Oh, and sullen serving personnel; we’ll need to add that to the debit column.
Thai soaps are something of an obsession, not only for Mrs Pobaan, the light of my life, but for millions like her who are not necessarily the light of my life, but may bring a glow to someone else's. A Thai soap is not a national toiletry; it’s a seemingly interminable TV drama in which young people dressed in expensive formal clothes emote in surroundings so opulent you’d think you were eavesdropping on the goings-on at some imperial court.
There’s generally an old woman with earrings who gets upset about something, and a scene where she chastises one of the beautiful young girls, who as often as not ends up on the floor, trying not to spoil her make-up, and sobbing. And there are a couple of rustics in baggy trousers involved in some kind of sub-plot. They lean on their garden implements and whisper behind bushes.
I don’t recommend that you invest any portion of your life, however fleeting it may seem, in watching one of these melodramas. You won’t find a plot that deviates significantly from the one I’ve set out above, and you’ll always blame yourself for missing something much better on another channel, like an hour of someone with a beard failing to catch a big fish in the Amazon.
Tonight, due to some nifty footwork by Mrs Pobaan when we entered the restaurant, she’s facing the screen and is transfixed by the excitement of tonight’s Thai soap, watching the screen none too surreptitiously over my shoulder. If I am to attempt a dinner-table conversation with my lovely wife, I shall have to be satisfied with only a couple of percent of her ability to concentrate.
‘Would you like a deep-fried prawn with garlic dip, my teerak?’ I venture as an opener.
She waves the dish away. Turning briefly to the screen, I note that a handsome young man in a suit and goth hair-gel has just stepped out of a car that cost more than my house.
‘Are you sure?’ I press, just to give her a second chance at full participation in our shared meal.
‘Yes,’ she explains. ‘I’m allergic to seafood.’
I remember this. I remember her claiming a negative reaction to marine life while we were on a recent trip to Europe. It happened like this: we went out to dinner with friends and Mrs Pobaan ordered the sea bass. About five days later she got a few spots. To the Pobaan mind, this does not constitute conclusive proof of a connection between all salt-water creatures and an embarrassing break-out.
But that’s not the way Mrs Pobaan sees it. I protest that she needs more evidence than one fish, particularly as she has been enjoying all types of ocean fauna for as long as I have known her without so much as a single facial eruption to mar its enjoyment.
‘Anyway,’ she responds dismissively, ‘I believe I’m allergic. The pharmacist said so. When I used the cream, the spots went away.’
‘But if you really are allergic, that would have happened anyway, as you stopped eating fish,’ I point out, rather proud of my finesse.
‘Whatever,’ she retorts, deploying the one word that seems to triumph in most debates.
I have one last shot: ‘It’s not enough to believe; you need a reason to believe. Just like that song you like on the Rod Stewart CD. Challenge what people tell you; don’t believe what you’re told unless you have a good reason to do so.’
Mrs Pobaan goes back to chewing her gai baan—tough chicken—while watching the Thai soap over my shoulder.
‘It’s like the chicken and egg,’ she says at last. I’m not sure what she’s referring to, but I hijack her train of thought, jump on the footplate and latch on to the metaphor for my own purposes.
‘That’s a good example,’ I declare.
‘The chicken and the egg’ is a tired old cliché. It’s the sort of thing you hear blokes in bars citing as the clinching explanation for the woes of their football team. Is Bolton’s performance lacklustre because of disappointing gates or are the fans staying away because the lads on the pitch aren’t performing? It’s chicken and egg, innit? Take a swig of beer.
‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ is meant to conjure up in your mind a series of alternating causes and effects stretching back so far to the beginning of time that it is impossible to remember which came first.
That’s the received wisdom. That’s the angle that people immediately accept. It’s what they believe.
‘Look,’ I say. ‘Don’t just accept that this conundrum can’t be solved. Challenge and examine. Look for a reason to believe.’
‘What’s a conundrum?’
‘It’s a puzzle. This one’s easy. The question “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” isn’t supposed to have an answer, but that’s because people accept things without thinking. If you think about it, it does.’
‘What’s the answer?’
‘But the egg came from a chicken.’
‘The recent ones did, but if you trace the line of eggs and chickens back far enough, if you follow the repeating cycle of life back through evolution, you’d see the chickens change—backwards, as it were—until you came to an egg that was laid by something that you wouldn’t call a chicken. It’s still an egg, though, so that egg was the egg that came first.’
Mrs Pobaan is stunned. She is struck dumb by my brilliance. Her eyes roll in admiration.
That’s the power of argument. That’s the potency of belief examined, of received wisdom rejected. Until I look again and realise it’s actually the power of Thai soap. The beautiful girl is now blubbing on the floor at her mother’s feet.
It’s something I just have to accept.