I finished my finals!! Yes, that is worthy of two (2!) exclamation points. I used up all of the stress I had worrying about my fluid mechanics test, so in the full three days following where I should have been studying for my last final I studied for a total of approximately 6 hours, and most of that occurred within 9 hours of the test itself. Whoooops. But it’s all over now, I definitely didn’t fail anything unless some black magic gets involved in the bell curves, and none of the exams were too mentally scarring. Now I get to finish up hanging out in Singapore and then head home in 4 days. Gah! So soon! I love Southeast Asia but I am crazy stoked to get home for the holidays. I miss all my America people!
Back to documenting Thailand: on our second day Taylor and I woke up early, very excited to get picked up and go to Baan Chang elephant camp for the day. We sat in the hostel lobby after finding out that no breakfast places in Chiang Mai (in our immediate vicinity) opened before 8am. After the time we were supposed to get picked up came and went we got a little antsy and asked the hostel worker to call the camp for us, at which point we found out we were scheduled for the next day. Oopsies. They had sent us a confirmation with the right date on it, Friday the 15th, but we had asked to go on Thursday the 14th and didn’t double check what day was what date. Oh well, no harm no foul. However that left us with a suddenly empty day to fill.
After a bit of deliberation we decided to head out to a lake in the mountains and sign up for a Thai cooking class later that evening. At this point it was late enough for cafes to be open so we grabbed breakfast and then hailed a red taxi, one of the pickup trucks, to take us up to the lake. We drove for a bit out of town up a different mountain road than the one that had led to the temple the previous day. When we arrived we clambered out of the truck bed and found, unsurprisingly, a lake, and surprisingly, absolutely no one around it. The water was a nice blue out in the middle but at the edges the clear water revealed slightly swampy bottoms. The mountain views were nothing to scoff at, but I have clearly been spoiled by the landscapes at home because the scenery just reminded me of a lake we sometimes hike around on the weekends instead of inspiring awe.
We made our way around the water’s edge, weaving through the groupings of tiny lakeside huts. They comprised a flat bamboo platform each with their own individual palm frond roof, and given the mass number of these huts I would imagine the lakeside is packed during high season. However it was not high season and thus all the huts were empty. Eventually we decided to settle in one and rent innertubes so we could float for a bit in the warm water. The three other people on the lake (yes, I lied, there were other people but these were the only ones) paddled over to say hi on their way back to shore, but other than that it was a placid and uneventful excursion.
The lake was lovely but not very exciting and there was a demon cat that kept following us as we moved from platform to platform trying to avoid its most likely flea ridden company. I still shudder to think of those creepy eyes, watching me… So after an hour or two at the lake we were pretty much done with it. We headed back to town and had our taxi drop us off on a street with restaurants, stopping for some fairly good food at a place where they seemed completely unable to bring us our bill even after repeated reminders. We finally made it out and headed back to the hostel for a quick nap; due to our unnecessarily early morning we were both a bit tired.
Then came one of the best parts of the trip: our Thai cooking class! Cooking schools abound in Chiang Mai so we had sifted through a pile of brochures earlier and found that they all offered basically the same program. We couldn’t figure out how to decide so we used ridiculous criteria for elimination like “I don’t like this guy’s face” and “this brochure used Comic Sans.” One valid reason for picking the one we did was that we got to choose what to cook individually rather than having to come to a consensus with whoever else was in the class about what dishes to learn.
We were picked up in a black version of the red pickup taxis by a cute young Thai woman in a nice black dress. She introduced herself as Ann, and at first I assumed she was just the pick-up person (mostly because these excursions often have a driver, but also because she was so young) but it turned out that she was the teacher as well — this program, Zabb-E-Lee Thai Cooking School, is a business she started on her own a few months ago. Quick pitch: if you go to Chiang Mai, take her class! The teacher makes all the difference and Ann is so cute and hilarious.
Our group consisted of three pairs: Taylor and myself, a young man from the UK with his Malaysian cousin, and a married couple traveling SEA. Our group got along fantastically. Everyone was easy going and friendly and very interesting, I loved the people we got to hang out with for a few hours which I’m sure made the class even better. It started with Ann driving us to a market and explaining Thai ingredients. Galangal is a form of Thai ginger, Thai sweet basil is not the same thing as regular basil, there are different types of limes and lime leaves to use, lemongrass is a very common ingredient, color is very important in Thai food… I could go on, but I think you get the idea. We were given a few minutes to look around while Ann bought what we needed for our dishes, and then we headed off to cook.
The school was actually in Ann’s side yard, but the set up was so beautiful and very professional that it didn’t feel like we were at someone’s house at all. We got to make 4 dishes and curry paste: I made pad thai, deep fried spring rolls, coconut milk soup, and green curry. Taylor made the same soup and spring rolls but cooked chicken with cashews and khao soi instead. We cooked our stir fried dishes first, which were fantastic. After eating our first course Taylor volunteered to cook the spring roll filling for the group and then we learned how to fold them correctly — the spring roll wheat ‘paper’ has a smooth side, like a woman’s skin, and a rough side, like a man’s. Ann said that when folding them, put the “man on top to make a pretty baby,” possibly the best way imaginable to remember which side of the paper faces up. I put a bit of extra filling in mine, prompting Ann to say that I made a fat baby. If you don’t tuck in the corners right sometimes a little flap sticks out, meaning you made a boy baby. I’ve never laughed so hard at a spring roll before.
When we made the curry paste each pair of us made one kind, so someone else tackled the green curry paste I (and a few others) would use, while Taylor and I made the paste for Tay’s khao soi. We had to pound the ingredients with a mortar and pestle until it was smooth, and Ann’s comment for this was that “women make curry paste to practice being a good wife.” If you can picture the movement of pounding with a mortar and pestle and have any sort of dirty mind you’ll find this as funny as I did. Another great Ann moment was when she got startled and said a Thai swear word. None of us would have noticed at all except that she made a big deal of telling us to never say it. She then asked if we remembered it, and when she got one of the women in the group to say it back to her she collapsed into a fit of giggles.
By the end of the night I had eaten a plate of pad thai, two spring rolls, (half) a bowl of green curry and a bowl of coconut milk soup, managing to shovel down the delicious mango sticky rice Ann gave us before sinking into a food coma with my third trimester food baby. (Once again, just gotta plug this cooking school: Ann was fantastic, she worked so hard and normally doesn’t give out 5 courses but she gave us mango sticky rice for free, extra, just because we asked. Zabb-E-Lee Thai cooking school, go there!) Best of all, Ann wrote her own cookbook with all the recipes available in her class and gave one to each of us at the end of the night. She was so proud of it, as well she should be, and now I can make yummy thai food at home. I know this sounds like an advertisement at this point but seriously, I love love loved this class. I wish I could take it again.