Monday, February 16, 2009

Wat Chieng Man

Wat Chieng Man, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

My very last morning in Chiang Mai I woke up at dawn and set out on my funky bike to find Wat Chieng Man--the oldest temple in the city.
I wheeled into the deserted temple compound just as the sun was rising--a great glowing orange ball in the sky--and was treated to the most delightful sense of deja vu.
Our first day in Chiang Mai, four years before, we'd hired a guide named Poon, to take us around in her air conditioned car. It was very hot indeed and the memory of this place was burned right into my heart. It might have been the first temple we saw. It certainly made a grand impression on me.
In fact had been looking for it the whole time I'd been in Chiang Mai, not knowing the name, and felt overwhelming gratitude to find it at last, at sunrise, on my last day. There was even blue in the sky, and clouds to catch the sunrise.

Wat Cheitawan

Wat Cheitawan, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

I suppose not everyone is captivated by Thai Buddhist temples. I find them fascinating, beautiful, inspiring and made a special point of seeing as many as I could.
I suppose if I had taken the time to read about the symbolism and architecture and history, I'd have enjoyed the experience even more. For instance, there seems to be some sort of Green Man with a staff either supporting or being pinned by this fierce creature--is it a lion?
I did have the Lonely Planet's info on a few of the more significant of Chiang Mai's 300 plus temples, and made a point of seeking them out.
Just wait til next time!


Tommy, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

A rare smile from my Irish/Swedish friend. This is the bloke who knocked on my door Saturday morning, to see if I was okay (or if I needed to go to the hospital).
Tommy stays about three months in Chiang Mai every year. He offered a wealth of perspective and information and much needed camaraderie.

Last Supper

Sea Bass with Curry, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

For my last dinner in Chiang Mai I headed down to the Anusarn market, which now blends into the Night Market, to enjoy my favorite sea food restaurant in the whole wide world.
I splurged on this one dinner. It cost $10, way more than any other meal I'd had. But it was so worth it. I was taking a terrible risk too. I'd had only bland food up to this point! And it was so good I had trouble stopping myself! What a meal! What a wonderful place to visit.


Eye, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

San Phra Phum

Spirit House, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

When a building goes up, the spirits of the land need a new place to live, so nearly every Thai store, office building or home has a spirit house. They are often stocked with many little figurines, which provide good company for the spirits. Also offerings are made quite often. Happy spirits don't cause trouble, and may bring good luck. It's not unusual to see a fanta bottle or even a plastic cup on the platform. At first we thought maybe this was litter!
I love seeing these houses, and even fairly bleak urban streets can be quite redeemed by the sight of elaborate or well cared for san phra phum.

For more about spirit houses

Turning Point

Temple Scene, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

On the Sunday after I'd been so sick, I was again visiting the Walking Street Market, but was having more trouble enjoying myself. I didn't dare eat all the yummy food this time, and there were just throngs of people (I really felt I was in Asia!) and I hadn't much energy for shopping--the effort of haggling was beyond me.
So I was feeling a little jaded, I suppose, when I ventured into this temple's grounds and came across this scene of the Buddha under the tree.
There were people standing silently and of course many taking photos. For me it was a turning point. I was suddenly VERY happy to be in Thailand again. And this spiritual uplift stayed with me to the end of my trip.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I'm Back

Well, I made it back alive. Krista and Jerry met me at the airport and Jerry drove us home in a fierce rainstorm. It was so good to see them, and the girls waiting for me back home.
But so far I haven't left the house. It's COLD outside! And I'm dealing with the jet lag (it's 2:21 in the morning in Chiang Mai) and a very upset stomach--I think that's from the final insult of airline food.
I'm almost ready to grab the wheel again and get back to work. I've also got 4 gigabytes worth of photos and video to sort through. I'll post some more photos soon. And I want to write up a comprehensive report on dental tourism in Chiang Mai. For whom, I'm not sure.
Meanwhile, I've got about ten thousand hours of stories inside my head, just waiting for someone, anyone, to ask me a question about my trip.
So watch out!

Monday, February 09, 2009


Granny, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

This tiny hunch backed old lady in a wheel chair makes little mobiles out of straw or something. Little animal shapes. I saw young Thai buying them, and it made me feel happy.


