First of a Two-Part Series About Meeting a Real Spider Woman…
Since the 1970’s when my college classes began to fill with Viet Nam War vets, some on hospital guerneys, I had a vision of visiting Southeast Asia. Later, as Saigon fell and thousands of Vietnamese refugees settled in Orange County, and many found their way to my classroom, my interest in that part of the world became significant. Last month that dream became a reality as I visited Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam and Cambodia, traveling to places and offered by means often outside my comfort zone. There was much to learn, but two highlights stand out. The first is a beautiful Cambodian woman known as “Spider Woman” and the second is my impression of a people who have been through so much.
As a Hollywood afficianado, hearing our guide, Sang, announce that we would soon be pulling into the village of “Spider Woman” captivated my attention. Visions of old Spiderman movies danced in my head! He explained that her village is famous for its prized delicacy, fried tarantula! We were heading to Seam Reap, the starting point for treks into the famous Angkor temples, when our bus stopped in front of a typical bamboo house on stilts and a dozen or so young children in various stages of dress ran to greet us. The 16 of us in our group disembarked and cautiously strolled over to where an attractive young mother of three was waiting. She had her tarantula hunting stick in hand. The guide explained the process of tarantula catching and its value to the village. The villagers support themselves through farming but the tarantula business is a lucrative sideline with one fried delight selling for the equivalent of fifty cents American, a high price on the low per capita income in that country.
As Sang introduced “Spider Woman” to us, she smiled shyly and then guided us to a grassy corner of her yard. We watched with excitement as she poked her hunting stick into a deep hole. She kept working it until suddenly, success! She had one! Very carefully she urged the hairy creature out of its hole and coaxed it into her open palm. The guide narrated as she defanged the tarantula.
For a few long minutes the spider remained in her open hand while we shot photo after photo. Next, she took it to her outdoor kitchen where she placed it in a colander with a dozen other spiders. With a quick pinch she ended their lives, washed them in water, rolled them in seasoning and placed them in a frying pan. They sizzled before us. The crowd laughed nervously, knowing that soon we would be invited to eat them. After a few short minutes of deep frying she drained them and offered them up.
My fellow travelers hung back. Sang put one in his mouth. The group did not move. As a grandmother of two strapping boys, I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gain an authentic “street cred” with my boys. I stepped forward, the group gasped. My friends got their cameras ready as I placed one hairy leg into my mouth and chewed. I even managed to swallow it! Some of the men in our group were not to be outdone and they too sampled the crispy delicacy. The excitement of eating tarantulas sustained us for the rest of the bus ride that day. In fact we are still talking about it today. When I emailed photos of my tasting adventure to my grandsons, the 17-year old said, “Even I would never be that daring!” Clearly those awful scratchy bites were worth it.
Next – Part II – The Killing Fields & More…