Day 111: I eat frogs for breakfast
Not even a blind dog wanted to try my grilled frogs. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
THERE are eight of them, wet, plump and looking as gooey as the day they got legs: three sticks of grilled frog is not the best way to start a day. Though to be fair, today started at 11pm yesterday, when I woke up from a two hour nap.
“Please, don't let it be 11pm,” I said with a sickening premonition. I was exhausted in the evening, desperate for sleep, but excited that I'd be getting my sleeping cycle back on schedule.
It was 11pm. Then, it was 1am.
I got dressed, and stepped out into the night.
The outside world is well lit with artificial lights, even the side street that S.P. Guesthouse is on. I'd enjoy some pure country darkness, which isn't nearly as dark as one might expect, especially on a night like tonight. The moon is a sliver shy of being full, big and bright as it dance in the scrambled cloud cover, which glows a gray-blue, each cloud looking like a piece of an unsolved jigsaw puzzle.
Kneeling down, I sweet talk a blind dog on the street. Her right eye has developed a thick white film, like a flat white latte. The cataract in her left eye isn't as bad, though still probably reduces her sight by more than 80%.
She timidly sniffs at my hand before allowing me to scratch her behind the ear. It's nice to have contact with a living animal. As a very contact-oriented person, a few weeks without even a hug, is a long, unfortunate stretch of time.
Though I have white headphones plugged into my ears, the volume on my phone is turned off. Standing up, I pull out the device to launch Pokemon Go.
I deleted Pokemon Go from my phone after I ran out of Pokeballs, which are what you throw to capture the little Pokemon critters in the augmented reality game that has recently swept the world. I grew up with the Japanese game, playing and loosely collecting Pokemon cards, as well as watching the cartoon during the half hour of TV I was allowed after school. When I found out Pokemon Go had come to Thailand a couple months ago, I was keen to give it a try. That said, I wasn't about to spend any time figuring out how to get more Pokeballs – so I deleted it.
Then, yesterday morning, my sister and her boyfriend, Brian, explained during a long-overdue Skype call, that all you had to do was go to “Pokestops” and spin the little icons. I had wondered why there was such a fuss about Pokestops, which littered a mixed reality of the Pokemon world and Chiang Mai. So, armed with a slightly better understanding, I downloaded the game, again.
Though it's late, the street of Nan aren't empty, but close to it. Aimlessly, I wander.
A wild Paras appears. The Grass-type bug Pokemon “has parasitic mushrooms growing on its back called tochukaso. They grow large by drawing nutrients from this Bug Pokemon host. They are highly valued as a medicine for extending life.”
With the goal to “catch them all”, I start flicking the screen of my phone, tossing Pokeballs at the creature – as I've not come across a Paras yet.
I catch it. Get the experience points. Return to musing about the moon and the clouds.
The large figure of a garishly dressed ladyboy hunched over a scooter appears from a side street. I don't smile at her. I'm a smiley-kind of person, but boys – ladyboys or just regular boys – can be pretty persistent at the slightest indication of warmth. Given my mood, the time of the night and the empty streets, I look through her.
She yells something out at me as she drives past. It probably won't be the last time that I see her tonight.
Though it's 1am, a handful of people and battered pickup trucks are already at the Nan morning market.
A woman dumps a five-gallon clear plastic bag full of tiny green chilies out on a blue tarp spread over the sidewalk at the entrance of the market. Not far from her, a woman at a rolling kitchen cart clacks away in a wok, making a helping of late-night fried rice. Up against the 7-Eleven across the street from the market more vendors are piling up their produce. Cucumbers, Thai eggplants, peppers and all sorts of green things that I don't recognize at a glance are piled on blue tarps.
Some vendors were setting up at the morning market by 1am. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
I check my Pokemon map. About five minutes from here is a little cluster of Pokestops, which are often located at points of interest for travelers, as well as locals, though businesses can pay to have a Pokestop added to their location.
So here I am, a 31-year-old man with a goatee and faded pink hair, wandering around a rural Thai town hunting cartoon critters in an augmented reality game.
Away from the market, the streets are nearly empty, except for the occasional group of teens flying around on their scooters. The ladyboy who passed me earlier appears on her bike, speeding by, again calling something out.
Though the town is anything but silent, what sounds there are, are muted. It feels sleepy, if not asleep. That's a feeling I understand.
I spin a few pokestops. Spotting another cluster up of them near the Nan National Museum, I wander that direction. I really need to stock up on Pokeballs.
I hesitate between chasing down yet another Pokestop and walking toward an enormous arrow outlined with bright lights – clearly a business that is still open.
The arrow marks an empty bar/restaurant past a packed noodle shop. A group of young Thai men sit on the steps outside of the bar, smoking cigarettes and drinking beers.
Back in bed, I toss and turn for a couple hours. By 4am, I've given up. As someone who has always taken great pride in their ability to sleep, this recent bought of sleeplessness ushered in after departing Chiang Mai is frustrating. Yet, being frustrated doesn't help the matter, neither does worrying about not being able to sleep.
