And so it was that on January 19, in the year of our Lord 2012, my in-laws did arrive in Hong Kong from Staten Island, and lo, God did say, “Fuck this shit” and turned the weather cold, dreary and rainy.
For my mother-in-law, every trip is a guilt trip. She brought close to 10 pounds of homemade cookies and assorted gifts that we didn’t ask for but now must somehow make room for in our 780-square-foot apartment, and you know, if we moved back to the US, we’d have so much more space for the babies we should have been having by now.
A point she stressed when she turned to me and...
Mother-in-law: The quality of your eggs goes down a lot after 30. I'm just saying. Me: Didn’t you have [sister-in-law] after you were 30? Mother-in-law: Yes? Me: Oh, well, then I guess you have a point.
As I shoved those pignoli cookies and Russian tea cakes down my gullet and indulged my in-laws in their favorite hobby of watching television crime dramas where everything is inexplicably covered in semen, I realized, “This is really happening” and mentally murdered my husband in about 20 different violent fashions. (Thanks for the tips, “CSI”!)
The next day, we took my in-laws to the Chinese New Year flower market in Victoria Park.
It was a weekday afternoon, so the crowds were still manageable and navigable. Or so I thought. My whiny, cranky, retired-NYC-garbageman father-in-law who finds just about everything displeasing decided there were too many people and threw a passive-aggressive temper tantrum to get us to leave, which we did.
He also decided he didn’t want to take the subway because he was tired of walking, even though we’d taken a taxi to the park from our apartment. The main problem for my father-in-law is that he’s now about 22-months pregnant based on the size of his stomach and that extra load makes it difficult for him to get around.
Given that most foods fall into the category of Displeasing Things for him, I don’t know how he’s managed to acquire this massive amount of weight around his middle. But it’s at the point where I no longer have the Cantonese words to ask for his size in souvenir T-shirts and instead just hold my arms out far from my side and say “Mei gwok yan” (“American”). Then the vendor smiles, nods knowingly, pulls down the stairs to an attic I didn’t know existed, scurries into another dimension and returns about 10 minutes later covered in grime, holding a shirt that could double as a parachute.
So, we took a taxi back to the apartment. Along the way, my mother-in-law made a fascinating observation. She makes lots of observations because she can’t stand the sound of silence and has to fill the void with any nonsensical thought that pops into her head. She also comes up with inane “facts” that are not remotely factual, but somehow, somewhere, she once heard them and, HAND TO GAWD, she knows they're true.
As we drove past a hotel, she turned to me and…
Mother-in-law: Why is that hotel guard wearing a turban? Me: Um, he's a Sikh. Mother-in-law: Ohhh, I thought it was a themed hotel. Me: ...
On Saturday, we left for Bangkok.
The morning of the flight, we took them for a dim sum lunch at a restaurant in Wanchai, where my father-in-law refused to drink the jasmine tea. It’s not like we were trying to get him to chug some 17-herb concoction made with turtle jelly, tiger balls, and fermented panda placentas. But, no, only Lipton tea would ever pass his lips.
Red-blooded Americans being wary of foreign foods they’re not regularly exposed to and that contain exotic ingredients whose flavors are unfamiliar to them, I can deal with and understand, but refusing to drink a tea because it’s not from a Lipton teabag?
At the airport, we stopped for Popeyes because, well, it’s Hong Kong and that’s about the height of culinary excellence here. After biting into her chicken sandwich, my mother-in-law stuck out her tongue, fanned it with her hand and said, “THIS IS SO SPICY. OH MY, GAWD, WHY DIDN’T YOU WARN ME?”
Now, for my Hong Kong readers, to give you even more insight into how ridiculously sensitive my mother-in-law’s tastebuds apparently are, she also said the beef and mushroom pie at The Globe was “too spicy.” She’s like the Princess and the Pepper. She can sense even one flake of black pepper in any dish.
So, imagine my face as I sat in Hong Kong International Airport, looking down the barrel of four days of trying to figure out what the fuck to feed these people in Thailand. I briefly contemplated carrying sippy cups of beer and baggies of Cheerios for them.
Then my mother-in-law turned to me and…
Mother-in-law: You know how people from China are Chinese and people from Japan are Japanese, what are people from Bangkok? Me: Bangkok isn’t a country. Mother-in-law: Right, but what do they call them? Me: Cockneys.
On our first day in Bangkok, we went to the weekend market. The weekend market is spread over an area roughly the size of Rhode Island, and there are thousands of stalls selling everything from handicraft jewelry to survivalist gear to some weird creatures you’re not supposed to feed after midnight.
It was interesting to my father-in-law for about an hour—“I can’t believe I’m drinking American beer in a Thai market while Mexican music is playing”—and then the heat and his weight started to get to him until it culminated with him sitting at an outdoor restaurant’s table with his arms crossed, refusing to eat or drink anything.