I just got back from getting my crowns put on and I feel so happy. They feel great, my mouth feels whole again and my bout of dysentery is about over. Knock on wood.
I do have to go back tomorrow one last time, but rather than dreading it I'm very excited. Dr. Korakan tells me there is a relatively new product, a gel, that one applies with a custom made tray, which re-mineralizes the teeth, especially any exposed roots, where I had all my trouble. It's a prescription gel and should keep me safe from decay for a long long time, which I am so freaking happy about!
It's 5pm and I'm on my last hours here. I told Krista yesterday that I'd be happy to be home instantly--that I'd had my fill.
But now I'm a little bit sad and I plan to enjoy myself tonight. I met a fellow down by the Worrorot market who told me the young monks are going through some sort of beautiful ceremony tonight at Chaing Mai's oldest temple (which I'd been wanting to visit anyhow). It's also near where the blind massage school is (another thing I want to do) and maybe even the Blue Diamond vegetarian restaurant that Tommy raved about.
The great thing is, I finally rented a bicycle. I had to, in order to get all my gear down to the shipping shop to have it boxed up. It's an old funky one speed that belongs to one of the older women on the alley, the friend of the laundry lady. The tattoo fellow, whose shop is between them got out some tools and raised the seat for me (which made me look marginally less like a circus clown).
So after the packaging, I headed down to the worrorot market and got to see the amazing Chinese temple nearby. At first I was terrified of riding, but it came back to me--no one here wants to hurt you! It's not like America, where some stupid asshole might just run you down for kicks.
I've really gotten the knack of crossing the busy streets on foot. It takes a whole different mindset here. I mean REALLY different. You somehow know who is most patient and step out and wave some cars or scooters by and step in front of others and you can make it across easy as pie. Hard to explain, but it's not an experience I've had back home.
Anyhow, my bike riding was actually fun. Chiang Mai is blessedly flat, more or less. So I'm hoping to get around that way tonight, and get even more stuff packed into the last hours.
They didn't have to numb me for the crown fittings, so I'm ready to roll. I may even eat some Thai food tonight. Since the illness I've just eaten bland western foods, what little I've eaten. What a shame!
Last night was the Sunday Market again and I had to pass up all the yummy stuff I'd scarfed down the week before.
One last thing. It may NOT have been the food at the elephant park that got me. It may have been an errant elephant kiss, that touched my open mouth. I'd forgotten that happened until I saw the photos.
Elephants are majestic, intelligent, loving and beautiful, but hygienic they are not.
I don't know if I'll be able to write again tomorrow morning, so I just want to thank everyone who helped me get here. I'll be so glad to see y'all back home.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Laid Low in Chiang Mai

