Skilful. This is a word used a lot over here, both in Thai and in Thai-yai. Living in a new country and culture tends to make you feel not very skilful. Until you’ve lived in that place for a while, you don’t know very much and you can’t do very much on your own. You make feeble attempts to cook like your neighbours, order a gas tank to be delivered to your home, ask how much something is at the market and slowly, bit by bit you start to become skilful in those things.
I have become skilful in many things since I moved to the village. Most of them are odd skills but skills nonetheless. Here is a sampling of my new and strange skills.
I have become skilful in putting on my trousers/jeans/skirts without getting the legs wet. This is no easy task when you get changed in the bathroom and, as usual, the bathroom floor is wet after your shower. No, this doesn’t mean that I need a new shower curtain (in fact we don’t have one), or that the shower hose needs to be fixed. The entire bathroom floor is essentially one big shower stall with a hole outside for our drain. So the floor is always wet after a shower.
I have become skilful in peeling the skins off of onions and shallots. This is important because ‘red onions’ (but I think they’re called shallots in North America) are used in basically every kind of Thai-yai dish. And because they’re so little, you have to add a few to each dish. And there always seems to be a need to do this quickly. So I’ve learned.
I have become skilful in determining which garlic cloves are good to use for cooking, which ones need a bit more time to air and turn white, and which ones have gone bad.
I have become skilful in driving on the mountain roads of Mae Hong Son. And I think I could say I’ve become skilful in driving in Chiang Mai as well.
I have become skilful in baking with an oven that cannot be set at any particular temperature – the flame gets lit and the oven heats up to who knows what temperature.
Along the lines of baking, I have become skilful in baking things from scratch. This is no small feat for one whose favourite kind of brownies were the kind from the box, where you only had to add an egg, some water and oil. In Thailand, however, the tasty box brownies are really expensive, so I have to make them from scratch if I want to eat some chocolatey goodness.
I haven’t become skilful yet in eating congealed blood, nor in eating large helpings of fat and skin (although thankfully I don’t see these things all that often). And I haven’t yet become skilful in dealing with snakes. I haven’t become skilful in wearing ‘phaa tungs’ (tube like skirts that you wrap around you and then tuck in at the waist) without using safety pins to keep it up. Guess I have some more things to work on and adjust to.