I’m starting to feel a bit guilty if I don’t eat someplace new every day. In fact, out of 3 possible daily meals, I may just have to limit myself to one repeat per day. Otherwise, I’ll never cover the territory and my pay will get docked. Or something like that.
Wednesday morning I hung about the room for a while, killing time until 8:30 so I could go back to Rustic & Blue (home of the Confused Cream Coffee), aided in my delay by the orange juice and saltines I’d purchased on the way back from the Sunday Market. The saltines came in what looked like a standard box of two stacks, like we’d see in US supermarkets, but when I’d opened them, they were in individual wrappers of 6 saltines apiece. In fairness, this should have been obvious if I’d been paying even minimal attention, as the little packages are portrayed on the box itself:
But there’s about 4 different languages going on around that box, and who expects the unexpected when saltines are involved? Plus, in fairness, if I believed everything it showed, I’d be expecting to get a Caesar salad in this box.
(To be clear, there was no Caesar salad in this box.)
Anyway, I’m not complaining. (Not about the packaging, at any rate. The salad would have been nice, though.) When what you’re looking for is something to stave off hunger while you’re waiting for coffee shops to open, 6 saltines is exactly the right amount. Give me a whole, box-length stack at once, and I’ll be absentmindedly tearing the second stack open while I read Twitter, wondering vaguely how much longer it was until breakfast and being pleased at how well I was bearing up under the hunger pangs. “Well done, Castleberry, hardly feel them at all! You’re adapting to your new life nicely! Where did all these crumbs come from?”
I wandered towards Rustic & Blue, in my head already preparing my order for a plain Americano and anticipating the look of relief in their eyes when I fail to request weird complications. But I had a spot of trouble finding the exact street it was on from memory — “100 feet east on Nimmanahaeminda Soi 7? Or was it Soi 9 or Soi 5?” — and happened onto another place, the Coffee Villa:
You can see a bit of railing out front; it’s a little dining bar with bar stools and largely non-intrusive ants and it was very nice sitting out there in the morning sun and eating while I read Twitter. The young guy behind the register tried to encourage me to look through the menu when I ordered, and I did glance at it, but my eye had been immediately captured by the blackboard on the wall behind the counter that described an “American Breakfast”. I don’t really have to explain what that’s going to be, do I? I ordered it, without hesitation but with a side of irony. “No, no, it’s certainly absurd. But I was eating that breakfast ironically, so it’s Ok.”
I really should have taken a picture of that breakfast. I will next time I go back. It was, in fact:
- Scrambled eggs — bland, but helped when I added salt and pepper.
- 2 pieces of toast — a packet of butter and one of Smuckers-equivalent strawberry jam yielded something surprisingly tasty here.
- 2 hot dogs — I can’t call these sausages, they were hot dogs, scored at intervals around the circumference so that they curved as they were grilled. Also surprisingly tasty.
- a row of tomato slices — served on a lettuce leaf and slathered in mayonnaise, the unkindest cut of all. Is this how the world sees America? Don’t answer that. It’s rhetorical.
I’m not going to go so far as to call this “good”, but it was fun and that’s good enough. But by the way, can I just say, restaurants? Wherever you are? One packet of butter or jam PER bread product (single piece of toast, half a muffin, whatever) is the minimum. Minimum. You give me 2 pieces of toast and only one packet of butter, and now I’m making hard choices. Do I desperately try to scrape half a packet of butter ever so thinly around the surface of a full piece of toast, so that both pieces get at least some butter? Do I coat a single piece adequately by using the full packet, but then abandon the remaining piece at the side of my plate, uneaten and unloved? Do I eat the leftover piece dry (only possible with the better breads, which you don’t usually find in places that provide their butter in packets)? Or do I eat one piece only with butter and the other piece only with the single packet of jam?
None of these are good choices, and you know it. The universally recognized function of bread of all sorts is to serve as some form of a delivery vehicle for other things — butter, jam, ham swiss, whatever goes in a shawarma, take your pick. I’m not saying there aren’t breads so excellent that they need nothing else, but now we’re getting into the territory of nut breads and desserts, and I think we can all agree that’s a different topic entirely. Bread is primarily defined as a container, a supporting structure, a framework, upon which greater things are built. You don’t go into a deli and say, “I’d like the rye” and then pay the man and walk out with a slice. You would be roundly mocked for doing so. And if you asked for a ham sandwich on rye, and got two pieces of rye containing merely a tissue-thin slice of ham and a slice of swiss that was mostly holes, with one thin line of squirted ketchup, a thimble-full of mustard, and two pickle seeds, you would be rightly incensed. That would be entirely insufficient to human nature and common sense, and he who delivered such a sandwich unto you would be asking for a pop in the bazooka (or whatever one does in delis when one is irate).
