The beginning of my trip! This will be a great way to end my summer off, closing it with a bang. It'll help me, too, to commemorate the start of life without Lars, now that we've been separated for a couple months.
Victoria drove me to airport—I'm flying with Asiana. That's the secondary Korean airline, the one with the stewardesses who dress and look totally alike, same size, same age, very slim, cute uniforms, identical hair buns, funky hats with a tail type extension in the back. They're great to watch. At the end of the flight we did a stretching exercise to music and video led by the stewardesses at the front of the aisle. So corny but so cute. I looked around—it almost seemed like more westerners were participating than Koreans. The westerners probably felt like I did—how cute and fun. I'll be the Koreans had to do it all the time at school and work anyway, so it was nothing new.
I was able get Thai Baht at the Bangkok airport very easily—I just used an ATM, and soon had 3000 baht in my hot little hands. Last night I stayed in the Amari airport hotel for $109. It's completely connected to the airport, you just go over a walkway and you're at the front desk. I normally wouldn't spend near this much on a room, especially in Thailand where I've been told you can get a great room for around $5, but I was totally exhausted, jet lagged, and didn't want to do anything else. Very fancy place. This morning I flew to Chiang Mai, a small city in northern Thailand, for about $46. I love being able to fly like this—just going to the ticket office, getting a plane ticket, and taking the next flight. It's like taking a bus in the US. The royal family is an obsession for the Thais. There were 2 articles about the royal family in the on board magazine (Thai Airways, of course), plus a film about the king.
I'm writing this via the GoType keyboard attachment for my Palm Pilot. I love this little thing! It's a tiny little chicklet keyboard, but I can type on it at normal speeds, and it's probably at least 5 times faster than writing in the Palm Pilot the normal way. I woke up at 2 am this morning and couldn't get to back sleep, so I wrote postcards, and read, then fell asleep again at around 4.30. Heavy thunderstorm at night, strong lightening that didn't even sounds like lightening, more like artillery fire. Yesterday I took a cab to this guesthouse, the White House, where Chris and Judy stayed when they were here. It seems clean and comfortable, although I switched beds this morning (there's two singles in the room) because the one I was on was all sunken in the middle. No luck with that—it's because the mattresses are of cheap foam rubber, and the other mattress did the same thing. It's hot, but pretty comfortable with the fan blowing directly on me.
Yesterday I took a walk around town, my first street experience in Thailand. Coming to a new, unfamiliar country is always such a thrill. On a street corner a woman had tiny little birds for sale, bunches of them in simple wicker cages, that looked like a flat round woven piece folded in half. They were all cheeping, trying to poke their way out. I later found out that you pay the woman some money, then let the birds go for good
luck, while the woman keeps the cage. On the same street corner there were also tons of live turtles. Actually I'm not sure they were alive, but it wasn't in an area where food was being sold, so I assume that they were for sale as pets.
Hunger drove me to be pretty adventurous on my walk, in search of food. I went to a small open-air restaurant, the kind where nothing is in English, and people are slurping soup containing things you've never seen before in your life (like these weird pink noodles). It turns out that they had a special English menu for people like tourists like myself—as soon as they see a Westerner they just smile and hand them the menu.
I chatted with the one other Western woman at that place. Early 40's, French speaker from Quebec. She was doing the Southwest Asia trek, and had done it before for years at a time. Spends most of her time studying massage in Chiang Mai (there's tons of massage schools here) and hopes to pay her way through Asia by doing Thai massages. Seems like a pretty unique idea to me. She's also taught English in Asia before—apparently it wasn't difficult to get a job even though she wasn't a native English speaker. A Thai woman with a little girl came by the restaurant, begging. I didn't give her anything, neither did the Quebecois woman, but a Thai group that was at the restaurant did, probably giving the whole issue about 1/100th the thought that I was. Then a girl from the restaurant came by, gave her a coin, and shoed her off.
I got totally turned around on my walk, and probably walked an hour out of my way. Traffic is something else here. They drive on the left side of the street, which takes some getting used to when crossing the street. There's tons of motor scooters zipping around, driven by what looks like 11 year-olds. People drive on the shoulder of the road all the time to pass, and on roads that you're initially certain are one way—sometimes they're not, it's just that people are passing in the opposing lane so much it looks like one lane.
