Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

14 Dec 2013

Two stories from SE Asia: Dog eat dog and the vicious ant attack

Posted by Will

I’ll tell a story or two this week, written from a quiet balcony in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I love the giant banana plants less than 3m from my nose. Every now and again a lizard creeps down the adjacent wall. The sound of a scooter drifts up lazily from the street below.

p1070171-800I’m getting hungry, as usual, so soon I’ll head round the corner to a lovely old lady who ladles the city’s signature dish, Khao Soi, into colourful bowls. After 5pm, I’ll wander through the street-food stalls for sticky rice and a pre-made green curry. I’ve arranged to meet friends this evening too. While I still have reservations about Chiang Mai, it’s starting to grow on me.


Dog eat Dog

Back in Romania I wrote that dog isn’t man’s best friend. That was after I’d been hounded across the country, my packed lunch incessantly whined for and my stealthy, scenic camp spots routinely discovered. I was chased by packs of the beasts in the Kurdish lands and thrown over the handlebars by a stray one in Vietnam. They’ve frightened me out of asking for water and growled me away from getting directions. In short, they have never welcomed my great journey eastwards. Like the postman, I am a constant target for their abuse.

So putting dogs into that context – one that doesn’t include them brushing up affectionately against the legs, wagging their tails gleefully and jumping up naughtily (but adorably) – perhaps you can understand why my first sit-down to dog meat – a dish incidentally best served cold – was rather satisfying. On my final night in M-Spot Cafe and Hostel, Hanoi, I sat down to a sumptuous feast.

p1070018-800Van the Man invited me downstairs to eat with the group, as usual, but this time with a promise of Mayfair vodka. It seemed like a special occasion. Dozens of plates lay waiting from mounds of ‘bun’ noodles to leafy salads, breaded pigs’ ears and a swirling purple shrimp sauce. Small, shallow dipping bowls dotted the table and shot glasses stood to attention for the introductory toast. In pride of place, the backbone of whole affair, sat three plates of beautifully presented dog.

“Only before the full-moon”, Van explained through his first mouthful of meat, “it’s tradition”. I picked up a piece of boiled dog meat from the closest dish and raised it to my mouth. “Don’t forget the shrimp sauce”, chimed Van, “but make sure you don’t get it on your clothes”. I eyed the shrimp sauce suspiciously. It gave off the untempered smell of dried vomit and had an unappetizing, gloopy consistency. Van and the others looked expectantly at me. There was an air of excitement among them, as though they too wanted to savour my first bite. I looked back, too deep in the party to back out, raised my chopsticks in half-salute and popped the shrimpy dog morsel into my mouth.

It isn’t bad until you start chewing. That’s what I’d heard and that’s what I now know to be true. The taste isn’t unpleasant, although I can’t say I fully caught it through the overpowering shrimp sauce, no, the issue is the seemingly endless chewing required to get it down, through which I could think of nothing other than the mangy, matted-fur street dogs slinking through the alleys of Asia, nosing refuge and fighting for food. “Where do these dogs come from?”, I asked Van as I fought to swallow my mouthful, “I mean, they’re not from the street, are they?”. “Oh no”, he laughed, “they come from special farms”. Somehow that didn’t make me feel better.

mspotpartyI found my feet at the feast with the help of a few vodka shots. A little fuzz in the head made for less gruesome thinking. I moved on to the crispier, fried dog meat, and was relieved to find it easier to get down. If I ever find myself in a dog meat restaurant I’ll order the fried option, I remember thinking. I turned to a now visibly swaying Van: “How do dog meat restaurants make any money after the full-moon?”. He explained patiently, politeness trumping drunkenness: “Some stay open with less customers, others switch to a different menu, others close …”. He paused. Something had caught his attention that happened to have caught mine too. We needed another bottle. Until the situation was rectified the conversation would have to wait.

