Monthly Archives: June 2010
Very random. If you don’t feel like following me through the trees jumping from limb to limb, catch me next time.
Thai Language: If I say it is different, will you say “duh”?
I know there are many languages where intonation is so important that it changes the entire meaning of words. Thai is one of those.
The intonation is lyrical. A word may go sianwhEEEExiao, or might go sianwhUMPxia. Big difference right? Well the fist means “I am happy in Chiang Mai” and the other means “I just arrived from planet x, take to your leader.”
Thai Money: It is the Baht. Roughly 32.5 of them buys a dollar. They have notes in 20, 50, 100 500 and 1000 denominations. Coins in 10, 5 and 1. 20 Baht will get you across town in a Sung Tawl (sp?). More on that later. Consequently you always want to carry twenties. They are dollar green. It takes a day or two to not freak about spending a 20 greenback. The ten coin is only useful as tips, and half a fare on the Sung Tawl. The other coins you put in the charity boxes at every checkout stand. Everyone does. They are not worth carrying around. But the charity boxes are full of them!
Getting Around Town: It really is not that big of a town, and when you eliminate the areas Farongs have no need to go to, you have reduced Chiang Mai to a few small neighborhoods. These are the neighborhoods with the bookstores, the restaurants and of course the Starbucks, all 7 of the things. The only franchise bigger than Starbucks here is “Sembleven” (7/11). In these neighborhoods, and I think elsewhere in town, you are never out of site of a 7/11.
To get around in town you can walk. But seriously folks. I take Sung Tawl’s all the time. For those of you in Bocas, it is exactly like the Bocas PD Paddy Wagon. Two benches face each other in a covered back of a pickup truck. You stand on the curb (if there IS a curb) and wave a green 20 in front of the driver like a red cape. He will pull over, you tell him where you want to go (better pronounce it right or you might be telling HIM to go somewhere). If there is no one else in back, no problem, he sets off. If he has customers already he might be going in a different direction and he will tell you no. Thats cool, one comes along every fifteen seconds. You give them a landmark, like Tha Pea gate. He drops you conveniently close and you walk from there.
The other common way to get around is the TookTook. A three wheeler with a bench on the back. Again, covered from rain and sun. These guys charge more but take you right to where you are going, like back to my hotel. They are more fun to ride in than the Sung Tawl, like a C ticket at Disneyland instead of a B ticket. (If you get that you are old)
The locals get around mostly on scooters. Small Hondas. Everyone over 12 seems to have one. I think they get them when they get their first cell phone. The scooters are designed to be two seaters, they often carry three. Sometimes you will see Papa Thai, Mama Thai, two baby Thais and a chicken all on one. Thanks to Buhda, they use mufflers, so the streets are quiet. But that also means you really must be careful before you step out onto the street. Two things to get your mind wrapped around is that first, pedestrians have no right-of-way, and secondly, Thais drive on the wrong side of the road. That second one still bugs me. It would take a long time riding around in tooktooks before I drove here, or I know I would cause a head-on. Meanwhile, I still remember to look both ways, but the other way first.
Tourists and Expats: Tourism here is way down. The expats all talk about it and say this is as low as they have seen it in however many years they have lived here. Most are quick to blame the recent incidents of the oppressed taking it to the streets. No, that is the way yours truly puts it. They will call it political unrest. or “that shit that went down in Bangkok” .
In comparison, I hear from my friends in Bocas that tourism is really low there this year as well. The last political unrest in Bocas was when the mayor closed the bars for easter.
Also, I do not want to think of myself as “One of the few, the brave, the stupid”. So I will just assume that traveler types have already gone everywhere they want to go. That is the most positive thought I can have about it. I think the Buhdism is getting to me. Smiling in the land of smiles is easy to do.
Anyway, back to the last limb…tourism. I chose to be here now, (Oh Oh, now the buhdism is slipping into quotes from Baba Ram Dass) and am lucky enough to be here. Restaurants are not crowded, tourist traps like the Tiger Kingdom are quiet and you get more personal attention. It is a great time to be here now.
