Eating Authors: Danny Birt

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Danny Birt

Danny is one of those people who wears a lot of hats (something I can certainly relate to). In addition to his work as an author, he’s also a composer, a music therapist, and a massage therapist. Or to put it another way, he has more than words on a page to reach his audience. Still, our focus here is on authors, and Danny is likely best known for his Laurian Pentology, the volumes of which I secretly believe were titled to confuse the crap out of readers. Case in point, the first book is Ending An Ending. Wait, what? Book two is Beginning. Okay… Book three, Beginning An Ending, which is followed by Ending, and finally we come to the fifth book, released just last spring, Beginning a Beginning. Admit it, you want him dead now, right?

LMS: Welcome, Danny. Tell me about your most memorable meal.

DB: Late in 2013 I flew to the other side of the globe to visit my sister and her family in Singapore. While there, I took a side-trip to Thailand. The morning after my arrival, my culinary experience began at sunrise and didn’t really end until after the sun set.

Ending an Ending

Breakfast was at the hotel’s oceanfront restaurant. The buffet offered something for most anyone: eggs, M-T-O omelets, bacon, sausage, hash browns, ham, toast, and coffee for the unadventurous American traveler; a variety of breads and pastries with Kaya and other preserves/jams served with tea for the European visitor expecting a continental breakfast; fresh fruits like Dragon Fruit and guava and papaya and pineapple with yogurts and cereals for those wishing a lighter repast. There were some other less-identifiable local items.

I tried a little of almost everything. And while I was eating, I began to notice differences in my environment like only a traveler does:

Here I was eating on the beach and like most Americans would have, I’d worn shoes to the restaurant. My Thai eating compatriots hadn’t. Only then did it strike me that there had been no “No shirt, no shoes, no service” sign at the restaurant’s entrance.

Beginning

There was a pack of wild dogs sleeping on the beach near me. One of the waitresses later came out of the restaurant and threw things at them, saying something I didn’t understand but got the gist of — as did the dogs, who got up and walked off at a leisurely pace. They were evidently used to this treatment.

People were smiling. All the time. Smiles, smiles, smiles. BEAUTIFUL smiles. It only occurred to me that morning that one of Thailand’s monikers is “Land of a thousand smiles.” It was really true. And it wasn’t just true of the people who were trying to sell things to the tourists — locals greeted locals with smiles all the time, too. It continued throughout the day… as did my eating.

Having had such a full breakfast, I did not actually eat another meal until nighttime, but I sampled foodstuffs everywhere I went. Thai iced tea while I walked down the street through a local market (no sidewalk — in fact, there wasn’t a single line painted on any street that I saw there, which made both driving and walking an experience all its own). A steamed bun filled with sauce and some sort of meat (I didn’t ask which kind). Hot chai tea. (I really like tea.) A local ice cream which may have been made with goat’s milk, given the taste. Mixed fruit juice next to a metalworker’s shop which had a sculpture of Predator out front, which overlooked a five- or six-story tall statue of Buddha.

Beginning an Ending

And then dinner. Ah, dinner. What else could I have on my first trip to Thailand but Pad Thai? I’d been looking forward to it all day, curious to see how it would compare to the ubiquitous dish served in American Thai restaurants. I’d scoped out a restaurant a short walk down the beach from my hotel where local fishermen could take their seafood from the boat up to the restaurant and sell it directly. Doesn’t get much fresher than that.

But accessing my dinner proved slightly more difficult than one might have expected.

I saw the Seafood Pad Thai on the menu (excitement!), but there was no description in English (drat!). I asked my server what ingredients were in it. He got another server to translate it for me, and it sounded great. I asked if I could get some salmon added to it for an extra charge, since I saw it elsewhere on the menu.

Between a Roc and a Hard Place

Server, with an alarmed look and a shaken head: “No.”

Me: “No?” (Spoiled American in me: “Whaddaya mean, no?”)

Server: “This is not possible.”

Me: “Not… possible?” (Spoiled American in me: “Of course it’s possible! You cook the fish, you put it in the noodles, just like the squid and shrimp and everything else you put in there!”)

Server, looking relieved to be understood: “No.”

Me: “Okay. Can I just order the side of salmon, and I’ll add it to the Pad Thai myself?”

Server, back to looking alarmed: “No!”

Me: “No?” (Spoiled American: “You’ve GOT to be kidding me! What do you care what I do with my food once it’s on the table?!”)

Server: “This is not possible.”

Ending

And then it struck me. In Singapore a few days earlier, another American had been trying to explain something to me about Southeast Asian culture when I had expressed curiosity about the size and function of the expat community. The general idea was that in the cultures which comprised the majority of that region, people were brought up to know their place in society and be happy with it, and not make waves. For example, if a worker in an electronics factory were to be told the duties of a job, they would do it consistently, reliably, on-time, without complaint, forever. …but if their machine shut down, they would have absolutely no clue of how to even start figuring out what went wrong, let alone taking the initiative to fix it themselves — or, heaven forbid, making a suggestion about how a process could be improved. THAT was why there were so many expats: to provide the questioning nature, the innovation, all the attitudes which were less frowned upon by the cultures of America and Europe.

Beginning a Beginning

I finally got it. I was actually making this man uncomfortable by asking for something which wasn’t explicitly spelled out on the menu. How could he even say yes: there was no check-box on his form for what I was requesting. How could he charge me? What would he say to the cooks? I might as well be asking for a side-order of granite counter top.

Me: “Y’know, never mind about the salmon. I’m sure it’ll be great.”

The server’s bright Thai smile returned.

The Pad Thai was one of the two best I’ve ever tasted. And to finish off my culinary experience, walking back to my hotel, a street vendor made me a chocolate and banana crepe.

I will leave you with a picture I took of a bat in the Singapore Zoo, which I have titled “Om Nom Nom.” It seems appropriate to this blog.

Om Nom Nom

Thanks, Danny. You’ve given me a brand new way to look at expats. Also, a hankering for some salmon.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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