Sunday, July 26, 2009

Greetings from Chiang Mai!

After the huge bustle of the past couple of days, I’ve had some moments of respite to sit and reflect and write about what has happened so far. I’m safe in Chiang Mai, Thailand now, and ready to fill you in on life in the land of smiles.
I almost missed my first flight out to LA. Mom sent me to a security check that was a good half mile away from my gate, and I sprinted to my flight. Luckily, I did get on the first plane, and faced twenty something hours of flight and a ten hour layover in Tapei. On the flights I was restless, and, unusual for me, could not sleep very well. The food was passable, mostly rice and poorly put together stir-fries. At the airport, I was greeted with a sign that said “Mr. Mark”. Bemused, I joined a bus with a fellow soon-to-be English teacher, Andy, and headed off to the hotel.
It was still quite early in the morning and I was completely exhausted. But the best thing to do, of course, is work through it and stay up as late as possible. After visiting an ATM, I met up with some of the other prospective teachers to tour the town. We were immediately shocked by the prices; not only were things cheap, but they were cheaper than we had expected. You can get a great pad thai from street vendors for 30 baht; as there are 34 baht to the dollar, this is less than one buck for fantastic food. Already, we are forming a group of friends whose lives will revolve around cheap food, fun (hopefully) lessons, and a fantastic city to explore. One of our first sites was a beautiful Buddhist temple, called a wat, that filled us with piece and awe. Within one of the buildings of the complex was an immense, thirty-foot gold Buddha statue. Filing in and out of the various edifices were monks in orange robes, and this change in pace has ensured me that I am truly experiencing a new culture.
Following this short jaunt in the temple, we headed to the hotel’s pool. The hotel itself is nice, with high ceilings and arches in the archway, but we have strange rules we must abide by. Apparently, there are certain sizes of towels for various body parts. We must use the large towel for our body, the medium towel for our head and shoulders, the small towel for our hands, and the square towel for our feet. I am not sure if they will enforce this rule, but am striving to follow the regulation because they have already taken a thousand baht ($30) deposit. We also have to wear certain clothing to classes, may not leave our air-conditioning on when we are not in the room, and are allotted a bottle of water in our mini-fridges daily. Luckily, we can buy huge bottles of water at the nearby 7-11 for ten baht, so this is no problem.
I have been reading the Catfish and Mandala recently, and it has confused me greatly. I don’t know why I was reading a travelogue about Vietnam, but it has caused me to misread a couple of situations, thinking that I am further east than I actually am. The cultural differences between the Vietnamese and Thai seem gigantic, which is unsurprising as the Vietnamese have been colonized by the French and brutalized through the war, while the Thai have always been an independent people.
We followed swimming by heading out to the night market, finding some great food for cheap and looking at some glorious products that must have been a tenth of the cost of what I am used to. Tempted to buy everything, I refrained and decided to wait for a later date when I know approximate prices for items and can haggle better. I feel bad about haggling, as if arguing about fifty cents really matters, but at the same time I would feel cheated if I paid a ridiculous price for an item. It is all kind of silly, but fun at the same time. After the night market, we hit the local bars and celebrated the prospect of new found friendships. Unfortunately, we must have strayed into a district known for prostitution, as I was felt up by scantily clad Thai women a couple of times. After a bad game of pool (we blamed it on the size of the pool sticks) we headed back to the pool for another swim and then what I had been desiring for the past 50 hours - a good nights rest.
The next morning I woke early, probably the cause of jet-lag, and headed for a walk. I wanted to walk around the old city, which is surrounded by a moat and in the shape of a square. What I thought would be a quick stroll turned out to be a three-hour affair, and by the end my sandals had cut into the back of my ankles. However, I saw some amazing things, and am positive that on every street there is some sort of Thai monument or building that fills me with awe, but which the native Thais barely notice.

Huge statues of golden tigers, horses, and especially dragons abound, as well as grand temples, and the most fascinating street food I have ever seen. I passed various ‘districts’, from pet places to pawn shops. There are so many day trips advertised from here that it is going to be hard to choose the one or two that I can afford to take, but am hoping I can see some elephants or perhaps visit neighboring Laos.
I passed many beautiful things throughout the day, but my favorite was just a public park, where I could sit out, read, and watch various types of fish attempting to catch insects at the surface of the pool. The flora and fauna are gorgeous here, and I am hoping I can learn about them soon. There are also some interesting fruits that I have never seen before, but readily enjoying.
I am already exhausted from my walk, but it is now only 3 pm, and I must head out and do something else. I am only here for three weeks, and want to get to know this city. I miss you all, and wish you the best.

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