Did the cooking class that I signed up for yesterday, the Chaing Mai Thai Cooking school. The teacher was Somphom, with a really dry sense of humor, heavily accented British English (he would, his wife is English). Drove out to his house in the back of a converted pickup, called a songthaew. He has an elaborate setup for the cooking class, with a huge covered elevated patio for sitting, hardwood floors and all, and another large covered patio for cooking, with separate cookstations for everyone.
First there was a demonstration of and passing around of the spices, then we started cooking. We made curry paste first, pounding it up in a pestle and mortar, lots of work especially since you can just buy it as well. I felt like a primitive tribeswoman, working with a pestle and mortar like that—like going back 1000 years in time. But the dish made with that pounded curry was definitely the best, very yummy indeed. I kept eating mine, most people saved it. It turns out we had lunch type period where you ate everything you cooked—by that time 3 dishes. It was pretty cold by then, though, and no warming it up with a microwave. For one thing we made—kind of a hot chile sauce that went over some fried fish—we fried the chopped chili peppers in the wok. The whole class was coughing and hacking, from the pungent and irritating oils released from the peppers.
Somphon had 3 female servants there, women who hopped around and did all the washing up, gave us our little plates filled with ingredients for each dish that we cooked. There were 3 Dutch people, about 7 Brits, 2 other Americans (Jim and Jill from Denver, extending a Hong Kong business trip for her, very friendly). It seems like in general I see more solo women than solo men, or maybe I just notice it more.
I connected with one woman, Michelle, from England. She had taught English for 2 years in some kind of volunteer program in Japan. I was pretty surprised by the volunteer aspect of her work, especially since it was at regular junior high schools. I had thought it was quite easy to get well-paying jobs there teaching English. She also has a degree in Arabic studies. I asked her what she'll try to do back in England (which is where she's headed after her Southeast Asia trip), and she's not too sure. I imagine it's not a very pleasant prospect. She said that a job in a private company would be hard to come by, since they wouldn't want to hire her because Arabs don't take woman seriously. After Thailand she's going to Laos and Vietnam. Kind of made me feel like I want to go to Laos as well. I've been thinking about it a bit, borrowed Michelle's guidebook to read up on it. I think there's plenty to see here, though, and Laos would add a huge extra complication. Hmm... It sure could be interesting, though. Laos is supposedly like Thailand 30 years ago.
I arranged with Michelle to met and go to the night bazaar. We walked over there from the Tha Pae gate area (Chiang Mai is actually a gated city, and the Tha Pae gate is where most of the guesthouses are clustered). It was great fun. I bought a whole lot more than I thought I would, especially considering my normal shopping habits. Two Tin-Tin shirts, some embroidered purses, the game Micado, and two reed-like musical instruments.
All the street vendors were bargaining with solar calculators—you ask how much, they show you a price, then ask you to type your price into the calculator, usually gesturing with their hand downwards. Talked to one very nice guy selling wooden toys, a young guy who was apparently studying computers (he had a Thai computer magazine there that he read when there were no customers) He later showed me a MS DOS book in Thai. Poor guy, it's so out of date. Michelle played that African game with him for a while, the one where you put stones in little depressions on the board, but she never got the hang of it so she didn't buy it.
I went to cooking school for second time today. We made a fish curry, coconut chicken ginger soup, banana pudding, and some other dishes. There was lots of tense frying, worrying whether the oil will splash on me, whether I'm going to burn things—everything has to go so quickly when you fry. Met an American guy taking the class who had sold his business which was producing conventions focused on teenage entertainment. He was a very young man, maybe early 20's. It made me feel kind of patriotic—I though that that was probably something you would encounter by chance only among Americans, such a young guy who had already started up and sold a business. Very cool. Also 2 English women who worked in the Mediterranean and Caribbean on exclusive chartered boats. One of them has been doing it for 6 years, the other for about 3. I enjoyed our lunch breaks very much, I got to eat the delicious foods we made, and talk with all my interesting fellow travelers.
Back at the guesthouse I talked with Laura, a Canadian who's lived in Thailand for a couple months, and just got a job teaching English at a school right around the corner. Good for her. She 29, and worked for a cell phone company in Toronto. Poor woman—she has a serious problem with hemorrhoids. It was so bad she went to the doctor with an English/Thai dictionary, and pointed to the Thai translation of hemorrhoids. It must have been very embarrassing for her—even to me she didn't want to say the word hemorrhoids, and just pointed to it in the dictionary. I also played Mikado with a 17 year old girl who works here. All the girls who work here are super young—there's 3, and they're 15, 16, and 17. They're also incredibly friendly, always smiling. The girl also put on nail polish on Laura, who was somewhat unwilling but gave in. Went to night market for the second time with Michelle.
