"Crunchy, Crunchy Special" - A Short Story by Ivy Ngeow from her collection The Power Ballads and Other Stories, 2020
Ivy Ngeow's Website (from which you can obtain The Power Ballads and Other Stories)
"Crunchy, Cruncy Special" is one of three short stories by Ivy Ngeow in her collection The Power Ballads and other stories. The story is set in Bangkok, starting in 1974. Rodney, from North London, teaches chemistry at an elite private school. He is an amateur entomologist as well as a closeted gay, (One did not come out in 1974.). He took the job to experience insect based cuisine and explore another culture. When we first meet him he is on his moped in part of town without other foreigners, farangs as they are called, looking for vendors serving insects.
"Rodney ate insects in secret. It was almost a sin. It would have been less embarrassing to brag about beery sexual adventures with Bangkok butterflies of the night as his colleagues did, than to admit to entomophagy."
Rodney gets more and more into insect cuisine. He even makes a special spice from ground up cockroaches. In the mean time three of his teaching colleguages get more and more drawn into the sexual smorgasbord of Bangkok, obsessed with bragging about their exploits.
I don't want to reveal to much of the very interesting close of the story. His three friends have bought a small Indonesia island. A disaster occurs when they bully Rodney into going there with them. In a dark way, I found what happened there quite funny.
We then flash forty one years into Rodney's future. I loved the final paragraph. I was very happy for Rodney.
The story in just ten pages shows us how Rodney's three associates degraded an ancient culture. Part of the draw of white men to Asian countries in the days of colonial rule was access to a large supply of women. Top officers of The East India Company married daughters of Maharajas or took exquisite to them exotic women as mistress, soldiers frequented brothels and took common law wives. We see this still playing out in the story. The people they encounter in Indonesia are degraded by the expectations of the three teachers.
Ngeow does a very good job with the character of Rodney. His eating of insects can be seen as a repudiation of the culture in which he was raised.
"Insects. They were eaten almost everywhere in the third world but had been excluded by biblical tradition from the Judeo-Christian civilised world."
There are two other equally delightful stories in the collection.
From the author's website
"Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. A graduate of the Middlesex University Writing MA programme, Ivy won the 2005 Middlesex University Literary Prize out of almost 1500 entrants worldwide. Her debut Cry of the Flying Rhino won the 2016 International Proverse Prize. She has written non-fiction for Marie Claire, The Star, The New Straits Times, South London Society of Architects’ Newsletter and Wimbledon magazine. Her short stories have appeared in Silverfish New Writing anthologies twice, The New Writer and on the BBC World Service, Fixi Novo’s ‘Hungry in Ipoh’ anthology and most recently the Fixi 2020 Anthology. Ivy won first prize in the Commonwealth Essay Writing Competition 1994, first prize in the Barnes and Noble Career Essay Writing competition 1998 and was shortlisted for the David T K Wong Fellowship 1998 and the Ian St James Award 1999.
A highly-accomplished multi-instrumental musician since childhood, Ivy won fifth prize (out of 850 entrants) in the 2006 1-MIC (Music Industry Charts) UK Award for her original song – Celebrity, when she formed her own band, Satsuma (2005-07). Her songs are funky, modern and eclectic, with strong urban grooves and lyrics. Satsuma has played headlining gigs at top London venues such as: The Marquee Club, The Troubadour Club, The Water Rats, The Betsey Trotwood, Plan B and Clockwork. She lives in London."
I am very much looking forward to reading Ngeow's recent novel, Overboard, next month.
Her very well done website has links to more of her short stories as well as her insightful nonfiction.
I hope to read all of her past work and follow her for a long time.