One pat of butter and one packet of jam per bread vehicle. That’s all I’m saying.
Well, with that out of my system, moving on. I went back to the hotel room, as is my custom after breakfast. (We don’t really need to dwell on the need for that, do we?) Along the way I passed a construction site that is worth noting only because of the ubiquity of these things in Chiang Mai, everywhere I went (to be clear, they were ubiquitous everywhere… not just ubiquitous in one or two places):
Chiang Mai has been experiencing a real economic boom, for several years now, driven at least in part by the influx of tourists, digital nomads, and expats. The effect of this is that old buildings and vacant, undeveloped lots are being turned into condos all over the city. In fact, this photo actually shows two sites: the obvious one in front of me and a bit to the left, you’ll faintly see 3 similar support struts in the distance, below the right hand branches of that bit of sparse tree in the left foreground. And I’d mentioned the building going up two doors away from me, filling my afternoons with modestly intrusive construction sounds. I suspect that there’s a lot of money to be made in real estate investment around here right now. Until the inevitable crash, at least.
Once ensconced in my room, I meditated for a bit and did more research, and slightly after noon I headed back to the Focus Gallery, site of my failed Sunday lunch. Presumably their kitchen would be open on a Wednesday?! I took the same back streets that I’d taken before, because after yesterday’s smog-fest, I was not eager to walk along the main traffic route, north on Nimmanahaeminda and west on Huaykaew. I arrived and rejoiced in their active kitchen, ordering some sort of vegan grain stir-fry dish (I don’t remember the grain, but it was like a cross between a brown rice and a quinoa) and orange juice. Then I took a seat out in the garden and waited. The orange juice came quickly: they have a special juicing hut which is well prepared to juice probably any number of interesting and exotic things upon demand, and then pour those interesting and exotic juiced things, seeds and all, into a small cup suitable for a modest Irish Coffee. Ok. Fine. One of the staff came by to ask a question (I forget about what), and I took the opportunity to ask after their WiFi password. They were unable to give me a correct one, so I browsed Twitter on my phone, drinking my orange juice (for a short time, at least) and spitting out seeds and waiting for the food. After half an hour, I wondered if there had been some confusion and they’d thought I was ordering juice instead of food, so I went back inside to ask. The counter lady looked at me blankly when I said, “I ordered <whatever it was called> earlier?”, then she nodded and said something on the order of, “Yes, it’s coming, our cook has been been very busy”. She gestured to a lady cooking at a station outdoor on the patio who did indeed seem occupied with activities. Mind you, the place wasn’t what you’d call crowded, but maybe everyone else had arrived and ordered seconds before I did. Who can say?
Well, at least I hadn’t been forgotten. I returned to my seat, looked somewhat mournfully at my now-empty orange juice demitasse, and returned to reading. 10 minutes later, my meal arrived and I must say that it was excellent. Full marks for that. Had it been accompanied by a larger, seedless juice and WiFi, somewhere around the 20 minute mark, I would have high praise indeed for this establishment. As it is… well, I might well go back, but it won’t be when I’m already hungry.
Ok, now I’m wondering if I should start a side blog reviewing restaurants in Chiang Mai? Though I don’t know how long that could go on before I’d develop a reputation and then possibly be unable to show myself in places around town. I’d have to write it on another website, with a fake picture and an alias, a nom de plume. Or, in this case, a nom-nom-nom de plume.
[<Cheers> The crowd goes wild! Thank you, thank you, folks, you’ve been great. Be sure to tip your waitress. Autographs in the lobby.]
[Damn, that feels good.]
On my way home, I decided to stop by the MAYA Shopping Center, that mall I’d seen on the way back from the Focus Gallery last Sunday.
It’s at the corner of Nimmanahaeminda and Huaykaew, and since I wasn’t sweaty I thought I might be worthy of entering. It was good that I’d taken that into account, because they have doormen for this mall, standing inside in proper uniforms, giving actual salutes to people who enter. I felt as though I ought to salute back, but I’m not even in the sort of military organization that opens doors for people, and I would have disrespecting the institution. So I didn’t.