Neung is a Thai who hangs out at the guesthouse, offering trekking tours. Laura and Neung definitely had something going on. I could tell just by his attitude towards her, which was kind of strange and abrupt. Also they left together, and Laura was sometimes asking where he was. Maybe he was trying to break it off.
Had a wonderful watermelon shake (mmmm!) and baguette at the fancy restaurant (right now to me, that means air-conditioned) down the road. The electricity went off, which must be a pretty common occurrence because they have an emergency lighting system set up.
I decided to go for a Thai massage. It was a ramshackle place, but standard for here. My masseuse spoke about 5 words English (sit up, lay down,etc). Parts of it were very pleasant, but there were definitely some scary parts, where it felt like she could have broken a bone or torn a muscle with one false move (part of it is these forced stretches that they have you do, one of them had me laying back over her knees while she arches her back. Pretty damned uncomfortable. On the whole it was a good experience, but I think I would go for something else next time, like a face massage or foot massage if I were to have it again. But Michelle said that her foot massage was somewhat painful too.
After that I finally went to check out some temples. On the way I had lunch at a small restaurant, rice with chicken and eggplant curry. It's amazing how much water a person can drink here, I down water all day and practically don't have to go to the bathroom. I guess that means I don't drink enough. I've never had to search for a bathroom on the streets. Next to the restaurant there was a very nice building, with a good-looking well dressed guard in front, who's only job was to help people park when coming in (there were about 4 spaces in front) and to block traffic (a scary job) so they could pull out again. I really wanted to know what was in there, but I couldn't figure it out. I saw kids dropped off there—maybe a fancy school or tutoring place?
Went to the first temple and walked around a bit. So far the temples are only mildly interesting. I wish I could read Thai, and figure out what's being said on all the inscriptions. In one place they had tons of picture of what looked like a Buddhist Sunday school type event. At Wat Chedi Luang I saw an orange robed monk talking to 3 Asians, and walked closer to them. Spent the next couple hours hanging out with them. They were Kaori and Naoko (two women from Japan) and Ken (tall very skinny guy from Singapore, works in computers) and Ampon (the Thai Buddhist monk)
These monks must have nothing to do at all. Ampon was studying English and also speaks a couple words of Japanese. It was fun to watch him try to communicate in Japanese with the 2 Japanese women, he would mangle a word, they would look at one another and try to guess what it was that he'd just tried to say in Japanese. Kaori's English wasn't good at all, even though she had just spent a year in Australia studying English.
We talked about all kinds of things, hindered by Ampon's marginal English—but he was great, really, he didn't allow himself to be held back by anything, even if he didn't know how to say it. He tried, I tried to understand, then usually I did understand and said it another way and then he nodded, relieved and sometimes a little embarrassed his English. Great fun, though.
I speak a special kind of English around foreigners who don't speak it very well—it's more pidgin depending on how little they speak English. So for Ampon it was pretty normal, but I skipped complicated words and sentence constructions. I think it's a pretty good skill to have. When Michelle, my friend from England wanted to know if a certain vendor was at the night bazaar only during the night, and not during the day, she started out with a very normal "are you here only during the night, or in the day as well?". It was way too hard for the guy to understand. I translated, said "You here night only?". Crude, but effective, and the vendor understood immediately, and said yes, he was here only for the night market.
Back to the temple—the 3 others hadn't eaten lunch yet, so Ampon took us to a restaurant nearby, a very basic one. There were 4 seats at the table, and it was a bit of an awkward situation. Ampon said "I'll watch here", pointing to another table entirely, so I didn't bring a chair over to our table for him, but Ken didn't understand, and dragged over a chair so that Ampon could sit with us. Ampon dragged the chair about 6 feet away from the table. It looked pretty strange, him sitting so far away from us, yet facing us and watching us. I assume that they can't sit at the same table with women. Ampon and I had cokes. I showed him my palm pilot, and gave him the reversi game to play with. I don't think he got it. I offered to show him another game, but he very politely said no—so politely that I didn't even know he was saying no for a while.
