Harriet survived the tarantula and is back to her old tricks, feeding the fish at the National Museum in Phnom Penh:
We are going to Cambodia for a week, so you might not see anything here for a while.
We may have neglected to mention here that we live in a place called the Chatrium which is, as the name suggests, an atrium for chatting with hotels and apartments attached. It is run with an iron hand by someone with the unwieldy name of Chatrium Condominium Juristic Person, as you may see from this correspondence that we were sent. Thankfully we do not have a bicycle so these troubles are not yet ours.
Against all odds, our boxes (of books, kitchen supplies, other things – but, honestly, mostly books) arrived, and almost everything was in good condition. (The mysterious exception: a chunk fell out the side of our cast-iron skillet.) Consequently, Harriet is reunited with her beloved scooter. To the right you can see some of the Chatrium’s odd art, which deserves to be lovingly detailed in some forthcoming post.
Okay, it’s been a while since we had one of these, so it’s time for a report on fruit. First up we have longans:
These don’t seem especially exotic since we could find them in Queens, where they seemed like the boring cousin of lychees. But Harriet goes through an astonishing number of these, and lychees aren’t in season right now. I think longans are going out of season themselves; more often lately you see langsat, which look very similar although the clusters are tighter and the fruit’s a little bigger, kind of like tree-borne potatoes. Langsat turn out to taste very different – more like a grapefruit.
Next up we have snake fruit, or salak:
This is evidently originally from Indonesia; it looks like a cactus, but it’s from a palm tree. It comes in bunches; it has spines. Getting the individual pods out can be a little tricky because the snake fruit quite sensibly does not want to be eaten. They look like this:
If you manage to peel the husk off (starting at the tip makes this a little easier), you’ll find two or three little pods inside:
This is what you eat. It’s a lot of trouble to get this far, and these pods do have a fairly large and inedible pit in them, so this might be a little underwhelming. You can actually buy packaged pods like this, which is probably more sensible. But the fruit’s pleasant with a taste something like a teetotaling rum raisin.
If you are coming to visit us, or if you are cartographically minded, this map might be useful. It shows where various things in Bangkok are, cross-referenced to the posts here that talk about them. You should be able to use this on your phone, and then you can find things without asking us any questions and everything will be calm and peaceful forever more. Also this map may not work very well because I made it very quickly, tell me if there are problems.
Today we went to the shrine of Mae Nak, Bangkok’s most popular ghost. She was a lady who lived in the neighborhood of Phra Khanong (then a village, I expect) under the reign of Rama IV; her husband Mak (in some accounts he’s “Chum”) went off to war and took a long time to get back, during which time Mae Nak died giving birth to their child. But she kept up appearances and did not tell Mak when he returned that she was dead. They lived happily until one night while she was cooking dinner she dropped a lime and stretched her arm down to the ground to get it at which point Mak/Chum (who may have suffered a head injury during the war) caught on and ran to the sacred grounds of Wat Mahabut to escape from his ghost-wife. This made Mae Nak angry and she proceeded to terrorize the neighborhood until she is subdued by famous monk Somdej Toh, at which point, I think, she becomes an ex-ghost.
Mae Nak is extremely popular, and there have been a huge number of dramatizations of her story, listed here. Many of these can be seen on YouTube; this one is a tad melodramatic, but it does have high reptile content and the subtitles aren’t as poetic as this one.
Her shrine is at Wat Mahabut, where Mak fled; there’s a small statue of her and her ghost-baby:
I don’t know why she appears to have two babies here. Maybe the one on the left is a doll? Her fuzzy appearance is because she’s covered in little sheets of gold leaf which have been gilded on her; while we were there, the shrine was being vacuumed and the air was full of tiny motes of gold.
She’s surrounded by things that she’s been given by her devotees (a lot of clothing; some other toys for the baby) and portraits that have been painted or drawn of her, none, disappointingly, of her extensible arms. Picture-taking didn’t seem polite (though it wasn’t specifically forbidden) so these photos aren’t as good as they might be.
Because there’s only so much room inside, there’s a secondary shrine out back:
I don’t know exactly who this man is.
Nor am I sure about this plaster rabbit and chicken.
Though possibly these real chickens might be explained? The shrine is surrounded by stalls selling small fish, turtles, and frogs that can be released into the canal behind the wat to make merit – you can see one on the left in this picture – maybe releasing a chicken makes you a lot of merit. Or maybe they just live at the wat, like the dogs and cats.
There were plenty of little turtles and fish to inspect. I thought about buying some to set them loose, though it seems ethically (and ecologically) a little murky; downstream, local children seemed to be using nets to recapture some of the released.
The woman overseeing this pool of catfish and turtles (not quite visible) is not Mae Nak; she appears to be Guan Yin, the Chinese bodhisattva whose shrine near Wat Prayun we bumbled through yesterday.
At the canal, of course, there were catfish to be fed, so we fed them for a while.