These are some letters I’ve written over the last few years, some are taken from letterstothecreditor, which was a wordpress site I maintained back in the day until I went crazy and deleted all of it. Apologies for the formatting.
The first one is a more recent offering.
An Open Letter of Apology to the Hospitality Workers of Thailand.
Let me begin by saying that I am not Thai. I am a farang, a European, a tourist.
I do not live in Thailand but visit frequently and I continue to be captivated by the culture, geography, climate and delightful people of your wonderful country.
But if I’m honest, I come to Thailand to eat.
Thai food is globally renowned and rightfully so. Over centuries, it has absorbed many influences and evolved into the incredible, complex balance of flavours we can experience today. The fragrant, heady mix of sweet, salty, sour and hot makes Thailand arguably one of the world’s top culinary destinations. It is often cited in the world’s media that ” it is impossible to eat badly” in Thailand.
Well, that’s not exactly true is it?
The first time I came to Thailand, it took me ten days – thirty meal opportunities – to find something that was even well-seasoned, not to mention spicy. In fact, I would say that it wasn’t until I arrived on the one of the smaller islands (and managed to get to eat with a local family) that I think I got anything near authentic Thai food. Naturally, I was disappointed and I believe there is an apology required.
Don’t worry, you don’t owe me an apology.
In fact, think I owe you one.
One of the first places I visited in Thailand was Phuket. A beautiful, vibrant island and a very popular tourist destination. As an adventurous Englishman abroad and someone interested in food, I headed to the more downmarket joints and food courts, searching for the real thing. I wanted to go the places where locals go to eat with plastic chairs, plastic cutlery and the high chance of a very reasonable and not to mention wonderfully tasty noodle soup or seafood dish. But no joy.
Everything I eat for days was bland and uninteresting and I went on a mission to find out why. As I travelled throughout the island, I hunted down evidence as to why this culinary anomaly should be occurring. Hungry and disillusioned, having had to dismiss several promising hypotheses, I went to find some lunch. It was while in this restaurant, that I first observed what I consider to be the crux of the issue. Surrounding me, furiously fanning themselves with laminated menus, were groups of podgy farang, sunburnt and witless, mystifying waiting staff with a monotonous mantra…
“It’s not spicy, is it? It’s not spicy, is it? It’s not spicy, is it? It’s not spicy, is it?…”
One evening, in a restaurant on the seafront road of a popular tourist area in the south of the island, I bore witness to a family from England, bristling with excitement and the unmistakeable aroma of aloe vera, conferring with each other in hushed tones.
“Let’s order something Thai tonight” they said conspiratorially.
“Great,” I silently concurred on the table next to them.
To the waiter, they proceeded to reel off a selection of Thai appetisers and main courses to share, but before the waiter had chance to leave, the lady said “… Oh, and we don’t want any coriander, garlic, ginger or chilli in it either. Thanks love.”
Of course, the waiter is dumbfounded, he just rolled his eyes and walked off. Unbelievably, as he headed to the kitchen, the lady shouted after him, in front of the whole restaurant,
“Oh, and don’t be putting any of that lemony-grass in it either. It gives me wind…”
I would imagine that telling a Thai chef that he can’t use chilli, garlic, ginger, coriander and “lemony grass” leaves him pretty stumped. Out of frustration, maybe he throws some dry meat, spring onions and noodles in a wok and pours in half a pint of fish sauce, in an attempt to give it some flavour.
Maybe this is not literally what he does, but it certainly is the reason your waiter returns to your table with four lukewarm, greasy, insipid bowls of brown slop with a wedge of lime on top.
Objectively, I understand that not everyone likes spicy food. In that case, I would suggest you order a burger and chips. Saying that you “like” thai food but you don’t like it spicy or highly seasoned, (a sentiment frequently heard), means that you don’t like Thai food! And that’s OK, just choose something else. (See burger and chips)
To cast a slur on a nation’s entire culinary history by demanding that all of the ingredients be removed from their classic dishes because you don’t like them, for me, is just plain ignorant.
I’m in Krabi at the moment and barely twenty paces from where I’m writing this, there is an vegetarian restaurant. It’s a hole in the wall place, buzzing and full of locals all day long, always a good omen.
Daily, it serves the most extraordinarily imaginative and diverse meatless food I have ever tasted.
The owner speaks no English and each time I point at something to order, she looks at me with a pained expression, halfway between amusement and sympathy, and says “…spicy?”
I nod “OK” and return to my table.
There are things on my plate I have never eaten before. Stunningly tasty dishes that I can’t even imagine the creative process behind and she is not lying. It. Is. Hot… and delicious. I begin almost immediately to uncontrollably hiccup and my convulsions make her father, (my “waiter”) and a few hardened locals giggle sweetly as I suck down gallons of water and use every napkin in the house to wipe away the waterfall of perspiration.
As an eating experience, it’s so close to painful, it’s not true.
However, I love it and I know why. This is the real thing. This experience is full of charm and integrity. It’s full of quality.
It is Thai.
So, it is to the waiters and waitresses, the chefs, bar staff and kitchen porters, I beg forgiveness on bended knee, and with the stupidity of the tourist nation resting heavily on my shoulders, I bow my head and humbly apologise. I’m sorry. We are sorry.
We’ll have the burger and chips, please. No chilli.
Dear The Sun,
First of all, I’d like to say how thrilled I am to be able to write to you. I’m a massive fan and have been since the summer of ’76. I would have written earlier but it took a while to find your surname and house number. I wrote to the Moon first to see if he could help but he told me to “jog off” and to stop staring at him when he’s asleep or, and I quote, he’d ” fucking turn me inside out like a baby’s bladder”. I think he needs some help with his dark side.
When I thought about writing to you to ask your advice, it occurred to me that I don’t really know you. I mean, I know about you but I know nothing of your personality. Your likes, dislikes, favourite hymns or colours (orangey-yellow, right?). There has to be more to you. What’s it like up there, big guy? Spinning around, firing off jets of radioactive gas is probably alright for a while but I figure you must get a little lonely. Just so you know, you have loads of fans down here. People literally queue up just to lie down and get burned by you. (It’s a strange human custom not an S&M thing).
There is also a practice here of looking to your fellow stars as a means of predicting personal fortune. It’s called Astrology, you’ve no doubt heard of it. And as you’re the brightest of all the celestial beings you’ll be fully aware what a steaming barrel of gimp biscuits it is. Or is it? Sure, the chance of Mars’ orbit affecting our day to day lives is patently nonsense, however, you, my friend, do make a difference.
Not only have you been supplying warmth, light, life, vitamin D and melanomas for the past 4.6 billion years but also, since the arrival of western civilisation, the opportunity to get drunk and get our fat bits out.
Now, as I said before, I’m a huge fan of your work. I dig the whole Northern Lights thing and just love that you won’t let us harness enough power from your nuclear core in one week to power-up my Nintendogs, but seriously man, one glimpse of you down here and it’s chav flab apocalypse. A swirling maelstrom of pink and white colliding with the stench of lager vomit, CK1, crabsticks and regret.
I know there’s not a lot you can do from up there. I’m just saying maybe you could notch it down a little, just a few degrees and then maybe, just maybe, those pasty, pockmarked “fuckhandles” and shitty cankle tattoos can stay covered up for another season. In return, we’ll stop blaming you for the Greenhouse Effect and David Dickinson.
Yours in hope and love,
PS. Sorry about Icarus. You know how it is, he had a few meads, strapped on the wings and before you know it, he was off… We all told him it wouldn’t work.