I hadn’t been to this particular food court for a good month.
‘A new owner now’, informs Ben. ‘And too many foreigners working here. ‘He sells noodles. They were good, but nowhere near as good as he advertised them to be. The only good thing about his noodles is that he carries them to your table heated up from the oven with some kind of wire contraption. But nevertheless, even after ten minutes in an oven, they still taste like plain noodles. I wasn’t sold on the showmanship for a minute.
He’s friend’s sister use to run the drink section. With new management, she’s out, and so is her brother who use to wait for her most evenings.
He and Ben use to be best buddies. So did Henry, who has moved his sushi outfit to a busier food court down the road. I tell Henry the food court is having a revival with a new economy stall. Henry’s a snob, and says it’s only an economy stall. I almost wanted to say that for the buck, the economy stall adds more bang than his miserly portions of sushi. But I like Henry. He’s just got out of a comma after a year from a bad motorcycle accident. I really don’t want to push him over the edge again.
Henry has one shoe that elevates him six inches to compensate for one leg that is six inches shorter. He looks like the fifth member of the Kiss band and I’m always waiting for him to give a customer the big boot with a ‘value added sushi’ tagged on. I always watch my words around him.
Ben’s friendliness has cooled off too and I haven’t ordered any of his noodles since.
I was the flavor for one evening at the Food Hall. But when I pegged Ben’s best friend’s complaints about the Malays as a big moan the next night, I was cut off from the inner sanctum of moaning about the Malays.
But I’m now part of the new inner sanctum. The new owner is young Chinese who has brought in more Burmese staff.The same Chinese waitress who wears a T-Shirt saying Stop Hunger still works here and so does the same Indian lady . But instead of employing Chinese to make the drinks, it’s only Burmese doing it now.
That’s what Ben is pissed off about. There’s no pleasing everyone, I said. ‘More like no pleasing anyone,’ he grumbled.
The cook of the buffet stall is from another town. He employs two very young and pleasing to the eye Chinese. He also offers free soup with any meal. Business has picked up at the food hall.
But Ben thinks the place is even more quite. He’s a little overweight and seems to groan and moan against every injustices of the word. Imagine what he’s like taking a crap. ‘Everyone eats at the buffet,’ he says, ‘while the rest of our stalls are empty.’ I could see that initially, but with more people flowing into the joint, business for everyone will pick up. He wasn’t listening. That was the last time Ben would speak to me. Another meddling foreigner. That’s what he was thinking.
The Bangladeshi Muslim had gone. Did he get the chop? At least he was polite and tried to speak English. He ticked all the right boxes for me.
But that young Burmese waiter’s response stunk of ridicule. So much for the customer being always right. I can play the idiot too. I tell his Burmese friend,who was also laughing at me, that his mate was an idiot. He didn’t understand a word I said. Or so I thought. He now quickly relays to his friend what I said.This looks like outright war with the Burmese.
Then I look around. More Burmese behind a food stand, more behind the drink counter and a few more in the kitchen. I better back track before I’m a target. The Burmese did ransack Ayutthaya after all.
It was clear to see that I was outnumbered. Then I call the Burmese waiter over and tell him that his friend had just called him idiot.
Things were spiralling out of control. I order another drink. The same waiter delivers it. He is clearly distressed that I had picked up on his derogatory tone. Maybe he suspects I’ll inform the owner and get him fired. The thought didn’t cross my mind either.
’What is your name,’ I ask. He’s standing at the table with my milky tea on a tray that’s shaking. I’ve spooked him.
‘One dollar 30 cents,’ he says. I knew how much the fucking drink cost. So I continue.
‘What is your name?’ I had my laptop on the table.
‘One dollar 30 cents.’
Now he was being a real smart ass. Too late, for conversation. He’s taking the drink off his tray and it spills on the table, threatening to end the life of my Mac Air, there and then.
Was that deliberate?
