Once again my partner and I went on a camping holiday in South East Asia. From December 2015 to February 2016 we travelled round in rented cars, staying on official campsites as well as off the beaten track on beaches and in forests. Thailand in particular has many camping spots, especially in their beautiful National Parks with their caves and waterfalls and nature trails to explore. The staff were most helpful and even with our poor grasp of the Thai language we were usually able to communicate.
The Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang describes how opposites are interconnected and can even give rise to each other. In simpler culinary terms, sugar and vinegar can be combined to make Chinese sweet and sour dishes. At times our holiday seemed to be nothing but a succession of such sweet and sour moments. Right from the first day out of Heathrow when Air China lost our luggage (sour!) but enabled us to see the Great Wall of China from 6 miles up clearly snaking over the grey mountain ridges below (sweet!) The bag turned up a day later (sweet).
For a second example of sour balanced by sweet look at what happened in our first week in Thailand. We met an old acquaintance at our favourite beach, who showed us a blue scar on his leg and advised us to keep out of the water. A sting ray had attacked him a few months earlier and stung his leg with such force that he was paralysed and had to be helped out of the sea. He was in hospital for four painful days before he could walk again. (Sour!)
We ignored his advice and bathed that night as phosphorescent plankton glowed all over our bodies, while we watched the distant lightning flicker far out over the islands in the Andaman Sea. (Sweet!)
I mislaid the car keys for two hours, and had visions of the £200 fine imposed by the hire company, plus the difficulty they would have in delivering a replacement: “Peter Turner c/o The blue tent, third palm tree from the left, such-and-such a beach, southern Thailand”. I was cross at my own stupidity; a sour time.
That afternoon a Buddhist monk came to my aid. He seemed to be sharing a beautiful large shrine with 2 lady cooks (who ran up a couple of fried eggs for us) and 20-odd kittens. (Sometimes the word ‘cute’ is the only one applicable.) He had been constructing a wrist band by twining threads of orange, green and yellow, and he gave me a two foot piece of this woven thread to wear round my neck with the car keys on it. Needless to say I never mislaid the car keys again! (Sweet).
The particular cave we wanted to see was not signposted, but on asking a fellow motorist the way they guided us 15 km in their own car while we followed. Such sweetness. Unfortunately the concrete steps leading up to the cave mouth in a cliff side were so slimy with bat and monkey droppings that we decided it would be too risky to climb. (Sour).
However, on returning to our parked car we were invited to a Chinese funeral feast in the Buddhist temple next door. Here we were offered……sweet and sour fish. A sweet and sour end to a sweet and sour day.
After almost two months of warm sunny weather the temperature plummeted. The first sign was the cooking oil solidifying in the bottle. We soon realised that our summer clothes were totally inadequate for what was coming. We were up in the north in mountains near the Burmese border in a car with no heater. Only later did we hear that people were dying from exposure to this unprecedented cold. (Sour, to put it mildly.)
The online weather forecast for the whole country showed us that the best means of escape was to lose altitude and drive south. This we did, wrapped up in the freezing car in our bedding. The fog was so thick we crept at a snail’s pace, constantly wiping the inside of the windscreen which the air conditioner didn’t reach. On the plus side, the accompanying rain put out several incipient forest fires that had been making us cough for days and filled the country’s reservoirs again. (Sweet).
We’re back in London again now (sweet?) but the chilly misty weather is more sour than sweet.
Can’t wait to try out some of the recipes we collected. My partner’s already planning next winter’s trip! (Sweet and sweet again!).