People, hotels, helmets, and calm

So, as of the end of Sunday (2/15), I had a motorbike (and helmet!), and no home nor any likelihood of having one soon.  This did not particularly distress me; I could live out of hotels indefinitely, if I could get better WiFi from them.  Of course, therein lay the challenge.

Today is Tuesday, 2/24, 9 days later than those milestones, and I’m going to depart from the play-by-play that I’ve been doing up until now and cover everything that’s happened since then by topic.  This should be a lot faster, will get me caught up, and spare you a lot of details that would be irrelevant.  “Great, now he start sparing us details,” I hear some thinking. “He couldn’t have done that back before the 3600 word essays?” No.  Sadly, no.

The fact is, once I got to Monday, everything just kind of settled down. The need for a residence had me feeling a bit driven, and after, well, almost 3 months of feeling pretty driven, I just wanted to stop and veg for a bit.  And that’s kind of what I’ve been doing the last week, and probably will for a while longer.  So this last week is well suited for an overview.

Visa:

I’ve registered my presence here with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and made an appointment with the local American Consulate for next Tuesday 3/3.  This should allow me to do 2 things: explain my problem and get their feedback, and also get a passport card (in addition to my actual passport).  After that, I’ll contact the friend of the motorbike guy, with an eye towards getting his help on the retirement visa in April, after I’ve been here the 60 days needed for it.

Housing:

So it seems as though, without a local bank account, renting a place is difficult.  Another expat told me that this isn’t true, that with a lot of places you can just go to an ATM and deposit cash into your landlord’s account and that’s all you need.  So I could withdraw cash on my debit card 2-3 days a month and that would give me plenty to deposit, and everything would be fine.  I haven’t asked Theera about that (though he’s e-mailed me a couple of times to inquire on my progress and ask again if he can help me with anything), because of the next thing….

Last Monday, I started looking at what hotel to stay at after this one ended.  I wasn’t seeing anything that indicated, and then I remembered Damien’s suggestion that if I rented a place with extra rooms, I could “sublet” some of them via Airbnb.  So I went to look at Airbnb for places to rent and found a bunch on the west side with varying characteristics, a handful looking rather suitable and most having a fairly low monthly lease rate.  I spent a lot of time of time hemming and hawing around this, and finally went with this place, CMStay.

Reading their materials, they seem to have a whole building, and the place listed on Airbnb is, I think, a studio.  But it has a desk, it’s in the Old City so it’s got a super convenient location to a lot of stuff (including the yoga studio I want to go to), and they make a point of advertising great internet, including (if I read it correctly) a physical connection (LAN) and not just WiFi.  I booked it for a week, so that I’m not stuck there long if it doesn’t work out.  But their monthly rate is $340/month!  The downsides: not on the west side, so a bit warmer, air a bit dirtier, and not much of a view.  But, in truth, I wasn’t expecting a view when I came out here, and I’ve just had a great view for 2 weeks with lousy WiFi.  I know which I prefer.

So, if it works out, I may stay there longer.  Or, I may have to move because it ends up being rented out to someone else right after the week I booked for — in which case I may or may not move back afterward when it’s free again.  Don’t know, don’t much care now.  Once the rental mess was put aside and I knew how my next couple of months were going to have to go, I really just stopped worrying.  The problem was solved, and I can just keep doing hotels until I’m done doing them.

But I would like to note, again: $340/month!  There’s a compelling argument to be made for such a price, as opposed to the up-to-$900/month I was considering paying for a rental house/condo.  Almost $6000/year freed up to blow on cheese and sake — that is, to relax about my expenses until I’m sure how they’re really going to play out.

So, I start at that place this coming Thursday, the 26th.  I’ll let you know how it is. (Natch.)

Motorbike:

I’ve been getting progressively more relaxed with this thing.  I’m still keenly aware of the risk of horribility, but it doesn’t seem quite so immanent any more and I’m getting better at maneuvering, turning, traveling (with some reserve) between stopped lanes of traffic like everyone else, and making right turns (when appropriate) across traffic.  I’ve gotten gas refills twice now.  And I bought a new helmet!  Much prettier, more protective, and it has a visor and a second, interior sunglass visor that I can pull down when it’s sunnier and have up when it’s not, for about $40.

It's no Battle of the Planets, but it will do.

It’s no Battle of the Planets, but it will do.