I've been pretty ill. I think it was the food at the Elephant Nature Park, or maybe just all the elephant shit in the river water we were in.
I'll spare you the details but let's just say I'm purged. I'm glad my bathroom was pretty clean.
I spent all day yesterday in my room, drifting in and out of consciousness. I finally got up to try eating some food--yogurt with bananas, which I was able to hold down. Much later I shuffled down to the Seven Eleven to find some Gatorade. I was able to score some acidophilous at a pharmacy on the way.
It's horrible being sick so far from home. Tommy, my Irish pal, came knocking on my door yesterday morning, to make sure I was okay. That was very comforting. I think he wanted me to consider a trip to the hospital, but I think I'm going to be okay. He also told me the parade was about to start (I asked him), so I walked very slowly down to the square to watch it.
Unfortunately, it was rather disorganized, by Western standards. People would crowd in front of the floats or pretty girls with banners taking photos, which made the whole thing go very slowly.
They'd get shoo'd back and then there might be a very long wait for the next spectacle.
I kept going over to sit down on a bench, and after a while it became clear that further enjoyment of the parade was unlikely, and I walked even more slowly back to my room again.
I have a book that Meredith gave me, A Prayer For Owen Meany, which is quite good. Unfortunately, the print is rather small and the pages have turned grey with age, so it's surprisingly hard to actually read in the dim light of my room. But it kept me going yesterday, between bouts of sleeping.
It feels like a terrible waste of my short trip to spend a whole day in my room. Tonight is the fabulous Sunday Walking Street Market and I hope to be able to attend. It's right off of our alley way so I can do at least some of it.
I'd like to do some more shopping! I have a feeling that the things I've bought so far will mostly be seen as treasures back home. It's easy to become a little jaded here, as there is so much pretty stuff for sale, and so much repetition. I hope I can find some more treasures tonight.
Well, I'm uploading 28 photos, mostly just the elephants and parade. It's going to take a long time! So I'd better tell some more stories.
The elephant experience was bittersweet. Aside from becoming violently ill on the way home, there was an educational video that broke our hearts. It showed how domestic elephants are "broken" at about age three or four. They are forced into a log cage where they can't move and then tortured into submission. We actually saw this being done. It was appallingly brutal.
Apparently this has been going on for a thousand years or more. It takes anywhere from three days to two weeks for the males.
That means any trekking, any shows, the elephants have been subjected to this horror. The Park folks talked about those shows where elephants paint little paintings. I've seen this on Youtube. They said 40% of the elephants die from the training. And if you watch closely, the handlers have cruel barbed hooks hidden in their hands to force the poor animals to keep working. They were strongly against this sort of show, but said they wouldn't say yes or no to trekking.
Some trekking outfits take pretty good care of thier elephants (while some do not). And it's a way for the elephants to 'earn a living' where otherwise they might be abandoned and die.
But I'm pretty sure none of us who saw that video could bring ourselves to go elephant trekking.
Another horrible problem is 'elephant begging' where the mahouts bring their elephants into Bangkok or Chiang Mai to sell bananas to the tourists, so they can feed the elephants. The mahouts make pretty good money this way, but the elephants slowly starve. They can't get enough food. And the hot asphault burns their poor sensitive feet, and they are sometimes hit by cars. In fact, one of the elephants at the camp had been hit. His legs were really messed up.
I saw a baby elephant last week being led down the street here. It kept rocking back and forth, apparently a sign of distress. All very heartbreaking.
One hundred years ago there were about 100,000 domestic elephants in Thailand. Then years ago there were 25,000. Now there are about 2500. About the same number live wild.
I'm glad I had the experience, but it's hard knowing all this.
Maybe that's part of why I got sick.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Here is the monk who gave me my blessing yesterday. And the Wat. This is a place that we visited four years ago with our guide Poon. I don't remember the inside, but have lots of photos of the chedi and temple.
I just wish I could remember this fellow's name.


"Vegetable Omlette" 35 baht. "Croissant with Butter and Jam" 40 baht. Really good food next door. And a HUGE menu.

After the Root Canals

Dr. Preeyanuch Chotivisarut (in blue) and her trusty assistant.
Dr. P wanted lots of x-rays taken, down the hall, to make sure the roots were properly filled. Since my mouth was so numb, and full of clamps and such, I couldn't bite down on the 'film' (in this case a digital sensor), so her assistant held it in place in my mouth while another gal hit the x-ray button! This really shocked me. One time, there was a big sense of hurry and she was about to do the x-ray without even putting on a lead apron. I made a gesture and mumbled as best I could, and she took the time to put the apron on. I think she was grateful for my concern.
At least they're digital x-rays, with a much reduced dose.
This photo is taken at the very end. They thought it hilarious that I wanted to take photos.

Beggar Family

Beggar Family, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

I'm seeing lots more beggars this trip. Some of them are clearly blind, or missing limbs and such. But I've also run across a number of folks with a child on their lap.
The first time I saw this I coughed up the dough, feeling my heart wrenched with empathy. But somewhere I read about people training their kids to lie comatose. The night I took this shot I saw four coma kid beggars in short succession. It was clearly a scam.
But later I ran into this family and it all felt different. The woman wasn't exaggerating a pathetic hand to mouth gesture. She merely gave me a wai and sawadee kaaa.
I fished 20 baht out of my pocket and gave it to the little boy. They were delighted, as you can see.
For a Thai, 20 baht goes a long way, I think. I hope.

