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Cary Yang


cary yang readingThe Thai Fisherman

I always knew I would lose myself to fate. The invisible path that is laid in front of you before you are conceived. It is being constructed on familial lines and mini decisions as your spirit floats in the atmosphere waiting to be pulled down and become a part of concise existence.

This is where I begin my story. The fate that was handed to me by the mom that I never knew and the father that was wounded but faithful to survival. He was the first person who spoke to me in blurred bits about the fate that was given to him and as hard as he tried to change it for me, “It can’t be helped,” he spoke. “It was built brick by brick. All you can do is raise your hands in acceptance and succumb to it,” he said in low Thai tones that sounded like music with a hidden message. He would squat on his life lesson soap box, low to the ground, hands on knees, and bottom hovering but not touching the ground as he went through the fate situation for me. I sat on the red plastic circular stool, elbows on knees looking at his tan wrinkled eyes taking every detail in so I wouldn’t lose the lessons ever. I didn’t know life without him and my being had no desire to speculate.

Surrounding us were tables in a too-high building of grey cinder blocks held together by cement glue. Windows cracked open to let in the light and with bated breath a breeze from the river. Fans cranked in a whirr trying to usher in coolness and rotate the smell of dried fish that permeated the fabric of every soul that crossed its threshold. Everywhere one could see the silver-grey scales of The Fish hanging, laying, and sitting waiting for someone to take notice.

“Look how I can make your soup tastier. I can make your curry the best in the neighborhood. The flavor of my flesh will win you accolades from here to Bangkok.” The Fish speak with unabashed confidence to the maids, chefs, aunties, and grandmas day in and day out as the tourist farang hold their white noses. This is the world that I have known since before I could eat my first flake of fish and where fate laid its lukewarm hands on me.

My father’s paternal lineage pumps in my veins. The simple physical embellishments are easiest to see. The connected eyebrows, the sideways left canine tooth, and the unmistakable nervous finger tapping on tables. If you put all of the men together at dinner a pseudo earthquake of boy energy ensues. We are a bundle of boys raised by boys trying to be men with a big hole in our heart. A hole that has gone empty for generations despite all attempts to change it, be the change, or just having hope that “This won’t happen to me. It will skip my generation” we say in utter denial. It is our maternal heart murmur. It is a genetic defect that doesn’t take kindly to us and is an active handicap in our daily lives. None of us has ever had a mother. A mother like the one you hear your classmates talk about in school or one that you would see on television. She is the one that holds you to her chest smelling your damp hair as she tenderly strokes the heat of the night out as you cry the ghosts and fever away. The person in your life that you look at and know that she carried you in the tropical heat with swollen body and willed you out into the world so that your existence could be pulled down and become a truth that could be cuddled and cooed at. All the Srisai men have been wounded by this fated loss of maternal love. It has resurrected itself in our shy demeanor, our sulky hands in our pockets, and in our obsessive observations of little snap shots of motherly intimacy that we see but have never had but keep an ongoing list that sits on the rim of our hearts. All this rested in the shadows that creeps under tables and lays at the edges of the two tall cinder block building waiting for me.

For as long as I can remember the story of how my father and mother met has been apart of my memory. Sometimes I feel like I was there. Like I watched it all happen while sitting back and eating popped rice. My father starts telling when the heat of the midday sun would come storming in and the fish market got still. He would bend down and go through the fate situation with me. The story always begun the same way.