I should take the old red helmet back to the rental place in the next couple of days.

Going between lanes of traffic, as motorcycles do, is a gods’ send.  Major intersections with traffic lights don’t behave the same way as in the US.  Instead of 2 phases cycling — say, North-South lanes going, then being stopped so that East-West lanes can go — in Chiang Mai they do it in 4 phases: North, South, East, West.  Each direction gets to either go straight or turn left or right to get onto the perpendicular streets, and they can go until they get the stop light.  Then the next direction gets its turn to do the same.

This is a fantastic idea!  It would be overkill in the US, where people stay in their lanes and obey road rules (for the most part).  But in Chiang Mai, it’s the only way to make intersections work.  If they tried it our way, every intersection would become a massive traffic snarl as the right-turners try to edge/force their way across oncoming traffic, people would get hit, or would simply logjam, then the perpendicular direction would get the go ahead and snarl it even more.  One direction in clear and sole control at a time is the only way to make it work here.

The downside is, by giving each direction sole control for the full length of time, and then going to the next direction, the traffic lights take double the time to cycle.  You really don’t want to miss the light; you’ll be parked there for 3 minutes waiting for your turn again.  Sitting on your scooter in the hot sun breathing exhaust.  It’s even worse when your scooter is a block behind the intersection, sitting patiently in your lane between the cars, waiting for the traffic to move and then, when it does, getting halfway to the intersection before it all stops again.  So, after having that happen a couple of times, Ilearned to follow the other bike’s examples and work my way to the front.

I thought I’d see if anyone had made a video of Chiang Mai traffic; sure enough, a bunch of people have.  Here’s one I like — it takes place near dusk, so you don’t get the impression of heat, and on the weekend it’s not terribly crowded for most of the trip.  He’s riding on a fairly clear superhighway most of the way, and it gets busy in the city at about the 8 minute mark so I’ve targeted the video to start just before there (the earlier part has some interesting points, but it’s mostly clear driving).

This looks a lot calmer than I’m used to, but that could be because I’m watching from my computer screen, and not being in the middle of it.  Anyway, good times.

Oh, cool! Here’s one taken by a guy on foot, trying to cross the Loop of Death at the same place I first tried it.  When he gets to the end of the video and says “Bye bye”? That’s clearly because he sees a gap in the traffic coming up, and he’s about to run across.  I know that feeling intimately.

Well, that’s enough about traffic.  The motorbike is super convenient to have, given that my hotel is so far out of the way.  The downside is that I’ve stopped walking distances, and my level of exercise has dropped precipitously.  I plan to fix that once I get to my new hotel in the Old City.

Socializing:

I have had 3 occasions in the last week to associate with groups of what I believe are colloquially called “people”.  I mean, in more than a purely 1-on-1, economic setting.  Two were, it seems to me, successful, and one was not.

Damien’s Going Away Party

Damien is heading off to India for a few months, by way of Sri Lanka, and left on Wednesday.  Tuesday night he had a going away party, at the house he shares with 2 others, set for 7pm, and he sent out directions which I’ve roughly reproduced in this Google Maps route. (I’ve tweaked the destination so that it points to a slightly different location, so as not to be posting their address on the web.)  It was 8km down the busiest road I’ve traveled yet, at night, and is where I learned that I needed a faceplate.  I hadn’t gotten 100 yards down the road before I caught a bug in the eye; they seem to come out in the evening.  I rode the rest of the route with my sunglasses on; fortunately, they’re not too dark and I could still see well enough.  But it was only my 3rd day with the scooter and I was pretty nervous.

I brought veggies and dip, courtesy of Rimping Market in the MAYA shopping mall — they seem to be the Whole Foods of Chiang Mai.  (Good food, more organic selection, pricier.)  This had the added benefit of teaching me how/where to buy veggies and tupperware and what to do with them. (Sang Serene has a common kitchen available; I don’t know what I’ll do for kitchen knives and peelers in the next place. Do without, I guess.)