Ouch Again

Just when you thought it was safe to get back in that dental chair......
My second session today was a bitch. I wasn't expecting it, thought the worst was over. I've had a number of crowns and don't remember the prep hurting so much. Then again some of them ended up leaking and failing. So maybe they are just more careful here in the land of smiles.
By careful I mean peeling back the gums all the way, with what felt like barb wire. Oh well. It's over. Part of the problem was having three done in one session. That wasn't their idea. They were kind enough to work with my tight schedule.
Only one more session to go, on Monday. THAT one should be easy. Maybe.
The moral of the story is: brush your teeth. And floss 'em. Three or more times a day.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Settling In a Bit

Sunday Night Temple, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

I'm in between apts at Grace, and back down in the Tha Pae Gate area, which boasts an enormous public area, paved with brick. I realized early on that that was an address virtually every songtheaw driver would recognize, even with my numbed tongue and lips. And also a little cheaper to get to, since it's very central. Usually I pay either 20 or 30bt to get where I'm goiing.
On the way back from apt number one, we stopped and a group of young monks hopped in the back with me. They were super friendly and wanted to talk, at least a couple who were keen to practice english. They were so full of good energy that when I got out at my stop, I realized I was feeling all charged up! I wish I could've visited more.
Somehow I feel that I've slipped into Chiang Mai mode. I'm starting to recognize where I am en route, instead of it being an incomprehensible mish mash of chaotic sights and sounds, with fumes and beeping.
Also, I've had a few nice conversations with other guests at the Rendezvous. What a relief.
There's a little open air restaurant just steps down the Soi and they have really yummy food and it's very very cheap. I love it. This morning I had a 'vegetable omlette' with a croissant and it was heavenly.
This place has special meaning for me too, because I have a vivid memory of trudging down the Soi with the whole family and all our luggage, looking for better digs. It was much much hotter and we were hot, tired and discouraged. All the places were full and we needed two rooms.
We decided to rest at that open air cafe and while waiting for the food and cold drinks, I scouted ahead (I think Joyce was with me) and we found two rooms at the Rendezvous. We were so relieved and grateful to find that place.
I actually have a photo of Joyce on the little balcony looking very happy. It's funny, cause the place is a little bit dumpy. Not bad at all, but not funky around the edges. But the energy there is great. Just the opposite of my last place.
I'm babbling.
Last night I went down to the night market on a mission. To buy a less goofy hat and a few silver do dads for Krista. (my plan to import some silver for resale has been ditched. It's too expensive!)
I've seen a lot of farang guys wearing these caps, sort of like an army hat in shape. They come in lots of colors and fabric styles. I haggled mine down to 300bt, and probably drove the vendor girl crazy cause I had to try on half her stock. I'm terrible with deciding things like that.
Anyway, my hope is to find a Hmong family at the Sunday market and ask them to sew on some of their fabulous needlework patches or some such,. That would make my hat very special indeed.
I also bought some Thai tie die shirts last night. I was staggering around very tired indeed and I came across this great storefront/stall at the Anusaran food market.
It struck me as the most beautiful, artful tie die I've ever seen. So I bought 9 shirts and some very lightweight fisherman's pants. I hope to sell some when I get back. I say "hope" because they are so gorgeous it will be hard to let any of them go!!
Fortunately they are rayon and very light weight.
The other part of my mission was to find a suitcase the right dimensions to hold the spirit house I bought, and yet small enough to meet the airlines new size restrictions. No luck. I'm going to approach a shipping/post office store down the street and see if they'll make me a sturdy box to put it and other goodies in. Maybe fashion a handle. Of course they'll do it, and it will probably be dirt cheap. Hell, the luggage is absurdly cheap.
I'm going to stay put at the Rendezvous, so I guess I can start accumulating goods to import/export. Let me know if you want something!
Sawadee Kraaaap.