Expats seem to have it awfully good here. One of them quoted “some magazine” that rated Chiang Mai the second best city in the world to retire in. Be here now, but be here for the rest of my life? Hmmm. I have been here three weeks and felt a breeze maybe three times. After Bocas and the Arabian Gulf, I have grown used to air that is moving. Not air just hanging there, heavy with the threat of rain, but no rain. The temps range from 80 to 90 mostly. The sun here enters the moist atmosphere and sort of boils it. I guess that is called humidity. But really, you have read this far so I wouldn’t say something lame like “it is humid”.
Beyond the weather…little or no crime. Or so I hear. Most people here are too busy trying to smile at you to steal from you.
Traffic is not bad. Mostly because of all the scooters and people movers. Also, people walk here, they walk a lot. The town is laid out in your classic E-W/ N-S grid with mostly straight streets. Traffic flows pretty well, albeit in the wrong direction.
Food. Name what you want. Mexican, Southern, great burgers, Indian, Japanese, French, Italian and oh yeah, Thai. You can get off the Sung Tawl in one of two neighborhoods and be close to any type of restaurant. However, most of them are members of Meals on Wheels. This is not for shut-ins, anyone can have an Italian meal (no not a Pizza, a meal) delivered to their hotel or home. They charge 50 baht to bring it. That is $1.50. Kick back and order some fettucine. I think I have it best. Right across the street is a comfortable garden restaurant owned and run by a guy who was a pastry chef in New Orleans, and a chef/butler to a rich guy in Denver. The man can cook.
Water. Potable. Other water? Well there is a river and a moat. Yeah, a mote. This was a walled fortress for something 8 thousand years, well quite a while anyway. (I wonder what tourism was like then!) Some of the wall still exists and some has been rebuilt. But no beach. You can visit waterfalls with pools, I have not done it yet, but long-time expats say there are nice spots.
This will be the last post of the week. I am in a Thai cooking class! I’m in class all day and so full of glass noodles afterwards that I just nap. I’ll write more at the end!
Thanks for reading. Comments?
OK, it has been a few days since I posted. Maybe because I could refer to the time as dazes instead of days.
Chiang Mai is both a place to stay really busy, and a place to chill and read books. Either way it is a very comfortable and hospitable city. The people are so friendly one begins to wonder if it is all phony. I mean how many times can you get greeted with a smile and a peaceful hand gesture before you start to think it is a plot to make you give up your western vibe and just ooze into this culture with a simplistic smile on your face. I mean take a look at the guy in this picture. We all know him from home, wherever home may be, but his time in Chiang Mai has changed him.
I seriously doubt this is what Ray Croc had in mind!
As I have explained to you intrepid readers, I came here for dental work. I found a world class dentist (UCLA trained) with very modern equipment. He has finished the first phase of the work, but now I have to wait 3 months for my mouth to heel. This was not in my plans. It means I have to come back to CM in November. Which is just fine. The second phase will be followed by a third in February. I should get some frequent flyer miles out of this as well as a new mouth. All this compliments of my wonderful wife. As a friend of mine told me, I married well.
So no more time in the dentist chair. What to do? There are a half dozen excellent used paper back bookstores in town, but heck, I can read anywhere. So I decided to start playing tourist. After all, I am a tourist. I hate to call myself one, but that is what I is. So be one.
One of the “tours” a person can take here, one of many, is to go see the handicraft factories. They are just outside of CM proper. Maybe someday I will find a way to go into the hills and really see the indigenous making crap for us tourists to buy. But for now I went on a tour where they have brought in closer to town factories that make everything from Teak furniture, to leather coats, to lacquer knick knacks, umbrellas and my favorite, the silk farm.
I have become enamored with silk. I always liked it as a fabric, and here it is cheaper than polyester in Pittsburgh. I learned a thing or two about it. Did you know one cocoon gives 500 meters of silk thread? I played around with the silk as it came out of the cocoon, and I was surprised at how strong it is. Here are few shots of the worms and their product.
