There's only one spot where I could get all of these items in one place, a small supermarket that specializes in imported food and sundries like nicely designed tumblers from Denmark and Japanese food storage boxes. Much of what it proudly features, like cheeses and pre-made sushi, turns my stomach, and I've never succumbed to the packaged Italian cold cuts or the German sausages or the ham that ornaments the butcher counter. Still it is easy for me to spend a lot of money on very little when I go there and I usually stick to street food and necessities on my soi.
I left the place yesterday with two bags of purchases and a sinking feeling that I had spent way too much money on things that were far from necessary. When I got home, I pulled out my receipt and examined the things I carried.
I had spent 71 dollars US. For that sum, I came home with two tubes of toothpaste (one free in a buy-one-get-one offer), eye-makeup remover, Maybelline eyeliner, a bag of catfood, a bag of cat litter, ARS mosquito mats, the International Herald Tribune, the Atlantic Monthly, a jar of green olives, a box of guava juice, a pack of smoked salmon, a demi-baguette, a box of saltines, and a very small bottle of Absolut. And a big burlap save-the-earth bag to carry most of it.
I don't do this sort of nostalgic expat shopping very often and the expense once in a while I consider therapy but when on a whim I looked at where these things had come from, my guilt began to rise. Only the juice, the bread, the toothpaste and the ARS mats came from Thailand. The catfood was from the Philippines, the crackers from Korea, the litter from Germany, the olives from Spain, the eye makeup was from China and the remover was Swiss. The salmon came from Norway and the Absolut from Sweden. The only presence in that supermarket that was predominantly Thai were the customers. At the time I was there, I was the only farang.
Sometimes I am exhausted at the thought of a fresh market or even my neighborhood street stalls. Although I usually drink fresh orange juice squeezed by someone who lives in my neighborhood or beer brewed in Bangkok or its environs, and the yogurt, nuts, and packaged Mama noodles that I eat during a heavy rainstorm are all made in Thailand, and my meals are cooked by people whose faces I see every day, there are times that I will pay for food that is familiar and to be honest not very good.
The bread I ate yesterday tasted flat, the olives flabby with a vaguely chemical taste and the salmon was dismal. I paid for the revived memory of once eating this food in a place where it tasted good, in the company of people I love. And I cringe when I think of how much fuel it took for my nostalgia to be indulged for a few minutes. As much as it takes for the jasmine rice and fish sauce to come from Thailand and feed me almost every day when I am in residence in Seattle. It's a crazy way to live, and all over the world, people who can afford it live that way.
My 2 dollar scoop of tamarind ice cream was 100% Thai, and it was the only delicious part of my shopping extravaganza.