Bangkok, Thailand – April 1992
My sister points at a roadside stall. “Look. Deep fried baby birds. They put them on a stick. Guess how they eat them. They bite the heads off and suck out the guts!”
I stare at the little pile of desiccated carcasses, but instead of revulsion, I feel only a blasé curiosity. Under the stench of rancid grease is an odor that brings back memories of high school biology class. It’s the smell of something ready for dissection, something that’s been kept in fluid. It smells no worse than the other culinary wares that I’ve seen in the markets of Bangkok. Piles of unidentifiable marine detritus. It seems to be more suitable for bait. But Pebby assures me that it’s all for human consumption.
Pebby has given me a tour of the squalid labyrinth that is Bangkok. She has lived here for a few months. She is part of the Great American High Dive Team which performs at the Safari World theme park. People sometimes approach her and shyly say, “You’re Miss Penelope.” She smiles and nods, but scurries away as quickly as possible. She’s fed up of the attention. She is only nineteen years old.
Images of the day replay through my mind – the festering sewer of the klong, the legless leper grasping his tin cup with fingerless hands, the packs of mangy stray dogs, the fat old white men sauntering down the street with an entourage of young girls.
Pebby has made sure that I was prepared. Sweet, soft smoke cradles my agitated brain. A glorious, though artificial, calm has taken hold. I went without food so that I could save up for this trip. That’s how desperate I was to get away from my life. I savor each sensation of this foul metropolis, for all too soon I will have only myself to consume.