When Mrs Lomez was about 11 her cousin explained how babies are made. ‘You need to have sex to have a baby.’ So many uncertainties suddenly clicked into place, suggesting to Mrs Lomez’s nostalgic mind that it must have been before the sex education class in school. Twenty-odd years later that’s not the only way to make a baby. No more need to engage in the physical act, male and female. Now the necessary cells hidden under layers of muscle and skin can be extracted and fused external to the body before implanting back inside a womb. Bangkok is one of the go-to destinations to do just that.
For reading material on this ‘working holiday’, Mrs Lomez considered The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood but finally opted to finish reading Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, a ‘utopian epic’ which required concentrated reading hours to finish due to its length and the tiny height of the print. In the utopian future that the narrator Connie time travels to, babies are created in a brooder when somebody dies, thus keeping population in check. Connie views this approach to conception as nightmarish, where genetic material is pulled from a library of genes (though not selected for specific characteristics) and babies develop in liquid-filled containers. Babies are raised by several people, none of whom are biological mothers. Women have relinquished their birth and mothering roles in order to bring equality to the sexes, and all people of any sex have the opportunity, and are expected, to mother. The book says nothing about animal testing but the brooding technique most likely would have involved this in its development. Its most comparable equivalent today is IVF, which was pioneered in animals.
In terms of diet, Thailand is more accepting than first impressions may suggest of the desire to not consume animal products. A lot of menus have ‘jae’ items in the vegetarian sections, meaning no animal products (including fish sauce). Dairy products are scarce but eggs not uncommon. Green curry and pad thai jae came to be the staples of Mrs Lomez’s diet. Just be sure to practise your pronunciation of ‘jae’ before arriving. The first couple of days Mrs Lomez was apparently saying ‘I eat chicken’ (/chan gin gay/ with a hard ‘g’) instead of ‘I eat vegan’ (/chan gin jay/), much to Dr Sin’s amusement.
Good veg food was to be had at Na Aroon in Bangkok, the mostly vegetarian restaurant (also serving fish) attached to boutique hotel Ariyasom Villa, which omnivores and herbivore alike enjoyed. Celadon at Sukhothai hotel also featured an extensive jae selection of rich, coconut creamy dishes. The oyster mushroom, noodle and lemon juice dish at an unremarkable cafe had so much texture and flavour in the mushroom, it seemed as foreign as meat. And tempting though it was to eat street food with the fresh, colourful vegetables on the carts, Mrs Lomez gathered that vegetarian meals were not requested that often. Every dish is cooked in the same pan so traces of animal fat/meat from a previous order would remain when cooking a vegetarian dish.
An organic and vegan-friendly farmers’ market takes place each month at K Village shopping mall on Sukhimvit. Dr Sin and Mrs Lomez felt quite at home in the distinctly middle-class crowd heaving with expatriates. Several stands sold vegan biscuits, sweets and cakes. The woman from Bangkok International Vegetarian Alliance selling vegan cake said, ‘every day we fight’ and Mrs Lomez assumed she meant fighting for vegetarianism in a meaty culture. The coconut sorbet went down a treat. Little dogs claimed as pets are dressed in T-shirts, bandannas and sunglasses in 35-plus degrees Celsius, no doubt not envied by the stray dogs and cats that roam the streets, hot enough in fur. Two pet rabbits on display at a food stall in Bang Niang market in Khao Lak, where Dr Sin and Mrs Lomez journeyed after Bangkok, were also wearing costumes over their torsos.
Down south, tamed elephants walk on the roadside and work, either carrying timber or tourists. The Bangkok Post carried a story of mahout protests against more protective animal welfare legislation, after a clip of a mahout beating his elephant and deriving great pleasure from it was posted on YouTube. The age-old debate of human property/livelihoods vs. animal protection rages on, without hearing animal voices. But animals are everywhere, all working and living among humans. Hens, chickens and roosters fly up into trees. Stray dogs and cats run alongside the road and there is surprisingly no roadkill, quite unlike the A roads of England where dogs, cats, badgers and foxes are killed every day by motorists. There are rumours of black market trade in dog meat, mostly strays. Larger animals such as elephants and tigers are tethered and made docile for tourists. Many a taxi driver in Bangkok offered to drive Dr Sin and Mrs Lomez out to a tiger park, where piglets are placed next to the mouths of tigers who are chained to the ground at the neck and not physically able to move their heads, even if they wanted to.
Where do animals fit in our utopia? Our utopias assume that we only need to sort out ourselves, not our relations to other animals; that we do not relinquish our human supremacist role and still decide what is companion and what is food, never mind that we may be better able to comprehend them (Connie’s time-travelling guide, Luciente, has a cat and can speak cat). In the future of Woman on the Edge of Time, each region is self-sufficient in its food needs and vegetables and grains are the basis of the diet. But people still eat animals in the future, their flesh, cheese and milk considered luxuries because of the amount of energy that goes into making food from them. No doubt they are all hand-reared animals who have led happy lives before being killed, though the book doesn’t go into the detail of slaughter as it does the detail of reproduction. In utopia, humans still place themselves at the top of the food chain.
But back to the daily quest for delicious food on the streets of Khao Lak. Mrs Lomez and Dr Sin would walk into the humid evening for a shake ‘n’ crepe, followed by a foot massage from a Burmese refugee. Fresh juice smoothies on the streets for 50 bhat (£1) (milk is added to combination juices, so best go for the straight mango or other single-fruit juice). Banana crepes for 50 bhat, the crepe made of flour, water and sugar and fried in oil, with more sugar added on top. The green curry over mashed potato at Walkers Inn: a master stroke in fusing British and Thai cuisine. Fish eaters raved about Gold Elephant nearby. All day and all night everyone, human and non-human, is on the street, working in the heat.