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A Dialogue with a Thai Street Food Vendor

The food tasted funny.

It was delicious but in a funny kind of way. Unusual is probably a better word.

It didn’t taste like the pad thai dishes back in San Fran, and not even the way it did back in Bangkok.

It wasn’t really easy to isolate what exactly was different, the ingredients were similar, the general style was the same but somehow the taste was very ‘real’.

It conveyed a certain sense of desperation mixed with a sense of acceptance followed by an after taste of authenticity.

Now the thing is, it was literally impossible to get all that from a couple of bites of the rice noodles and bean sprouts – that was all conveyed by the look in the eye of the ‘chef’.

The roadside food stall was ‘manned’ by a middle aged lady that was on the cusp of slipping past that tipping point of old age. It was easy to tell that she was beautiful back in the day.

Very easy.

She quietly watched on as Fil took another bite. It wasn’t one of those intense gazes which usually is a reflection of genuine interest, rather it was one of those indifferent looks. Passive, observant – but indifferent.

Fil made eye contact as he chewed on the increasingly delicious ‘delicacy’ and the lady didn’t look away, until it got sufficiently awkward for Fil to have to look down at his plate.

She observed him the way that you would observe a monkey at a zoo eating a banana, in a good kind of way though, in a non-condescending way, simply observing this creature from another planet, another world, another universe even.

Just like when you observer the monkey, you try and extrapolate what its thinking. What its life is Iike.

He continued to work the rest of the enormous plate of food with a fork that looked and felt like it was older than him.

The scenery was gorgeous. He was surrounded by the lushest greens that he had ever seen. Almost to green to feel natural.

It felt like someone had taken a .RAW image format of the world, boosted the vibrance and saturation to the point where it was too much and left it there.

Fil sat at a single plastic table infront of the food stall alone. It was just him and the lady.

The occasional car that would pass by felt so loud and intrusive that it almost caused Fil stress.

40 baht. 1 dollar. A full plate of chicken pad thai and even a can of beer.

It was so cheap it felt wrong.

He almost wanted to give her 10 just because internally it was worth at least that much to him.

Fil had finished half the portion and already felt quite full, sure he could and would push on, but he was in no rush so he put down the plate and took a big sip of beer.

It was probably the placebo effect, but he instantly felt slightly more tipsy.

He looked down at the table and the pile of coins n ear his plate.

She gave him exact change. Proud. Respect to that.

She didn’t want to take beyond what she earned.

How could it possibly be that this woman, with intelligent eyes, good looks and in good health earns so much less than me, thought Fil.


Granted, but he didn’t really achieve anything himself per se. He didn’t build the education system in to which he landed, he was simply ‘born’ in a different country.

Fil was no genius, neither was he particularly hard working. In fact you could call him lazy, yet an hour of his time was worth a week of hers at the very least.

But Why?

Almost instinctively he took out his iPhone and opened instagram. It wasn’t until he was thinking about what hashtags to use did he realize how out of place and surreal that action was in this setting. Helooked up at the lady and noticed that she was still observing him.

He couldn’t quite decipher the look.

The Thais generally had this hard to decipher expression, it showed little, but it carried a lot of meaning.

The look was now slightly condescending in some complicated way and it made him question his habits.

Why was he sharing with the world what he was eating? Was it to show off? Get approval? Validation?

Frankly he had no answer and put it away. It was just what everyone did, so he did too. Hmmm.

What was left of the pad thai was cold now and frankly he was already full so he moved the half eaten plate of food away.

The woman kept watching him, this time with a barely visible, but clear sign of irritation.

So much work of so many people had gone into this plate. Farmers had to grow the beansprouts, other farmers raised the chickens, she had to cook it and he was simply ‘done with it‘.

That little gesture really illustrated the difference between them. She would have never thrown away even a scrap.

Even if she wasn’t hungry she would eat it. She knew what hunger was. She knew what no food meant and cherished the moments when that didn’t exist. Fil never knew such feelings existed.

Fil was becoming a little uneasy with this ‘dialogue’. Granted, the lady had little to do with it, other than just ‘being’, but none the less her presence triggered a deep internal dialogue. Who knew what hers was?

Fil took a big gulp of the rest of the beer and began packing up his back pack.

His relatively small backpack contained just the essential items.

One 5Dm3 cannon camera, with 17-40 lens, an iPhone 6, a macbook air and some basic clothes and toiletries.

Ironically enough he thought to himself, that the combined total of those items was around 13$k.

With a quick calculation, the Thai lady who continued to disinterestedly observe him made no more than 200$/month.

No way was it more than that.

Thus the contents of this bag was worth 65 months of her salary.

But why?

Fil closed the final zip and threw the backpack on his back. He looked up at the lady and threw a very farang ‘swadee kaaa’ at the lady.

She smiled and nodded.

She didn’t understand him, but she definitely did not express any negativity towards him.

Just like a monkey.

He took one final look at the dirty plastic table with the empty beer can and the half eaten pad thai plate and walked on down the road.

Your sincerely.

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