If Chilean poet Pablo Neruda were alive and traveling in Thailand, he would have replaced his “Ode to the Artichoke” with “Ode to the Thai 7-Eleven.”

LIKE A POPULATION OF SEA CREATURES that no longer have a predator, the green and orange 7-Eleven is everywhere in Thailand. In Bangkok, I often found two or three in one block, and, if you are pondering their popularity, let me enlighten you. In the heat of hundred degree days, the 7-Eleven is one place that, without a doubt, is air conditioned to a chill that cannot be found in any other location.

In addition, the tiny corner store has every snack imaginable packed on its shelves – coconut milk with heart of palm, black sesame flavored soy milk, gummy worms, grilled tuna sandwiches, sesame covered peanuts, fried mung beans, tamarind candies, and dried lychees.

7-Elevens also sell a wide array of Thai energy drinks. I’ve tried them all, although not so much for the drinks themselves as for the spectacular slogans. Sponsor, which is green and tastes a bit like a sweet, carbonated version of Gatorade, advertises: “Good sweat, get Sponsor.” Another popular energy drink, M-150, is so sticky sweet that it is akin to drinking a bottle of cough syrup. The slogan of M-150, like something out of a U.S. Army advertisement, is “Courage, Sacrifice, Devotion.” It would take all of those things for me to drink M-150 on a regular basis.

The 7-Eleven also offers the dreamy sugar sensation otherwise known as Thai iced coffee. If you’ve never seen it made, you might have no idea how many sugary products are involved in the frothy delight. A few teaspoons of Nescafe (and, by the way, I think Nescafe is taking over the universe) are mixed with condensed milk, evaporated milk, and white sugar. The beverage should not even be called coffee, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it madly in the burning Bangkok heat.

The frozen curry dinner at the 7-Eleven is surprisingly fierce, and probably better than any curry you could get in my entire home state of Kentucky. The attendants working the cash register heat up the curries, chop fresh chilies and limes as garnish, and make grilled tuna and ham and cheese sandwiches. When it comes to curry, “Make me sweat!” is my motto, and I did sweat while devouring my microwave curry.

The selection of yogurt drinks is impressive, and parents often pull up on motorbikes with children in school uniforms to stop for a snack. Little boys in knee-length navy pants and button-up white shirts and school girls in red skirts and white shirts enter to enjoy the air conditioning and a cold soy drink. I don’t think the magic of the air conditioning can be underestimated.

What else can you do at a Thai 7-Eleven? You can pay your electricity bill and even purchase plane tickets. In this manner, 7-Elevens have integrated themselves into many essential parts of daily life in Thailand.

O’ my dear 7-Eleven,
with your Arctic air,
your fierce curries,
and freshly chopped lime and chilies.
You seduced me
and, at the same time,
allowed me
to pay
the electric bill.

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