Getting Better

I'm feeling pretty good about my new digs. The folks on this Soi are somehow very different than the come and go tourists at the old place. More relaxed for sure, and maybe they've been around for a while.
Had breakfast with an Irishman name of Tommy, who's here for three months studying Chi Kung. He's been coming to Chiang Mai for years and was a wealth of info and perspective. One alarming thing--I mentioned how that prostitute grabbed my arm and he said she was probably going for my wallet, that they are all masterful pickpockets! Yikes. Don't think I'll be walking down that street at night again.
He also talked about "roofies", the date rape drug. Apparently it comes in powdered form that they can slip in your drink, or even blow into your face and that's that. I find it hard to believe that there is much of that going on, given that I see lots of farang with Thai girlfriends walking around.
I just glad there's no temptation for me. It's like with gambling. It fascinates me that people gamble, and it has no draw for me at all!
My weakness is massage (the real kind). I went back to the same place for the third time last night and all the ladies saw me coming and were all smiles (it's an open air room with about 8 mats on the floor and 6 or 7 chairs for foot massage). Because I've been giving 20 baht tips I'm like their national hero!
Tommy says no one ever tips massage gals, and in fact it's quite rare even for meals, except to round up the bill to the nearest 10. But for me, it's just good karma to tip for massage! I remember how good it felt.
So today I have two apts. Yesterday was Sooooooooo much less painful than the day before, and I think the worst is over (though I'll still need injections, ouch!!!). Both doctors took great care to explain why I needed the second root canal. In fact, once the crown was off they seemed surprised by how much decay there was! Even though the tooth felt much better, it was only a matter of a year or so before it went supernova.
Dr. Korakat wanted me to look at the decay. I declined! I'm glad they are so professional and careful. And I can't wait till it's over!
Tomorrow I finally get out of town for the Elephant Nature Park, or whatever it's called. An all day affair out in the countryside. Then the flower festival the next day.
Hope this note finds you well and happy.


WTF?, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Travel in Thailand is a never ending series of WTF moments. Lots of things defy easy explanation. I jumped out of my songtheaw to take this shot, on the way back from Doi Suthep.
This was across the road from the entrance to the Zoo.
The thing is, I like those WTF moments. I appreciate themas reminders that I'm visiting an alien culture.
This photo also captures the all too common juxtaposition of some carefully crafted work of art with the most butt ugly utilitarian eyesore.

Sunday Market from the top of Tha Pae Gate

I can't pretend to understand the Thai people, but I have learned two things: They love to eat, and they love to shop.
This market starts about 4 in the afternoon and goes until around 11:30 or so. I am already looking forward to this next Sunday.

Construction Workers

Construction Workers, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

I'm sort of stuck here in Chiang Mai, because of all the apts. It's not a bad place to be stuck. It's cheap, there's amazing food all over the place, great massage to be had for next to nothing, temples galore and even prostitutes (if that's your thing). Actually, did I mention this already, I had a prostitute grab my arm the other night as I was walking past her bar! Kinda freaked me out!
There's this one street, Loi Kroh, with lots of bars and usually 4 to 6 gals would be right out front at some tables. If I made any eye contact (and I'm used to politely addressing people Sawadee Kraap), even if I just turned my head a little, they would start cat calling and waving.
After a few minutes of this I realized that a) it was night time b) I was a western guy and c)I was alone. Why else would I be walking down that street right?
That's when I noticed that there were other single white guys cruising that street, who were there for a reason. Creepy.
Anyhow, yes Chiang Mai is great. But I don't want to neglect to mention that the air is quite polluted, and it's dirty, and has way too much traffic, and that not everyone is all smiles--at least not in the tourist ghettos where I've been hanging.
Times are tough here, just like everywhere else, I guess. and they've been tough for some time.
I've seen a lot more beggars and people sleeping on the street than I can remember from 4 years ago. I mean, it's not as bad as Santa Rosa, but still....
So here's some construction workers. That woman is balanced over a pile of concrete, on a relatively narrow beam, hauling bricks up in a bucket. Call OSHA!

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

This thing is a monster! It's so huge. And old. I think I read that it's 700 years old or more?
Chiang Mai has so many Wats, but this is one of the most famous ones. I've been treking around visiting them the last few days. I've gotten to meet some monks, including the fellow this morning who gave me my lucky bracelet.
I went to a huge Wat today, after my root canal. It's home of a large Buddhist university, and had a brand spanking new looking chedi, that seemed almost this big. It was covered in gold!

