Back From Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai was a great experience… I had a really, truly wonderful week there, but–

Okay, my thoughts/experiences in no particular order:

I was sharing a room with Jean & Irene in the posh BP Hotel; Chris & Kelly being adventurous & setting off into the hills for trekking as soon as we landed. But sharing space is difficult when you’re all running on different inner schedules (yes, it was brought home to me NO ONE else goes to bed at 10pm!)

So I got myself a room in a guesthouse, just around the corner from the yogasala I meant to go to. And that was what truly opened up Chiang Mai for me.

The squeamish Singaporean side of me was pleased to observe: very very clean environment; floors, bedsheets etc (I checked) mosquito screens on all the windows & a mosquito screen door on the corridor leading to my room, which continued to one of two rooftop sunning areas (was told the owner, who I didn’t meet, is Singaporean, hence the extreme anti-mozzie precautions!)

The showers had sophisticated imported-from-Germany heaters and the toilets were clean too, yes, but–I’ll just say that if you are a Singaporean survivor of field camp training in Taiwan you’ll understand the situation.

It was a great ‘family’ atmosphere, literally. There was a large reading space on the 2nd floor with floor cushions, (English) paperbacks, a hammock (!) and on the ground floor where the cafe/restaurant was, a large television. One evening I was the only ‘guest’ having an early dinner there & two of the helpers/nieces were squabbling over whether the tv should be turned to a Thai music/dance (some kind of talentine?) channel or an english movie (Godzilla on HBO, I think) and ‘Aunty’ said they must ask the guest (meaning me) at once one was going ‘you want watch singing I make free milo!’ and the other ‘you want watch monster I make free dinner!’

Aunty was around in the day time with a cute baby, her granddaughter. That daughter (mother of the baby) works & another (I think–my Thai being a few hundred times worse than their English which is not good…) daughter is married to the Singaporean owner of the guesthouse & manages it. She also does yoga at the shala, but led classes at 10.

They got used to my weird timings: coffee at 6am, yoga at 6.30… back after 2 hours then a long walk around the city to pick a good spot for brunch. It’s a wonderful place to walk around in because it’s really bright and sunny but dry and cool in the shade. Even after a 2 hour ashtanga session I was only warmly glowing & ‘breaking sweat’ rather than having it drip all over me.

Sometimes, in spite of our language barrier, Aunty dragged me off with her, ‘market’ to look at stuff while she did minor shopping. I suspect these were more for me than for the kitchen because these were great street market walks & I saw them roasting insects, birds, fish etc as well as veggies.

Going further in the afternoons (post shower!) Nikorn and Nohung took me around. Mostly Nikorn drove & Nohung talked because her tuktuk was ‘broken’ she said. I looked at it but of course had no way of telling what was wrong. Wanted to blame the fuel (low grade, going by the smell) but that was obviously being used everywhere in the city. Btw, my spanish buffs functioned great as nose/mouth filters on a motorbike.

But that’s where things get sad. Nohung looks about my age, probably younger. She has a 15 year old daughter, a 5 year old daughter, and is married now to a man who is father to neither but good to them except ‘always man like drinking, even good man. Too much like beer and whisky’ but she ‘also likes’. The problem, she says, is that first you are happy, then you are worried about money, then ‘man get new family. Woman and baby sad’ And looking around the city I feel that’s been happening a lot.

Someone else told me that about the large number of dogs wandering around–wearing collars–‘when small and cute, people keep. Then when grow big, take to temple and throw away–don’t want,’–reflected how she felt about herself.

And I met Ru, who hardly talks. She has not talked much in the month since coming back from working ‘away’ her half-sister says, and has not been able to work, because of the ‘big sad’ inside her. What this ‘big sad’ is, she will not tell any of them. She just sits all day unless they force her to go out with them. She speaks some English, so I suspect she may have been working ‘away’ in Singapore or Malaysia.

So it would be best for her to stay & work around her family? But what work is there for her in Chiang Mai?

That’s the other thing I started feeling was very sad after a while–that while all of us foreigners go and rave about how wonderfully quaint/rustic/laid back the place is, it is a city whose main income comes from the tourist dollar. 20 baht, which is about 80 cents to us, can buy a rice meal at roadside stall. Yes, I was having fun when Nikorn & Nohung were showing me how to roll sticky rice into balls & dip it into broken eggs etc. but for them this was daily life & earning a living. And the prospects don’t look like they’re getting any better. ‘What do you want to do?’ I asked Nohung. ‘Work in Japan’ she said. ‘In Japan can make big money very fast.’ She was basing this on how much a massage cost in Japan compared to in Chiang Mai. But ‘Go Japan must first put big money in bank’ I assume that’s some kind of deposit.

I really liked:

seeing the awkward yet elegant geese wandering around in the compound.

ceramic dogs in the garden amongst the real dogs

the sleeping cat in the bookshop with a book placed as its pillow (bought a book I didn’t really want just to support the cat!)

Aum, the super organic vegetarian restaurant–especially the fantastic kau soi–if I had not had the goal of trying different places/foods I would have eaten here every day! (spring rolls… shitake stirfry… but most of all kau soi, kau soi, kau soi!!!) — Thanks Paul for the pointer!

the people–Stella, charming super cook at Green Tulip (please find a way of running Thai cooking classes!) who can make any dish ‘mai ped’ and ‘vegetarian’ for difficult people like me! Paula–just realised, if you ever see this, why you couldn’t call me that night on the number I gave you… I forgot to include the Singapore country code, which is 65- in front of it… very very sorry! Nikorn–thanks for the free bike rides & meals! Nuhang–yes, we will meet again, little Grace Alyssa–super miniyogette! Guara–first vegan I met in ChiangMai–it was good talking to you & practicing with you. Blessings to all of you!

What I didn’t like:

the mosquitoes at first… but they seemed to stop biting me after I got an oil stick from the pharmacy & rubbed it on my pulse points…

loud/rowdy tourists at night, thrilled by cheap drinks… not my problem, I know. I went back to my room to do puja by 9 pm. But I would not like my sisters, my daughters, any of my family to have to earn a nightly living off serving people who come to their homeland for a good time just because the exchange rate makes their money ‘big’ against mine.

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2 Responses

  1. Cat was adorable–why call it a piggie!?!
    Though piggies are cute too…

    Thanks for giving it a pillow!

  2. That cat was just a …. PIGGIE!!!

    I was the one that slipped the book under it’s head for a pillow. (You must have been just behind us to have seen it still sleeping in that position.)

    I just couldn’t resist it.
    That little piggie …it was so limp and didn’t even move a single muscle. Gosh! *laughs*

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