There must be something about getting older that makes you want to learn something new, to somehow better yourself or even get healthier and goodness knows, I could do with all three. I have returned to Chennai in India and I’m on a mission that could last two weeks. I have decided that aside from work, I am going to finish Bill Clinton’s autobiography and not eat meat or drink alcohol all the time I am away. Quite why I have decided to do the latter, I don’t know…
My work this week has the potential to be a ‘bit stressful’ so I have convinced myself that some clean living will do do me good. It’s hotter than Hades and there’s around 90% humidity to match, interspersed with some torrential rain, so I know that theres not much fun to be had outside in any case.
Avoiding meat in India is actually not that difficult as around 40% of Indians are vegetarian and the food is great here. You could literally eat something different every meal for year and not even go near meat. Alcohol is a different thing of course. I tried meditating while I was there, but I kept falling asleep. In that, it was relaxing but so much for a achieving a relaxed state of consciousness. If only there was an Ashram with a gin bar…
Actually, not going near meat on this trip is pretty easy given what I had just seen. I happened to pass by a shop selling the unhealthiest and saddest looking chickens I have ever seen. I was tempted to buy them all, rent a piece of land and pay a fellow to look after them for the rest of their natural lives, but we drove on.
KFC it wasn’t.
Just around the corner was another option. The local butcher could do a nice line in fresh (ish) goat, but strangely, by that stage, I didn’t feel too hungry and the goats were past saving in any case.
Get it while its hot…
Whilst thinking of meat and not thinking about eating it, many years ago, whilst living in Malaysia, we took a holiday in Borneo and stayed in one of those huge amazing brand-new resorts that only seem to have half a dozen other guests staying there. It was so amazing that I couldn’t afford to feed the family there, so we went out into the local town to find sustenance.
The resort. Not too shabby at all.
Nearby, there was a town square fringed with restaurants, that had every form of live Chordate, Arthropod, Cephalopod and Crustacean squirming, slithering and swimming around in fish tanks.
Clams, alive and spitting!
The kids were impressed when a couple of clams spat at them from a nearby basket but they fell instantly in love with a tank full of large happy green bullfrogs burping loudly.
Their favourite dish at that time was vegetable fried rice so they didn’t quite understand when the waiter offered the frogs with garlic or black bean sauce. I hated to be the one to break the bad news, but once I stupidly had, there were floods of tears. The kids ran around the square looking into the tanks, shrieking with horror at the thought of the inhabitants ending up on someones plate.
They ended up sniffling back in front of the tank of frogs and by that stage, there were only two left, so I bought them both. The waiters offered to cook them up before we took them away, which caused wails of despair, but we assured the kids that they were not going to end up as dinner and that we were going to set them free, so I popped them in a plastic carrier bag and we caught a cab.
By now, it was quite late and there was nowhere appropriate nearby to release them so we took the frogs back to the hotel. I ran a few inches of water into the huge bath and we slipped the frogs into the water to the kids squeals of delight. They swam around happily and sang to each other (the kids and the frogs), while I tried to persuade the young ones to stop playing with the frogs and to go to bed. Some chance. But after what seemed to be an age, we closed the bedroom door on them and then the bathroom door on the frogs.
The calm before the froggy storm…
It was a lovely warm night and we had left the balcony window open to enjoy the sea breeze and listen to the crickets and the faint music from the distant bar. I heard a soft amphibian buuuurp from somewhere outside and then an answering buuuurp burp from the bathroom. As soon as communications had been established, there was a full on orchestral movement happening. Trying and failing to silence them, I checked that there was no light penetrating the bathroom window and rolled towels under the door, just to try and deaden any external frog song from getting into them. Evidently, that didn’t work because they just went from strength to strength, to the extent that there was an almost constant two way song going on.
Somewhere around 2am, I had persuaded myself that I could convince the kids that the frogs had climbed out of the bath and hopped off the balcony to freedom, instead of me launching them off, only to find the kids happily singing to the frogs in the bath by torchlight. Cursing under my breath, I slipped back to bed and tried to sleep. Around 4am, swearing murder, I had emptied the mini bar and dug my swiss army knife out. Mrs. Jerry, who had already done so, instructed me to stuff the left over cotton wool in my ears and to suck it up.
The next morning, the frogs and I had somehow survived the night and we had checked out and moved on to our next destination, which was Pulau Tiga, where the US ‘Survivor’ TV show had been filmed not long before. There were some wetlands, near the jetty where we’d catch the boat that would probably suit the frogs, because I knew that I wouldn’t last another night together. We had the driver stop while we all trooped out to the edge of the water and released them. The kids stood waving for some minutes as they swam away and then chatted to each other about the frogs having fantastic adventures together as we sailed over to the island.
Children’s identity obscured to prevent retaliation by frog eaters who couldn’t get their dinner that night
For my part, I was already dreaming about a bloody steak and a cold beer on the beach.