Later we went back to the temple, and walked around it for a bit. I took a picture of everyone, Ampon standing quite a bit away from us. There was a cable thing that allowed you to pull up a small narrow tube of water, and pour it on top of the temple, which apparently has some ceremonial significance. Talking to Ampon—he loves the internet, goes to hollywoodfilms.com, and also does ICQ!! That was kind of a shocker, Ken and I looked at each other and raised our eyebrows. I wonder if he does it in Thai or English. He said he does it for 30 baht a minute, all the places I've seen only have it for 60 b a minute—I wonder if they give monks discounts, or if they're just overcharging the tourists. Ampon said he doesn't like being a monk, that we can do all kinds of things (get to know women, watch movies) but he can't. He can talk to women in the temple, and advise them on their problems, but outside the temple, people shouldn't see him talking to women. He has 4 more years to go, and has been a monk/novice already for 9 years at 22.
Another monk, a friend of Ampon, joined us. We sat in the temple and talked, they showed us how to bow when you walk in a temple (a different posture for women than for men), guessed our ages. I asked the other monk to tell me a little about Buddhism, and we got very confused very fast. Kaori was asked about Shintoism, what it's all about. She basically said that Japanese people don't think about religion very often. There was a lot of laughter trying to figure out what we meant. Ampon had a Thai/English dictionary, too—once he was trying to tell me something about enlightenment, but I couldn't understand the word the way he was saying it, so he pointed it out in the dictionary, and then laughed in embarrassment when I pronounced it the right way. Ampon and Ken made some plans to think about meeting tomorrow to go to another temple and a museum—Ampon said that going to a temple or museum was okay, but a market or something wouldn't be, because more people would see him, it would be bad, etc.
The 3 Asians and I left, and went to another temple—not interesting either. We did see some schoolboys playing a game that was like volleyball, but played with the feet and with a rattan ball, like hackey sack. They also bounced the rattan ball off their head. Ken said it was very popular in Singapore as well.
Talking with Ampon was a very interesting experience. I was a little worried when we walked by a craftsman at the temple, cutting pictures out of rawhide, because he chatted with him and I was thinking that he was going to press us to buy something, but he didn't at all. I'm blown away by how friendly the Thais are. They're a lot friendlier in the street, smiling and nodding, than the Westerners that you encounter. The readiness to help you is a thrilling feeling. When I went to get a Thai massage, the woman almost leaped over the desk in her eagerness to get me back there.
From the temple I walked to the Wararot market. I ended up with some bad food purchases—at the quick shop next to the gas station, I bought something that looked like chips, but they were flavored with fish paste. Maybe edible for some people, but not for me. Then I bought some fruits at the market—they had a thick leathery skin, big seed inside, the whole thing the size of a large grape. not much fruit, though.. I paid 10 baht for about 15 of them, but it was pretty messy and uncomfortable to eat along the way. My third bad food experience was when I finally got the gumption to try some of the small barbecued skewers of meat on the street. I pointed to one, they said it was chicken. Great, I thought. I bought it (5 baht) but it turned out to be the rear ends of chickens, like I used to feed my cat. Yech. Plus they were grilling some intestines as well.
When I was trying to cross the road from the market to this little park next to the river, a Thai girl, maybe 15 or so, was also crossing the road. I communicated with her through grimaces that the roads are difficult to cross here, and she helped me across—holding my elbow. It was almost embarrassing but touching and sweet.
I've got a rash on my lower right leg, maybe prickly heat? I've also gotten that when hiking, only where my hiking socks are.
Sitting at the JJ Bakery, a western style place at the Tha Pae gate. My grand plans about learning all kinds of Thai phrases have not been carried out as planned, it's so easy to get by with English here. The waitress is so sweet, a big smile every time she comes by. Of course almost everyone in Thailand is. It's funny, the guy Joe that owns the guesthouse, who lived in England 12 years and married to an English woman—he's not that friendly in that he doesn't smile as much, which makes a huge difference in my perception of people.
I ended up going on a sightseeing tour in the area. Very touristy, but it turned out great. Included an elephant ride, bamboo raft trip, a trip to a waterfall, and a visit to two hill tribe villages. Turns out that everyone on the bus except me and the tour guides were young Japanese. Two were Japanese women teaching Japanese to Thais—one in Bangkok, the other in Chiang Mai. All the Japanese were much friendlier than I thought they would be—I had thought they were very clannish. A couple of them actually started conversations with me. My guess is that it had to do with the fact that they could see the other Japanese talking with me, and understanding me, because I was speaking my very best slow pidgin English. Slow, simple. The Japanese guy that I was on the elephant with even commented on how well he understood me. It's no wonder—I was giving about a half second pause between simple words, as though I were speaking to a speech recognition program. He was a law student, looked very young, maybe 20. There was a Japanese couple—or I assumed it was a couple, but it turns out that they were brother and sister. They were both incredibly good-looking. The guy was very tall for a Japanese, but only a touch taller than me, and actually had some muscles. And absolutely the face of a god.
