Spent this weekend in Dammam with Didibhai and Shakti da and Jeet. Didibhai and Shakti da are artists with food. So, had wonderful food throughout the weekend. Driving back to Riyadh, I am reminded of the treats I had in Thailand when I worked for TAC.
As I have related earlier, I was pushed into TAC with no experience of the involved job. It was by the grace of the Almighty and the kindness of the Thai friends, I established myself into the account. Then on, I had the most wonderful time as I learnt a lot about Telecom and created solution architecture along with tools, which I still rate as my best creation till date. The Thai friends were most kind and took utmost care of me and my family throughout our stay. I worked with so many wonderful colleagues from NIIT and some wonderful consultants from Malaysia, Australia and South Korea apart from so many wonderful Thais.
About 2 months into the entry into the account, Khun Siripa announced that she would take us out for lunch. We went to restaurant, whose name I do not remember. We were about 15 of us. We were all seated around the table. In the center of table, the waiter placed a huge bowl filled with water. Beneath the bowl was a heater. After some time, the water started to boil. Khun Siripa and others ordered food. Soon, raw chicken, raw liver, raw mutton, raw prawns, raw fish and raw cabbage were served. Everything was neatly sliced. Everyone picked up some of all that was served and put it in the boiling water. I also did the same. We would turn the boiling meat from time to time to check whether it was boiled. When we felt that the stuff had boiled enough, we would take it to our plate and mix some shark fin oil and eat it. This was a first time experience for me. Initially, I was in a shock. However, I settled down and started enjoying the food. After we were all done, Khun Siripa asked me if I would like having some desert. I could not have asked for anything better and expressed my utmost desire for desert. So, they ordered something. After a while, I was served what looked like a bowl of hot water with something floating in it. I enquired what it was. I was told that it was Lotus Seed in sugar solution. I waded through the desert and we were all done.
After about another month, again Khun Siripa announced that she would take us out for lunch. My enthusiasm was far less this time. Nevertheless, the thought of free lunch propelled me. This time we went to World Trade Center and I found myself in the Bar-Be-Que restaurant. Again about 15 of us were seated around a table. After some time, the waiter brought a contraption, which had a mould in the center and had channels around the sides. The waiter lit fire under the contraption. Again they ordered food. Again raw meat, raw chicken, raw prawns, raw liver and some more things were served. There was no raw cabbage this time. Everyone picked up one white cuboid figure and started rubbing on the mould. I did not understand and I also picked up one and did the same. Khun Siripa was very smart and understood that I do not know anything and thus explained that it was animal fat and we were all rubbing it to grease the surface of the barbecue. So, I understood at last and rubbed the fat more efficiently. Then, we placed the pieces of meat on the mould and would turn it from time to time. Once, we felt that the piece was fried enough, we would take it to our plate and eat it. Again, I was very uncomfortable. However, I soon got used to it and started enjoying the meal. When we were done, Khun Siripa asked me whether I would like having some desert. Remembering my previous experience, I said that I was full and had no space for desert. So, Khun Siripa ordered ice creams for the rest of the people from next door Baskin Robbins. I sat there watching everyone and digesting my barbecue.
We used to go out for lunch every afternoon. As it was extremely hot outside, Aum suggested that we have lunch with them in the office. I asked Avijit and Padmashree and they both said that we should not refuse the offer as it would be impolite So, I agreed on the condition that we would contribute for the cost of the lunch. So, we agreed to give Baht 25 per day per person for Aum to organize lunch for us. We started well as we were eating the familiar Khao Pat Kai and Khao Pat Kung and the likes. After about 10 days, I found something, which did not look familiar. I asked what it was and I was told that it was Bamboo Shoot curry. Padmashree was relishing it as she had a lot of this during her childhood days in Manipur. I swallowed it; though I could not quite digest being fed Bamboo. After another 5 days, once again, I found something not looking familiar. So, I asked what it was. I was told that it was frozen chicken blood curry. This was a bit too much for my appetite. I of course did not touch it and just ate boiled rice. While chewing the rice, my mind was racing like a meteor. I suddenly remembered that the next week was vegetarian festival in Thailand where the Thais did not eat anything non-vegetarian for a week. I told Aum that Indian culture had a lot of familiarity with the Thai culture as we also celebrated vegetarian festival. She was most amazed. I told her that the only difference was that we celebrated for 1 month and not 1 week. She said that was wonderful. Seeing her agreement, I told her that for the next one month we would be getting food from home and eating. Avijit and Padmashree were staring at me in disbelief. I knew Padmashree was wondering how she would prepare the lunch box for Avijit and herself (By the way, Avijit and Padmashree met during the Woodlands project and later got married. They were the first 2 to join me in the TAC project from NIIT). So, next day Deepshree packed 2 parathas and 2 brinjal fries for me in a lunch box. Avijit and Padmashree sneaked out during lunch time and had something I did not know. Anyway, Aum thought they were having vegetarian food. I only used to imagine the situation where Avijit was savouring a chicken leg and Aum passed by asking for a bite. Anyway, nothing of the like actually happened.
About 10 days of being vegetarian passed when Anupam da come over to oversee how we were doing. Anupam da announced that he would treat the client and us in Rembrandt Hotel for dinner. Accompanied by the Thai management staff, we went to Rembrandt Hotel. Again, we were about 15 of us. Avijit, Padmashree and I sat in one corner of the table, as we were the only vegetarians in the group. Anupam da told me to help everyone with the order. So, I suggested that we start with Tandoori Chicken, followed by Mutton Rogan Josh and Prawn Malai Curry and Chicken Butter Masala accompanied with Naan and Palao. Anupam da asked us what we would have and we ordered Papri Chat for ourselves followed by Aloo Gobi Sabzi and Naan. So, while everyone were devouring all the Chicken and Mutton and Prawns, we were eating Aloo Gobi and Papri Chat. The best part was Chea from Malaysia was not enjoying the food as he found it too spicy. Chea was seated next to me and I was guiding him with the food. He soon finished and I ordered the finger bowl for him. When the finger bowl arrived, Chea immediately wanted to drink it thinking it was lemonade. I had to stop him at the last moment to retrieve the situation. Like true Indians, we 3 expressed our utter joy that everyone had enjoyed the food and we went home and had Chicken Curry and Rice cooked by Deepshree.
After sometime, Khun Panida took us out for dinner one night. I was the only male in the group of around 20 people. We went to a small restaurant. This made the experience exotic as I always enjoy small restaurant more than 5 star restaurants. Khun Panida ordered fried chicken. The moment the chicken arrived, everyone grabbed and took as many they could in their plates. I, being polite, kept watching the fiasco. When everyone was eating, Khun Siripa saw that my plate was empty. Most sympathetically, she took one piece from her plate and put in on my plate. When we were all done, Khun Panida ordered another round. This time I was ready. The moment chicken was served, I grabbed 4 pieces and put it on my plate. Everyone looked at me in total surprise. Slowly, in total embarrassment, I put the 4 pieces back in the bucket. Then, in an orderly manner, each of us took one piece at a time from the bucket.
The list is not complete without the mention of the last treat Khun Worawat extended when I was ready to leave TAC in Nov99 as I thought the system was stable and my job was done. The complete TAC IT Top Management were invited and we were in a beautiful Chinese Restaurant. No words were spoken. We all sat around a huge table. The waiter kept bringing Dim Sum. We have Chicken, Prawn, Mutton, Vegetables and so many other varieties. After we had our fill, the main course stepped in. There were so many wonderful dishes; each better than the other. Once we were done, we had wonderful ice cream. We all shook hands and I took leave from TAC.