I think I went a little overboard on that last post, it was a lot of words. I’ll try to be more succinct in this one. For succinctness is a virtue extolled by many but embodied by few; for all of the joys of generous expression, one cannot help but wonder if we would not be better served by having to carve each word out in stone, in the manner of our distant ancestors, so that in the crafting of ours words due concern was given to the efficiency of our communication, that no effort be wasted, that what must be said was said but what need not be said was omitted. Surely our lives would be enriched if we lavished the same care upon our speech and writing that a doctor would (or should) lavish upon their patient’s care, endeavoring to see truly what was before us and perform the least intrusive treatment that would yield the desired benefit, seeking always first to do no harm. We respect those of few words, and surely this post, if no other, will gain by emulating their example.
Friday: I rose, showered, dressed, ate, meditated, slept. Does aught else need be said?
Just in case aught else does, I should note that I headed out a bit early to a coffee shop that I had seen opened at 7:00am (according to the sign on their door), a place called Roastniyom Coffee, a few blocks away up Sri Mangkalajarn. Arriving at 7:10, I found that they still weren’t open, and I was pretty hungry. I ended up walking west over to Nimmanahaeminda looking for a place, and found Wawee Coffee — this seems to be a chain, I’ve seen them all over, like they’re the Chiang Mai Starbucks. (Side note: it occurred to me today that you can roughly understand the proportion of Starbucks and 7/11s in Chiang Mai by reversing their US ratio. There are 7/11s everywhere, sometimes 2 on two adjacent blocks of the same street, and you occasionally see a Starbucks, just often enough to be slightly surprised. There might be more of them, but Chiang Mai has so many coffee places that I guess there’s not as much incentive to go to the American ones.)
I got a coffee (adequate, no cream, they had only white sugar) and a ham and something (egg? cheese? I no longer recall) croissant. It was quite serviceable, but I’m not going to be rushing back.
Lunch was the Salad Concept again, my third visit. And my third attempt to order a salad with tofu and being told that they didn’t have it. In the past, I’d then chosen a salad with potato instead (very yummy); this time I had an avocado salad and it was also excellent. It did, however, come with shrimp; I put the shrimp aside. I actually like shrimp, but I’m a little edgy about eating shellfish in Thailand. I probably shouldn’t be. But when I was flying back from Nepal many years ago, we stopped overnight in Bangkok and our trekking group had a little celebratory goodbye dinner. Shellfish was ordered, and I skipped it (liking them less than I do now). The next morning, 2 of the 3 group members who were on the same plane going back to the states were reeeaaalllly sick, like lying on the cabin floor in front of the restrooms sick. They had had the shellfish. (At least it wasn’t — duh, duh, duuuuh… the salmon mousse!)
I’m sure that there is much perfectly fine shellfish in Thailand. There must be, or it wouldn’t be on so many menus. But… I’m good, thanks.
Most of Friday was writing that day’s blog post, and much of that time was slowly loading pictures via my hotel’s terrible WiFi, having it fail, raising the JPG compression so that the photo got a little grainier but would eventually upload (most of them, at any rate), and then moving on to the next. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Dinner was at a Thai place down the block called Khunmor Cuisine, a restaurant without walls (one big roofed terrace, open on two sides and part of a third) that I’m going to haunt the hell out of once we get to the rainy season. I thought I’d taken a picture of the outside, but I can’t find it, so here’s the one from my table near the entrance.
It seemed to be staffed by college kids, who seemed just like American kids except a bit more polite, very energetic, chatting with each other and occasionally leaping into short bouts of tag. It was, as they say, adorbs.
I ordered a dish called Pad Thai with Crispy Omelet, and a Thai Iced Tea; here is what I got:
This thing that looks like a knitted food cozy is the crispy omelet. I have never had anything like this, it was a kind of fried puffy egg confection, a crunchy carnival treat that looked like a hairnet on top of the Pad Thai. It was really quite good. The Thai iced tea was also excellent.
As usual I returned home, watch some Youtube with excessive stuttering, and went to bed a little after 10.