I never heard the end of the dog meat restaurants’ closing policies explanation because the room suddenly turned pitch black and a complex system of glass flasks and tubes, alight with burning alcohol, came wheeling into view. I’m not sure this was quite as traditional. Safe to say in the morning my stomach felt fairly sensitive, although I’m convinced that was the dog meat and not the alcohol …


Ant Attack

A perfect camp spot: flat land, low-cut grass, a view over rice fields to mountains beyond and hardly a chance of being stumbled upon. That’s how it looked an hour before nightfall on my second night in Thailand. As always, I unclipped my five bags, wrapped the bungee cords in my helmet, rested my bike carefully on the ground and began setting up the tent. I had another reason to be optimistic. Ten eggs, five tomatoes, two peppers, two chillies, a handful of spring onions, an ordinary onion, a few cloves of garlic, a packet of spice and a little bottle of oil were stashed preciously at the top of my rucksack.

p1070196-800Aside from the pesky mosquitoes and other flying insects that always buzz around my face while cooking in the jungle, everything went to plan. I didn’t run out of cooking gas as I thought I might and against all the odds managed to whip the eggs without spilling a single drop. I ate in peace with the rustle of the trees and trills of the crickets around me, listened to some music while my meal digested and finally drifted off to sleep, head resting comfortably on its usual bundle of tightly packed clothes.

Itch. Scratch. Flick. Many times until I realised something wasn’t right. I reached for my torch to shed some light on the situation. And what I saw was horrifying. The inside of the tent was swarming with ants. Hardly a square millimetre of my inner layer – groundsheet, roof and sides – remained unoccupied by the tiny black bodies, each one crawling over the rest to get to the holy grail: my semi-finished food bowl from a few hours before. Together they formed an enormous writhing mass, highly reflective against the torchlight, and my body lay slap bang in the middle. For a moment I lay wide-eyed and paralysed, wondering what to do.

Sitting up suddenly I pulled off the sleeping bag to find my body equally infested. I ran my hands through my hair and a black shower streamed to the floor. I picked a few ants from my ears. There were a few on my eyebrows. I picked them out too. But ultimately it was like bailing the Titanic with a test-tube: for every ant I removed several dozen more climbed aboard. And tossing back the covers so recklessly hadn’t been a wise move because out of nowhere, as though on the orders of a well-positioned commanding general, they all started to bite.

That triggered immediately action on my part. I fled the tent through a curtain of raining ants, all in a frenzied dance, swiping my hands to brush them off. More vicious biting, but gradually less ants. I checked my watch: 3am. A little over eight hours ago I had stood on this very spot feeling pleased for the night’s prospects. Now, I stood naked and shivering, trying to resist the urge to scratch my skin raw. All my clothes were covered in ants, my bags and even the bungee cords. I was immobilized once more, dumb to the way forward.

p1070120-800The cold soon became too much so I began the long process of lifting each one of my possessions out of the infested zone, brushing it down, placing it in a designated ant-free area, brushing myself down, ruffling my hair and finally rewarding myself with a scratch. Luckily I had plenty of water in my bottles so I could drown the highest concentrations and swill them away. At one point, the ant-free area became contaminated due to improper brushing of an errant sock, so I had to start the whole process again. I became angry and worked faster.

Neutralizing the tent was the worst part because it meant clambering into the deepest corners and scooping out wriggling handfuls. During my attempts, I found two small holes in the material, presumably where the ants had forced entrance. The guy-lines flicked ants from head to toe. In the end, thoroughly fed up of two hours carefully de-anting my gear in the dark, I threw caution to the wind and flapped the material as hard as I could, spraying ants in all directions, but at least removing them from close proximity. Although I would find many ants crawling from all pockets of all bags in the hours and days to come, I had managed to brush the worst away.

Still dark but with a faint glow on the horizon, I couldn’t wait to get back on the bike. In haste, I strapped my unprocessed helmet on without thinking, successfully dumping a fresh new wave of ants into my hair. Suffice to say, I couldn’t stop itching for the rest of the day.


A quick note to say thank you for your continued comments, personal messages and other encouragement.  It all goes much further than my Inbox.