(By the way, for a bunch of the places and people I mention, like the doorman, I feel like I ought to be including pictures. They would, after all, enhance the narrative. But you have to be quite the douche to blatantly take pictures in people’s faces, so you’ll just have to imagine some of these. I’m sure you won’t mind.)
Malls, as an institution, are like chain outlets: they’re the same everywhere you go, rich in the slightly antiseptic smell of buying humanity. There was a time when the mall was my absolute favorite place to be (my 20s; I wore suspenders; bright ones; imagine Weird Al in the 80s, if he was a cheery accountant instead of a musician), and I’m still fond of them. This place was visually interesting — like a couple of intersecting circles, 5 levels above ground and 1 below, and 3 different stacked banks of escalators.
I had another great panorama shot here, this one a vertical of the mall’s levels, but I couldn’t upload it over this connection until I scaled it down to about 1/4 its original file size. Hopefully, this is good enough.
The bottom level, below ground, was mostly food court, and one Northern Thai crafts shop for tourists. I wandered into that — and was coming out when two really cute college girls stopped me and asked for help with their English assignment. They were studying at an English school, and their task was to find a native speaker and interview him. How they guessed I fit the criteria is a mystery, but I agreed and they were so cheerfully excited by the prospect that I almost regretted I had been born in a previous geologic epoch. They turned on a recorder and asked me questions like where was I from and what landmarks there were there, and did I like Thai food — at which point I had to confess that I hadn’t had any yet. (In case you hadn’t noticed this in my narrative so far.) Their English was really quite good, and I managed to understand them over the background noise and answer the questions, and then they took pictures with me afterwards (I really should have taken one for myself, but I didn’t think of it till later). And they recommended the Pad Thai at one of the nearby stalls — but not any of the other food down there, claiming the rest of it was not so good. We parted ways and I felt extraordinarily pleased by the successful social interaction.
The other floors were not so eventful. They all had stores around the outside edge, and open, wall-less shops in the center area — from which I gather that there’s not much problem with shoplifters in Chiang Mai. Each floor seemed to have a dominant shopping theme: clothing on a couple of floors, cellphones and cellphone accessory shops dominated another, theater and video arcade on another, etc. I was excited to find a bookstore, but most of the books were in English. (I have a gift in mind for someone, but it needs to be a book in Thai and I’m not finding those so far.) There was a big coffee table book on display about what I believe was the king. I almost felt like I ought to buy it, to show my expat support, but where would I keep it? And then I’d start feel obligated to take pictures with it and make King And I jokes, and I’m pretty sure they frown on that sort of thing here. Best to move along.
Eventually, I left and made my way home (past another bookshop on Nimmanahaemindra that was also English-centric), did more research, then went back to the Salad Concept for dinner and called it a day with no lack of accuracy whatsoever.
Thursday, was largely uneventful until dinnertime. I was up early again, wrote a bit of the last blog post, and then went out to eat again at The Larder, which had been closed Tuesday and Wednesday. It opened at 8:30, I showed up 10 minutes later and it already had people; by the time I’d finished a reprise of my previous ham and egg croissant and coffee, the place was nearly full. They also had a power outage just after delivering my croissant, so for about 30 minutes the new arrivals had to wait on their food, and I had to read Tigerman. So, a very successful breakfast all things considered. I came back, and on the way home stopped in one of the ubiquitous 7/11s to pick up some orange juice and cashews.
I meditated, researched, and skipped lunch entirely, opting to watch some videos, drink my juice, and, well, eat my nuts. (And saltines.) I finished up the blog, and then headed back to the Old City at around 4pm. There was a place that I wanted to visit, the Mamory Delicious Restaurant & Cafe, described in wikitravel as:
Specialty restaurant in different museum style with good Thai and Western food, including a coffee bar with fresh fruit juices and smoothies. All prices are competitive and locally comparable but the service and quality is very high. The menu has solutions for all moments of the day: breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or just sit down for a quality coffee and cake or enjoy a healthy shake. 50 baht and up.
I followed the route into the city that I’d taken on Sunday, taking Siri Mangkalajarn south to Suthep Road east, and crossing the Loop of Death in only about 5 minutes, thanks to traffic so heavy that there were opportunities to run between almost stopped cars. I walked the length of the Old City and down into the southeast corner, found the restaurant, and at the waitress’s direction picked a table along one wall.
