In Thailand, there are Buddha icons, Wats, Stupas, and monks all over the place. The monks are the ones that wear the bright orange robes; you have probably seen pictures of them at one time or another in a National Geographic magazine or something like that. The monks are not allowed to touch women. At all. In order to avoid this, they have special seating areas in public places, and they make sure they have a lot of room to pass when they are walking on a sidewalk. They can’t even brush up against a woman’s arm, incidentally. I am very aware of this and I always make the effort to give the monks lots and lots of space.
Today we went to the National Museum. I was getting through the “Thai history” part a little faster than Nick, because I decided not to read every single placard. I was happy with just looking at the dioramas of elephants at war. I was in a small passage way when a huge flock of monks came out of nowhere. I was surrounded! I got so nervous that one would accidentally touch me. I don’t know what they do if that happens, but I was imagining that the offender would probably pull out a saber of some sort and immediately drive it through his on heart. I froze. I stared at that stupid diorama for ages. I was sweating! Finally they left. Crisis averted.
I also just found out today that approximately 72 hours ago, I committed what was possibly my biggest cultural faux paux to date.
Two nights ago Nick and I ate dinner at a restaurant called “Indian Hut”. I know you are probably visualizing a chintzy fast-food type of Pizza Hut-inspired Indian place, but it is actually a respectable establishment, renowned for their vegetable samosas.
At the end of our meal, the waiter brought out a couple of small bowls that were scalloped to look like leaves or something. Inside of each bowl were some warm water and a single slice of lime.
“What do we do with these?”
We both wondered to ourselves and out loud. Sadly, we were the only patrons in the restaurant, so we couldn’t look to any one else for help. After much deliberation, we decided to drink it. We emptied the bowls. I even ate my lime for good measure. I figured it was some sort of palate cleansing exercise. I mean, in China they turn all kinds of stuff into tea. Just boil and viola!
Sunday night, Nick wanted to go back to Indian Hut. He had a hankerin’ for those vegetable samosas. On this night, the restaurant was really busy, and it occurred to us that we should look around as people finished their meals, to see what they do with their lime water. To my horror, they were using the lime water to simply wash their finger tips.
I was already humiliated by this time, because I KNEW that they remembered us from two nights ago. I was laughing at myself all ready. I’m sure they talked about it, I mean come on. It is the equivalent of someone sucking on the dishrag after a good meal, or perhaps lapping up the mop water.
When the waiter brought the accursed lime-water to our table on this night, he smirked at me and said, “Washing bowls. For washing.”
I burst out laughing.
We made up a song about the experience. We borrowed the tune from CCR:
“It ain’t tea! It ain’t tea-hee! That ain’t no drinkin’ tea!”
I need to stop this flip-flopping between cultures. It will be the death of me, I say.