Monday, June 25, 2007

The Dinner Party - June 18th

I came home and couldn't sleep, so I did the logical thing: went insane for a bit. I couldn't bear to eat at the university today either. One can only handle the canteen food subsidized at 15 baht per meal – the equivalent of 40 cents – so many times in a row before reaching a nausea plateau. At least that seems to be the case for me, who knows about everyone else.
So after my failed nap and general restlessness, I went downstairs and took two steps before reaching the biggest Farang hangout in town, Smoothie Blues, where I ordered a chicken quesadilla, which always tastes a little funny. Probably something to do with the cheese (or whatever imitation stuff) they use. I brought along my “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring” travel book and tried to plan out a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam for the midterm break at the end of July/beginning of August. Once I had some food in me, I took a trip to the gym with Mark and had myself a workout.
We walked back amidst a torrential downpour, which left me the most soaked I’ve been in my life, but it felt good after working up a sweat. On our way, we picked up a cheap bottle of wine (that wasn't so cheap being that Thailand isn't exactly famous for its wine) to bring to the dinner party we were invited to over at Titi's - the 50 year old Indonesian woman who works at the Asian feminist NGO and happens to like dancing as if she was 21 again. Ben, Mark, and myself all know Titi through Joof, a fellow teacher at CMU that’s 37 but looks like he’s 21. 21 seems to be the magic number here. (note: Joof actually looks more like he’s 27, but then my line about 21 being a magic number wouldn’t have worked so well. Sorry if anyone feels betrayed.)
So the three Americans made their way over to Titi’s place. We arrived to find that she had prepared quite the feast. The spread included things like Tandoori chicken, eggplant lasagna, salad, Chinese-inspired doughy things with bean paste in some and pork in others, cheese covered grapes, and real Mi-Goreng specially for me (because I told her about being obsessed with the instant kind, to which she was floored), and to tell you the truth, I prefer the instant stuff more, though I could never have admitted such a thing. Maybe it’s the MSG in the instant stuff, or maybe it’s the absence of real fish sauce (which I blame for subsequent stomach ailments later that night), but instant Mi-Goreng is just unbeatable.
The three of us were the youngest by far at the soiree, and it was kind of strange how everybody acted completely stand-offish to us. I've never felt that incapable of socializing in my life.
We also happened to be the only Americans, except for this twice-divorced 62 year old insane red-headed woman from California. She loved to ramble on and on about this banana farmer 25 years her junior from Dominica that broke her heart. Daphne was her name, and she owns some natural beauty products company. We were grouped with her by default because nobody else at the party was really interested in talking to us and Daphne proved to be inescapable.
There were a couple of women from Indonesia and the Philippines, a Thai astrologist, a Kiwi man with a wild-west type moustache, this Aussie couple that was “too cool for school”, and an ethnically Fijian/Indian woman from Fiji who had lived in Australia, thus accounting for her twinge of an Aussie accent.
“I’ve been to Fiji before” I mentioned. “But I spent a little less than a week there and only got to do the touristy things.”
“Typical” she muttered.
“I wish I’d gotten to see more, it’s just that I was bounded by time constraints. I wanted to visit while my friend from Fiji was there, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. His dad is actually a professor at the university. University of the Pacific, or something like that.”
“Oh really?” Her interest was piqued. “What’s his last name?”
“Narsi.” I replied. “He’s a professor of economics, I think.”
“Uh huh. I know who he is.”
“Really? That’s crazy. There must be hundreds of Narsi’s in Fiji.”
“Fiji’s not that big, you know.”
“Isn’t there around a million people?”
“No, about 900,000, and most people know of each other.”
“Still, that doesn’t seem too small.”
“Oh, it’s small.”
“Whatever.” I thought.
And that’s where the conversation ended. She just turned abruptly and started talking to the person on her other side, leaving me to my own devices for about the millionth time that night. At some point I briefly entered into conversation with the Aussie guy (of the aforementioned “too cool for school” Aussie couple). As it turns out, his wife has worked for the feminist NGO over the past three years in Chiang Mai while he’s passed the time as a “domestic engineer”. In case you’re not familiar with the profession, it’s just a fancy way of saying that you’re an unemployed bum just piggy-backing off your significant other’s salary. I love to be lazy, but three years of hanging out doing nothing while your girlfriend goes to work everyday? C’mon, man. And then he had the audacity to take needless potshots at me for being American (note: one would think that international NGO workers in Thailand would be above such puerile nonsense, but then one would have to think again). After taking the higher road for a few minutes, I caved and offered up the most pathetic retort I could think of while on the spot, something along the lines of “It's only the people that come from small countries with napoleon complexes that feel compelled to take potshots at people from other countries." I instantly felt supremely lame. I took another potshot earlier in the night from this seemingly nice and innocent Filipino woman that didn’t even make any sense. When I was complimenting Titi on her amazing cooking and expressing my gratitude, this Filipino woman said, “Are you saying that cause you mean it or just because you're American?" I still don’t even know what that means, but I guess I was just saying it because I was American after all since I lied about the Mi-Goreng, though I wasn’t lying about being sincerely grateful and impressed. That’s more than I can say about any of the other people.
Later on in the evening I had another run-in with the woman from Fiji. She was busy comparing bellies with the Aussie guy and said "At least I've got an excuse being 5 months pregnant and all." Not too long after I stepped outside to find her puffing on a cigarette.
"Aren't you pregnant?" I asked.
"Yeah, so what" she fired back.
"Umm, well, isn't smoking while pregnant not supposed to be the greatest idea?" I stammered.
"Who says, western medicine?"
I started to feel very uncomfortable and not really sure what to say because she was so adamant.
"I don't think it's just western medicine that says smoking while pregnant is bad. I think it's kind of a universal understanding."
She shot me a quizzical look.
"I'm not judging" I said, obviously judging, "but isn’t that cigarette you're holding a Western cancer stick?"
“Ok, whatever you want to do, that’s fine.” And then I excused myself really awkwardly.
The night progressed, and right as we were leaving, the woman from Fiji was smoking another cigarette and said to me, "I have a secret to tell you."
"What's that?" I asked.
"I'm not really pregnant" she said. "I was just saying that to make Derrick [the Aussie] feel worse about himself. Just thought I'd let you know."
At that moment it became all the more awkward because if it wasn't a baby we were talking about, then we were just simply discussing her belly fat at that point. I wanted to stare at her belly and separate fact from fiction, but then that just would have been too weird. And then we had to walk the crazy red-headed kook home.

1 comment:

Auntie said...

The party sounds like it could be a screen play for a movie about awkward moments...