Chopsticks Not Required

There’s something about Autumn that causes Paul and I to glance at one another with renewed interest. We feel an itch that needs to be scratched. We stare at each other with raised eyebrows. We pace the house while the rain falls outside. Finally, one of us says, ‘Do you want to go on a trip?’ and the other one sighs, ‘Yes.’

We’re going to Thailand.

Paul spreads travel guides across the dining table, studying maps until he has them memorized. I practice my wai greeting—bowing my head and pressing my palms together.  I say the feminine ‘Sawasdee kha’ and Paul answers with the masculine ‘Sawasdee krap,’ the Thai greeting for hello. We watch Netflix shows on street food, buy mosquito repellant for the jungle hikes, ponder appropriate footwear for longtail boats, and read numerous New York Times articles on the ethics of elephant and human interaction.

Paul is relaxed during the days of planning, but my gut churns with something other than acid reflux. Finally, one evening, I lean over on the couch and whisper in his ear, ‘I can’t use chopsticks.”

In the summer of 1987, two of my male friends talked me into going on a blind date with one of their buddies. Don’t ask me his name, I don’t remember. All I know is on that night I went from being a chopstick virgin to a chopstick failure.

He took me to a Chinese restaurant in downtown Seattle, and as our food arrived, he grabbed the fork out of my hand and slapped a set of thin, wooden sticks into my palm.

‘I won’t let you use a fork.’ I still remember his smarmy grin. He must have thought I was the kind of girl who would find it funny. I didn’t. I was steaming.

I bent my stiff fingers around the slim sticks and tried to twirl the noodles like spaghetti. They slid down and pooled on the plate. I chased the chicken trying to get one stick under the meat, but it just kept circling the rim. I attempted to stab a vegetable. No luck. I contemplated stabbing the back of his hand laying on the table between us, but then I remembered I was a lady. I heard him giggle, and I raised my eyes in time to see rubbery rings of calamari speeding towards my mouth.

“Open,” he demanded. “You’ll love it.”

“I want a fork,” I bellowed over my shoulder. The waiter ran between the tables and placed it next to me. He took the offending chopsticks and scurried back to the kitchen.

“The guys didn’t tell me you were so feisty,” Blind date guy said slurping noodles between his lips.

So, I’ve never recovered from chopsticks failure. I’ve tried over the years, but as soon as something flies over the booth, falls on the floor, or zings across the table, I toss the sticks into my purse and embrace the fork.  Paul, of course, clicks chopsticks in the air like an insect during mating season and swoops, shovels, and gulps without dropping them or flicking sauce on himself.  I watch unmoved.

I remind Paul of the possible benefit of my inability to use chopsticks in Thailand—weight loss. ‘Time on task,’ he chides. ‘You have to practice.’ Easy for him to say. I agree to try again.  I retrieve Paul’s personal chopsticks and plop a scoop of ice cream in a bowl. Then my phone rings. It is Natasha, our guide, from Audley Travel.

I confess my fears to her. She laughs and says, “You’ll be fine. People use spoons, forks and chopsticks all over the country.”

Triumph in my eyes, I hang up the phone and announce to Paul, “Good news. Natasha says I don’t have to smuggle a fork into Thailand.”

Paul, knowing there is no topic too insignificant to discuss, nods carefully and replies, “I am happy. Any time we can avoid an international incident over table utensils is a good day.”


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