The Mountains and Pai

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jeremy finally finished his internship, and so we headed out of town far from the concrete and congestion of Bangkok.  I love this city, but getting out into the flooded rice paddies and endless undulating hills of green that roll over much of the country is an amazing break from the work and speed that make up too many of our days.  So Jeremy and I headed off to meet Lindsey and Jackie in Pai.

The first step was to fly to Chiang Mai, then we hopped in a mini-van for a 3-hour ride through the mountains to the quaint village of Pai.  It's actually a pretty easy way to get to a place that still feels remote.  Many travelers would argue that Pai has become commercialized and overrun, and perhaps rightfully so, but what's so spectacular is that despite that fact, the town has a lazy and laid back feel to it.  It reminds me of some of the slower villages like Vang Vieng in Laos and Panajachel in Guatemala.  It has the conveniences that make a traveler's life easy (cheap hotels, good food, chill live music), but it's easy to get out of town and enjoy the countryside.  So that's what we did almost immediately.

We were staying at the hotel Lindsey and Jack had been at for 3 weeks.  Jeremy had never ridden a motorbike, so our first task was to teach him how to do that since that's the primary method for seeing the rural areas and finding the best views.  We got in at night, and despite the combination of his status as a novice rider and the absolute darkness that cloaks rural Thailand, Jeremy wanted to hit the road.  He had been working hard all summer, and I understand the invigoration that accompanies getting away from work and seeing something new.  In fact, it is that feeling that drives most of my life choices, so I decided to accommodate him.  I was immediately nervous however, after he had been riding all of 12 minutes, and he looked at me with a bit of a crazed smile and said, "I want to go faaaaast."  I should have taken his keys away and banished him to car travel for the duration of the trip, but I let adults take care of themselves.  So we went for a drive on a straight and well-paved road.  He got to go fast, and he followed my suggestions when I said we should head in for the night and venture out when sunlight could make potholes and water buffalo a little easier to spot

The next day we headed out for breakfast.  Jeremy, Lindsey, Jackie and I each had our own bikes, and like a band of sissy Hell's Angels on 225 cc motorbikes, we headed to town.  We all managed to make it in for breakfast, then went back to the hotel to get ready for our day.  On our next run (we had been riding for maybe 20 minutes of road time and just a few kilometers per stretch), Jeremy thought it would be fun to take a turn a bit too sharply and crash on the street just a few yards ahead of me, so that I could watch in slow-motion as his bike went spinning out in front of him and he slid to a stop on the asphalt, leaving much of his skin in a trail behind him.  I stopped to see how permanently injured he would be, and consequently how long it would be before my brother and sister-in-law spoke to me again, and he was just sitting angrily on the street, shaking his head out of frustration instead of pain.  He was more embarrassed than hurt, but that was only because his embarrassment was so extensive, not because he wasn't hurt.  He had significantly fewer layers of skin on his elbows and knee, so we headed back to the hotel to get him cleaned up.

Jeremy was a football player and is a solid guy.  He barely grimaced after an accident that would have had most people weeping (I'm most people).  So to challenge his bravado, I got rubbing alcohol and bandages from a pharmacy to let Lindsey clean his wounds.  In my defense, I just used what the pharmacist gave me when I reported the accident (Pai has an army of walking wounded and several motorbike accidents happen a day).  But rubbing alcohol was probably an unkind choice.  When Lindsey dabbed it on him, Jeremy's stoicism disappeared.  He screamed a string of profanities that would have made his father (a preacher) and his mother shudder.  I hurried out to buy him beer and felt very much like I was in one of those Westerns where they give large swigs of whiskey to a man who has been shot and then poor liberal amounts of liquor into his open wound.  But I gave him Heineken and watched him punch cement walls.  Eventually, we realized he needed more care than we could offer, and I thought he might beat us all to death if we kept "helping" him, so we headed off to the hospital.

I had never been to a hospital in Thailand for patient care...until Jeremy got here.  Let's go over the statistics.  In our 3 years in Asia, I had been to a doctor: 0 times.  In Jeremy's 3 months here, he went: 15-20 times.  He's what I call oafish, a name he came to like very much.  It's not exactly clumsiness.  It's more of a disregard for his own well-being, and the fact that Asia isn't really made for people his size.  He hit his head at work one time (a minor annoyance for most people), but he did it with enough force to send blood pouring down his face.  So he got to see the hotel doctor.  He also got a sufficiently severe heat rash to require 3 separate hospital visits and numerous trips to the pharmacy to get it under control.  It's a lot of fun to hear a guy from Lubbock say with a fair amount of Texas accent in a loud and slow voice to a tiny Thai female pharmacist,

"My BAAAALLS...are on FIIIIIRE."  Then pointing at affected region

"I NEEEED...CREEEEEAAAAAM.....or POWDEEEER....or ANYTHIIIIIIING....that will stop my BAAAAAAALLS.....from being on FIIIIIIIIIIRE." 

I often wish I spoke more Thai to avoid awkward encounters, but I was glad Jeremy was on his own in these instances and I got to watch the train wrecks that are his social interactions.

Anyway, we took him off to the hospital where they expertly cleaned his wounds (with saline, not alcohol), and bandaged him, treated him with kindness, and gave him some mild painkillers (the mildness to his dismay).  This emergency room visit, which also included a doctor consultation to make sure he didn't have any serious injuries, cost him less than $10.  One more reason to love Thailand.

We then returned to the hospital twice daily where they cleaned and re-bandaged his wounds for $3 per visit.  It's a magical country.

His wounds were more to his pride than his body, but both were admittedly substantial and problematic.  He wasn't terribly excited to get on a bike again.  It sucked that it happened so quickly and limited how much of the countryside he saw, but I kept reminding myself that if he was going to fall (and it's Jeremy, so it was just a matter of time), it was best that it happened in town while going 10 miles per hour.  It could have been much worse (like the night before when he wanted to "go faaast.")  He was a stud and handled his pain admirably, and he never hindered anyone else's fun.  He wasn't sullen or demanding, and after a day of chilling out, he got back on the motorbike and cruised around with us.  He even went on to ride an elephant, bandages and leaking wounds and all. 

I didn't travel outside of the U.S. until I was 23, and I remember how fascinating it all was: the locales, the people, and the logistics of travel.  It was a lot of fun sharing those moments with Jeremy.  He never stopped telling me how awesome it all was or how it was changing the way he saw the world and thought about issues such as poverty, politics and people.  I didn't know Jeremy very well before this trip (he's my oldest brother's step-son), but I got to know him very well and gained a lot of affection and respect for him.  I loved seeing how he handled the most thrilling and exciting moments, as well as the frustrations and disappointments.  It's great, because travel is full of both, and if you can't embrace both extremes with humility and open-mindedness, then you won't receive the full impact and pleasure that is on offer.  And it was easy to see, at every turn and in every way, Jeremy was "impacted" by his travels in Thailand.
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