The Damnoen Sudak Floating market was once the location for a mad boat chase, involving James Bond and several villains in Man with a Golden Gun. With long-tail boats they pursued each other through narrow channels of water, jumping small wooden bridges and skidding across tapered walkways.
The movie concluded at Scaramanga’s (the main villain) hideout at Phang Nga bay near Phuket.
Little was I to know that one day, many years after the release of the movie, I’d visit these places. And when I did, I found none of the frantic energy of the movie, only people living a simple life.
I arrived at Damnoen Sudak looking for a traditional tool to scrape the flesh from a fresh coconut. This small, sharp metal tool looks like a spur attached to cowboy boots (another image from the movies, for I am yet to see one in real life), which is attached to the front end of a low wooden stool, allowing the user to sit whilst producing fresh coconut flesh. The flesh is used for making coconut milk and cream.
In a small coffee bar I asked a young lady about possible shops to find one of these. She smiled a lot during our conversation because she did not understand a word of what I was saying. I drew seven pictures on seven napkins, each one a feebler attempt than the previous.
In no time we attracted a small crowd. More napkins and more drawings. Lots of head shaking and more coffee.
A young man stepped from behind his counter loaded with incense, and in broken English announced that he knew this tool, and that he would fetch one from a nearby coconut farm. Then he left on his small motorcycle and half an hour later returned with not one, but three.
The folks at the farm, upon hearing that it was for a farang (Westerner), insisted that two more would make a nice gift. When I asked him about payment for the toll, he shook his head and said, “Three would make an even nicer gift”.
I was somewhat confused. Here was a young man unknown to me, leaving his business to fetch me something small, and upon returning brought me gifts from more unknown people, and finally, refused any payment for his time, fuel, or generosity.
Strolling along the very bridges and walkways across which James Bond once jumped, I noticed this very old lady drifting along in her boat selling rice pancakes. I waved her over, as is customary if you want to buy something from the vendors.
On her boat she had a bowl of rice flour batter, some oil, a little gas stove with a huge steamer, and a variety of bottled condiments. From under her huge straw hat, her face looked as if she saw at least ninety summers, maybe even a hundred.
Her posture defied her age. She sat flat on her heels with one leg drawn up against her chest. Her chin rested on her knee whist her hands folded and steamed the gentle pancakes with blistering speed.
Her granddaughter explained that no-one knew her age, and that she had been making these pancakes on this very boat for as long as they can remember. She knew no other life than the one on this river, and that she seeks no assets other than what she needs for her pancakes.
I bought two, served in little boat-shaped receptacles made from banana leaves. She added some soy sauce with a chuckle and started a fresh order.
I had to go, the bus was waiting.
On the way back, I had trouble making sense of the day. I came looking for James Bond but instead found something much more precious. People living the simple life. Not wanting more than what is needed, and where giving is a part life, no conditions attached.
I hope that they made it through the recent floods, and that they were spared severe damages. That she would still be there when I visit again, and that she still makes those wonderful pancakes. For try as I may, I cannot make them, not in that simple, uncomplicated way.