Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Satun Revisited

'Tis the time for vacation, and after a few weeks taking care of my family in the hospital and getting sick myself, it is time to take a break. Despite being almost voiceless, I made the long-planned trip to Satun, the southern province of Thailand. Again, we took the van to Wang Kelian, and cross into Satun. Going on a friday, there's not much of a queue at both checkpoints, and with Satun not being a popular tourist destination, I don't expect a huge crowd waiting for us there. Most of the vans and other transports usually use Wang Kelian checkpoint as part of their route to Patbhara (Kuala Bara), Taroutu Island, Phuket, and even to Hatyai. Even the stalls selling food and merchandise are not that many on that day. Of course, the stalls will be all open and fully packed with people on saturdays and sundays. In fact, we didn't even buy anything there, it seems that we just want to make our way to Satun...right after we stop by my granduncle's (Bang Tuan) for a delicious lunch.

Just like my previous trip in May, we stayed at the Sinkiat Thani Hotel, a nice, clean and comfortable hotel (around 2-3 stars) located at 50 Bureevanich Road, Muang, Satun, Thailand 91000. The room is nice, with a single air-condition unit and they clean the room daily. Depending on the floor level and the position your room is facing, you might be lucky to get Malaysian television broadcast and Celcom signal (don't tell them) and be able to make some calls without having roaming charges burning up your wallet. As I was on the top floor, received clear transmissions of TV3, NTV7 and TV9. I was also able to text my cousin and receive a few work-related calls using my Celcom. My other Celcom line, however, is prepaid and automatically roams the moment we crossed into Thailand.

For this journey, I was ready to explore slightly deeper into the food and the eating culture of the region. The last visit was quite basic. It was also on the last trip, by a very strange coincidence, we bumped into our former servant, or "orang gaji", Kak Minah.

Who is Kak Minah? Back in the late 1970s, Kak Minah and 3 other young ladies went to work at my parent's house. I don't know much of why so many of them, but it was arranged by a relative on my mother's side who resides in Satun. The economy of Satun at the time was such that, many left Satun for Malaysia (especially Langkawi) to look for employment. There are still some workers from Satun in Langkawi today, but they are getting less and less. In the mid-1980s, the economic face of Satun changed pace, and many Malays of Satun returned to start small businesses, which includes travel transportation and selling food and drinks. Kak Minah sells kuih in the morning. One thing about the 4 ladies from Satun: their grandmother, or at least a close relative in their family used to serve at the governor's palace back in the early 20th century. The four ladies were very polite and proper, and during their years in service, we rarely go out to eat as their cooking, for us, was fresh and new.

Meeting Kak Minah in Satun on our last trip proved to be an advantage. Transportation, namely the tuk-tuk, is quite difficult and language was the other barrier. As I have explained before, the younger generation of Malays in Satun are unable to converse in Malay, especially in town area. One of Kak Minah's neighbors drive a tuk-tuk, Samsudin, or Pak Din. On this return trip, we called Kak Minah in advance and she met us at the hotel. She also managed to get Pak Din to drive us around on the 2nd and 3rd day, in short, we chartered his tuk-tuk service, which to him is quite a rare thing to get. With Kak Minah around, I do not have to rely on hand and facial signals anymore anytime I want to buy food from the Malay ladies who can't talk Malay, well almost.

With Pak Din's tuk-tuk service, we were able to go outside of town to the beach to get some nice, delectable and fresh seafood, the Satun Malays style.I was back with the familiars, also tried some of the new items, and some m ight be just peculiar. It was worth the 4 days we spent.

Just like the previous, I have to break up the articles, mainly by categories. I am hoping to dwell deeper into the food and eating habits of Satun. At one level, I must say that the drinks, kopi ais, teh ais etc are available, but the sugar content is much higher than the average Malaysian teh tarik at your favorite mamak stall. Luckily, in true Satun style, there's always a jug of drinking water served on the table, and you can use it to dilute the drink. At one shop, I made a glass of iced coffee into 2, as I had to lessen the sweetness. I am just guessing that for the people of Satun, with their daily diet consisting of hot/spicy and sour, the level of sweetness had to be on the extreme as well to soothe their taste buds and palates, I am just guessing there.

I'll be back with the articles soon.

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