So, I ended off Tuesday evening peacefully enough, snacking on cashews and looking forward to moving to a new hotel on Thursday, the Sang Serene Hotel. One with a wired internet connection!
Wednesday morning, I went back to Coffee Villa (the one with the American Breakfast and the deer statue of liberty in front), and had the American Breakfast again. This time I had an omelet rather than scrambled eggs, and the tomatoes came with mayo slightly off to the side instead of layered over the top.
It was better, and a nice place to sit out at, with decent WiFi. But, afterwards, I felt a bit off, the way you do when you eat a bunch of highly processed foods. I suspect that was mainly an effect of the hot dogs, although the lightly toasted white bread and the sugar-laden jam might have contributed. I won’t be going back soon. Probably just as well, really. When I arrived, just after they opened, the young working the register was sweeping out front and said “Good morning”, and I made a game attempt to respond with the normal Thai greeting “Sawatdeekhap” and a grin, and his face went a bit off. Thai is a tonal language, and if my voice didn’t lift or fall in the right places the odds are good that I said it wrong and asked to sleep with his dog or something. He was less cheery afterwards, but brightened up a bit later, so whatever I said he probably reminded himself that I was a dumb foreigner who wouldn’t know any better. Which is undeniably true. Still, as I say, I won’t be going back soon, so I’ll never see if his dog is there at my next visit.
After Monday and Tuesday with very little walking, I realized that I needed another long walk on Wednesday, and decided to head to the southwest of the city, towards the Pong Noi area that Damien had recommended. Here’s the route I took, a little over 4 miles. I’ve included Google Maps & Google Earth — do let me know which you’d prefer in the future:
I headed out around 11:30, went south to Suthep Road, and followed it west to what I hoped would be a quieter back street than the main route, the 121 — aka, the almost-accurately named Canal Road. And I guess it was quieter, but not by much. It’s the main artery through the “west of Canal Road” area, and there were a *lot* of motorbikes.
The first highlight of this walk was on Suthep just before Canal Road: a Google Car sighting! I barely got my iPhone out in time for this picture — it’s the green and white hatchback driving away from me, and you can just make the camera on its roof.
The second highlight was the 7/11 on Suthep Road, where I experienced a first: I had a Cornetto! This was very nearly worth the whole trip; up until this point I had known them only from the Cornetto trilogy, and when I realized I was going to need something to eat before I got back to the hotel, and stopped at the 7/11 for a snack, my excitement at seeing these in stock was nigh unbounded. I had some sort of fudge flavored one, and it really was quite good, and it didn’t drip in the hot sun or anything. Smashing.
I walked south, past all of the motorbikes, found another Cat Cafe:
And eventually I got to my first proper temple visit of my stay here: Wat Umong. Here is where I post several pictures of the place that you could be viewing on Google Images far more productively. (In fact, looking at that link, I’ve just realized that there was rather more to this temple than I realized; I’ll clearly have to go back.)
There were a bunch of statues to founding or influential monks around this temple. There were more Buddha statues, thankfully.
You may notice that, while green, everything looks a bit dry. This is, in fact, the dry season in Chiang Mai, and the leaves are falling off many trees as if it’s their version of autumn. There’s been zero rain in the 2+ weeks I’ve been here, and there won’t be for a while longer. It’s not really presenting the place at its best in my opinion, but at least I can walk around without getting soaking wet.
Wat Umong has a pretty large animal population, chickens and dogs and pigeons and special places to feed fish, and signs about how we should grant Buddhist courtesy to animals and help their lives be happy and comfortable. I don’t know if Wat Umong specializes in this sort of thing, or if it’s common for Buddhist temples in this area. I guess I’ll see when I visit others.
I should point out, because someone is sure to wonder: that dog is not dead. (Or, if he is, he’s rising as a zombie shortly.) I saw his lips curling as he hunted the Dreamlands.
I took some very nice video of this scene, but I have no way to upload it, so you’ll have to imagine it. Pigeons cooing and whirring and flying about, nature sounds, everything happy and peaceful. And a statue of a founder in the middle of the island.