Turning on my computer, I download a invoice template to fill out and send to the International Refugee Council, which recently purchased, at a handsome price, a few seconds of drone footage of the Mae La Refugee Camp. It I could turn that into an hourly wage, I'd be making six figured working about an hour a week. However, it's a one-time deal and there aren't any other prospects on the horizon. Nonetheless, with Dice Travels finances already wobbling, any money is good money to have in the bank.
“Fuck you, you fucking piece of shit,” I yell at the Excel file – again. It's auto-deleting the zeros of the bank account number and, in general, making a mess of my attempt to put together a simple invoice. Even after, I look up how to stop it from deleting the zeros the file refuses to behave.
Giving up on the template, I slap together my own version and send it off to the IRC. I then get an email off to Bob at my hometown newspaper, The Herald-Times, confirming that I'll get a story to him by the end of the weekend.
And then, I'm not sure what to do.
Emma has had a serious nightmare and drops me a line; she could tell that I also wasn't asleep, due to the activity on my Facebook account.
Unable to sleep, I pick up my camera and head back out to the morning market, which is bustling by the time I arrive. It's still dark, but everyone is there, stocking up on what they need for the day.
Fresh produce and ready-to-eat food, such as fried chicken and curries are lined up along the entrance of the market. Inside, there is produce and then a few odds and ends before the butcher block. There, there is the smell of dead animal, not an unpleasant putrid, rotting smell, just a smell.
The butchers are hard at work early in the morning at the Nan market. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Big pig heads, nose and ears in a cold sweat, mark the boundaries between the pork butchers. Hanging from hooks above piles of fleshy chunks of meat are gray intestines, wrinkled and pruning. Draped over another hook is a dark red mess of flesh that I can't identify at first. Near the top of the piece of animal is the hard ridge of a valve. It takes a moment for me to recognize the bundle of pig lungs.
In the poultry section, a lineup of whole, plucked chickens crouch down, their heads tucked back into their bodies, their eyes closed in death, their dark brown gizzards neatly piled on top.
The butchers at the beef stations, men and woman, are deftly trimming fat away from hunks of meat.
Back out on the street, a couple older women squat down next to flower necklaces and piles of marigolds to be given as offers to monks.
A handful of young monks, novices between the ages of eight and 17, walk in front of the market, their tangerine-orange robes nearly glowing in the fading darkness of the early morning. Back and forth the dozen or so shaved-headed children walk, waiting for someone who is leaving the market to make an offering of alms.
Novices pace back and forth in front of the market, collecting alms. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
A middle-aged woman in a floral blouse kneels in front of the three of the novices, making an offering. Clutching their bowls, they chant in unison, blessing her for the day.
Though no cafes are open yet, I figure breakfast isn't a bad idea.
I was wrong.
I buy a bunches of bananas, which are low on the glycemic index. The die, decides to mix things up and buys grilled frogs.
The thumb-sized amphibians have been squished between a piece of split bamboo and warmed up on a grill. Despite the grilling, their skin looks moist; their bodies look gooey. It only takes one sniff for my head to jump away from them.
Unfortunately, the die didn't buy a single stick of eight frogs, it bought a bag of three sticks, which is 24 unscrumptious critters.
I like weird food. No, I love weird food. The most revolting thing I've nibbled on was a grilled bat in Ghana. The flying rat was cooked up under a tree full of its living brethren. It had been smeared in a red sauce that made its horrified little face look like the results of a late-termination abortion. That said, things like the snake blood vodka that's served in a six-course snake meal in Hao Noi, Vietnam, was delicious.
The frogs, despite the lady selling them confirming that they were yummy, do not seem pleasant in the slightest.
Even in the haze of my sleep-deprived mind, I want nothing to do with these frogs. But, the die rules.
Armed with fried chicken and a couple deep-fried pastries, I make my way back to S.P. Guesthouse for breakfast.
The blind dog is out front. Kneeling down, I hold out the stick of frogs. At first, he flinches, thinking I might strike him. Then, he relaxes and timidly leans in to sniff the stick of frogs.
He's not interested. I know the feeling.
It's bad news when a blind dog turns his nose up at your breakfast. Unable, to deal with the frogs yet, I crawl into bed for a nap. They're already cold; they can't get much worse.
I do, however, pick at one thigh, high above the frog's curling little Kermit toes. The pinch of meat isn't too bad.
After a short nap and shower, I'm ready to tackle the frogs, or at least make an honest attempt at eating them. The legs are probably the only part worth eating. I pluck a little of the white flesh off its upper thighs – or maybe that's its ass cheek. Do frogs have asses?
It tastes okay. I take another pinch from its lower thigh. It's also okay.
Then, I get a pinch of meat that's nasty.
“I can't take this,” I say, tongue already trying to wipe the taste out of my mouth. The die's will has been done. I tried the grilled frog. It was not the dies best decision, but it was at least a new experience, so that's something.