It is 9pm on a Thursday night and vendors are just beginning to set up shop for an evening of endless food. As my friend and I approach Ramkhamhaeng Soi 24, I am reminded of that familiar, somewhat fresh scent. Women sit on broken rocks, thoroughly rinsing the buckets and pans used from earlier in the day, so that they may be greased down once again to crisp the skin of fresh pork, chicken, and duck. Paying careful attention to each step, making sure not to slip on the broken sidewalk as the vendors’ dishwater runs across the curb and into the street. Four modes of transportation inhabit these roads. A man catches a Songtao while it is still moving, his bag of guava slices still gripped tightly in his hand. Motor bikes zip by and for a second, I close my eyes; if I try hard enough, I can hear instead hundreds of lawn mowers peacefully grazing along a new patch of grass. Iridescent magenta taxis brake softly, muted by the roaring bikes that swallow the road. And then there’s us. Strolling by foot, breathing in the freshly charred meat, with faint sounds of Rihanna coming from a nearby bar.
I’ve seen three children on a bike, but never three adults. Their soft, serendipitous smiles make me take another breath, deeper this time. As I look to my right, bright neon lights engulf the street. (DJ Buddha owns that shop, the one with the bright beams. Apparently he’s a famous DJ in Bangkok as well as a successful Barber). Three men walk out of the shop with a work of art shaved into their heads. As they walk past me, I can see the immense precision and attention to detail that is carved into the sides of their beautifully round skulls. “Sawadee Ka”, “Krap;” we greet each other with gentle bows and continue on our way.
As soon as we pass the styled men, we approach a vendor selling what seems to be a mysterious meat, balled and boiled, strung on string long enough to reach the ground if I held it in my hand.
Motor bikes continue to roar, and the engine reduces the usually rampant thoughts scurrying in my head. My body feels light; I’m still sore from Muay Thai; but nonetheless, free from any thoughts that usually consume my brain around this time at night. The air is warm, but not wet. Rainy season in Thailand is aggressive, yet beautiful. Since it torrentially down poured last night, today was left with a sweet, brisk wind that has lasted into the evening.
Crossing the street, now halfway to our destination, a small shadow tucked behind a bush emerges in less time than I have to react to it. That small shadow turned out to be a not so small stray dog, with rusty golden fur and a somber face. He meant no harm, and walked towards the direction of the pearl meatballs.
A few more meters down the street, my nose is bombarded with scents of all ranges and types. Sweet pork is frying to my left, fresh durian is being cut to my right. The contrast is so blatant that instead of getting nauseous or light-headed, the two cancel out and I am left crossing the street to my eventual destination. As I begin to walk towards the enlightened path of food, a vendor sends me smiles warmer than the fried roti I see him preparing next to the woman selling fruit and fresh coconut ice cream.
Ah, we have arrived. Normally, we sit cross-legged on hand-woven carpets and eat off of low benches. Today we sit on small plastic stools and white wooden tables. Napkins are a luxury here, so a covered roll of toilet paper is placed next to us. We are essentially sitting on the street. I can feel the slight humidity from the night before on the ground. The air is fresh, but not in a clean cotton way, no. It is fresh in the sense that whole, stuffed, fish are rotating on a rotisserie just a few steps away. I can hear the chopping of fruit behind me as a woman hands a young boy a large bag of pineapple. Turning my head back to the table now, I see that my friend has already ordered our meal for us. And it was in this moment, as my gaze found the sweet barbeque chicken, that I knew this was my home.