Chili to the right and 10 year old Wasabi to the left—who have grown up in the Si Sa Ket and Surin neighboring provinces of Thailand—have some experience with Western food, but only to the extent of crap in bags from 7/11. Neither have been to a McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, or anything related.

Not once in their lives.

…The two daughters of my girlfriend are a simple delight in my life. And it’s that simple. They are sweet girls, so eat your heart out if you have entitled teenage bitches for daughters. Yes, I know that Wasabi is a chow hound and overweight, not my fault. But, she hasn’t hit puberty and I see no sense in creating drama before we know how the hormonal sea change manifests.


They were out of school for a few weeks so I rented a car and took mom and them on a holiday, about 2,000 kilometers driven.

We first went the 7-hr drive to my work studio in Pattaya where I had to scramble to get sleeping arrangements sorted; mattresses and blankets. But we only spent a night there, before taking the ferry over to Koh Larn.

I’d already begun teaching them to swim during a previous family excursion to Pattaya Beach where I rented a mini-villa with a private pool, and they love the water. But they are are irrationally scared. This is foreign to me. My own mom floated me in lake Tahoe long before I walked. I do not understand what visceral fear of water feels like.

Another thousand words.

My role is modest but simple. I’m the farang out of nowhere who changes the lives of these sweethearts beyond wildest dreams. Before Richard Nikoley isn’t done with them, they’ll have college educations, speak English fluently, and will be marketable for jobs anywhere in the world. In their home province, scraping by for life is the norm. I’m pushing them gently.

You might be aware that I fly the more rigid wing version of that, hang gliders; but the point is, I tried to get even one of the girls to take a tandem flight and no sale. Work to do, still. I’m dealing with Thai general superstition and fear. I don’t insist that they push every boundary (God No!) but I nudge and encourage them to push a few of their own.

I haven’t figured out how to get them to compartmentalize fear, yet, something Westerners are generally good at. Plus, Thais, generally, have no sense of relative risk. They ride motorbikes on highways with no helmets, but with masks.

I’m also dealing with farang food, with children never exposed to anything but Isan food, a particular category of Thai food. They sincerely take it as foreign and suspect. That’s hard to work with because suspicion of the foreign is natural for them.

They never saw any such thing.

Imagine, if you will, a coupla kids from out in the deep rural who know that when it rains, they will feast on bugs, and frogs—because when it rains, you can drive along the roads and see all the “headlights” out and about; folks opportunistically gathering the food from the lands with those headband LED flashlights. When it rains and rains, they can fish from almost anywhere.

That’s proud Isan and I embrace it and partake, but I do not tolerate fear or hubris about other food. I try to gently convey that while this is their way of life, it might not be the best, or what they might prefer.

My rather philosophical problem is in reconciling the essential differences between the formation of people who can not starve to death, juxtaposed with those who can starve to death—if they sleep in too much.

You have to be gentle, but firm. I told them, when they didn’t even want to try any of the Italian food on offer in the banner photo, that I understand, but would not be taking them further. We’ll drive back to the province and they can eat Isan food to heart’s desire rather than continue the trek and go to Koh Chang, with farang food…

Of course they found a will to at least try. Results accrued.

Yea, they tried everything. The pizza, spaghetti & meatballs, lasagna, green salad…

You don’t claim victory against children. What you do is to be gentle but firm with them, trust in their essential humanity, and watch what happens.

You can also trust that spaghetti and meatballs is a good bet.

That’s what she ordered of her own accord when she could have anything from the substantial Thai menu.

My adopted country of Thailand does make things easy for me. So, I can say, “let’s go snorkeling, you’ll see lots of fish.” Thanks, Buddha.

…I’m not quite sure what to think about that, coming from the rigid Christian West. There is no notion of a personal God, one who gives a shit about your prayers, etc. In that respect, the youngest Thai children have it over many typical mature Christians with the hubris to imagine themselves important in Jehovah’s Universe. Although, that obviously works too.

Thais, by and large, just strike me as joyful and grateful with respect to their religion and they don’t seem to expect much of it. They don’t seem to feel owed or see themselves as unworthy, guilty sinners. I get a contrasting sense that they simply have a joy of life and Buddha is a common, vastly communal means of expressing it.

In the end, we reach detente about food and often have a mix of Thai and farang. It is not and will never be my intention to create nefarious outcomes but rather, to expose and enjoy a little bit. They will go from deep rural village to international girls. Then, the world is their oyster.

One thousand words.

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