I had seen a few ads for the gem factory. This place is huge. They have workers making jewelry from jade, gold and silver. How huge is it? The showroom floor was half the size of a US Football field, no kidding. It had some extremely expensive items. I looked at a string of pearls for Mary Ann, and almost gagged at the price tag. They were cultured fresh water pearls, not as nice as the natural pearls from the Arabian Gulf, so of course I passed. As an aside here, tourism is really slow right now. So I had my own sales person who followed me around and laughed at my reaction to the prices. But it was an excellent experience that started at the front door with this reception committee.
I then moved onto the umbrella factory. Hand crafted and hand painted umbrellas are a common thing here. I live in the desert, and have no need for an umbrella of any size, but it was an interesting place to see.
Now, to the coolest trip I took this week. The Tiger Kingdom. Located 10 Km north of CM, this attraction has about 25 tigers from kittens to full grown guys. They are as tame as a tiger can be I guess. I mean they let dumb tourists like me pet them and play with the kittens. I do not know if they are drugged, some people here claim they are. Tiger Kingdom claims because they are raised in captivity, they are not afraid of humans. That, and they feed them well. All I know is it was fun. I made a connection with the big guy, his name was Meatball. There was one called Sticky Rice and another called Spicy Soup. Full grown they eat 4 kilos of chickens every day. They have room to roam ( a bit anyway) and ponds to swim in. In the wild they catch fish. I do not think any of these guys were ever wild, they breed their stock. The handlers treat them well from what I saw and develop a relationship with them. I wanted to take one home, they would not let me.
Now what? next week I am taking a five day cooking class. I’ll learn how to make everything from sauces to fish ball soup. Maybe I’ll find out which fish have balls!
Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.
Sitting in a Starbucks in Chiang Mai I feel like I am in a familiar place. This could be the Starbucks in Perth, in Lima, in Panama City, West Los Angeles, NYC or Dubai. Every civilized place on the planet has at least one. Sorry Bocas. Chiang Mai has like seven. On any continent they are all exactly alike. The only difference is the décor on the “personalized” mugs they try to sell you.
What’s more, the same people who stood in line in front of me in Perth or West LA or NYC stand in line in front of me in Chiang Mai, and everywhere else. They all ask for just about the same thing. The session goes something like this.
“I’ll have a half latte, half mocha, half cappuccino with half cream and make it only half hot please.”
By the time the barista, usually a college educated person in their mid twenties bummed at using their degree in Philosophy to do chemistry experiments with coffee beans, is ready to serve me, I am perturbed. My problem, fine. Here is how my order goes.
“I’ll have a small black coffee”
“Will that be mocha or a cappuccino?
“Fresh cream from Sumatran sacred goats in that sir?”
“Black, a small black coffee”
“A grande then”
“No. Didn’t you learn anything at Harvard? Grande means big, large, and bigger than small. I want, again, now listen hard, A SMALL BLACK COFEE”
“Do you want Columbian, Kenyan, Costa Rican or our house blend?”
“If it is black, and you don’t ask another question, I don’t care.”
A brief roll of the eyes that say “I should have gone to grad school” is followed by “Yes sir, that will be (Insert too high a price in any currency here)”
But this is just my problem. I’m glad I did not graduate into this economy, so I still tip them.
If you decide to come to Chiang Mai, I’ll meet you in the Starbucks by the Thai Pea gate. Anytime. The guy quoting Thoreau in Thai is my waiter.
I paid for a half hour. Next week I will do an hour, and bring a book. Afterwards your feet feel like new feet, like a baby’s feet. If I give them an hour they should make some difference on the calloused heel.
Also, because pictures often tell more than my prose ever could, I am sharing some market pictures with you. Yes, you can go to a western market and buy “normal” things, but what fun is that?
Actually very good treats, not sushi at all, just donuts!