I was the only person there — I think they’d opened not long before — except for a guy right at the front entrance. In the photo above, he was sitting in one of those frontmost chairs on the left. The waitress dropped a huge menu book in front of me; the thing went on for pages and covered all sorts of cuisine. Italian, British, German, American, Thai, breakfast dishes (despite the late opening), sandwiches, all sorts of elaborate things, vegetarian options… it was really quite impressive and all very inexpensive.
I should take a moment here to note something that I mentioned earlier: at this point, I’d been in Chiang Mai 6 days (counting my late Saturday arrival), and still hadn’t eaten Thai food once. I’d had a variety of western style breakfasts, Japanese, a couple of non-ethnic meals (at the Salad Concept, and that vegan grain dish at the Focus Gallery), but no Thai. At Mamory Delicious, I folded. It had to happen eventually, and this seemed like a good time to do it. I ordered the Pad Thai, and pineapple juice. It arrived, and was really excellent, and their WiFi was solid, and I don’t think I paid more than 170 baht (about $6). And if it had been nor more than all of those nice things, I would definitely looking forward to going again.
But it didn’t stop there. About 1/2 way through my meal, that guy I’d seen at the front appeared at my table, pulling me out of my Twitter reading. I looked up with, I must confess, some suspicion — random strangers talking to you almost always implies that they want something from you, or that they really need to talk about how great their god is, and that’s rarely useful. This guy had a slightly stocky build, was roughly my age (and looking good for it), and wearing a blue Izod shirt — not just polo, but actual Izod! Haven’t seen one of those in years. He started asking how the food was, and I realized the shirt had the restaurant name stitched across it, opposite the alligator, and I relaxed a bit. This was much less fraught.
The conversation that followed was fascinating — and it broke into two parts because he realized that I wasn’t eating and went away to let me finish, coming back afterwards. As the conversation turned from a discussion of the food, the restaurant, and the impressive size of the menu, and moved eventually on to my retired expat status and my quest for a home, I learned a number of things. His name was Steve, he used to run an IT consulting business in Denmark (he had a soft Germanic accent that I had trouble placing until he mentioned that), until he retired at 39 (yaay, Steve) and moved to Australia. Then, 4 years ago, he moved the Chiang Mai and at some point married a Thai woman. (He also has at least one son, currently skiing in Japan.) They both liked very different foods, and they ended up opening this restaurant over a year and a half earlier so that they could cook all the different stuff that they liked and make everyone happy. They have 4 different line cooks, all working at the same time to make everything on the menu. If you look at their Facebook page, which I linked above, their header image shows Steve and his wife at the back, with some large percentage of their staff in front.
Steve (aka Skippy, apparently) was a wealth of information on the areas around Chiang Mai, and full of advice on where I might live if I liked what sort of things. (Where the red light district is, where some amazing properties are, hotels that you can get gym memberships with if you live nearby, etc.) I ended up taking some notes, and may have to create a temp, fake Facebook account just to find many of the good rental properties that end up getting listed there. He really pushed the idea of renting or buying a scooter, and was surprised that I was walking everywhere. (I’m a walker, but I may be pushing the bounds of my range now.) He also advised that I look into the rules for my Thai visa, because it seems to be a business visa and there may be requirement for filing taxes that don’t really make sense for me. I must have spent close to 2 hours talking to him, and he showed me all sorts of properties online (in Facebook, sigh), which were way cheaper if I lived away from the Nimmanahaemindra area, which he described as more upper class, pricey, and a bit snobby. I haven’t noticed that latter trait (but would I?), but it does explain why things seem pricier than I was expecting.
He also invited me to a little gathering / music festival thing happening Sunday at a place called The Pub, near that MAYA shopping center from earlier. It runs from 1-6; I have a 12:00 lunch appointment with a Twitter-friend in the Old City, but I can certainly get there after and will. “Tell them Steve sent you.” Thanks a whole bunch, Steve, I surely will! The restaurant was pretty full by then, and people were coming in who knew Steve (I could hear the “Norm!” in my head as they greeted him), and I took my leave, with thanks. He gave me his cafe’s card, and I sent him a thank you e-mail when I got home. (Didn’t even wait 3 days to do it.)
I headed home at around 7ish, and it was dark and cool and pleasant, and the evening ended well. Another decent night’s sleep, and it’s Friday, and I’m done writing for the day.