On seeing that picture again, I was reminded rather unfavorably of Piss Christ. I suppose a happier free association would be that of a Buddhist Harry Houdini, attempting to escape the prison of Samsara. That’s the virtue and the problem with having a free associative mind. You really get everything.
Did I mention that this was a temple?
There’s an actual — I’m not sure what their word for it is but I’m going to call it a stupa in the Tibetan fashion — at the top of the complex:
I took off my shoes (and socks) and walked into the dark, quiet tunnels. It wasn’t an extensive network, just a main cross tunnel underground and a few entrance and exit tunnels. Within, it was quiet, and there were various alcoves with buddhas in them that you could pray or meditate at, some with light filtering down from openings above:
I stopped to meditate for a bit at this Buddha, and realized how much I was enjoying the silence of this space. Then I realized that I was liking it because I was stressed and all of the traffic noise had been aggravating that stress, so that the silence was relief. And I was stressed because of trying to find a hotel with WiFi that would let me play ESO with my family, and trying to find a place to live that would be nice and close to things I liked here and also with good WiFi and whether I should get a scooter and how dangerous it felt and a dozen other little things, none of which actually mattered. I have the good fortune to be able to stay wherever I feel like staying, and taking my time to pick a place, and I can get or not get a scooter as I choose, and nothing that I’ve been worrying over solving is anything that really matters. This is the problem of living in the world: you become wrapped up in Life and get convinced that things matter, the way a 3-buck pot in a nickel-ante poker game seems like the biggest thing ever. But it’s not. Just let it go.
I spent a few minutes with this guy, and then thanked him for helping me with the realization, and left him a huge tip.
I wandered about the temple grounds a bit more, took some more pictures, including this one of a replica of a famous monument that the Indian emperor Ashoka, who gave Buddhism a huge boost in India, left all over that country. The original pillars were basically publications of the laws of the land, published on giant pillars for everyone to read. (Um, everyone who could read, that is. Or who knew someone who could.)
On my return, I decided to take a back route — again, hoping to avoid so much passing traffic. I walked up and around the west side of the area, pretty close to the edge of the national forest, and the homes were very rural and many of them quite ramshackle, with corrugated tin roofs and no great state of repair. It did occur to me that, living in a tropical country, all you need is something to keep the rain off. It doesn’t have to be insulated and weatherproof in the way that places that get cold do. I’ve even seem some places for rent that are essentially pieces of open-air farmhouse, which seems weirdly appealing. (But it would be taking the plunge indeed, to get a place with no AC. Pretty sure that I’d regret that.)
I passed various locals and exchanged grins, and my second “sawatdeekhap” of the day. The old guy who said it first just grinned back at me, so either I said it better this time, or he wasn’t expecting me to say it right. Or he didn’t have a dog.
On the way back, I walked I passed a geology class looking at rocks in the layers of a dug-through trench, which was cool. And then I was walking through the Chiang Mai University campus, and seeing people practicing surveying by the “Faculty of Engineering”, a girl’s softball team, and a field obviously intended for agricultural training. All of the things we’d call a “Hall” or “College” were called “Faculty”, like the “Faculty of Agriculture”. Either “Faculty” doesn’t mean the same thing here, or they’re putting their emphasis on the teachers, rather than the students or the subject.
I got back to my hotel and showered, and snacked on cashews and OJ, and a little later went out to Khunmor Cuisine again for the pineapple fried rice. I figured, with my new hotel so far away, I’d best get one last visit in. The evening, once again, went quietly.
The other thing that happened during the day was that I began exchanging e-mails with the Chiang Mai apartment realtor that Damien had recommended, Thira Chotkasidis of Chiang Mai Habitat. We made arrangements to see things the next day, so that he’d pick me up at my current hotel, and drop me off at the new one when we were done. Very convenient.
This seems like a good time to end this, so I’m going to. Tomorrow will be the Chiang Mai realty experience, and the new hotel, and will be a lot less picture-centric. You have been warned.