My Mac is still alive. It just got a good splashing.
“What is your name?’ I pretend that nothing has happened.
‘Win Lee,’ he answers. Hallelujah and praise J Fucking C.
Then he asks for the one dollar and 30 cents.
His English was much better than I thought.
I told the Chinese waitress that everything was alright. But throw me in a free packet of tissues to wipe down my Mac. Then I get the Burmese to mop up the slops on the floor and clean the shit off my table.
Now I’m being assertive. He’s the shit kicker and I’m the valued customer. Right? Usually I’m nice as apple pie when they are nice to me.
No sooner has he left, I call him over again. But he’s going anywhere but near my table. Then I try to call Ben over who was delivering his noodles to a table. I wanted to bitch to him about the foreign workers. But he ignores me.
Now I know I’m definitely out of his circle of trust.
I walk up to the counter and speak to the Burmese boys. We are the same, I say. Nudge nudge wink wink, being part of the Commonwealth and all. The Chinese Malaysian waitress isn’t following. Then I add that I hate the Thais. Now the Burmese are smiling and the Chinese waitress is thinking what the fuck is going down. You just can’t trust the Thais, I added, ‘especially in this town.’
The Burmese waiter then starts slagging of the Chinese waitress and we were all bonhomie. She is stupid, he says. I had to agree, she is very stupid to employ dead beats like you.
I’m was really gelling with the Burmese. They are wholeheartedly on my side now. I wouldn’t have to worry about a gang of them mugging me on the way home. I don’t even think they were a threat in the first place. But you just can’t be too sure these days. I learned my lesson with the Pakis in the last town.
One of the two Chinese guards turns on the radio while the other one turns off the lights and fans. The Burmese have gone home. There was no challenges or a quick stab in the back. By god I deserved it.
The mosquitoes were doing kamikaze dives on my face. Another Chinese came up to me. He was well dressed and obviously not destitute like the two moonlighting security guards. He asks me what was I doing here. He said he sold oyster omelettes and had a stall next to Ben’s. I really couldn’t honestly tell him what I was doing here. I said I was just a tourist and chilling. He was satisfied and walked off.
The food hall was dark at this stage with only me and the guards who were preparing to bunker down for the night. The only light in the food hall was the soft glow of cigarettes being smoked by the guards who didn’t seem too concerned what I was doing here. I was just waiting for an invitation for a sleepover. When it didn’t happen I decided to call it a night and hobbled back to my hotel.
The next day at my family run local , a Chinese man is frantically nodding his head in short bursts. A cigarette is burning in his hand but he’s still nodding to goodness knows what.
He’s in a trance. His eyes are closed and the ash on the burning cigarette is getting longer. But he manages to flick it off while not missing a beat of the Chinese traditional music that’s playing on the radio. You’d think it was techno by the way he’s nodding his head. Maybe he’s doing some mental healing. I take a sly photo. Then he’s snapped out of it. I put my camera away.
After a while I lose interest. He’s shaking his head again. I’ve already flossed my teeth, given myself a neck massage and I think about clipping my my nails next. Am I really any different to that odd ball sitting across the table from me?
No one is giving it a thought.
It’s a quiet night here but good for writing, reading and smoking. A perfect writer’s cafe. As I pondered that, I pulled out my floss and worked on my teeth. There had to be some bits of rotting meat stuck between my teeth from a dinner I had about a year ago. And if not, it’s also good to know you can smoke and floss your teeth in public without anyone getting on their high horses and pointing the evil bone at you.
Robert comes up to me. He’s wearing the same clothes I saw him in two months ago. And he’s probably noticing I’m wearing the same clothes I wore two months ago.
I dip into my wallet and hand him a note. He say’s he’s hungry only after I gave him the money. He compliments me on my healthy looks. He’s off to buy food before I can even say good bye. In his 60s, without a pot to piss in, he’ll at least get a warm bowl of noodles tonight.