Sunday, May 12, 2013

Tasty Treats?

Driving along the back roads of Isaan can often present an opportunity for a unique experience if not an opportunity for some interesting photography.

Last night we drove out to a small village on a small back road in the vicinity of Tahsang Village.  Duang's brother was performing in a Mohlam Lao show that was part of a Tamboon Jaak Khao (Bone Party).

While my East Coast of America friends were eating their lunch, Duang and I started our drive back to our home at 11:00 P.M.  After a short time we were out and about driving through the farmland of Northeast Thailand - sugar cane fields a waiting the arrival of the rainy season to commence their rapid growth, the rice paddies are also a waiting the return of the rains, and the new cassava crop is just starting to grow.  Fields that will be planted with peanuts, sweet corn, or other vegetables are laying fallow until the return of the rains.

The farmers have just started to return to the fields.  They have commenced to repair the small berms that surround the rice paddies and are necessary to retain the rain waters for the wet cultivation of rice.  The soil inside of the paddies is being turned over using small tractors, water buffalo, and iron buffalo to ensure that when the rains do return the moisture will able to deeply saturate the ground and create the sloppy muck necessary for starting of the rice crop.

We were not very long into our return trip home when I noticed a great deal of confusion as well as congestion up ahead on and along side the narrow country road.  There were beams of light erratically piercing the night time sky.  There were red lights from the back ends of stopped motorbikes.  There were headlights shooting in all angles into the night from stopped motorbikes.

I have come upon scenes like this all too often here in Thailand.  As I slowed down while approaching the group of people rushing about the scene, I mentally prepared myself for what I suspected was yet another motorbike accident.  As we drew closer, Duang told me that people were gathering food or rather "food".

Many of the people were wearing headband flashlights hence the various lights erratically pircing the night.  Other people were using hand held flashlights for illumination.  The headlights from the stopped motorbikes were also being used to illuminate sections of the road as well as the margins of land along side of the road.

The people were gathering bugs and placing them in containers to take back home for the next morning's meal.  As Duang started telling me about the bugs ("food"), I began to see in the light from our pick up truck, many insects flying through the air and landing on the road.  People would rush over and pick up the bugs with their bare hands and place their quarry into empty 1.0 or 1.5 liter plastic soda bottles or plastic grocery bags.  Having seen many times cooked grasshoppers for sale in markets, as well as vendors at many events, I asked Duang if they were catching grasshoppers.  I had read recently that cicadas were returning to the East Coast of America after seventeen years of hibernation and the thought crossed my mind that perhaps something similar was occurring here in Isaan. Duang said no that these were different.

It was then that I had an Isaan moment - I slowed down further and stopped the truck next to some people who were in the middle of the road.  I rolled down my window, which here in Thailand, is the window that is closest to the middle of the road, turned on the truck interior light and Duang yelled out to the people.  They came over to open window and showed me the bugs that they were capturing.  There are many things that I like and enjoy about living in Thailand, Isaan in particular, one of them being the ability to approach people and ask questions and photograph them without fear, fear on your part or their part.  Here we were, in the middle of no where, in the middle of the night, approaching strangers, and asking them what they were doing - all without fear or hesitancy.  There is a richness to life here that is not measured in material items but is defined in the quality of the life here.  We are still able to share our life experiences without a sense of fear or paranoia.

The bugs looked like large fire flies but did not emit any light.  They were softer than grasshoppers and did not have an external exoskeleton.  They would definitely not be crunchy like a grasshopper or as squishy as silkworm larvae.  The bodies of the bugs were about 1 inch long (2.5 cm) and they were attracted by the lights.  As we remained parked in the road for a while I yelled out to some of the women and pointed out the location of some of the bugs in the road that were illuminated by the truck's headlights.  We remained for a short while until Duang became embarrassed by my behavior   The people were smiling and seemed appreciated by my efforts to help out.  You see, here in Isaan a great deal of what it is all about is to have fun.

The people gathering the bugs roam the roads looking for where the bugs are hanging out. When they find them, they stop their bikes and commence to gather the bugs up - in the road and along the road.  It is a sort of feeding frenzy-  not by sharks but by the people.  Some of the people had soda bottles filled with the bugs and a few others had plastic bags filled with bugs.  Men, women, and teenagers were all involved in the harvesting of the bugs.

As we recommenced our trip back home, I could tell that Duang was excited about the bugs.  She told me that they tasted very good.  The bugs eat sugar cane, flowers and trees.  Since there is no mature sugar cane around the bugs eat special red flowers.  The bugs were not available all along our route - only where the flowers were growing either naturally or where they were being cultivated.

I asked Duang if people fried the bugs in oil like they do grasshoppers, spiders, and scorpions.  She told me that they cook them in sauce with a little bit of water.  She said that they sell them in the market "inside" Udonthani and the next time that we go, she will show me.  She will also buy some ... for her to eat.

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