...this and that...
Trip Start Jul 20, 2006
37Trip End May 10, 2007
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I sat on my balcony in nothing but knickers and a tank top - my room was filled with a stagnant moist heat. I had to take refuge outside. I've decided that among other things, carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere is outrageous- I won't use my air conditioner. The balcony faces a doi (mountain) surrounded by jungle. The wind began to blow making music in the leaves of the trees. There is cold air and now the trees are screaming - this is the wind that comes just before a rain. I don't remember even getting used to the weather, I thought, I just did.
The rain was coming down sideways today, making pin needle point sounds as it bounced off leaves and covered branches. It rains so much that even the cemented roads are covered in the green slime of moss like substance. The humid rain comes daily bringing with it the odor of barely wet asphalt.
I've learned to co-exist with animals - naked colored geckos crawling on ceilings and scaling walls sideways. I can't walk through the city at night without a roach creeping along in front of my feet, scurrying away with that creaky noise as there shells shuffle along the cobblestone streets. Insects the size and color of tennis balls, cling to my door screen screaming their noises. Dragonflies fill the air. Moths are as big as butterflies, but void of beautiful color. And, the ants, well there are so many that you become accustomed to sharing your space with them and their differing species- they become permanent fixtures in the cement jungle.
I live in the jungle - surrounded by trees and plants of all sorts - these trees provide the oxygen that makes breathing possible in this heavy air. Birds sing and roosters crow at day break. The temple bells ring like clockwork: at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The sound lingers through the air with each drum -it sounds like waves retreating on the shore.
But I live in the mountains, in a jungle - the city that has been created in this environment, is very much still subject to its surroundings. Chiang Mai is a relatively new city whose growth is in direct relation to the development of mass tourism. From the temple on the mountaintop, you see Chiang Mai sprawling through the valley below, the notorious urban sprawl.
My stomach growled; I was hungry for Sunday brunch I thought - which meant I had to drive into town. European breakfasts are widely available in the tourist parts; which is interesting that they call it 'European' food instead of 'American' food. I recall living in Europe and seeing 'American' food sections on menus - it was always displeasing to me to see. I liked that it was classified 'European' food here.
In Asia, I get a high at the sight of a white person - and most often, they aren't American. The distinction between the nationalities becomes non-existent simply because, we are white and from the western world. Just last night my Swiss-Italian friend, Letizia, and I were out dancing with a Brazilian, Peruvian, Britt and an Italian - we spoke a combination of 3 languages, we were all white in Asia.
Generally people are surprised I am American- I take it as a compliment. We can be terribly ignorant on worldly matters and often we live very ethnocentric lives. We are an ethnocentric country down to the smallest detail. And, I have to defend my country usually starting with the fact that I am a Californian, and we really should just succeed. We have a strong enough economy to do it - and not that I love the fact an actor is our "Governator" but at least he has a passport and speaks another language. On my first visit to my favorite temple, wat umong, a monk asked me where I was from and when I told him California, he smiled and began to sing "Welcome to the hotel California, such a lovely place..." I laughed.
I opened a copy of the Bangkok Post on Friday afternoon, anxious to read one of my favorite articles, "The Lost Boy." The lost boy is a weekly from the perspective of a white boy living in Bangkok, lost on life. I opened up the Lost Boys latest and began to read the section the reader's write - and as I began to read, the words seemed all too familiar, they were mine. I was surprised...I kept reading to make sure I was justly quoted...I was. I had written Matt, an acknowledgment after reading his take on the breaking news of the coup - he had a similar experience - I liked the way he wrote it, but I never thought it would end up in the Post.
In the 3 months that I have lived here, I have seen 3 governments. I have experienced the "Land of Smiles" go from a "kum-ba-ya hippie" example south-eastAsian democracy, to a military led regime, and now we're stuck somewhere in between. I can't feel the difference, but I know it exists. And, there is a peculiarly strange adoration for Mikey Mouse here.
I disagree with whoever made the tagline for Thai tourism, "Land of Smiles" - I basically feel an element of shock when a smile comes my way from a Thai man in passing. I was told I would get "Asian Goggles", or eyes for the Asian man after a month - I still don't have them. A Thai man flirted with me the other night at Warm-Up, an uppity night club, not only was he the first Thai to flirt with me; I was surprised he even tried. I've read that Thai men generally find western women too tall, too sweaty, loud and easy - nice combination, I thought.
For the modern western woman living in Chiang Mai, she's at a loss. The white men come here for the Asian women and the Thai men find us to be an unpleasing blend. I sneer at the aged balding white man with a beautiful young Thai woman - I never know if he bought her for a weekend, or if he truly loves her - it's a thought that cannot escape me, especially in a country whose tourism tagline would be better stated "Sex for Smiles."
However, my Thai hosts have been lovely and I live in a country rich with natural beauty, amusing history and unique culture. I speak Thai with a convincing accent- so much so that Thai's believe I can actually hold a conversation, which always ends with me saying "nit noi", just a little, after my arsenal of minimum vocabulary words run out.
On Sunday nights the main street that runs through town closes to traffic and the walking market takes over. This spectacular is the place to be and be seen on a Sunday night in Chiang Mai. It is also much cheaper than the tourist haute-spot, the Night Bazaar. It feels like the whole city is there, selling crafts, clothes, furniture and food. Music plays on every street corner. I ran into Shet, a friend, singing and playing his guitar surrounded by a large audience last Sunday. My hill tribe buddy sells jewelry on buffalo hide with his dread locked artsy friends at the same place every week - outside the writers bar.
Sometimes on Fridays I go to the Writer's Club and Wine Bar. Friday night is media night -otherwise known as old white man's night - and if it weren't for Karla, a decade older than I and my closest friend, I would not go. Being the youngest one in there usually by about 40 years, I sit and exchange stories and thoughts with my wise 'uncles' who have lived extraordinary lives as foreign correspondents and writers. I've been dubbed the "child prodigy" among them, both as a writer and wine drinker.
I'm living in a place which measures its development according to shopping malls and
7-11's. I recently kept asking for directions to Street 11, in Thai, and I kept being pointed in the direction of one of the ten 7-11's on the one mile street, it was aggravating.
The rules for driving here are different, though often times, similar to driving in LA.-Example: Red lights - once the light turns red about 4-5 more cars and 7-9 motorbikes will pass through. Green lights- because of red light rules, you must wait ample time, or risk too much. Yellow lights- well, no one knows what these are for. The right of way goes to the person who is bigger, not to the right. We drive on the left. And, when entering traffic it has been advised to never look at the on-coming cars, inch out enough to the point where they must stop for you.
My mind begins to wonder too much, it's too hot now that it has stopped raining; the air is still, the mosquitoes like this time of day. The night bugs begin to sing, the sky has gone from storm grey to sky blue to pink and now black. It must be 6 p.m., the temple bells are ringing. The soi dogs are barking. I smell the noodles cooking. I still can't believe I live in Thailand.
Past blog "From the Rubber Triangle to the Golden Triangle" has been published for a UK based travel magazine. 'Thailand's Rubber Triangle' is a feature today (10/17) on the website so take a look: