I've just finished reading "War for the Hell of it: A Fighter Pilot's view of Vietnam" by Ed Cobleigh. By virtue of being born in 1955, I missed participating in the festivities in South East Asia, so have no firsthand knowledge of its accuracy. However, getting my wings and fighter in the first few years after the war was over, and, since anyone with more than a couple of hundred hours fighter time than I, (meaning anyone wearing more than one silver bar) had flown in the war. Interacting with and learning from them, I'd say the author is the "real deal" and had been there, done that. In short, I thought the book was well worth reading. Poignant at times, downright insightful at others and told with a dry sense of humor throughout. It was very enjoyable. (No, I don't know Ed Cobleigh, although if he was using a nom de plume, I can think of several persons who might fit the bill.)
In any case, at one point in the story, he tells of going to Bangkok for some R and R, and decides to eat in a Thai restaurant. He decides to order a dish called "Thai pepper beef salad". Now, those of you that already know where this is headed, "Hush up". Much like Capt. Cobleigh, those that don't know will learn in their own good time.
"In what seems like no time at all the salad arrives on an oblong platter. The white china platter holds a bed of lettuce hosting a sprinkling of onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and strips of thin-sliced, rare roast beef. The salad is moistened with a clear dressing and garnished with bits of red, yellow, and green peppers. I can't wait to dig in.
The pretty teenaged waitress sets the salad and tea down, then asks in broken English, "You like?"
I reply that it looks very good, but she doesn't walk away as I expect. "
(Insert short jump in the narrative to skip over some narrative that won't fit with a family type blog. The young Captain has been cooped up away from female company with fighter pilots and flying combat for about a year. If you get my drift....
Back to the narrative.)
"The first forkful of salad tells me I have made a serious, perhaps fatal, mistake. What did they use for dressing on this salad, Napalm? This stuff is like eating a green veggie welding torch. The tender parts of my mouth are being cauterized, my tongue is melting. I am dying of chili overload. I have never eaten anything this hot in my entire life. I choke down the first bite and grab a gulp of cold ice tea. The tea affects the flame in my mouth like pissing on an oil well fire. In my agony, I steal a look at the waitress still hovering nearby.
She smiles and repeats, "You like?"
I manage to gasp, "Yes it's very good."I take another bite and things only get worse. My vision is going blurry. I am breaking out in a fever, my upper lip is dripping with sweat and curling with pain. I can feel my heart pounding in protest to the abuse I'm shoving down my throat. Passing out is not out of the question. Another swig of tea helps a wee bit, enough for me to notice that the slinky hostess has joined my pert waitress to enjoy the show of a farang dying a fiery death by Thai Salad.
Discretion dictates that I give up this spicy torture and order something else, perhaps a quart of green tea ice cream and yes, there is such a dish. But I am not going to give up that easily with the flowers of Bangkok womanhood watching. I force an anguished smile and press on eating as another dark-haired girl joins the gallery."...He finishes the salad....
"My waitress reaches for the implements of torture and asks once again, "You like?"
All I can do is nod affirmatively. It is a bold-faced, or rather a red-faced lie.
She smiles and goes on, "I never see American man eat this before."
That is really comforting, If I could talk, I'd thank her.
She finds one lone bit of red chili left on the empty platter and points to it.It's a good thing I was reading that passage on my iPad (they just work!), as I had just taken a swallow of Rum and it was forcibly ejected through my nose. The case managed to protect it.
"Not even Thai eat that!"
I identified with him, knowing exactly what he was going through and why, even recognizing his thoughts. That could have been me!
I have previously related a story of Bones and I being
To be truthful, from what I remember of the evening (not an awful lot), the food was excellent.
That was not always the case.
There was the time the Juvats were deployed to Cope Thunder. Opposition aircraft were provided by the Philippine Air Force. The Mid Exercise Friday night involved a get together with our Filipino comrades. They provided the food, we provided the beer. As myself and another member of the Juvats (let's call him Al) were the youngest, we were selected as the "tasters".
All was proceeding well, as courses were served and beers consumed. After several rounds, the waitresses bring a platter full of eggs. I'm a little wary, as the first Friday night at Kunsan, I'd been given a beer and a raw egg and told to eat it, shell and all. I managed somehow to get that down and, more importantly, keep it down.
Hoping to not repeat that experience, I hoped these were hard boiled eggs. I asked the waitress, "What is this?"
To which she replied, "Balut!"
I ask my Filipino counterpart, "What's Balut and how do you eat it?"
He mumbles something and taps on the top of the egg shell, peels off a portion of the shell, tilts it up to his mouth and swallows the contents.
I take a few swallows of Beer, (Ok, I drained it and asked for another), tapped on the egg, peeled off some shell tilted it to my mouth and swallowed the content.
Fermented, fertilized Duck Embryo is the most awful tasting thing on earth!
|Not got anything to do with Balut, but thought it was a cool picture|
But the honor of the Juvats was intact, although any other memories of the evening were chemically expunged shortly there after.
