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An unlikely holiday turkey

November 28, 2012

By ALIX HUI

Many years ago — shoot, nearly 10 — my brother and I woke on Thanksgiving morning to the clucking of chickens and, strangely, the chortle of a turkey. The beach roaches scattered onto the sand (“beach roaches” makes them sound more happy-go-lucky and hapless than when you see one perched on your toothbrush) as we stumbled out of our bamboo hut to the front porch. 

What was a turkey doing on a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand?

We felt like the Hardy boys, presented with a curious mystery in a curious land.  Was it simply a biogeographical oddity or was something more sinister afoot?  I have often wondered whether, if you commit a crime while crossing the International Dateline, you can get away with it. The Mystery of the Disappearing Headphones! The Clue of the Lukewarm Washcloth! The Masked Passenger in Seat 34F! The plots write themselves.

Towering over the chickens and chattering in his own strange tongue, the turkey stood out enough to be noticed but not so much to be singled out and mobbed as a tourist. Like my brother and me! The turkeys of Southeast Asia! 

Southeast Asia Travel Tip No. 1: Be of mixed, ambiguous ethnicity that is similar enough to the locals so that they offer you delicious treasures like mangosteens. 

Southeast Asia Travel Tip No. 2: Have a brother that is nearly fluent in Thai.

(Nearly fluent, however, does not guarantee that one possess decent street vocabulary. Yes, my brother can present a paper on Southeast Asian Gnostics but can he order an iced coffee? What about negotiate a fair price with a tuk-tuk driver?)

Southeast Asia Travel Tip No. 3: While tuk-tuks appear flimsy and their drivers easily overpowerable, still try to avoid being kidnapped on one.

Southeast Asia Travel Tip No. 4: Do not accept an offer of a free tuk-tuk ride.  Also, do not accept offers of mayonnaise on your sandwich or an exotic pet.

Southeast Asia Travel Tip No. 5: If the locals have given you the nickname of “The Mayor of Hanoi,” you have a drinking problem.

I should now be sure to add that Southeast Asia is a wonderful place to visit. The people are exceedingly kind. Whatever inconveniences appear to our coddled Western eyes are well worth suffering along with the rest of the global population in order to experience the rich and diverse cultures of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, etc. And the food! The food will make you weep. On that balmy Thanksgiving in Koh Samui we ate coconut-based soup filled with squash and carrots at a flimsy plastic table set in the sand on the edge of surf. As the warm water washed and receded over our toes, we gave thanks.

Below is the best approximation of one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories.  Lemongrass is a little tricky to find around here (unless you’re growing it on your front porch like yours truly). The Asian Market on Highway 12 often has it.  I also think it is available is dried form, in which case you’ll want to substitute 1 teaspoon per lemongrass stalk. Warm, creamy and with a little bit of kick, this distinctive soup will keep for several days and provides a nice change after a week of leftover potatoes and stuffing. Enjoy!

Alix Hui is an Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University.  She can be contacted at alixhui@gmail.com.

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