Saturday was the big day. Chiang Mai had its annual Flower Festival this weekend, an event that I had intended to spend some time in and, as is my custom, spent less than I’d intended. There may have been some stuff going on Friday, but, as you can tell from above, if there was I missed it. But Saturday was supposed to be a parade, and although parades aren’t really my thing I thought I would go. My understanding was that it involved a park at the southwest corner of the city, and a longish route that ended up there, but I confess that I was a little hazy about the details. I’d fully intended to look it up, and had started to, but the information I was finding was about prior years and I never got around to refining my search. Nonetheless, I was going to go.
I also wanted to go up towards the northeast corner of the city, to see the area that a place Steve had showed me (on Facebook) was in. So, I started off the morning creating a new Gmail account and a fake Facebook account (“Charles Visagelibre”) so that I could access the Real Estate Chiang Mai Facebook group. Well, that is, I tried to create it. The hotel’s internet went offline before I could complete the Gmail creation. Sigh.
I should mention that I’d been up early today; I’d gotten to bed around 10:15, but woke up 6 hours later. I was fine, but it gave me a long wait for breakfast. Fortunately, saltines and orange juice helped.
With my registration block, I decided to head out for breakfast. My plan was to go to the Chiang Mai Breakfast World in the southeast corner of the Old City, which opened at 7am, and then walk up the river to the area I was looking for. To give you some idea of where these are, and how my day went, here’s the map of the route I ended up following, courtesy of Google Earth which can also estimate distance of an ad-hoc route.
My starting point (and ending point) is my hotel on the left. So, I set out in the cool of the morning, around 7:15, and got to the Chaing Mai Breakfast World (CMBW) at about 7:40. My walk through the back streets near CMBW is a bit simplified on that map, it was a little curvier going in and there were a couple of backtracks finding the place (it’s on a back alley), and it was more wandery on the way out too.
CMBW is basically a guest house restaurant and coffee bar. The WiFi was decent, and breakfast was scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (not mixed together), with small slices of what might have been a tiny french roll. No butter for the french roll, but, honestly, when there’s no butter at least you don’t have to bitterly resent not having enough. And coffee, of course. It was really quite nice.
They had seated me right next to 4 older European tourists (some variety of Germanic) — like, my table was aligned a few inches from theirs. I was amazed at how uncomfortable this was making me — I felt like I was intruding on them and was super self-conscious about it and spent several minutes wrestling whether I should leave, or at least go to another table. But I knew I should just let it go, and I was super hungry at this point, which I figured was most of the cause. So I hung in there, working on letting it go, and then food and coffee arrived and it all blew right off and I was fine. Hunger’s a bitch.
While I was there, I was able to use WiFi to get the new Gmail and fake Facebook account set up. I have a browser on my iPad called iCabMobile, which is really terrific; you can tell it to pretend that it’s a Mac desktop browser, or IE, Firefox, Opera, whatever, and it will pass that info on in its web requests so that the servers it talks to will render the pages accordingly. This is a great way to get around web sites that insist on changing the page to fit your mobile device; if that’s screwing you up, open the page in iCabMobile and it will render normally (if you tell it to fake its browser type). It also has a bunch of privacy features, and a bunch of really clever browser behaviors; if I could get my iPhone/iPad to use it exclusively instead of Safari, I probably would. Anyway, I’m only going to open Facebook in iCabMobile, to keep it in a sandbox where it can’t get at any of my personal information. It’s possible to identify you with near-certainty based on information about your browser and its environment, that browsers routinely pass along to servers. This should keep me out of Facebook’s overenthusiastic information-sharing system.
When I was done with breakfast, probably around 9ish, I paid the tab, used the restroom, and headed north (in a roundabout way) towards the eastern Ta Phae Gate. I figured I’d walk along the outside of the loop of death for a bit, just to see what the red light district looked like (in the deceptively calm morning hours). I made it out of the gate to discover that the area was built up with festival stages, and that the parade was already happening, coming in from the east road and turning to follow the Loop of Death. (I think it works its way around the southern side of the loop and over to some green parkland near the southeastern corner of the Old City, but don’t hold me to it.) The parade must have started fairly recently, because the loudspeaker was announcing things (in alternating English and Thai) like “This is the second float from Chiang Mai municipality. It’s a very beautiful float, actually.” (Dude, don’t sound so surprised.) If it was only the second, surely the parade couldn’t have been going on that long.