The drive to get to the various places we went to was very interesting, my first time in the Thai countryside. For the first time, I saw—drum roll please—rice paddies! It was a first for me. Lots of poor schmucks working in the hot sun, digging, hoeing. I did see one rice harvesting machine, too. Lots of temples, a great mix of housing, nice ones, little bamboo huts. We got to the first activity, which was the elephant camp. The elephants have these hard metal frames attached to them, hard wooden seat and a bit of a railing, which we sat on. It was pretty uncomfortable, especially going downhill—you really had to hold on, otherwise you'd fall down. We were on the elephant about an hour. It sprayed dirt on us a couple times, pooped, and peed what seemed like a whole river. The elephant ahead of us—we could see it farting a couple times, the wrinkled skin around its anus flapping. It sounded like bubbles released from water. The motion of the elephant's walk was very irregular—a very slow roll.. I felt the muscles moving under my feet.
We had a trainer sitting on the neck of the animal the first part of the ride. He got off the neck, and motioned for one of us to get on (that took a while to figure out). He knew a couple words—hello to get our attention, and then something which I later figured was "on neck", meaning to get on the neck. The elephant kept stopping to eat bamboo, and the trainer would pull it on a cord attached to a piercing in the ear.
After the elephant camp we walked to a hmong/meo village. There were about 4 van-fulls of us together at that point, maybe more, maybe 6. Probably about 50 people descending on this "village". They must have had some arrangement about not begging, because nobody did. But one little kid that a woman came up to, I did hear him say "baht", asking for money. There was a little stand where you could shoot a crude crossbow, some crafts, a guy was selling drinks which people bought. A couple dirty kids were hanging around. It was a total voyeuristic experience, but I wasn't disappointed since I didn't expect anything different. I was kind of surprised they didn't pay them to wear some traditional costumes. The tour guide asked us to all gather around, and gave us a little lecture on the tribe. It was incredibly hard to understand his English, and I'd say I understood maybe half.
I showed some kids how to juggle—they were interested, and played around with some rocks when I left. To get back to the vans (all the tourists walked together in a group) we walked down a hill, pretty dicey with very slick mud. The whole way down an American woman I met, from San Francisco told me about a 3 day trek that she'd been on, which she said she wouldn't go on again. The rafting was very dangerous, a tourist had died on the river a few months ago. She and the other people on her trip fell out all the time. The ones that didn't have sandals were barefoot, and when they fell off the raft and had to run and try to catch up with it again, their feet got all cut up by the rocks and plants. She did say she got a massage every night, and that the food was good.
The insect life that we saw on this tour was totally amazing. I saw a huge black beetle with orange spots and an orange antennae, and something that looked like a neon blue dragonfly but flew like a butterfly—wow! And assorted other very interesting bugs, all large, all brightly colored.
Lunch was at a roadside stand, all prearranged, we served ourselves from large platters. A noodle dish and a rice dish, and fruit. The Japanese were so polite in eating—they did a little bow to each other and said something, which I assumed was some kind of blessing or polite civility before they ate. I felt a little boorish.
After that another village, this one not quite so much set up for tourists (i.e., they didn't have a little shop that sold soda and snacks). The houses built on stilts with pigs tied below. A woman was weaving slowly, painfully slowly. The cloths that they had for sale—they must have taken months. She did seem a touch uncoordinated with the device, like maybe she only did it when tourists were around. After that we went to a waterfall, which was pretty bad—a dinky little dirty stream, down a very slippery muddy slope, with a very small area to stand in at the bottom, and about 40 people there. A total joke, there's much nicer waterfalls in the Cascades. I actually got a picture of all the people because I thought that was more interesting than the waterfall. English is definitely the lingua franca, but there were many Japanese, and lots of the tourist people know a few words of Japanese. There was a big Israeli group as well. A guy tried to sell us the photos that he'd taken of us on the elephants, but he wanted 100 baht—a little too much for me. I bet I could have bargained with him, since the photos would have been useless to him if I refused them, but I didn't.