Samlor Rider

Samlor Rider, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

I love these things. Often times the 'driver' is an old guy! With really big leg muscles. This one is totally beat up, but I've seen newer fancy ones. It's funny to see a group of people going down the street, usually one to a samlor. Sometimes they'll squeeze in two, but god that must be hard to pedal.
I saw a brand new bicycle in a store today and it was about $85 I think. Wonder how much these cost, and if you could get on on the plane?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sudden Changes

This morning I met a travelling monk at one of the wats on my street. He wrapped some string around my wrist for luck and blessed me. After a nice chat I went back to Chiang Mai Thai House to discover that I had no room!
It's true that I've been a little dodgy about committing to staying there. I was going two days at a time. But it's also true that Richard and I had a solid reservation for the 6th - 9th, which they ignored. They said it was because he had made the reservation instead of me, but I think they got a better offer from someone staying longer. So they politely booted me out!
I was pissed off, but this is Thailand and you just don't show anger here. I thought maybe it was my lucky bracelet propelling me out of there into a better place. I called the Rendezvous where we had stayed four years ago and they had one last room. I hired a tuk tuk to haul all my heavy stuff over there (I have done a bit of shopping!) and that was that.
The Rendezvous is much dingier in a way, but then again I have a chair to sit in and a nice balcony off the corridor (where I have fond memories of writing postcards years ago). Basically it's just as clean. And I wasn't going to be using the pool at all.
I'm hoping that people on my new Soi (alley) are more friendly than the Thai House crowd.

Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Sawadee Kraaap. I finally got some new photos up on Flickr. Considering that I just had a root canal treatment and couldn't really talk, or even open my mouth much, I think I look pretty happy here.
I've got a few more stories to tell, but right now I have to go have breakfast.


Passengers , originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Monday, February 02, 2009


Ow ow ow ow ow ow owwww!!!
So much for no root canals. What a miserable experience! Even thogh my third dentist was very nice, and I'm sure quite capable, the shots hurt and I had to have my poor mouth propped open for about 12 hours, I think. Maybe it was just one hour. But my jaw is totally sore. I'm going to take some arnica soon as I get back to my room. Should've brought it with.
The really good news is I get to go through it again tomorrow. And also have that other crown pulled off. This gal today confered with the cautious Dr. Koracat and says 'take it off'.
So Ow! At least it didn't cost that much.
over and out,

