“What do you miss most about Thailand?” I ask Lek as we drive home from campus one afternoon. The quiet moments in the long drive to my daughter’s high school keep me peppering our guest with questions of his homeland. We talk about similarities and differences between the schools in Vermont versus his school in Bangkok where he teaches social studies to sixth graders. The language barrier is ever present, but we both work to get our point across.
“Thai food” he replies and a sad sweet smile shadows his face, as if he is remembering his mother’s pad prik pao. “Not family?” I ask, being a social worker I always assume that people are the strongest connections. He looks at me and laughs, “No, just Thai Food.”
He talks nightly with his family, over the internet. If only they could pass the food through the screen. I try my hand at a ginger stir fry, and he kindly takes seconds. But I know it doesn’t taste like home.
Each day he walks all over campus, even down into Winooski to Tiny Thai for the taste he craves, and one afternoon I drive him to the Asian market. For the next seven days he cooks octopus, crab or lobster for breakfast, eaten with noodles or rice.
Unlike our American diet of breakfast pastries, eggs, etc.. he explains that in his culture they don’t differentiate between meals. All meals are equal. Same thing, three times a day. My husband says I could never survive, poking fun at my disdain of any two meals being the same in a week, let alone in one day.
Its true, I like variety. I am not one for repeating meals. While some take a turkey sandwich for lunch every day, I have to search for a new option each morning. Perhaps I’m spoiled. If I lived in Thailand would I have options? Lek and I share recipes, and on our last night we all venture out to Tiny Thai for our final meal together. He makes recommendations from the menu and we all enjoy our meals, I even step away from my usual ginger chicken.
Lek brought us an opportunity to open our home to a stranger from another culture. He taught my daughter to carve fruit and vegetables. But what I think about the most is the meals that we shared. Each time I open our freezer, the small shrimp dumplings that he left for Scott to eat, stare up at me. reminding me of our friendship, our differences and similarities, our efforts to create a cultural kitchen.