|Klong Toey's pioneer Amazing Bicycle Breakfast Restaurant|
|วันอาทิตย์ที่ 11 เมษายน 2010 เวลา 11:03 น.|
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R., published in Bangkok Post April 11, 2010
Born 23 years ago out of a desire to keep her husband strong plus save a few precious baht, Auntie Muey's restaurant on two wheels is a Klong Toey legend
She started her fast-food career selling second breakfasts to "sweat labour" workers in the Klong Toey River Port from her bicycle. They'd walk the seven minutes from the riverside docks to a hole they'd knocked in the wall between the Port and the slum.
Auntie Muey was on the slum side of the wall. Safe from nasty Port Authority guards who would want free second breakfasts from her!
And she would sing out loudly, at the top of her lungs, her morning menu. It was a rebel song, really, about how "I want to serve you a tasty meal - enough to fill your tummy. Make you men burp! Not cheat you." Every rebel song is truly a love song and her songs were for the people of Klong Toey.
It began back before container ships and automation. Her husband was a sweat labourer in the holds of ships 23 years ago. To keep him strong, and to save a few precious baht, she'd cook rice at home and cycle it over to him late in the morning.
Then a neighbour's wife wanted to know if Auntie Muey would cook for her husband too - at half the price of what the vendors charged in the Port.
So began her rebel songs, shouting out her morning breakfast menu in the Klong Toey slum - and her pioneer Amazing Bicycle Breakfast Restaurant was born.
Auntie Muey is a bicycle-pedalling old-fashioned love story on her two-wheel rig. The bike has an old-style back wheel stanchion for parking when she stops to serve breakfast, lest her Amazing Bicycle Breakfast Restaurant topple over. And it has a platform on the back - like the old bikes that used to double as beasts of burden carrying 100kg sacks of rice.
She wears her trademark crisp and clean red apron down to her knees over long, loose, dark Chinese-type trousers, sky blue sneakers and a floppy hat with a flap to shade her neck from the sun. Her size? Medium to small.
Her rig is a full bicycle restaurant serving nine individually wrapped types of rice and chicken, rice and fish, etc. She also has coffee, Klong Toey slum-style, or tea mixed with condensed milk, or her popular Red Sweet water. And hard-boiled eggs - 10 baht for two in a plastic bag, complete with a tiny sack of soy sauce just in case you like your eggs that way. And on some days, delicious freshly-fried pork rinds. It's all there on her menu, hand-written daily on a piece of cardboard.
Her rig also carries a polystyrene ice chest on the back. New ice - freshly frozen she tells everyone, not yesterday's ice, re-frozen! And she always takes time to listen when a customer, often a friend, feels lonely or sad, or has had a death in the family and would like to sit and chat for a while with Auntie Muey, or simply indulge in the latest gossip in Klong Toey for a few minutes while eating breakfast next to her bicycle as the traffic rolls by.
The kids love her. She acts tough, but along her route there are a couple of hungry children living with their grandmother. There's no money, so they usually go to school hungry. But when they hear the ring of her bell they know breakfast is coming. She scolds them, of course! You know the drill - dirty fingernails, hair not properly combed, swearing, and so on.
She started her mobile restaurant 23 years ago. She's now on her eighth bike, and this one has lasted the longest - 10 years. On the Buddhist Holy day she makes merit by "renting" a small flower lei for five baht and keeping it on her handle bars for blessings and protection during the week.
She's heard of the Catholic St Christopher, so she has his medal hanging from the handlebars as well. She says she wants all the heavenly protection she can get.
Over those 23 years, five of her rigs were stolen. Three times it was at night, and they took just the bicycle from beside her house. The other two times they went after the whole restaurant.
The first time it set her back for weeks. She lost everything - ice chest, plastic drinks containers, eight plastic sacks with two hard boiled eggs, 40 packets of rice and chicken and fish. The whole lot was stolen by drug addicts, but what made her most angry was that they didn't even eat her food, just scattered it along the street.
The second time, a drunk grabbed her restaurant and tried to pedal away - wobbling all over the place. Auntie Muey screamed "Help" and a neighbour hit the drunk with a broom.
He fell off, and the neighbour grabbed Auntie's restaurant before it crashed. Only the ice chest fell off, spilling the ice. The coffee and the sweet water stayed in the front basket on the bike. They pummeled him thoroughly - he sported big bruises plus a black eye for three weeks.
Then he disappeared, and Auntie Muey hasn't seen him since. Everyone said: "Good riddance to bad rubbish!"
After the first theft, by the drug addicts, her husband had bought her a whistle to blow in case of trouble, but she'd tied the whistle on the handlebars of her bike.
Auntie Muey has never taken a spill in her life. But she rides more slowly these days selling her second breakfasts.
Years ago, she'd be singing all morning long. A chant really, calling out her breakfast menu to the ring of her bell. Now, it's more the ring of her bell than her singing that you hear. That's since her voice cracked. One chilly morning, maybe seven years ago, she was caught in the rain - soaked to the skin. She had a runny nose, a sore throat and coughed for weeks afterwards.
Her strong singing voice never really came back. So when you see her now, and hear the ring of her bell, it seems that your troubles just melt away and you just want to be there. You eat your second breakfast, even though you're not that hungry.
You don't know why really, but your eyes water and you just know she will wipe away all your tears and your pain. Somehow.
She's a Klong Toey pioneer. She invented Klong Toey's first moveable restaurant. Maybe the first in Thailand, but we're not too sure about that, so she can't brag too much. But more than anything else, Auntie Muey is a walking, talking old-fashioned love story.
But in the beginning, it wasn't always that way - selling food that is. She began working on building sites at 16 - unskilled labour in a rural provincial town. Her wages were 30 baht a day. A country girl, she was married and pregnant at 26.
After that, there was no more building work as there was no place on a building site for a new mother with a baby. So she had to care for her baby at home in a tin shack. Her husband was a good man - he loved her and gave her his wages. He's still with her, but he's got constant aches and pains from years of lifting and carrying more than he should on his back.
When her baby was five, they moved to Klong Toey. Carrying the baby with her, she began her Bicycle Restaurant along the docks. Then, after nine years, some over-zealous guards wearing Port Authority uniforms decided her restaurant was a breach of security.
So she went to work in the shrimp and squid cleaning plant next to the abattoir. But that didn't last. She had to clean the shrimp and squid quickly because the wages were only half a baht to two baht a kilo for scaling fish and cleaning squid.
If you moved fast you could make 50 to 70 baht a day. But to do that, you can't wear gloves. The plant's sanitary regulations say you must wear rubber gloves, but with gloves, you can't work as fast, make maybe half that and get fired. So you work bare handed. Which is fine, except the brine rots your fingernails and cuticles.
After seven months, her hands were bleeding too much, the factory manager said Auntie Muey was a sanitary risk.
So after a month, when her hands had healed, she returned to her true love - her amazing Klong Toey Slum Pioneer Bicycle Restaurant.
She's still out there each morning. Come to Klong Toey any time you're looking for a good second breakfast. But come early, because she's usually sold out before noon.