Further Adventures in the Land of Smiles

I am currently unable to smile or talk. I'm hiding out in the internet cafe, while the novocain wears off.
It was a surprising visit to the clinic today. Even though I got there on time, the front desk people didn't tell the doctor I was there. So after half an hour she send someone out to check on me. She was a little pissed off, I think. Next time I'll check in! I thought that a wave would do it.
So the real surprise was that once she had me numb and cleaned up the left molar and took an xray, she didn't think it needed a new crown or root canal! She thought the problem was a filing gone bad at the base of the crown and she fixed it.
Now I should be glad, right? That's a lot of money and pain and time in the chair she's saving me. But this is the tooth that's been really bothering me, and I don't want to go home with out it being really fixed.
She says we'll know tomorrow if it's okay or not. I guess I hope that it is?
The other good news was that I may not need a root canal on the right molar either. She's referring me to the specialist who I see tomorrow. She did take the crown off (I've got it in my bag for a souvenir). But maybe no root canal.
She's definitely conservative, and I guess that's a good thing. She's also very good at giving shots. Only one out of the four today hurt at all, and that one just a bit.
There was only one thing I really didn't like. She used some sort of chemical stuff to either take the impression of my tooth, or maybe cement on the temporary crown. It smelled extremely toxic to me. I tried to mention it, with my totally numb tongue I don't think she understood what the hell I was saying. They acted like nothing was wrong at all. Weird.
Sorry if this is absurdly boring.
It's been a strange day. This morning I went out for a walk, trying to find Juicy 4U, a place my friend Bryon recommended. It took me forever to find it, because it wasn't open! Not open usually means a big metal roll down door obscuring the place. I walked right by it at first.
Not open! But the lonely planet said it was!
Chiang Mai is not a great place to walk about early in the morning. Too many roll down doors and too much traffic. People like to stay up late I guess.
I picked up my new glasses today and really like them. I think maybe they make me look less stern, so maybe I can find more people to chat with. I feel that people are avoiding me--I think I look scary somehow, even to the farang.
When I hear an American speaking I feel drawn to them! The mother tongue. I had the same experience in Bali when I was solo there. Conversation is one of the things I live for. And pigeon english is only fun for so long without a real talk.
Speaking of pigeon english, I hired a songtheaw driver to take me up to Doi Suthep, the mountain temple about 16km from downtown. He had me sit up front and wanted to talk, which was great.
Turns out Mr. Chairat Aphichai, my driver and guide, is 74 years old! He was a very mellow driver too. Said he learned english working with the US military in the Vietnam war. He actually still gets a pension, which is good since he has 6 kids. His oldest son is 53 and an engineer, etc.. I learned a lot about him and various changes in Chiang Mai.
For example, he said he was able to buy some land thanks to his military service for about 1000Bt. He sold it some years back for 500,000Bt! and now it's worth about 830,000Bt, according to Mr. Aphichai (if I understood him). I also learned the prices for songtheaws and tuk tuks and petrol.
Doi Suthep was okay. But can't hold a candle to the Chiang Dao Cave Temple, in my opinion. Maybe on a clear day it would be spectacular, but I couldn't really see much cause of the hazy smog. I wonder if there ever is a clear day? Maybe once or twice a year.
Doi Suthep has a very long stairway heading up the mountainside. Very steep. After getting down my legs were shaking a bit, so I ducked into this huge open air shopping area. Lots of stalls selling antiquey looking stuff. Nice stuff really. Those antique puppet dolls that Jerry likes, and masks and carvings and tons of brass buddhas and such. Some cloth stuff, but mostly dark wood and brass.
The women staffing the booths were hard core. It was like being in Bali. I almost fled right off, but I actually liked the junk I was seeing. Different from the street markets. And so I got caught looking at a teak spirit house. I swear to god the vendor held a gun to my head and made me buy it. Really.
Well, not really. She held an oversized calculator and kept calling to me with a reduced price. Since I really had no intention of buying it I kept walking away and that price just kept dropping! Trouble is, it's the one thing that Krista said she might want. And it was really gorgeous and well, it started out at 4600Bt and she came down to 2000. Now that's about $56 or so.
I've never seen one this nice in the US and the ones I have seen are always a couple hundred dollars. The real clincher was she kept saying 'only one kilo! come apart. pack very good. special box. Use credit card!'.
When I finally relented, two women showed up instantly and helped her package the hell out of the thing. They did a very good job very quickly but I just kept wringing my hands and moaning 'what have I done?'. How the hell am I going to fit that thing into a suitcase? Shit.
Maybe it will just sit on my lap for 19 hours?
One thing that I've noticed is that I don't attract a lot of sales attention from the Thai (aside from this one place, where I was the only customer). I think it's sort of racial profiling. White male, late 40's--unlikely to buy anything, don't waste your breath. Right. Well that all changed when I came out carrying that huge bundle in a big plastic bag. I still had to run a gaunlet of stalls all down the way and everyone was calling for me to come look and buy. Good god! I didn't know what I was missing.
I'll just mention one other thing. Today I discovered a whole new side of my guest house. The other side. I'd noticed that I had the only room on the pool side of the building. It's at the end and looks out over the alley. Today I was walking along the balcony corridor and the other rooms all had their doors open as they were being cleaned. Turns out they all look out over trees and ancient teak houses. Instead of dogs barking in the middle of the night and rowdy people and scooters, they've got birds chirping. I've been having a hard time sleeping because of the noise, even with my earplugs. Shit. Tomorrow I get to change rooms. Hello chirping birds, goodbye alley dogs.
Well, my tongue is starting to tingle. I guess this is long enough.
goodnight from Chiang Mai

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Sunday Walking Street Market