There are thousands of little stands, mostly selling handicrafts. If you stop to look at something, you get a huge smile and get handed a giant calculator with the price for what you are looking at on it. This is a very slow season here,and due to the political unrest or the alignment of the planets, it is a very low low season. A 6:1 farong like me gets a lot of attention. I only bought one thing, something for Mary Ann that I think she will like. It cost me 100 baht, less than $3. There were exotic old ladies in very exotic hats that were selling carved frogs with a wooden stick you rubbed against them and they sound just like the frogs on Hospital Point. All of a sudden there three of them following me down the aisle and it got quite loud.
The restaurant was pretty good, not great, but a huge menu of dishes I never had before.
Almost every booth had a TV with the Chile Vs. Honduras WC game playing. I would walk by and go CHILE! CHILE! and everyone agreed with me. I don’t think they can say Honduras.
OK, I have bored you enough today, I’ll bore you more in a day or two. Thanks for reading!
This is where I am staying:
Really nice room. Room service 3 days a week. WiFi, TV, and a fridge for about $375 a month.
My cousin has lived here for almost 5 years. They treat him like he owns the place. Hell, maybe he does.
I just got back from the local open air market. A lunch of noodle soup with slices of ham (I hope it was ham) cost me one dollar.
The market, if you walk long enough and look hard enough has everything you need. Clothes here range from artsy-fartsy stuff for tourists (like I buy) to what must be over runs on American and European labels. X famous label orders 10,000 shirts of Y style, and they manufacture 15,000 and sell the other 5k in the markets here. I needed some more shorts, I arrived with only 1 pair. They cast me about $8 a pair. Just like I would buy in the USA.
AND oh yeah…I wish I owned that factory that makes the white shirts and blue slacks/skirts for school kids. They all have to wear the uniform here. I checked the prices, about $3 for a shirt, $5 for a pair of pants. Pretty close to what Beso paid for the uniforms we gave away a couple of years ago, right?
If you are wondering, smokes are about the same as in the UAE, less than $2 a pack.
And of course, no surprise here, people who look like they are scrambling for their next meal are texting away on blackberries. I guess I am too old to get it.
Tonight we are going to the “night bazaar”. Supposedly a good meal of Thai/Japanese fusion awaits me. I’m sure it will cost more than one dollar, maybe as much as 7 or 8!
Thanks for reading, don’t be shy, make a comment.
OK folks, I am sure I made it clear that the real reason for this trip is dental work. It is less expensive to fly 3 time zones to another continent and pay rent in an apartment for 3 months, eat every meal out and do some sight seeing than it would be to get the work I need done in Dubai.
OKI folks, I am sure I made it clear that the real reason for this trip is dental work. It is less expensive to fly 3 time zones to another continent and pay rent in an apartment for 3 months, eat every meal out and do some sight seeing than it would be to get the work I need done in Dubai. How much cheaper? Well, I started the process today. In a very modern office with a young very professional dentist who speaks perfect english, and quite frankly expained things to me better tah any US dentist I have ever had.I had an examination, consultation, an extraction of a very bothersome tooth that has been the bain of my existance for the last year, for 1800 baht. A dollar is worth 32.5 baht, you do the math. No I’ll do it for you, all that for USD 55.38. And it was painless, which you cannot buy. I told him I am a real wimp and if he would normally put 5mm in the shot, make it 100. Then I told him that I needed painkillers for after I leave. (Only MDs and dentists can sell you painkillers, not the pharmacies, fair enough.) I told him to load me up so I did not have to hunt him down in the middle of the night. He gave me enough codiene derivative pills to sedate Seabiscuit. All included in the 1800 baht.I am staying in the same hotel as my cousin. He has lived here nearly five years and says “there is no downside.” Coisin Jon lived and worked as an expt almosty his entire carreer. He has seen a lot of the world, and decided to retire here about twenty years ago. He is showing me around town, and trying to teach me the names of landmarks to tell the tootook driver so I can get from point A to point B. He also knows every expat owned eatery in town, better yet, they know him. And there are a lot of them!Chaing Mai is a town of roughly 800,000, 1.2 million of you count the outlying areas. A lot of the economy is based on tourism, well a portion of it anyway. Tourism is down. I would hazard to guess there are as many flashpackers here right now as there are in Bocas in the high season, but in a town this size, that does not start to fill the hotels or the eateries.I have until Friday to “recover” from the dentist today. Friday we do another extraction and some piece of work I actually prescribed to him, and he said he could do. I am sure it is the best course of action right now. Then there will be a couple of impants. If I can get it all done in 3 months (due to “recovery” time) I will be happy. I did not bring my Arabian Mandress to lounge around in so today I picked up 3 silk (everything here is silk it seems) Sarongs. All 3 for US 7.70 Hear that Kiwi?Tonite my supper will be cold soup prepared by one of John’s friends. In fact this guy’s eatery is across the street and it is called the Spirit House. I ate there last night and had home made Saurkraut and sausage, with a very large bottle of Thai beer for about $6. I could see retiring in Thailand…..