After transitioning to the F-15 and returning to the Far East, I had the opportunity to lead a contingent of Pilots, Jets and Maintenance personnel to Chitose AB on the Island of Hokkaido. The objective was to determine if a USAF F-15 Squadron could operate from a Japanese Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) F-15 base with a minimal American presence.
|Dragons are cooler than flowers when painted on a Fighter|
So, we deployed 12 aircraft 18 pilots, a Flight Surgeon, a Maintenance OIC, a Maintenance NCOIC, and 12 crew chiefs. All other support would be provided by the JASDF. It was a great exercise and I was in charge of it!
We land at Chitose, and I'm met by the JASDF Wing King, who speaks even less English than I speak Japanese. Well, this is going to be fun!
A little later, I get stopped by the NCOIC, who happens to mention that one of the crew chiefs speaks fluent Japanese. I tell the NCOIC thanks and that I may be "borrowing" him from time to time. That young SSgt saved the exercise.
But, that's not the story. The Maintenance OIC was a brand new Lt, fresh out of Maintenance School, this is her first deployment. She's from the Rural South and is not accustomed to high falutin' fixin's like raw fish.
Part of the JASDF support of the exercise is quarters and meals. Quarters were a somewhat refurbished set of WWII quonset huts. Meals were in the JASDF enlisted dining hall.
The quonset huts were serviceable, but spartan. I thought the meals at the dining hall were quite good. There was a variety of Japanese foods at each meal and they seemed to rotate daily. Some were excellent, some....not so much. Much like an American
After a few days, I noticed the Maintenance LT was kind of "out of it". I asked her what was wrong, and she said she wasn't feeling well. I told her to see the Flt Surgeon, and she mumbled something and walked away. Later that day the Flt Surgeon and I were up on a sortie and, on RTB, I was bored since he was flying the jet, so asked him if he'd seen the OIC. He said he had and that she hadn't eaten since arrival.
Seems she didn't like Japanese food.
I stopped by her office after landing, and explained the realities of the situation. Success of the exercise relied on trust of the other party by both parties and that could only be enhanced by fully participating on an equal footing. That included eating their food. I explained that I didn't expect her to go all native about it, but she could at least eat the Miso soup, or maybe even just the rice. I then explained that 2 weeks was too long to go without eating without some physiological risk. If I or the Flt Surgeon thought she was endangering herself or anyone else, she would be sent home and a replacement requested.
No further problems with the Lt's appetite were encountered.
Later in my career, while stationed at Camp Smith, HI, I led a team that deployed with 3rd MEF to Cobra Gold. 3rd MEF Commander and Staff were the JTF Commander and Staff for the Exercise. My team was there to augment that staff with expertise they didn't have. The exercise was a month long and the HQ was in Chon Buri a town about 45 miles ESE of Bangkok.
The team was billeted in a small hotel within a few blocks of the facility being used as the JTF HQ. It wasn't spectacular, but it was clean, comfortable and most important for sleeping in Thailand in the Summer, air conditioned.
The team pretty much filled up the hotel, so the manager asked what our work schedule was so that the restaurant could accommodate. One thing I'd always heard about the Thais was they were very polite and would go way out of the way to be hospitable.
This trip confirmed that for me.
I told the manager (Owner?), when we would need breakfast and dinner and that most folks would take lunch where/if available.
The next morning, we're up early for breakfast and the menu has a fairly American line up of items. Eggs, toast, bacon, coffee. Unfortunately, the eggs were runny, (something I've got a strong aversion to dating back to my Balut encounter), the Toast and Bacon burnt (yes, Virginia, it is possible to screw up Bacon!). The coffee was surprisingly good however. OK, I think this is probably the first time for them and the cook. We'll give them the Benefit of the Doubt.
Dinner is spaghetti. No one can screw up Spaghetti, right? Except it's Vienna Sausages (because Sausage is Sausage and Vienna is relatively close to Italy, right?) sliced into almost meatball size with ketchup over some kind of noodle.
Rinse, repeat the next day. Breakfast is the same. Dinner is pizza. The crust is so thin it would make a tortilla look like a layer cake. The sauce is ketchup, and there's something that vaguely looks like cheese on it.
The grumbling has started. The exercise is not going well, so I don't have any time to handle the chow situation, nor do I have anyone I can tell to handle it. But finally, after about 4 or 5 days of "American" Food, the manager stops by my table and asks "Mr. Juvat, how are things going? Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Not really, everything is excellent in your hotel and the food is superb. I appreciate your trying to make us feel at home. But one of our exercise objectives is to try to gain an appreciation for our hosts and their culture. Since it's difficult for us to go downtown to restaurants, do you think it might be possible for your chef to provide traditional Thai meal options for Breakfast and Dinner?"
I watch as a wave of relief rolls across his face when I said that. "Of Course, Tomorrow we'll have a traditional Thai Breakfast. Thank you!"
Best breakfast I'd had in quite a while. Dinner was equally as good, and included ThaI pepper beef salad, which I ordered. When the waitress delivered it, the manager came over and asked if I'd had it before. I said no, but, being from Texas, I liked spicy foods. He said "Good, you'll like this..."
"But, even Thais don't eat these!" as he pointed to the peppers.