Thursday, May 8, 2008

chaing mai

Okay, let's do it in this order: quotes, quotidian, quazy night.


I had NO IDEA how many people were reading this blog! Cool! It's like I'm traveling with friends from everywhere; I love it! I know that was a lot of exclamation points, but those were all exclamations! You guys rock!

So some folks emailed me (sorta in response to the note in my last entry), and there were just some killer quotes. Here:

- "..."
(from Olafur Halldorsson. Okay, not a quote per se, but what a name! He's Icelandic.)

- Reading [your blog] reminds me of my first experiences with the third world, in the late fifties [...] I was happy to hear that the fish in the Erawan National Park are still nibbling – 20 years after they nibbled on me!
(from Tilmann, a German super-traveler friend)

- Not to totally embarass you, but I've featured you in this week's diver email (in between the paragraphs about a lost Speedo, and the giant squid). Aren't you proud?
(from Betty Goldberg, head of volunteer services at Shedd, and all-around sweetie-pie. And to answer, YES!)

- as the "hill tribe guys" were walking in water buffalo poop, ignoring mosquitos the size of a buick and sleeping on rotting mats, did they say "you made the right choice, i couldn't stand to live in New Haven"
(from Dad, who will never stop teasing me about choosing U Washington...)

And of course, thanks to everyone who emailed me, commented, all that good good stuff. Okay, on to...


The past couple days I've just been walking around Chaing Mai and chatting with what appears to be all of France, because for reasons unknown I've met about 20 French people in the past 2 days (et je pue practique mon Francais... et je sais, mon eppelation est horrible). And of course going on a trek and staying with hill tribes is foreign, but so is going into a 7-11 or getting a haircut. The big things make the blog, but really it's the little things make each day here an experience. So I thought I'd share a couple little things.

Here's an intersection near my midget guesthouse in Chaing Mai:

Here's the post office:

I went to mail a package home, and it's really neat. You take a number and wait, and there's an area for packing things and an area for gluing things. Really. Thais don't lick things - licking is what animals do - so there's a little station with glue sticks for stamps and envelopes. After I bought a box for my stuff (20 baht) and had them wrap and seal the box (8 baht), I waited until my number was called. 3.3kg package, to America. The clerk speaks some English.
"Air mail. 2 days."
"How much?"
Given that my room is 150 baht a night, and this internet cafe is 10 baht an hour, I damn near fell over when he showed me the number on the screen. 2450?!
"!! Uh, cheaper way?"
"Economy. 3 week. 1600 baht."
"... cheaper?"
He smiles. "MOST cheap. Boat. 3 months. 970 baht."
Looks like my package is going to get its sea legs. I might beat it home.

The haircut I just got was pretty normal, but a few small differences. Before they start, the put talcum powder (or something like that) in your hair, shaving is done with a straight razor, and afterwards they wipe your head and face down with a moist, perfumed towel. Ooh la la! And now I look smashing:

Hint: Internet cafes with only white people are usually slow as molasses. Look for Thai kids gaming.

When you eat at a restaurant, servers do not come to you unless you somehow signal them over. At first you think the servers are terribly inattentive, but once you get used to it, it's really tops. You're never rushed. Take your time, subai subai. Done with your food but want to stay and chat or write or whatever? Nobody pesters you with a bill or pushes dessert. Tops.

Something about this bookshop made me want to take a photo. It smelled like paper from the sidewalk:

You can't go an hour without seeing a monk, and Fanta's really big here.


After the post office, I was walking around Chaing Mai and looking at all the 500-700 year old wats (temples) when a 53-year-old tuk tuk driver stops to give me some dubious information on the wat I was looking at. It's starting to thunder, and I'm a 25-minute walk from Panda. The driver says he'll take me for free if I visit his sister's tailor shop. I know what's going on, but let's do it.

His "sister" is an Indian man, and it's kinda neat to see how these folks try to corral farang (Westerners) like me. How much is a suit? $300. An overcoat? $300. A vest? $200. So the "starting" prices are all the same for everything, basically. $300 is a king's ransom in Thailand, so obviously the price would come down a lot if I bargained, but I wasn't going to start and give them the wrong impression. So I stay for 10 minutes, the driver gets his commission, and then pleasantly takes me back to Panda. No charge. Easy peasy.