On To Chiang Mai!
Last impression of Bangkok, same same as my first impression. It is No Dubai. That is not neccesarily a bad thing at all. For instance, in the UAE, where the landscape is not developed into skyscrapers that redefine architecture, it is sand, and more sand. Here, there are few tall buildings, and all of them rather boring. I would not call it Bauhaus, it is more like Baushack. But, in between these buildings are gardens and trees. Traffic in Dubai is worse. The primary reason is that the city planners in the UAE had no idea about traffic flow. They merge all the traffic onto a few main drags, and traffic just crawls. Here my TookTook and Taxi drivers zoom around side streets and alleys, and if there is a rush hour, I have not notced it yet.
Bars? Everywhere dude. This place even puts Bocas to shame for per-capita bar stool space. The local beer is just OK. It is different from any beer I have ever had before, a strange taste. In a couple of movies I have seen they laugh about the beer in VIET-NAM having formaldehyde in it. Maybe here too. It is about 2.50 a bottle, that is in a sports bar while the world cup is on. I’m sure I can buy it in a supermarket much cheaper. Compare all this to the UAE, well, you can’t.
OK, I’m a guy. I notice women. After the dress codes and customs in a Moslem country, this is like a college campus in spring.
Food. This will take some getting used to. I did not even know fish had balls. Right now I am in the national airport waiting for my flight to Chiang Mai and eating a Spicy fish ball salad in the snack bar. I have already learned that a bottle of cold water is a required side dish to most Thai foods. Or anything with Ice, or a Tiger Beer. (Maybe that is why they put the formaldehyde in the beer.) When Mary Ann comes here in August, I think she will have to subsist on Corn Flakes, she is not a fan of spicy food. Again with the movie reference, I hope you have all seen Good Morning Vietnam. Remember the scene where Robin Williams eats a bowl of soup on the street. Yeah, that was me yesterday, and I LOVE spicy. Spicy is one thing, a napalm bomb on your tongue quite another.
Looking around me in this airport I notice it is maybe 4 times the size of Albrook. It is the old main Bangkok airport. Now it serves national flights and I think flites to “the nam”. The gift shop is fairly large. It even has a bargain table. They sell carved elephants of course. In Dubai, it is carved camels. in Lima, carved llamas. In Bocas, well if Bocas Intl. had a gift shop I guess they would sell crushed beer cans!
I just saw my first Buddhist monk. That orange robe would sure stand out in Dubai! I hope he does not try to sell me a flower…oh Forrest stop that.
OK, off to search for a hotspot so I can upload this. Again, and I mean this sincerely, thanks for reading and stay tuned!
I found the hot spot. Today, to redefine adventure travel, it would mean being anywhere more than a days drive from Internet access.
Hello friends. I have not posted for so long that the gulf of Mexico still had shrimp in it.
One of the reasons why is that Mary Ann and I are getting pretty settled in and few things surprise us any more. Plus, she is working so hard that the weekends turn into R&R, which she deserves.
But two big things happened this week. The university finally came up with our housing, and I took off for Thailand!
I left the same day Mary Ann moved into our on-campus housing, so I have not seen it. From what I hear, she likes it, which is what counts.
Me? I am writing you from Bangkok. First impressions? This is no Dubai.