Then to the rafting trip. The people with shoes were told to take them off, although I would rather have just gotten wet shoes. Luckily I had sandals on. They were long bamboo rafts, with the guide at the front, and a man at the back (a tourist) who would do some poling as well. There were 2 Korean girls sitting on the low bench—actually just a piece of bamboo. I was behind them basically sitting in the water. One of the Korean girls was just gorgeous. She was dressed from head to toe—no exaggeration, cap, shirt, pants, shoes, probably socks too—in Nike clothing, which I thought was totally overdone, but it turns out that she worked at Nike in Korea, and so probably got free clothes. I'll bet she was a model for Nike. When we stopped once to go over some rapids—we got off the rafts, the guides went alone—she offered persistently to have me sit on the bench, and I accepted. Very nice of her.
The guy in the back, poling whenever the guide told him to, was Japanese. The guide was always smiling, and tried to engage us a little, said "you from where?" When we went by Thais eating along the riverside (we were along a road the whole time) they would splash us in jest. They were always sitting on these little platforms with roofs. With a lot of feet showing. I'm beginning to think that the recommendation I read in the guidebook, about never showing the soles of your feet to anyone, is bunk. I've seen lots of people doing it who weren't looked at oddly by others. One of the other things mentioned by guidebooks, about lowering your head when walking in a temple where there's Buddha statues around, so that your head is not higher than the statue's head, seems to be true, at least partially. Lots of women that I've seen in temples crouch over a bit when they walk—not all the time, though, it's seems it's more of a symbolic gesture.
After I got home I hung out with the English/Thai daughter of the house some. She and I and the very friendly 15 year old girl (Bai) went to the local bookstore together. It was a 3 story place, lots of stationary, art supplies, books—the first story was all books, and I do believe that about half of them were on learning English. Well, I'm exaggerating a little, but not very much—there were rows and rows of shelves of English language instruction—more by far than any other subject area. They hung out for a very long time perusing the choices in tiny little address books with cute covers, and erasers molded in cartoon shapes—all very inexpensive. I finally left them there.
Back at the guesthouse, the owner of the place (Joe) asked if I wanted to go to the driving range. (I'd told him previously I'm interested in learning golf). Off we went, to meet a Thai golf pro there who was a good friend of Joe's. I hit about 100 balls, constantly being instructed by the golf pro. I'm sure he was a great golfer, but for learning the game, I think it's better to have a native English speaker. Often times the things that need to be said, like how to hold the club, how to position yourself, get intricate, and they surpassed the English knowledge of the golf pro. It was 500 baht pro lesson and Joe paid for me, then I paid him back but I didn't quite have enough—I had 480. He protested but accepted. It was an awkward moment.
Back at the guesthouse I sat and chatted with a Hawaiian guy here studying Thai massage. He said he'd had 5 Thai massages, and although most of them were good, after one of them he experienced major back trouble because of a certain maneuver that the masseuse did. He didn't seem overly concerned about it, but it completely justified my fears about those types of maneuvers. He was full of talk about body energy, about how he could diagnose people's ailments by touching them, etc. Yech. It was quite interesting to talk to him though. We got into a bit of a debate about whether organic food is really better for you, he of course took the position that it was.
Uneventful day. I relaxed at the JJ Bakery, reading the Fri/Sat Wall Street Journal (Asian edition), had a banana milk shake with my baguette. At an internet cafe (they're all around this part of town) I checked email, looked at some news sites. Then lunch at the wonderful and cheap place I discovered right across from the guesthouse. No name, and intimidating to walk into because they have this old faded menu up, doesn't look like they keep the place up properly, but it's very good, very inexpensive, and friendly as well. Can't be beat. I had the sweet green curry with chicken, and the lime water (just lime juice in crushed ice, with sugar. When adding sugar to drinks here they add some kind of sugar syrup instead of granulated sugar. Tastes better than lemonade.
A woman came by the guesthouse in the afternoon selling all kinds of handmade snacks from two baskets hung on a pole she carries on her shoulder. I bought a drinking coconut, and also sticky rice cooked in a bamboo container, kind of like a pipe. It's steamed right in the bamboo container with coconut and some kind of sweet beans, so it should be clean enough. You break it apart by hitting the bamboo against a tree or a rock and peeling it back, exposing a core of cooked rice. Not bad, but I probably won't try it again. I took a walk down the road to a travel agent, where I asked about getting to Laos. To be 100% honest, before coming here I was kind of hazy about Laos even being a country, much less having a capital of Vientiane—I think I would have guessed that it was a province of another country. But there you have it—now I'm thinking of going there.