I took a metric ton of photos, and even some video and audio, but I fear it will be rather hopeless to attempt to upload these things here given my upload speed, so I’m going to try something a little different. I’ve put all of these into a public Dropbox folder — you can scroll through them
here — and I’m going to try to embed links to the interesting ones from here. Wish me luck!
Ok, so the first thing to note is… Flower floats!
Correction: the first thing to note is that I can’t embed an image directly from a URL. I’ll have to upload these into WordPress manually, the way I’ve been doing. Bother. Ignore that link two paragraphs ago, I’ve crossed it out. (If only there were a way to take it back, but it’s too late now.)
Ok, so the second thing to note is… Flower floats!
As you can tell, I was not the only person to this scene at this location, right where the inbound Ta Phae road turned left and headed south (becoming part of the Loop of Death), and it was crowded enough that it was hard to get good pictures. Crowded enough that it was hard to drive a car, it seems to me. Every so often, traffic police would politely but firmly push people back to give cars and floats clearance. Things #37 & 38 of Stuff You Don’t See In The U.S. (a) No barricades, in the Land of the Low Personal Responsibility, High Ability to Sue When Not Overprotected. And (b) Polite But Firm Police. Yaay, Buddhist countries!
Are parades (in non-authoritarian countries) all alike? This one looked exactly like the U.S., with flower floats, high school marching bands, and branches of the local chamber of commerce all making their traditional appearance. Here’s the first of the high school marching bands, playing “Mmmmbop”, followed by “Smoke on the Water”.
I think band geeks in Thailand are higher up the food chain than they are in the U.S. All the folks I saw seemed pretty confident in themselves, and quite a few had a “That’s right, I’m awesome” vibe to them. Despite their Boy Scouts uniforms.
I realized I was going to have a hard time seeing over the crowd, so I started working my way east along the parade route. The crowd thinned out immediately; still plenty of watchers, but I had no problem taking pictures.
The elephant is the national animal of Thailand. Not sure where the chair’s occupant was.
There were elementary school bands! They were exactly as good as you’d expect, and so cute!
I feel like I could include every picture I took; there were lots of pretty floats, so, if you’re into that sort of thing,
browse through the Dropbox directory. Or, better still browse Google Image Search. I swear, I have no idea why I even pulled out my iPhone to take pictures; Google is far better. Maybe to prove I was there? Maybe for the chance to share snarky comments?
My favorite marching band were all wearing straw hats and American settler outfits. Don’t ask me why.
They’re not my favorites because of the outfits, though. They’re my favorites because of this song:
If for some reason that won’t play, you can download it from here and play it in iTunes.
I love this because it’s clearly a TV theme song to some animated or live action tokusatsu show that everyone knows. I heard them playing it the first time and recognized the style immediately, it’s classic. I followed them for a while until they played it again, and the moment they launched into the first bars, the middle-aged local guys around me cheered, and started clapping along. I’d bet you 100 bucks that somewhere in the Thai TV archives from about 20 years ago is a hero with a robot mask who fights bad guys and maybe giant monsters, possibly while piloting a massive robot — an Ultraman or a Super Sentai team — and this is his(their) theme.
More floats, more bands of varying skill levels, more chamber of commerce groups. Here are some monks, who’ve come out of their temple to watch the parade:
This red shirt guy on the right didn’t mind being rude and intrusive. Here he is checking his picture, which must have been #6 of 8 or 9 that he took of the monks.
I was kind of excited to see these cute little girls in colorful local costumes. Kodak moment! Then I realized they were fully-grown middle aged women.
Look, I know I said look at Google Image Search for pictures, but this one is impressive.
There were more than a few camera crews out to record the whole thing:
Finally, I reached the bridge over the Ping River, at about the same time as the very last parade group was crossing it (I think the bridge was the official start of it, and the groups staged around the corner on the other side):
Ok, look. First: I’m not sure why a Thai parade has not one but two marching bands reflecting the American frontier. Granted, if you keep going West, you’d eventually get to Thailand (in truth, once you’re out West, Thailand is more west from you than east). But there were no bands reflecting European chivalry, nor Samurai, nor Mandarin China, nor African tribes, nor any of the world’s other romantic, mythologized traditions. It was either: generic modern clothing, traditional Thai, or the American West. (This is you, remembering not to ask me why.)
