Well, the rainy season has officially started, yeah!
While my pasty white skin will still require sunscreen and the temperature will not drop too much, after two years in Hawaii and multiple weeks of strait sun in Thailand I am looking forward to some weather diversity. Now I just need to not get caught in the sudden down pours.
Went into town today to meet up with some Thai friends I made while travelling. Because I live a little ways outside the city the transportation is actually really pretty expensive. Drivers know you have few options and will go on and on about how far away your destination is. In reality it is only three miles or so. After getting into town, there was some confusion about when I would be meeting my friends, but at least I got to hang out in a fancy hotel for an hour or so.
After that we spent the afternoon and early evening getting some food, looking around the night market, and generally hanging out. Speaking Thai all day is a little hard on my brain, but it was really fun and I can’t wait to meet up with my friends again. They even got me a little gift. Awesome!
Welcome new Students! At first I thought this was a billboard advertising cigarettes. But no, it is my official welcome to campus. I went and took my placement test and according to my teacher I can read and write at a very advanced level, but have a fair way to go on my speaking. We will work on it in class. Unfortunately, there is one problem. There might not be a class. We need six people and myself included we only have four. They think they could bend the rules if we get to five. We will know by the end of the week. In the meantime, I guess I better just keep eating.
Moved into my apartment today! I am officially living in Thailand now. Unfortunately my apartment came furnished, but with none of the personal utilities such as sheets, towels, etc… So, I walked down to a giant supermarket/outlet store called Big C. I bought some cool stuff to get ready for the school term and make the apartment livable. Also, apparently bed sheets in Thailand are really expensive.
I bought some of the cheaper ones and they were still comparable with, if not higher than what you would pay in the US. I guess the idea is that they are pretty nice and I should hang on to them for life. I also bought a cup that reminds me of Laurel. Not necessarily in appearance, but in loving willingness to provide me with tea.
I also now find myself with a lot of time on my hands. I live a few miles from the city center and there are no tourist sites o places to go out here. There are about ten family restaurants that I think I will become very familiar with. I had some of their food today and it was really good and cheap. Also, I think the portions were bigger than in the tourist areas which seems strange to me, but I enjoyed it anyway.
Today was great. It was sort of my last day as a pure tourist before I have to move into my apartment and start thinking more about school, and books, and learning, and stuff. I started the day right with a huge plate of self-proclaimed “sour sausage” scrambled with eggs and tomatoes. It was pretty delicious. I only got a few bites that were genuinely sour.
The big thing today I guess was that I worked up the courage to go and get a Thai massage. Not only have I never gotten a massage in Thailand, I have never had a professional message at all. And before you worry I steered clear of any “massage” places. There is a huge spectrum here that ranges between massage parlors that advertise with scantily clad women at the tinted doors to old blind men who perform massage inside Buddhist temple compounds. In my case, I went to a fairly middle ground. It was pretty nice really. The woman who massaged me was in her late fifties, yet stronger than I am. They had me put on traditional thin Thai pants and shirt as the woman got ready to do her thing. Thai massage is a little different from the spa type American thing (at least the one I imagine and have seen pictures of).
Here they are really going after your tension and problems with gusto. I was literally folded into a number of possess to induce stretching, popping, and cracking. A few times I giggled thinking about how the woman could, if she were so inclined, potentially snap, crackle, and pop me to death. While there are no pictures of this event, these pictures from the door are actuate.
After the massage, the women realized I could speak Thai and this turned into about an hour-long Q and A session. It was pretty fun, and overall, a great day.
Managed to sleep in late today until the crack of 7:30. The first half of the day was pretty lazy answering e-mails, getting some books, and getting prepped up for school to start.
The real highlight was going to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Right around sun down I headed over to this giant and expansive bazaar where shop owners line the streets in booths and whole blocks are sectioned of for food venders and street hawkers. It is really pretty amazing.
This area of Thailand was once a stop on the southern arm of the Silk Road and it shows in this giant marketplace.
Although one might be able to find anything imaginable at this market, the majority of items are clothing and handicrafts made locally and in the surrounding areas. I bought two shirts, but I have to take one back and swap the size.
Also the food was pretty good. In particular there is a special Halal Street that caters to the many Muslim residents of the city. These families have origins in southern China, Burma, and Malaysia and this incredible diversity is expressed in the many interesting and exciting food options.
Well, I found an apartment and visited Payap University today. This is where I will be spending the next bit of time studying Thai. Actually, it looks like a really nice little place. It is a small private Christian liberal arts school with a lot of greenery and waterways. The only major drawback is that the University is a few miles outside of the main town area and there is very little to do there at night and on the weekends. The apartment that I found is near the university, has air conditioning and its own bathroom, and even has air conditioning. Also, because the housing market is flooded here, especially in the summer, the rent is only about 85 dollars a month. I can’t complain about that.
