Life is a surprise.
From the very first moment when it strangely begins, a tangle of things, all the way to the end.
As I write I’m sitting on Thai Airways flight 409, three-fourths of the way to Singapore. As we cruise on this seemingly immovable, two-storey aircraft, my sous chef Eak is riding to my right. He’s staring intently at the in-flight entertainment like his fortune lies inside, considering possibilities. Pi Bun, my head chef, sits beside him looking vaguely afraid. I suspect he is.
Exactly three months ago today these two sat beside me, as air was forced in and out of my brittle lungs through a tube, inside Samitivej Hospital. I was stuck inside a body that didn’t want to work. My chef Pi Bun wept as I tried to shake my head, to tell him that I wasn’t going just yet. But my thirty percent chance became fifty, and soon my life wasn’t reduced to percentages. Time and medicine and care and the mostly the comfort of people close to me, brought me back. I haven’t written about my accident since it happened, and I don’t know if I ever will, after this. But it happened. And it was quite a surprise.
We’re on our way to Singapore to cook brunch at the Ritz-Carlton hotel on the 21st of October. Those of you who have followed this blog, or have visited my restaurant, might understand how much this means to me. To have the opportunity to bring my boys – the ones who stood behind me for the last two years, as I took all the credit; who stuck with me as I fired my manager (their cousin); who ground their way through 700 services; who stood by my side as I nearly left them without a place to work, without so much as a shake of the head – to take them outside of Thailand and to cook with them is an extraordinary experience.
When we disembark with our luggage, we’ll drive across Singapore and into the strange and shiny cavern of a five-star hotel lobby. There will be a perplexing array of light switches to switch and a ridiculous number of pillows to sleep on and banquet kitchens that could swallow our little restaurant in one gulp. We’ll slowly simmer fish with ginger and pandan leaves and lemongrass, and fry the fragrant curry paste we pounded yesterday in Bangkok. Then we’ll grind pork and fold it with salt and turmeric, lime leaves and chilies, and stuff that into casings for sausage. On Sunday, we’ll frantically plate it all for 400 guests and maybe sneak in a glass of Champagne and hop back on a plane to Bangkok.
I won’t delve too far into this life and how my eyes might filter things differently. But today I woke up and sharpened my knives, quietly wrapping them in soft cloth. I kissed my wife and smiled, rode my motorbike to the shop and met my chefs for lunch. The air and the quality of sunlight felt different as I buzzed through the traffic, as if the draining rains had finally stopped and our dry season had arrived.
Maybe it has. Maybe not.