The Eye of the Fish
With every step I take in this city I am further away from home. Every stride in any direction serving as a reminder that nothing will ever be the same. Perception being shifted and realigned in real time.
I love to walk.
This city is filled with innumerable oddities to the western senses. External stimulus coming in waves. Sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch all brand new; Terra Incognita.
Weighed down by the damp immovable heat, I make my way through narrow alley ways, eyes reacting in constant surprise to my surroundings. Construction is a twenty four hour a day endeavour here. High pitched electric saws and power drills tear through concrete in an exuberating need to keep up with the ever changing interior landscape. Mixing with the squealing screams of swiftly passing motor bikes, the steady hum of the pickups and the sputtering of the tuk tuks, the metal on metal on cement cacophony produced is a consciousness altering array of penetrating auditory stimulation. Eventually, like everything, it slowly fades into the background and becomes commonplace the more you explore, and the more you are exposed to.
Girls sitting sidesaddle on the backs of scooters glide by as I walk past pay laundry machines stacked on small buckets, offering a wash and rinse for under a dollar. Pay water dispensers are abundant, shelling out clean water for about ten seconds per Baht. There are car banks; mini vans with folding tops revealing a teller and a sliding door behind the driver’s seat unveiling an ATM. Naturally, there are car bars as well. Same concept, different currency. Chiang Mai is a do-it-yourself paradise, a field day for pinterest junkies. Everything here is reused or repurposed. Plastic bottles as planters hung on walls or used as electrical junction boxes. Old tires filled with water and used as Koi ponds are just a couple of the numerous examples of resourcefulness found here.
My thoughts trail off into reminisce of recent gigs. It has been encouraging — the last few nights have been eye opening. The working trio has been able to interpret and add new touches to compositions I have been working on. Dense cellular blocks of chords coming from the piano and long arid, open cymbal work from the drummer create exactly what I am always looking for; a mysterious doorway to walk through with brand new eyes, all the way open.
Everyone should have an equal voice. The nature of an instrument, it’s pitch, timbre and range often have suggested responsibility, but in this music, in creative music, voices should be heard on an equal plane; traditional roles of instrumentation do not necessarily apply.
Awareness. Consciousness. Recognition.
Walking around this city, you are reminded at every traffic light, every cul de sec, every alley way, every corner you round, that you are not at home, not even close. You are left alone, alive in your own perception.
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I am seated at what is basically a Thai Hooters. Girls in short black, red, blue and green skirts are hovering, waiting to take our order. Each woman seems to have a different role — the girl in black sat us, green for beer, red taking our order, not sure what the woman in blue is doing but she is also in constant proximity. We decide and the beer is out immediately, rolled out on a small cart with a bucket of ice, tongs and short glasses, I have mine over ice.
Located just outside of the first ring of Chiang Mai’s super highway, the restaurant has a large, staggered layout, multiple levels offering different seating options. Traditional Thai music is played by a woman in a lower corner of the first level and pumped into the rest of the space via closed circuit television and multiple speakers hanging from the walls and on small wires from the rafters. Tables with benches, wooden chairs and small plastic stools inhabit the rest of the open air, thatched roof covered haven.
An incredible meal unfolds in front of us. King crab soaked in lemon, butter, soy sauce and garlic with kale and fresh peppercorn. Steamed tilapia with lime and basil served still cooking over a small kerosene flame. Catfish in a deep brown glaze and minced pork cooked in banana leaves, deep fried ruffie with an orange ginger marmalade. Whole, deep fried mackerel, seasoned with fresh herbs, salt and lemon, serves as the finale. Considered a delicacy, the eyeball was first a layer of crisp, deep fried film, then, a soft, almost gelatinous layer with a crunchy core; the retina.
A custom I could do without.
We eat and carry on late into the evening before heading to another bar for an even later night jam session marked by adventurous playing and rapping led by an MC from Chicago and a smaller thai man, playing guitar and then drums, with long hair, dreadlocked and curled up on top of his to resemble a top hat. He has on Hello Kitty flip flops.
I’m in a reflective mood. The weeks of incredible meals and conversation give me great pride and I am casting away anxiety and doubt. My future seems to hold vast and adventurous possibilities and I am ready for it. Enjoying the end of a beer and one last cigarette before starting my trek home I am happy to recall the best parts of the numerous gigs I have played and some of the most incredible food I have ever tasted. Cosmopolitan conversation carries on deep into most nights as locals and travelers from all over the world gather to exchange stories and ideas, hopes and fears over beer and roadside BBQ. Tonight was no different.
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Racing through the outer rim of the moat in a tuk tuk with unbelievably loud Thai pop music blaring from 8 speakers directly behind my head, the fish, prawn, pork, chicken, rice, Leo and Sangsom conspiring to make a hasty escape from my undulating belly.
I realize now that i have made a mistake.
Writhing in sensory debilitating pain and deliriousness from the heat, sweat blurring my vision, I beg the tuk tuk driver to pull over. I imagine labor pains, the stomach breach in alien, the birth of my brother McCullough, whose head was so big he couldn’t sit up until he was 9 years old, couldn’t even come close the Zeppelin about to take it’s famously doomed initial flight inside me. This is pure agony. Suddenly a wave of calm comes over me. Facing certain death, my survival instincts take over. I am now in a zen like state and have complete clarity. I know where i am now and I can feel the proximity, can almost taste the sweet relief. I’m out of the Tuk Tuk, feet planted firmly on the street. My plan is in place.
Visions of Vesuvius, connotations of Krakatoa, nightmares of the Hoover dam slowly cracking and eventually giving way to an overpowering wave that will cause not only mass terror but complete destruction of anything in it’s path. I am running, running as fast or faster than any white, almost forty year old male in the midst of 6000 degree heat with a humidity level of 7000 percent has ever ran. I am truly breaking records in my immediate and exacting need to be at one with my toilet, has ever run. I can feel the soi dogs cheering me on, emoting empathy with their howls, in unison, the birds sing the victory songs of my people (gonna fly now!). Everyone is on my side and their chants echo through the streets as I run like no man has ever run before. With purpose, vigor, strain and intense vision, I cut through the night like a cheetah in search of his prey.
I am like the wind, not Swayze’s wind, the wind of the north, a hard billowing wind pushing all else aside, freezing in their track all that stand in my way, I am so close, rounding the last corner, I am home, the end in sight, ravishing my pockets with all the strength I have left in search of my keys, I clumsily manage to open the door and immediately curse my decision to live on the fifth floor, I take the first flight in 3 steps, I am on a mission from the volcano gods, I’m also completely out of shape and decide to take the elevator.
This is a near fatal mistake.
There was clenching, a vice grip of hulk like intensity and then the most awkward long and slow penguin shuffle you could ever imagine.
Never eat a fish eyeball.
I am praying now, making vows to only eat bran muffins and use the stairs for the rest of my life. Swearing loudly, to any higher power that will listen, my intentions of a strict workout plan and a more measured approach to my consumption. Golf ball size beads of sweat are streaming down my face in anguish, I am questioning the morals, motivation and true nature of the gods, questioning Jesus and his overly preachy book.
And then, in an instant, it’s over. I am lighter in both physical and spiritual weight.
I retreat to my bed and drift off to sleep with fond visions of my impending breakfast; Khao Soi, it’s supple coconut curry broth, deep-fried crispy egg and soft boiled egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, fried ground chillies, with chicken served so tender it falls off the bone.
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Originally published at caseyobrienmusic.com on August 15, 2016.