It is a bustling city with very friendly people. Prices are OK to low. Bartering is the norm. The language barrier is my Berlin wall. In Latin America, I was fluent. In the UAE they speak English. So it works like this. They type a price onto a calculator and you shake your head and start to walk away. They chase you down and hand you the calculator. You type in an offer. So far, my first counter-offer has been accepted every time, I am sure that means I am overpaying. From now on, I will risk insulting them with my offer. They are such nice people they will smile and accept the challenge.
So what have I bought? Four silk shirts and an elephant skin wallet. Actually make that 5 silk shirts. 4 off the rack at street vendors. The fifth was a way to help out my Tuk Tuk (pronounced Tooktook) driver. He reminded me of one of the students in Robin Williams Englsh class in Good Morning Vietnam, an old gentleman desperately trying to speak English and humoring me the whole way.
I met him thusly. The hotel I am staying in told me they would book my flight to Chiang Mai, the town I will be in for the next three months while dentists give me new teeth. I realize I am drifting in my narrative, but that is why I am in Thailand, cheaper to come here and have the work done than to stay at home and have it done in Dubai. OK, back to the story…The desk clerk handed me the printout for my ticket. I asked if I needed to pay him or at the airport. He said “no please U pah at sebenleven” It was 10 o’clock, I was tired, and I asked in my best Pidgen “what be sebenleven?” He nicely took me by the arm, to the front door and pointed down the street to a familiar orange and green store front and repeated “sebenleven.”
He went on. “you musht pah befoe 2:00 tommorow, BEFOE tuh”
Fine, pay for an airline ticket at sebenleven, how exotic. So this morning I got up, had breakfast on the street (chicken claws and noodles) and made my way through the throngs to sebenleven. The clerk said “this uxfire”
Once I figured out what she had said, I finally carefully read the paper work. It turned out my 2 O’clock deadline was 2 friigen A friggen M.
So I walk out of sebenleven and started standing around looking like the dumb lost fahrung (gringo) that I am. Seems how I am a foot taller and 50 shades whiter than the locals I must have resembled a lit up statue of liberty on a dark NY night. I was looking for a travel agency.
This is where my tooktook driver finally enters the picture.
He motors up to me and asked “whatchoo want? You want tur?” I dismissed him nicely and told him I needed a travel agent, and walked away. A block later, like some apparition from a Tolkien novel, the same old man pulled onto the sidewalk out of an alley in front of me. How he got there I will never know, I prefer the mystery to an explanation so I did not ask. He pulled out a business card from a Tourist agency and a map of Bangkok. “Ahgunchy heah, we heah, 50 baht there bachk.” 50 baht is about buck and a half. He had already earned that be appearing in front of me like Golem from the smokes of Mordor. I hopped onto the back of his tooktook. He proceed to drive me all around this part of Bangkok. Zooming between cars, gesticulating and showing me stuff. “That yo unbussee, you merkin yes”. At this point I was just along for the ride, when suddenly he veers over to the curb and says “Ahgency, I wait”
I went in and got treated like I was booking an around the world cruise on the Queen Mary. Huge smiles. Cold water. I noticed my driver was talking to a clerk type and the clerk handed him a little card. I thought nothing of it. I walked back out and climbed into the tooktook again, and he said “It would help me if U see another friend of mine”. Not knowing what he meant, having spent all my cash at the agency, wearing a cheap watch, I figured I had nothing to lose. He showed me the little card the agancy had given him. It was good for one liter of the lamp fuel he uses to run the tooktook. If I went to another store with him, he would get another “piece of the paper”. Why not? He took me to a tailor shop. This where the UAE and Thailand touch. Tailor shops every where. I intend to leave Thailand with a suit, but now now. The tailor then “sized me up” figuratively and showed me a Hawaiian shirt he makes. “Finest Thai silk” he said, and oh yeah, it was nice. He led me to a rack with hundreds of bolts of silk. I chose one,he sized me up physically and I made sure he left plenty of room around the neck and my fat gut. I expect it DELIVERED to the hotel by 9 tonight.
So far, so good. I’ll post again soon, thanks for reading this tripe, it means a lot to me,