This morning I had an interesting experience, one that I will now relate, sparing you any need to conduct your own field research.
I awoke with a sore shoulder and, in jockish high spirits, I splashed some of this fiery oil onto the offending muscles with such enthusiasm that quite a lot of it went instead into my eye. Both hands being already contaminated, I couldn’t rinse the eyeball till I’d washed my hands, allowing this life’s lesson ample time to burn itself into my repertoire of things to avoid in future.
While washing my hands, I was reminded of times well past when I’d been enjoying yam thua thot—fried peanuts served with chopped green onions and hot chili peppers—scooping them up with my fingers. This is a great local snack, divinely intended to accompany cold beer. In fact it can encourage you to drink so much cold beer that, when you go to the hong nam to make room for more beer, it’s easy to forget that, in this case, you should really wash your hands before you pee. This is one more memorable experience of Thailand you might want to miss. Although, overall, splashing namman muay in your eye is even more interesting.
Of course it’s possible to come to grief in more spectacular ways that this, in the Land of Smiles, but those stories can wait.
Note. Traditionally, yam thua thot is prepared with phrik kee noo, or “mouse-shit” peppers, which gave rise to the common expression lek phrik kee noo, or “small like a mouse-shit pepper” (small, but way powerful). Another experience to avoid, unless you’re an avid extremophile, is chewing one of the phrik kee noo that Thai cooks toss into tom yam kung, the hot-and-sour prawn soup that qualifies as a Thai national dish, generally prescribed to foreign visitors as soon as they get off the boat. Whether that’s for their pleasure or for the entertainment of the locals often remains an open question.
From “Old Hand Quiz”, in Collin Piprell, Bangkok Old Hand (Bangkok, Post Publications, 1993, out of print):
* While eating tom yam kung, hot and sour prawn soup, you bite into and absent-mindedly chew a whole phrik kee noo (mouse-shit pepper). You then
(a) bulge your eyeballs out, pour with sweat, and fall to the floor clutching at your throat, wondering who is trying to murder you and why.
(b) bulge your eyeballs out, pour with sweat, and drink everything on the table including the contents of the fingerbowls and your girlfriend’s bottle of contact-lens cleaner.
The correct answer, of course, is (c).