EPISODE THIRTYONE – TEMPLE RIGHTS
Nui gave me a bunch of bananas. Was this a peace offering after the bitter bean experience? I think not. Just another random act of kindness.
I found an interesting story by R. Cameron Cooper on the internet about The Thailand Fruit Festival to which I have added my own thoughts. Everyone loves fruit. In the colder climates, fruit has always been well recognised for its healthy properties, it has traditionally been considered a bit of a luxury item. Not so in Thailand. One of the great things about taking a holiday in the land of the endless summer is that fruit is everywhere all year around. In a place where one hot sunny day follows another, a good way of keeping track of time passing is keeping an eye on which fruits are bursting at the seams on the tables of roadside stalls. Fruit, not surprisingly, is a cornerstone of the Thai diet. Thais generally sit down to their three square meals a day, but tend to nibble from the time they get up until they pack it in at night. Much of the time this snacking style of eating involves fruit. In keeping with this fruit obsession, many areas of the Country hold annual fruit festivals during the month of May, when many of the Thailand fruits come into their peak season. The festivals include cooking contests, parades, farm tours, and of course, beauty contests (where a young girl gets to hold the dubious title of Miss Durian for a whole year!). If you ever visit a Thai home there is a good chance you will be offered a big fruit platter of which you will do well to eat a quarter.
Unlike most westerners, Thais often eat fruits before they are fully ripe as well as ripe. Thai cooking regularly combines the sweet, sour and savoury. A prime example of this is the famous dish ‘somtam’, more often referred to as ‘papaya pok pok’ (papaya salad). This is shredded green papaya pounded in a mortar with chillies, peanuts, lemon juice, fish sauce and other ingredients which vary regionally. It is eaten with sticky rice. Many people from the northeast (Isaan) eat this spicy concoction nearly every day. Unless you like explosive food it’s best to ask for no chilli as the mortar will already have enough ingrained in it from previous mixtures. Or you can ask for ‘phrik nid noi’, a little chilli.
You can wait for the papaya to ripen and enjoy the gently soft sweet flesh as a dessert or snack. But don’t let it over ripen as then it becomes mushy and not nice. In some parts of Thailand papaya trees grow like weeds and if you don’t have them in your garden local people virtually give them away. Mangos are another fruit that Thais love to eat while still green. Finger size slices are dipped into a mixture of salt, sugar and chillies. Another fruit called ‘Farang’, strangely enough the same as the word for foreigner, is often eaten the same way. ‘Farang’ is similar to apple but not sweet. ‘Mango and sticky rice’ may well be the most delightful yet simple dessert ever concocted. Sweet, delicate ripe mangos are laid on of top of sticky rice and drizzled with sweetened coconut milk. It is gorgeous.
Fruit has even moved into the realm of art in Thailand. Fruit carving is a long-standing tradition that has reached such a high level that the Country’s countless cooking schools offer courses in the subject as popular with tourists on learning vacations. While there are many fruits you may already be familiar with, there are some exquisite ones that many Westerners have never seen or heard of so there are some pleasant surprises in store. The more familiar ones on the list are strawberries (grown in the cool air of the northern mountains), watermelons (very sweet), grapes (not so good if you come from Cape Town), pineapples, papayas, mangoes, coconuts and bananas. Bananas come in more shapes, colours and sizes than you might have thought possible. They are only sold in bunches as they are so cheap. From 10 baht in Chiang Mai to 50 baht in Phuket. A bunch consists of 12 to 20 bananas but make sure you buy them green or just turning yellow as they will ripen in a few days and must be eaten.
The rain is torrential this morning which is not too good for the temple goers as it’s a special day again. There seems to be a lot of them. Never mind because prayer and worship doesn’t always have to take place in the temple. While we are on the subject of Temples I see that the dispute about the land surrounding the Preah Vihear site on the Thailand/Cambodia border is still unresolved. The Bangkok Post reported this week on the politics of Preah Vihear and Phra Viharn. These abridged extracts from the Bangkok Post newspaper give an indication of the likely continuance of intransigence by both Countries.
“While the military build-up between opposing Thai and Cambodian armed forces over the Preah Vihear temple controversy has reached a standstill following inclusive talks between the two sides, Phnom Penh’s diplomatic offensive is well under way. After its unsuccessful bid to put the issue for regional discussion among ASEAN members, Cambodia is now seeking a multilateral solution to this longstanding bilateral territorial dispute, threatening to put the United Nations Security Council on the spot. It has become a foreboding tussle between Cambodia’s legal merits and Thailand’s historical claims that has far-reaching repercussions. Phnom Penh insists that the 4.6 square kilometres adjoining the temple complex has been under Cambodia’s territorial sovereignty since the International Court of Justice’s landmark adjudication in 1962. Thailand does not accept the French-made and Cambodian-peddled map over ”Phra Viharn” because it contravenes the Franco-Siamese agreement of 1904, which stipulated that the map was to be demarcated along a watershed line separating the two countries. None of the judges in 1962 said that the French map was fair and just. Over the past century of Preah Vihear controversy, Thailand has never recognised this map but it did accept the ICJ ruling on the temple complex itself. Cambodians are unlikely to cease their claims. Phnom Penh knows it has the upper hand both on the legal merits and on the domestic divisions in Thailand. Cambodia’s bid for the temple’s designation as a World Heritage Site goes back to 1992. Indeed, the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, but the adjacent land should be jointly developed, supervised and managed. While legality gives Cambodia an edge, geography is firmly on Thailand’s side. The status quo of joint use by both Thais and Cambodians has worked well until recent weeks. It should be restored.” (Bangkok Post)[i]
 From April 15-19, the hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding the Thai-Cambodian dispute over the Preah Vihear Temple took place in the Netherlands. Cambodia made its opening argument on April 15 followed by Thailand two days later. Each side then made additional arguments. The court retired after the April 19 session, and gave its verdict in November 2013. REPORT at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24897805