Well, it's every bit as wonderful as they all say. I just had three or four hours of wonderment. In some ways it was like last night's market. In fact, I saw some of the same folks selling, and certainly some of the same blind musicians (I'm glad there's a finite number). I even recognized some of the same farang!
But this market is even bigger. Much bigger and many of the wats (temples) are involved. They turn their compounds into food centers. One of the biggest had a program of chanting going on in the temple proper--it was broadcast over loud speakers into the huge courtyard where gazillions of food booths were set up and tables were full of happy people eating.
I ended up having a dish of pad thai and a bit of this Canadian guy's squid. It was New Zealand squid and came in huge steaks that were being grilled. I have to say it was very good. So were the fish cakes, the bean buns and the passion fruit juice I had.
I sat at a table with an old fellow from South Carolina and his Thai 'girlfriend' (I guess) and a young German couple, who ended up being pretty chatty (for Germans). You just couldn't help feeling social with all the happy hubbub and the chanting.
After I stuffed myself I checked out the temple and there were people inside bowing and chanting along with the recording. There was also a Thai woman doing a tarot reading right to the front of the entrance with a card table and the Rider deck! What a trip.
I found a few things that I just had to buy. Some for presents and (I hate to admit it) a few things for me! For years I've read about the Thai fisherman's pants that the backpacker hipsters wear. I wore some last night for my massage and liked them. So there they were in abundance. 80Baht.
I also bought a little tuk tuk made out of a Coke can. Made by the lady who sold it to me, as she made of point of pointing out. 80Baht.
There were much more expensive things that caught my eye--mainly gorgeous fabric items by the Hmong or Karen folks. Really gorgeous wide belts with pockets and purses and bags and such. 600 to 1200Baht.
I talked to a guy from Seattle who was buying ten purses for his sister's store. They were really beautiful and I would've scored one but they were buying almost all of them. Again, 650Baht. That's about $19.00. Is that alot? I have no idea what it would sell for in a US store. Surely more than $100 at least. But how the hell do I know?
I've been missing Krista terribly at these things. She'd know what to buy and buy it.
Anyway, I've decided not to buy stuff just to sell it, unless it really calls to me. And the people selling it have to be really nice too.
I'll be in town next week for this same market. And I'll have a big new suitcase to put all these treasures in.
On the way out of the market I discovered that people were climbing up on the Taepae Gate! I never noticed there were steps. Very steep ones. I clambered right up and was rewarded with an awesome spectacle and photo op. It was crowded up there and I got a touch of vertigo, but I noticed that some of the other farang were displaying signs of the same wonderment I was feeling.
I'm going back to my room to offload the stuff I bought. It's only 8:15! Feels like 2am. I should really go back out, but I could so easily fall asleep. I think it's about 5:15 am back home and my poor body is still a bit confused!
It's also weird being solo. I keep longing to have a conversation with someone who speaks english. I remember this happened when I was in Bali too.
Well, at least I have you to tell my stories to.
Hope you are all sound asleep back home.

Doctor Boe

Doctor Boe, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

This was my dentist today, Doctor Boe. She's not a whole lot bigger than Eden! She also did the cleaning on my teeth! I've never, ever, had more careful work done. Even the best dentists I've seen in the states were slapdash compared to Dr. Boe.
So far so good. Except that the receptionist happened to mention an apt on the 10th to finish the crowns. I freaked out! I'm actually leaving that day. Good god. She'd neglected to discuss it with me, or write it down on the apt card she gave me.
So I guess they're scrambling to get me in on the ninth.
The other bummer is that I'm not going to get my teeth laser whitened after all. I was hoping to have that movie star look. Damn.
Dr. Boe said it takes two weeks for the color to settle for them to match the fillings. She actually suggested that I have the laser whitening done and get my fillings on my return home! Ha ha ha.
I just saved about six or seven hundred dollars on those fillings.
I'll get the movie star look next lifetime.
I'm getting out of this cafe. There's a horrible American woman yelling into the skype headphones at some fool in China about her reservations--CAN YOU HEAR ME??? CAN YOU HEAR ME???
Good god.

Love that faux fur collar!

Even more cool stuff., originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

I really liked this gal's fashions. Was thinking about bringing some home to try and sell....what do you think? There's more on my flickr page. Comments welcome!

Mmmmmmm. Er, what is it?

Mmmmmmm. Er, what is it?, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

I met several gals from Australia (I think) who were game to try anything and everything. I was more timid.

Year of the Ox

Year of the Ox, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.