After securing my apartment, I went back to my hotel in town where I will be staying for the next couple of days before I move into my new place. I then spent the afternoon and early evening walking around the old city looking at wats and eating food. I ate a bowl of meaty noodles with broth so thick it was actually opaque. I think tomorrow I might go to one of the many Thai massage parlors and see how that is. My friend Trude goes all the time and she
described it to me as feeling like doing yoga, only someone else does all the work for you. I guess we will see.
Today I mostly spend taking it easy and recovering from my overnight train ride on which I did not sleep to well. A hint to my German travelers out there, if everyone else is sleeping don’t read mumble to yourself and pop open a bag of crunchy chips. It keeps others awake. I am staying in the old walled city in the center of Chiang Mai and there is plenty to do and see. I walked around the old district and found a few really beautiful temples to wander in. I also saw the central temple in the district which has both new and old wats dating back to the founding of the city.
But mostly what I really did was ate a lot. Pork with pork noodles, spicy minced meat with egg and basil, fatty meat on stick, bitter matcha tea, roti with thin egg and condensed milk, and a delicious falafel. Of course this was not all at one sitting. It took me a few hours.
Taking the train in Thailand is always great. Sure it is a little bumpy and sometimes you pay for non-existent air-conditioning, but overall you get a chance to sit back, relax, and see some of the scenery on your way.
Today I took the train to Lopburi, a small town that was at one time a major military and political center. There are interesting ruins of old temple complexes and city walls which still show the size and shape of the previous city.
While looking around some of the ruins I ran into three Thai university students who were themselves visiting Lopburi. Despite being in their mid-twenties, these women had not really left Bangkok all and had, like myself never been to Lopburi. We decided to walk around and take in the sites together. This turned into an excellent afternoon and evening as these intelligent, beautiful, and funny women both served as impromptu tour guides, and also supplied endless conversation topics in both Thai and English.
Oh did I mention this town is run by monkeys. That is right, because one of the ancient temples is dedicated to the monkey god, or at least monkey helper, the locals encouraged monkeys to hang out in the past. Now, however, the monkeys have become somewhat of a pest problem that people feel they can’t really get rid of. One of the women I was travelling with had her bag snatched by the monkeys because it had food in it. I guess this happens in Lopburi all the time. At one of the temples, they even gave us sticks to beat the monkeys if they got to aggressive with us.
For my part I like the monkeys. I know you are not supposed to play with them, but I reached out to one. Things went downhill pretty quickly.
Just a short one today because I have to get up early and take the morning train. Not to work the nine-to-five, but to ride up to Lopburi where monkeys rule the earth.
I got up early in hopes of visiting Dursit Park and the old European style Royal Palace. Unfortunately, as I found out upon arrival, this giant complex is always closed on Mondays. Not to be deterred, I managed to at least visit the Wat Benchamabophit which is a sort of “modern” European inspired wat that mixed in French marble floors, stain glass windows, and other European architectural nuance into its design.
In the afternoon and evening I met with my Trude and my wise, benevolent, and beloved teacher ajarn Janpanit who treated us to a delicious dinner of fish and other goodies. It was very delicious. Then just a quick Skytrain and taxi home.
Today, I decided it would be a good idea to go and check out Chatuchak Market. This giant outdoor market that many regard as one of the biggest in the world is composed of 26 overlapping sections that crisscross back and forth to create a giant crescent-shaped mall of sorts. Each individual lane maybe as long as a mile! Most of the time it is hard to remember that you are outside as partial roves and a million products surround you at all times. I bought a new pair of pants and a shirt, but refrained from purchasing furniture, pets, giant statues, or any of the other million things on sale.
While in this giant market, and throughout the day, I really pushed my luck with food-borne illness. All the pamphlets and medical advice will tell you that you should avoid food stalls because they are less hygienic, but that is no way to live. You will miss out on so much fun and flavor. In the heart of the market I found a curry shop. My favorite trick is that when you order curry and rice, you can add a scoop of another curry for only a few baht. This particular stand was great. However, my luck quickly changed when I was handed a free sample of “pink drink” by marketers sampling a new dried vitamin powder. I took a few sips and it tasted a little funny, then I looked over to see that they were filling their main water jug with tap water from a hose. There comes a time in every man’s life when he realizes that dirty, metallic taste in his water maybe about to cause serious gastronomical distress. So naturally I ditched the pink drink and strait away picked up a savory lemonade. After all, it is never too early to replenish electrolytes should the worst happen. I decided I would take it easy on my stomach after that, but my love for street foods beat out over m reason and limited knowledge of microbiology. Just around the corner I found a mom selling a sort of semi-raw egg and coconut custard in pastry shells. It was delicious. I figured I would was that down with a banana slow-smoked into a sort of pudding and some hand squeezed orange juice. So far my strong constitution has fended of any unwanted microbes, but we will have to wait and see what tomorrow brings.
Also, to round the day out I took the obligatory walk down Khao San road, a sort of landing strip for backpackers, drunk Europeans, and entrepreneurial Thai venders. It was pretty much the same as before, but I first hotel I ever stayed in Thailand, almost ten years ago now, has been transformed by a new Indian family that took ownership last year. Thus the new Ganesh statue in their lobby.