[I’ve blogged separately about judging origins by appearance, languages, my cousin Susan and dogs. Recently. Here’s something that ties them all up together.]
The family was spending the weekend in Cha-Am. A bustling pack of cousins, aunts, uncles escaping from Bangkok. A resort on a beach, sunny skies, warm sand, and lapping waves. A coffee shop, where there was a buffet of breakfast foods on a leisurely Sunday morning.
Susan and I were up early and went down to breakfast together. Her brothers were still in bed. We grabbed plates and piled on the eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes and tucked in at the table. Two tables over were snowbirds, corpulent burghers clad in shorts, escaping the cold winters of Europe. They too were having sausage, toast and eggs for breakfast. Some of them were smoking. Probably complaining about the coffee too. “Vat is this Moccona shit?”
“Hey,” Susan said conspiratorily. “Help me get some more meats, so I can take it out to feed the stray dogs on the beach. Gum hoh leen ” She pulled a mournful face.
I wasn’t particularly crazy about the dogs, but I was a grade-schooler, and she was a high-schooler. Age seniority ruled here. Susan had a very soft spot for dogs, even the mangy stray dogs endemic to Thai beaches. Thai beach hoteliers are efficacious in preventing postcard and T-shirt vendors from soliciting hotel guests lounging on the hotel’s stretch of beachfront, but it’s a losing battle trying to keep the dogs away.
The other thing I should mention about Susan is that her mom is Swiss. Which was handy, because Swiss people are polyglots, right? Auntie Christiane’s family was originally from the French-speaking part, but somehow they moved to the German-speaking part. When Auntie Christiane married my uncle, she easily picked up the family dialects of Chinese and Thai. Her kids, my cousins, went to English schools in Bangkok like me, but spent their vacations in Switzerland. They’d bring back ‘Dick und Doof ‘comics, which I couldn’t read, because they were in German. (I just found out on wikipedia that they were Laurel and Hardy!)
So us two skinny Chinese girls started to make trips back and forth between our table and the buffet spread. Lots of trips. We’d take a few sausages and ham slices on the plates, and then dump the contents into our napkins, which we later would sneak out to feed the beach dogs. We thought we were being discreet.
But apparently we didn’t escape the notice of the Europeans, who now had something else to discuss other than bad coffee.
“Hey” said Susan again. “Those Gerrmans are saying ‘how can two small Thai girls eat so much?’” she translated sotto voce to me, in Cantonese.
There was more running commentary from the gwei-lohs; but I didn’t understand any of it course, and Susan didn’t translate any more. We were still busy ferrying meat.
Susan’s younger brothers soon came down to breakfast. We were chatting away in English. But then Susan started to talk to her brothers in German. I don’t know what she said. Maybe she pretended to berate them for getting up so late, so she could raise her voice, scold them loud. Loud enough for the Germans at the table over to hear. That she could ‘sprechen sie deutsche.’