“I was weighing out Ms. Boonmee usual dried paddle fish order on the spring scale when my ears went quiet and a pop happened in my head. I shook my head hoping that the Mr. Coffee from this morning hadn’t gotten the best of me. I looked up and behind Ms. Boonmee’s chatting lips she stood, your mother. She had on a pink three button down shirt with a collar with the queen’s crest on it and black pants. Her hair was freshly washed and pulled up with a butterfly clip and dripping from the top tips of her hair. She was walking slowly looking like she was searching for something. I felt I must talk to her and help her with what she needs, I knew I could do something. I hand Ms. Boonmee her order and take from her hands the usually baht and bow my head with a ‘khaawp khoon kop’ and leave our fish stand. Can you believe I just walked away. I didn’t even say anything to grandpa, so unlike me. If you ask grandpa now he says he knew. He could smell a different scent in the fish market that day. I believe him now, but at the time I just wanted to be by her. ”

This is always the part of the story I get a little sad. I don’t have my grandpa with me anymore and want him there to grin and hit my dad on the back and say “I told you just like you tell him, we Srisai men have no mothers. The law of attraction has been working against us for all time. We see a certain woman and we get the dizzies and that is that.” My dad would roll his eyes and smile and then put his hand on my shoulder and say “Without her we wouldn’t have him and that would be twice as many holes in your heart and mine, so I am glad I got the dizzies that day.” I would smile and resist the want to jump and kiss my dad because boys just stop doing that at a certain point and then that makes me sad too.

“I walked over to her,” my father continues, “you could tell she proudly wore the queen’s standard embroidered on her chest. It was ironed and pressed perfectly. Not one thread was out of place. I asked if I can be of any help to her. She smiles and looks down and looks back at me and our brown eyes met”


My dad claims that she was helping her mother get dried fish for a stir fired rice dish and that she was having a hard time figuring out which stand it was and that she was going to be late for work and in trouble with her mother.

“Oh, I can be of help to you,” he said “because I work here and know every vendor and sell fish as well. Describe to me what your mother needs and I will help the best I can.”

She then says, “Well it is dried fish, it is salty, and is good in rice.”

“Oh I know of this kind of fish. I am the vendor your mother comes to see. I have this really nice piece, just enough for fried rice and because you are in a hurry, a helper of the kingdom, and a good daughter to your mother I will give it to you for a steal if you bring a sample of your mother’s delicious rice dish. I hear my fish does wonders for cooking but never get to taste it,” he says. He is a dried fish vendor, one in a generational line. He has eaten and been brought every kind of dish you can make with dried fish. So we all know what he is trying to do here.

“Okay, then you are the vendor and I am the buyer. I will bring you back some rice and buy some of your fish now,” she says relieved that the bothersome errand is over and she won’t disappoint anyone right now.

My father grabbed the tail of a piece of dried mackerel. Perfect for fried rice because it has fewer bones to pick out and is rich with extra fish fat. He wraps it in one layer of brown paper then three sheets of Thai newspaper and then seals it with clear tape.

“Three baht,” he says to my mother. She goes into her pants pocket and fishes out an orange coin purse and unzips three baht. She hands it to him and leans and grabs the fish package. He takes the baht and reluctantly hands her the fish. He doesn’t want her to leave. If he could just keep the package as a ransom she would have to stay. As she pulled away from him he is overcome by her scent. It is an odor that he can only describe as sweet ginger, his favorite candy, so therefore perfect. He wanted to lean over and lay his hand on her waist, pull her into the crook of his arm and go for a really long walk.

He pulls away and instead played the only card he had—he reminds her of the verbal agreement.

“So I will see you tomorrow with a steam box of fish fried rice,” he says. She nods and smiles and replies, “Yes I suppose that is the agreement. See you soon. khaawp khoon ka for all your help today.” He swats the air to communicate, “oh no problem just another day in the old fish market.”


That is how it started. My father at the end of every telling of this story then lays out the three “oh no’s” for me. If this starts to happen you know fate is paying attention to you:

1) Smell
2) Attraction
3) You and she are good talkers or in therapist terms high quality communicators.

These are the laws of attractions that are a red flag for us Srasai men. If all three happen it is a sure sign that our heart will be full, then empty, and lastly have an everlasting hole. My father was struck by attraction and then smell. The ship was going down and going down fast with two out of three in a five minute emergency fish sales call.