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11 Comments already on “Two stories from SE Asia: Dog eat dog and the vicious ant attack”
  1. 2:18 ampermalink
    14 Dec 2013

    Vu Do Quynh

    Hi Will,

    Dogs served in dog restaurants in Vietnam have various sources : some do come from dog farms but I would believe they are not the majority. The main sources are stolen dogs and stray dogs caught in Thailand and shipped to Vietnam by trucks fhrough Laos. Dog thieves in several places of Vietnam’s countryside are often beaten by the village population when caught, sometimes even to death whenever the place suffered heavily from dog theft in the past. Usually the reason you won’t find a lot of stray dogs (or freely wandering dogs) in the Vietnam countryside is because such dogs would immediately caught to be sold to dog restaurants.

    Personally I do not like eating dog meat dishes. Once I was offered a dish of dog meat brought at home. I thought that my dog would appreciate it so I prepared it a meal just to discover that it would’nt eat it at all. Instead my dog took precautiously every piece of dog meat from its plate to go throwing them away in the garden, one by one.

    Best wishes for your trip.

    • Will

      2:35 ampermalink
      14 Dec 2013

      Will

      Hi Quynh, I hope you enjoyed your trip to France.

      In fact, I met a man whose dog was stolen, presumed to be sold as dog meat. He said he never ate dog meat just in case he ended up eating his. Not a very nice thought.

      And I’m not surprised your dog didn’t want to eat meat from another dog!

  2. 8:51 ampermalink
    14 Dec 2013

    Mumsy

    Great story. It has conjured up some amusing images in my head but I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time. Also, I thought I always told you to wash up after a meal!! xx

  3. 11:47 ampermalink
    14 Dec 2013

    Marion

    Hi there Will
    You and all the adventures are of course the highlight of family chat at the moment………Usually followed up by ‘whatever will he do when he comes back?’! The answer is YOU WILL BE SNAPPED UP in whatever arena you choose. And there are adventures of a new kind round every corner, you can be sure…..
    So last family gathering at Clara’s ‘service of thanksgiving for the gift of a child’ in the church in Summertown. Lovely! Perhaps I will send you a picture if I can get one off someone….Your parents VERY excited about seeing you and everyone being together. I bet you are too.
    Very much love
    Marion

  4. 11:50 ampermalink
    14 Dec 2013

    Marion

    Oh and……….I am afraid the dog farms make a very miserable sight, as shown by animal welfare organisations. They are such brilliant beings, it is truly sad to see their trust and dependency abused.

  5. 7:41 ampermalink
    17 Dec 2013

    PaulBeadle

    Thanks for the stories Will – more gruesome the better. Although I enjoy following your exploits, do not want to be contemplating joining up. Scott on his race to the South Pole refused to take dogs as sledge pullers because he was horrified at the thought of having to eat them – I wonder if he tried fried???

  6. 2:29 ampermalink
    18 Dec 2013

    Chen

    Reading this stories I sufferd a lot. Because I love cats,dogs. Several months ago,I set free a 1 year old dog imprisoned by a middle-aged woman and a man.I talked to them.They just ignored me. I got really angey when back home at middle night. That dog was so poor.I got up and destroyed their lock.The dog was free.But some days passed,the dog was imprisoned again. I did the same thing. I knew that dog very well. I used to fed it for a long time. Now it is happy and growing bigger.(Now someone I don’t know take cares of it ) When I back home at weekend it always follow me.And it also made some friends. This is a great exprience for me.

  7. 2:03 pmpermalink
    18 Dec 2013

    Sarah, Guy, Toby and Edward

    Wishing you a very Happy Christmas out in Thailand. I know you have some very excited family coming out to see you!! Look forward to hearing what 2014 brings for you. XXXX

  8. 5:20 pmpermalink
    24 Dec 2013

    Zac

    Great stories Will, very entertaining! I have to admit that I would also relish a bowl of dog right now. If not for the taste then for the revenge as well. Been chased four times so far in Croatia. Luckily not by packs. On the fourth occasion (it was a smallish dog), I stopped my bike, picked up a stick and turned the tables! Have an amazing Christmas and I look forward to hearing more of your tropical tales.

    • 5:27 pmpermalink
      24 Dec 2013

      Zac

      Oh also, where do you get your Harry Potter audiobooks from?

  9. 1:31 ampermalink
    11 Jan 2014

    Stewart

    Remember me in the Chiang Mai Police Station ? How are you doing now, hope no further problems.