The “Yum Yum Spider” Incident

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I thought it was something like a “Blooming Onion.” It wasn’t. I found out the hard way at a Cambodian rest stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere. All day long the rickety bus roared down the dusty roads. We passed beautiful farmland, small hamlets, and the occasional town. The driver drove like Mad Max.

I’m on holiday in Cambodia. We’ve been traveling overland from Vietnam and had crossed the border and made a brief stop in Phnom Phenh earlier in the day. Now I’m on my way to Siem Riep and I want to see the ruins of Angkor.I’ll write more about this road trip in another excerpt, but today It’s my “Yum Yum Spider Incident.”

Back to the bus. The screech jolted us to a full halt which then followed by the driver muttering indecipherable words, fingers to indicate numbers, and then a gesture to his watch. 15 to 20 minutes sounded like enough time to venture out of this death trap and off the endangered species list for just a little while longer.

I looked out the bus window and a tray of food walked passed me. It was atop the head of a small lady and it appeared to be good to eat. Wow, “Blooming Onions.” Perhaps it was thinking too much about Mad Max in the Outback that lured me to the thought of “Blooming Onions.” Mostly likely because they serve this type of looking dish at the wannabee Australian “Outback Steak Houses” that are found everywhere but Australia.

Well, proceeding onwards I found the lady near some market stalls. The dish was now placed on a small 5 gallon bucket and I moved in to inspect closer. It was much like fried onions or some assorted vegetable. The dark crispy bits enamored with roasted garlic. All of it sat atop a seasoned oily base. Something looked good about it, but something else caught my glace. Eyes were looking back at me and what shouldn’t have been legs were. 8 legs each as spiders should. “Holy Crap” I peered closer. Blurring in and out of focus a figure moved nearer to me. It was the lady. Standing in her red hat and shirt she smiled with big bright teeth, smacked her lips, and uttered “Yum Yum Spider.” Then it all came to me, this was a dish of friend spiders.

“No way” I said. She tilted her head and confirmed “Yes” it’s “Yum Yum Spider.”

Then without asking she lifted the tray and beneath it was a bucket full of big black spiders. Big ones, really big fuzzy ones. Again without asking, she picked one up and tossed it onto my shirt. I was in disbelief. The moment had the same type of feeling you get when you dive into cold water. Shocking and overwhelming at first, then you deal and get used to it. When it moved you could feel its strength. I turned around and a traveler from Vietnam who was on the bus saw me and screamed. I then felt braver for some reason. I put it on my hand and took some photos. People laughed, people were scared, and it was amusing for a time being.

The lady insisted that I buy something and began aggressively trying to charge me for pictures and she even tried to bag some of the fried ones for sale. I took out a dollar, gestured at the arachnid in my hand and gave it to her. She politely snatched the money and after the exchange I realized I had no idea what I was going to do with this guy. As I walked closer to the bus the other occupants and travelers looked horrified. I felt braver again and gave devious smile, but common sense lead me across the street to a large patch of shrubs near a wall. I placed him on some branches and told him he was free. Hoping for good karma for the ride ahead perhaps or just me trying to do the right thing.

Snapping a few last shots and glances I walked backed to the honking bus. I felt brave, heroic, and almost fearless. Yes very brave but not enough to eat any of these “Yum Yum Spiders.”

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Linh Vien Thai
Linh Vien Thai is Amerasian, born in Dalat, South Vietnam, where he continued to lived during the war. He left for the U.S. and is now an American living in Tokyo. He enjoys adventure traveling and doing what's right to make the world a better place.
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