I went to a movie in the evening with Bai, the 15 year old girl who's here all day, supposedly working but there's so little to do that she basically sits all day—what torture that would be for me! She doesn't seem to mind it a bit, though. She's so sweet and affectionate, she holds my hand when we walk somewhere (strange in the states, but many Thai women and girls do that here) and she actually fed me a potato chip by putting it in my mouth! That's something I've never experienced from a woman.
Laura came along as well. It turned out the movie didn't start at 8, but at 9. Laura raised her eyebrows at Bai, who I think was supposed to have checked. So we had lots of extra time to walk around a modern mall, called "Central". They had all kinds of western fast food places, like Burger King, Baskin Robbins, Swansons. They weren't any cheaper than in the US, though. Plus, at the Baskin Robbins where we had an ice cream, they put only a very small scoop of ice cream on the cone. Maybe that's why Thai people are so slim! There were crowds of people milling around the mall—come to think of it, almost all of them were young people. There seems to be a lot fewer old people around in Thailand, it's a much younger country in general. So friendly! Everyone I look at nods and smiles at me. Gives me lots of warm fuzzies.
There were some shoot 'em up type video games on the 3rd floor (of 4, the theater was on the 4th floor) where one kid would be playing, with an audience of 7 to 10. They also had Boots, the British drugstore chain, with all kinds of things you don't see in the US (like Tylenol in flat blister packs, not in bottles, and funky things to rub on yourself (similar to tiger balm) but by and large lots of items you find in the US as well. There was also an open air market for used goods outside the modern mall that we walked around in for a while. We were the only foreigners there, I think. Used motorcycles and motor scooters, clothing, shoes, handbags, and other items were for sale. Lots of kids clothing and toys, with what looked like counterfeit Disney gear. There were many, many people browsing about, but I didn't see a tremendous amount of buying going on, though. One stand had only Liverpool soccer memorabilia—a strange choice. All the used shoes and other things were carefully cleaned and polished, and arranged neatly in rows.
The movie we saw was The Sixth Sense. It was the second time for me, but I didn't mind since I really wanted to know how well they followed through in the beginning of the movie with the plot twist that's introduced in the end. (Quite well, it turns out). We had to stand up for a long time for a photo retrospective of the king's life before the movie began—no laughing or shuffling at all during that time, either. Their royalty is such a big deal to them here—you see pictures everywhere of the king in his military uniform, with glasses on, looking kind of cross-eyed and with his ears sticking out.
On the plane back to Bangkok now. There's about 50 % foreigners on it. People say Bangkok isn't as friendly as Chiang Mai. Too bad, because that's something I really relished.
I've seen a few mixed couples here made up of older western men with girls that look 15-17, or boys too around that age as well. Not a tremendous amount of prostitution evident, though. Supposedly it's concentrated on the beaches. Laura said that consorting with prostitutes may actually be the one thing that Thais here pay more for than Westerners. She's talked to some tall good-looking western men who took up with prostitutes—for free, just paying for dinner and entertainment expenses—the Thai women did it hoping to become their girlfriends, perhaps wives, and move out of Thailand. The Thai men always had to pay, though
I've been very happy here in Chiang Mai-except maybe a bit lonely one of the first days here. I think it's directly related to the fact that people are so very friendly, good food was so cheap, and I was able to do things with people like the tour, the cooking class, the movie. Being with people is crucial to my happiness. And I'm leaving now, just when I'm doing so well...
But on to new adventures. Thailand is so easy to travel in! I bought a $42 ticket at the airport, and now I'm on the next flight out.
At this point I'm quite happy to be traveling alone. I wouldn't be nearly as free with a companion. And I'm getting enough companionship just from chance meetings with Thais or fellow travelers.
Got into Bangkok, and took airport bus to the hotel. I had a difficult time actually finding the guesthouse I was to stay at (Sak Guest House), and it would have been completely impossible without the business card with a map printed on it that Judy gave me. I asked about 3 or 4 cops, they would each point me a little further in the right direction. There's lots of little alleys in Bangkok called sois, once I got in there (usually there were no cars in the sois, but motorbikes did come through) I would show the card to people I saw and they pointed me further.
