The last day we left our house, which was hemmed in on three sides by fighting, was last Saturday night, May 15. We went to a friend's bar that had opened recently, in a wan show of support. It's in the same neighborhood (Thong Lor) where I plan to open a restaurant and bar later this year.
As I drank an Old-Fashioned in that new bar, called WTF—Wonderful Thai Friendship, though another name would suffice in these times—the Canadian Broadcasting Company called me to do an interview. I accepted, and stepped into a dark alley to talk on the phone. The last question shook me up: "Will there be a point, do you think, if things continue the way they are, that you actually decide to leave, and return to the United States?" I sputtered, spoke of my business plans, and returned to the bar for another drink.
That night, as we drove home over Klong Toey, part infamous ghetto and part wholesale food market, angry taxi drivers were beginning to blockade the highway. For the next week, we would leave our house only to buy food.
When things go wrong, as I've written before, I turn to the kitchen to find solace. In this time of gunshots, tire fires, and curfews, cooking was about all I did. On Sunday I visited my local supermarket and stocked up on whatever was left—in this case only mushrooms, carrots, daikon radish, chicken thighs, canned tomatoes, dried pasta, and pork bones. I scoured a local fresh market for fruits, herbs, and more pork. I bought a big bag of cleaned duck bones from a roast duck vendor.
And for the next five days straight I cooked, like a rat in a cage, occasionally scurrying to my rooftop to take pictures. I went out only once more, to find usually-jammed Sathorn Road abandoned but for smoldering piles of rubbish. I stopped into my fresh market to talk to my fishmonger, whose supply had dwindled to a limp pile of two-day-old shrimp. She shook her head and smiled. It didn't hide her pain.
Closer to home, young Red Shirt "guards" now actively engaging the military resupplied energy drinks, beer, and cigarettes at my local 7-Eleven, then sped off back to Klong Toey. Many of those beer and energy drink bottles were repurposed into Molotov cocktails. Two men rode by on motorbikes on Tuesday afternoon, smashing our glass telephone booths with metal pipes, as friendly noodle sellers and fruit vendors watched silently. My Bangkok neighborhood, as I knew it, had ceased to exist.
That Sunday night I cooked a Massaman curry. It's as slow and deliberate a recipe as one can find in Thai cookery. It's sweet and complex, a mishmash of cultures in a dish, a microcosm of Thailand. Smoke rose over buildings framed in my kitchen window as I smashed coriander seed, cloves, cinnamon, and cumin into a fragrant curry paste. Chunks of pork bobbed in coconut cream until tender. That night, we ate the soothing dish glued to the news, certain the worst was yet to come.