He hates all icky "weird" foods, needs frequent naps, throws temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way and has to stop to shit every few hours. Dealing with my father-in-law in a foreign country has confirmed my decision to never have kids.
Actually, I take that back. At least you can hold the threat of punishment over your child’s head. How do you punish a 63-year-old man? "You better eat all of your spicy Thai soup, mister, or there'll be no Tums and Tucks for you after dinner!" That just doesn’t have the same force behind it.
We left the market soon after and decided we’d spend the evening getting massages at either Urban Retreat or Lavana, the two spas we normally go to because they seem hygienic enough that I don’t feel compelled to spend my entire massage wondering how many penises the woman doing my massage had to touch before rubbing my feet. (One to three is acceptable.)
After booking the appointment, my mother-in-law turned to me and…
Mother-in-law: What kind of massage am I getting? Me: An oil massage. Mother-in-law: Are they going to rub my boobies?
(Yes, reader, they did indeed rub her boobies.)
The plan for Monday was to spend the morning and early afternoon at a cooking school because it would be a brief reprieve from us having to entertain them. That would be the job of a poor Thai instructor who had no idea what he was in for. (Thanks, Kong!)
Before heading to the school, the instructor would take us to a local market to pick up the ingredients and answer any questions we had about Thai food.
Now, the cooking school’s website gave the impression it was located in the same neighborhood as our hotel but didn’t give any indication as to how students would get from the market to the school. I assumed we’d walk, as it didn’t appear to be too far, but I thought they might also use a taxi for tourists not used to walking so much.
Just before we ascended the stairs to the walkway to the other side of the street to meet the instructor, my father-in-law loudly proclaimed that if we couldn’t guarantee we’d be taking a taxi, he was just going back to the hotel. We couldn't. And he did.
Going to a cooking school probably wouldn't have been something I'd have chosen to do on my own, but it turned out to be a lot of fun, and given that I've never once seen my father-in-law even make a PB&J sandwich in the 17 years I've known him, it probably would have been a lot less fun if he had gone.
My mother-in-law, husband and I all cook on a regular basis, so prepping the ingredients wasn't a challenge. The challenge came from figuring out how to make my mother-in-law's penang curry and tom yum soup edible without adding any spicy flavors to them. In the end, her curry and soup looked like a Thai version of New England clam chowder, but she seemed to enjoy them.
While we were cooking, the instructor and I traded war stories about all of the battle scars we've accumulated in the kitchen, with us discovering we both lack feeling in one of our middle fingers due to knife injuries.
After we finished cooking and were sampling our dishes, my mother-in-law turned to me and…
Mother-in-law: How did you get that scar on your fingertip anyway? Me: Cutting a bagel. Mother-in-law: In New York City emergency rooms, they call Sundays “Bagel Day” because of all the knife injuries. Me: I… don’t think that’s true.
The class ended around 1 p.m., and we walked back to the hotel. As we exited the hotel elevator and headed toward my in-laws’ room, we passed my father-in-law in the hallway. “Headin’ to the British pub!” he said.
What did you do all day? we wondered.
“Went for a walk.”
Oh, that’s interesting. You didn’t want to walk to the school, which we ended up taking a taxi to anyway, but you decided to go for a walk to… well, where did you go?
“I ended up in a slum.”
Oh. Really. Tell us more.
“There was a canal and it smelled like piss and shit.”
Hmmm, you didn’t want to walk to the school, so you decided instead to go for a walk to a slum next to a canal that smelled like piss and shit? Well, you certainly showed us.
Our last full day in Bangkok was spent with an English-speaking tour guide named Nook, who managed to not go insane dealing with my in-laws, so I can highly recommend her services. My husband and I didn't think they would appreciate our travel style of just wandering and seeing what we find, and a guide seemed like the best way to a) not have to be the one to answer their questions and b) not have to figure out how to transport them from Point A to Point B with the least amount of whining.
When we exited the van at the Grand Palace, Nook finally took note of my father-in-law's girth and remarked, "Wow, you're a lucky Buddha!" He glared at her and added that comparison to his list of Displeasing Things. My mother-in-law then spent the rest of the day trying to get him to stand next to fat Buddha statues for a photo, and my father-in-law spent the rest of the day looking like he was wondering if domestic violence is legal in Thailand.
At the palace, my mother-in-law read one of the signs that have both Thai and English writing, turned to me and...
Mother-in-law: That Thai writing is just like what the Filipina girl in my office posts on her Facebook wall. Me: They use the Latin alphabet in the Philippines. Mother-in-law: I don’t think so. Me: Yes, they do. Mother-in-law: Then why do some of her friends post in those squiggly letters? Me: Maybe she’s Thai and you’re just confused. Mother-in-law: No, she’s from the Philippines, but she lived in India for 18 years. Me: …
On Wednesday, we caught an early flight back to Hong Kong, and I spent the rest of their visit pretending I had to do work from home despite it being a holiday but, shhh, I was really just playing Skyrim.
And now I leave you with the sound that I woke up to almost every morning.