The Sak Guest House itself is disappointing, except for the fact that the owners (an elderly couple)are so friendly . It's a dive, with nice teak floors but the bathroom is on first floor and I'm on the second, plus when I took a shower I saw 2 inch long cockroaches scurrying away when I first flicked on the lights. These little alleyways are something else. In Chaing Mai they were usually big enough for a car, but here they're almost too small for even a motorcycle, and yet they'll still have little mini shops and restaurants selling snacks and meals inside them. The little restaurant a few steps away from here (my landlady took me by the hand and walked me there, like I said, very friendly) that I ate at is totally on the street. A part of the street has been roofed over and that's the restaurant. People drive through it on motorbikes all the time.
I walked around and finally found the Kao San Road area. Kao San Road is the center of the world for young travelers in Bangkok. I've never seen such a concentration of young, hip backpackers on a tight budget anywhere in the world! The main attraction of the place, aside from hanging out with other travelers, is the cheap (and you get what you pay for) lodgings, vendors, and food. I didn't find it particularly appealing at all. The Thais there weren't very friendly, probably understandable considering the number of drunken rowdy young travelers they deal with. It's almost like a pedestrian zone, few cars drive down it, and vendors selling all kinds of handicrafts, clothes, jewelry, and food pack the sidewalk very closely. There's also a couple stands that sell International Student ID cards and Press cards for only 80 baht—about 2 dollars. I could have regained my student status in about 20 minutes, for 80 baht and a photo.
I miss Chiang Mai! It also feels quite a bit hotter here than in Chiang Mai.
I wanna go home.
Another hot and hellish day in Bangkok. did some chores in the morning—post office for stamps, bought some toilet paper, as my guesthouse isn't supplied with them. I've checked out other guest houses, and so far haven't found anything better. When I come back to Bangkok, I'm definitely staying at a nicer place, no more guest houses for me. Air conditioning, here I come. I looked at 3 other guesthouses, and they're even worse than the one I'm in now—they don't even have windows, and feel like complete little jail cells. At one of them you could even lock them closed from the outside with padlocks. Awful.
Later I took the river bus down the Grand Palace area. Even just two steps from the place where you buy the river bus tickets for 4 baht, people are trying to con you into taking a private taxi for hundreds of baht. They even say "Ticket, Madame, Ticket", trying to get you to think that you've passed the official ticket vendor, and should have a ticket by now. Damn, is everything hot and dirty here. I'm so hot during the day sometimes that my every thought seems to revolve around how hot I am. Normally I'm not that sensitive to heat, being from North Carolina, but the stifling heat here really got to me. The river bus was quite good, got a really nice breeze on the water. Ahhh. It felt deliciously cool. The water is very muddy brown and has huge rafts of floating plants on it, moving pretty quickly with the current.
I got off at the Wat Phra Paew and Grand Palace stop, even though I meant to get off one after that, but all the tourists were getting off there, so I figured that was a good place to get off as well. I saw the above, plus Wat Pho, which as the largest reclining Buddha (In Thailand, or the world? I can't remember) but my appreciation level for all of these things was hitting new lows with the heat, the sweltering stifling heat plus the fumes from the traffic. Definitely not my favorite city. The Grand Palace area had tons and tons of tourists, the Wat Pho area much less so. My landlady, when she heard I was going there, pointed to my knee length shorts and said "no good", shaking her hand and her head emphatically. It's one of the few places in Thailand, apparently, where women need to wear either pants or ankle length skirts. I indicated I didn't have anything longer, and she loaned me a long skirt of hers. So I wandered around there with the long skirt—I just had it in my bag at first, but the guy did tell me that my shorts were too short., so I put the skirt on. Of course it was even hotter with the skirt on. I had to use my fanny belt to hold up the skirt, because although it did have elastic in it, it was very weak and always slid down.
Yep, my appreciation for temples and palaces hit an all-time low today.
I left this area via a pier called Tha Tien. To get there I went by a market where they sold nothing but dried fish, dried octopus (spread out in flat little sheets), and dried shrimp. Not the best smells in the world, especially in this heat.
Waiting for the river bus back, I started talking with a German guy by the name of Frank, who works for Siemens. He's traveling alone as well. We ended up talking about 2 hours over lunch—first I took him by the first place I ate at here in Bangkok, just a few feet away from the guesthouse, but he didn't want to eat there because he doesn't eat at the street restaurants. Which may be a wise thing to do, since I've had diarrhea twice so far, and just now coming back to the hotel was a total nightmare, super hot and sweaty, and I really needed to run to the toilet at the guesthouse. I would have run, too, if I weren't afraid of what all the jolting would have done to my sphincter muscles.
I went ahead and bought my ticket for Vientiane, Laos today. I love the way this works here—buy today, fly tomorrow.