At Panda, Bond (trek guide) and Stephan (other 3-dayer) are drinking and chatting, and even though we've just spent 3 solid days together, they're both really cool. Let's go out!

Stephan and I get on the back of Bond's motorcycle (sorry Mom), and zoom zoom to a sidewalk "restaurant" that is cheap and delicious. Aloy mak mak khrap! Tell the truth, all the food here is good.

Anyway, after dinner we zoom zoom to a hippy Thai bar with black lights everywhere and cushions on the floor and a DJ. Take off your shoes before you enter, of course. At the table next to us is a Thai dude doing magic for three white girls. He wasn't great, but even so, it's still really distracting. Seriously, you can't help but watch. The bar has a killer view, though. It's on a rooftop right by the moat and overlooking the old city walls. Just gorgeous. I'm not sure if Stephan totally got the idea of "buying rounds," 'cause after I bought the first round, when I went up to get a second beer, he stalks behind me ninja-like and pays for me (50 baht / bottle of Chang). Very sweet, no doubt, but dude, you don't have to keep track like that. Anyway, want to go to a bar called Bananas? Um, yes.

Bananas is awesome. Sand floor, area for a live band (later in the night), and a free pool table. The cue ball was cratered like the moon, and the table was so bumped and grooved that the balls didn't roll so much as drunkenly stagger their way across the felt, but I guess that's appropriate for a bar. There are 8-year-old kids there hawking flower necklaces for 10 baht, and I bought a couple and gave 'em to the barkeep girls, and shot some pool with the flower-selling kids. One of the barkeeps starts giving me drinks, and I ran into a couple other white folks. Justin is a broad-shouldered 6'5" Canuck (in Thailand, either Canucks outnumber Americans like 20 to 1, or nobody admits to being American). I wish I had a photo of him waiting at the bar for a drink; just head and shoulders above all the Thais. Really nice guy. And Matthieu is a Frenchman (of course) who speaks perfect English has been living in Chaing Mai for 4 months now. Great time.

The band comes on and plays a solid selection, including "Zombie" by the Cranberries. Lots of Red Hot Chili Peppers, whom I like a lot, but they mangle all the words, which is hysterical. Drums may fly in the beast at least it's sayseh in a feely location...

Um, I don't think I can describe this next part any better than I did in my wee journal (and it happens to be exactly one page) so:

Stephan and Bond checked out a while ago, and at the end it's just Gary and I and one of the barkeeps. I'm not totally sure (read: no idea) how to get back to Panda, so I just start walking. It's 2am, and I'm a little drunk, very alone, and totally lost in Chaing Mai.

Some stranger on a motorcycle who speaks no English passes me, slows to a stop, and points at the back of his motorcycle. I show him my empty pocket, "no baht." He shrugs and points again, so on I go (sorry Mom). Maybe 5 minutes on this stranger's bike, and in one of those clouds parting and beams of light shining down on Excalibur moments, I suddenly see Panda guesthouse, this tiny little sign on the intersection of two tiny streets. "PANDA!" The guy slows to a stop and I get off. Kap khum khrap (thank you). He bows and vroom vroom!, disappears into the night.

Don't you love it when things just work out like that?


Anonymous said...

Can you take some pix of monks? Remember the monk we saw in Japan, just standing stone-still on the bridge, with a beggar's bowl? Kathleen and I saw many more monks when we were in Japan. I think they're artistic, so give me some shots!

Jake Cooper said...

Sure thing Mom. There are LOTS of monks here in Luang Prabang in particular. I've only been here maybe 2 hours but have seen dozens. But if you want that itch scratched now, there are two monks in the picture of the post office.

Ton was telling me that most men in Thailand become monks at least once in their lives. They "take the robe" for a few months (or up to a year, or heck, some just become monks permanently) and live in a wat. So most monks I see, says Ton, are exactly that: normal folks taking the robe for a while.

Anonymous said...

So interesting!