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It was my birthday a few days ago, and so Nongyow made me one of my favourite dishes – a big plate of spare ribs. As I sat munching my way through them, kitchen roll next to me to mop up my chin, shirt, hands, back of my neck – anywhere and everywhere splattered by the sauce – I remembered a time in 1999 in Bangkok when I had a meal of Spare Ribs at Suan Dusit Royal Palace with the wife of the Crown Prince, Her Royal Highness Princess Somsawali.
The boss of Amnuay Silpa School where I worked had been asked to provide private lesson to the Princess’ adopted 8 year old daughter, BaiPhlu, and I’d been asked to do the teaching. I was picked up by a car driven by a military man, and taken to the Palace, and asked to wait in a beautiful old room before meeting the Princess. When she appeared, my boss got down on the floor and gave the ceremonial wai greeting; being a westerner (and completely overwhelmed) I stuck out my hand to shake her hand – a major breach of etiquette.
Anyhow, she was great; completely without pretension and asked us to stay for dinner. Staggeringly, I managed to mind my Ps and Qs, even with BaiPhlu under the table trying to goad me into a funny-face competition. The hardest part of the whole meal was trying to eat spare ribs quietly with a knife and fork. I challenge you to try it; it’s impossible. The racket I made didn’t deter the Princess, who had me teach BaiPhlu for a couple of terms.
The picture above is me, by BaiPhlu. I had different hair, then. And I was red. Here’s Her Royal Highness Princess Somsawali when she came to the school to inaugurate our language centre. In Thai she’s called “Phra Ong Jow Somsawali Phra Wora Racha Ti Daa-Maat” or “Phra Ong Som” for short.