Second: Granted that it’s only 11:00 am at this point, and the heat of the day is a couple of hours away. But it’s bloody humid, and I’m sweating if I walk too fast. These guys? Not a drop. Standing in direct sunlight, marching, playing, none of these folks broke a sweat. I mean, adaptation’s all well and good but even Texans don’t wear that kind of clothing and stand in the summer sun and expect not to sweat. Damn.
With that, the parade was over. At least, I’d reached the end of it; obviously, these guys continued along the full route to wherever it was going. So, I returned to my original plan and started walking north along the Ping River, which looked like this, btw:
I have a great panorama shot of this that you may never see because hotel WiFi. I’ll try to hang on to it and post it later, when I have a better connection. (That’s the Nimman Boutique Resort, folks. Just saying.)
I walked up the river and detoured slightly inland to get to the Warorot Market, a famous shopping area with lots of vegetables, fish, and other cooking ingredients, plus shoes, clothes, jewelry, totally legitimate DVDs (Guardians of the Galaxy, $7.00, what a deal!), and the like.
It’s mostly locals, but some tourists as well.
I found a pretty big bag of cashews for 200 baht, or about $6.00, and as I was out of the Nut Walker bag from the other day, I bought them. This was probably a tactical error on my part. You remember those 6-saltine packets of crackers that I was lauding as the perfect way to tide me over until breakfast opened? A big bag of cashews does not come in 6-cashew packets. It comes in one, handy, “OMGs I’m so full of cashews that I want to vomit” packet. Cashews are worse than cats. I can stare down a cat, but I cannot stare down a bag of cashews. They worm their way into your mind, coaxing and wheedling until you acquiesce to “just a few”, and then you’re done and the Cashew God is standing over you with his spear raised and the crowd is chanting, “Finish him!”
I’ve eaten a lot of cashews since I bought that bag, is what I’m saying.
I ate only a few that day, as I headed north along the river. I did pass a lot of lower-scale, worn-looking, food shops and warehouses; it’s definitely not the high market area that Nimmanhaem is. (But then, few places in Chiang Mai are, and “worn” doesn’t say the same socioeconomic things here, and other places, that it would in the West.) Eventually, realizing that I was starting to need to pee, I happened to pass a little drink and dessert shop next to a small park. Here’s the park, you’ll have to imagine the shop.
There was a Thai kid, about college age, working the place. Now that I think of it, he may have been about the biggest Thai person I’ve seen, about my height and a much heavier build. (Not that the build part is hard to surpass. A BBC tool to compare your body mass index to people’s around the world had me pegged as Bangladeshi.) He seemed surprised to see me, which didn’t really surprise me. I was the only customer, and I hadn’t seen another Westerner since I left Warorot. I ordered a Thai Milk Iced Tea for 50 baht, gave him a 100 baht bill, and it turned out he didn’t have change and was starting to call around on the phone to find some. I gestured for him to keep the change, but he waived that off, so I looked for something else to buy and settled on a slice of vanilla-ish cake in his fridge. This turned out to cost 55 baht, but at least I had a “nickel”, so that worked out and he was appreciative. (He spoke a little English, but nearly anything I said would cause him to cock his head and look confused. But, then, my friends have the same reaction, so maybe it’s not the language.)
I settled down to have my iced tea and eat my cake, being pleased that at least it was all cold and I could maybe stop sweating. The kid saw me reading Twitter on my iPhone, offered me a WiFi code, and then when he wrote it down he had some weird character in it that I could not guess correctly, so after futzing with my iPad for a couple of minutes I pretended that it had succeeded and went back to reading on my iPhone. Then he brought me a small glass of hot tea. Sigh. I assume that it was a thank you for my being accommodating about the change, and I grinned and thanked him and hoped if I waited long enough it would cool a little. It never did, but it would have been rude not to drink it. And it was Ok, really; after the much larger iced tea, the smaller hot one didn’t harm me much.
Finally, when I was done, I pursued my only actual reason for stopping here: the restroom. Let’s hear it for achieving your goals.
On that high note, I’m going to end off here, ’cause of there being so many words. (I didn’t mean to write so many when I started this. I don’t know where they’re coming from.) I’ll finish my trek in the next post.