I arrived shortly after 7, and found 2/3 of the current residents and one guy who’s taking Damien’s place in the house, and others showed up over time.  Mostly folks in their early 20s to early 30s with a couple of exceptions. I made a determined effort to remember all of the names and — to my undying astonishment — I actually did. (I swear, I don’t even know who I am any more.) Those names are faithfully reproduced below, in the order in which I met them; I wrote them down on my iPhone 10 seconds after I left the party, but I can still call them up from memory now:

  1. Damien – I confess, this one was easy to remember.
  2. Delphine – A roommate who barely spoke to me. French maybe?
  3. Nina – American, blond, cheerful, looked rather like Ash’s mother Sandy (for those who know her).
  4. Sebastien – Taking Damien’s spot in the house. German, spoke English very well, recently shaved head, had been in Chiang Mai just a couple of weeks and planned to start a business here but I never heard what sort of business.  I probably should have asked.
  5. Wyatt – Young guy from San Diego, formerly an actor who ran a small theater group, left San Diego to join a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, then came here with a friend and liked it enough to stay.  Currently working at an organic rice plantation being started a bit north of here and building his own hut on the land.
  6. Vinnie – Oldest guy there, probably early 60s, a lean Irish photographer into yoga, trance dancing, and clearly further along the New Age curve than I. Reminded me a lot of Matt Frewer, but in his Eureka! phase (he played Taggert; sadly, Youtube’s scrubbed clean of free-to-watch links for Eureka, but he’s great on it) rather than his Max Headroom phase.
  7. Connor – Another Irish guy, used to teach (apparently everything) in Korea before coming here, looked like a professional guy dressed down.
  8. Vanessa – A blonde lady, possibly American but we barely spoke.
  9. Rahasha(?) – American writer and yoga teacher to whom I was not actually introduced, I just sort of overheard her name.
  10. Chris – Tall possibly German guy, came with a woman whose name I learned later was “JJ”.

I left a bit after 9:00; there were some others who arrived towards the end of my stay, but I wasn’t introduced. If you read this list, you may notice that there was only one woman I seemed to connect at all with, and that was Nina.  It was the most peculiar thing.  They (mostly) all seemed like nice people, and on those (admittedly rare) occasions that I’ve been at gatherings I’ve never seen a particular difference in interacting with new men or women.  In this crowd, I never seemed to connect with the women; with only two exceptions, they all felt like they had a kind of reserve that kept them focused on people they already knew — or possibly less on men in general, or possibly less on just me, I couldn’t say.  But Nina, and one younger, black haired woman who showed up just as I was leaving, were markedly different; their energy reached out more and didn’t feel stand-offish at all, and the contrast was noticeable.  The other ladies? Not so much.

Well, regardless, I had some excellent conversation with Wyatt and Connor and Sebastien and Vinnie; and Wyatt invited me up to stay on the rice farm once his hut was set up, and I am not opposed to such a thing so we’ll see.  And I didn’t die on the ride home, so yaay that.

The Walking Tour of Chiang Mai that wasn’t

So, I’d signed up for a walking tour of the southern area of the Old City, for Wednesday morning, though meetup.com, and I’d been sent a Google Maps link for the meeting location.  I rode the scooter down to the location, just barely made it to where Google Maps on my iPhone told me it was… and there was no one there.  It was just a random bit of residential street.  As far as I can tell, Google Maps screwed me over — as it has 2 or 3 times since I’ve been here, but before I wasn’t on a schedule and always figured it out.  This time? SOL. I rode back to my hotel and sent the organizer an e-mail, and that was that.  I’ll try to catch a later one.

The Socrates Cafe

Damien had recommended this regular meetup of people who vote on an arbitrary philosophical topic each week and discuss it, and I signed up for it on Meetup.com.  Socrates Cafe is the name of the group — not the name of the venue, which was the Kahweh Cafe (in the Nimman area near my old hotel).  I’d missed my first opportunity to attend, the previous Wednesday, when I’d arrived at the coffee shop in time but, when I bought a drink, it took the coffee people over 10 minutes to hand it to me and I was completely unwilling to walk into the meeting that was, by that time already in progress.  It’s rude to show up late and interrupt everyone as if their time doesn’t matter.  I sent my apologies to the organizers, to whom I’d RSVP’d, but that seems to have been an unnecessary formality.  It turns out that most of the 20(?) folks who show up don’t bother with Meetup.com (I think they just know to come on Wednesday nights), and the meeting always starts on time but people just show up whenever so lateness isn’t an issue.  Nonetheless, there was no way I was walking in to an already in session meeting of people I didn’t know, and I’m still not sure if I would until I was an established fixture in the group.

So, the next Wednesday, I was sure to get there well in advance and ordered something super simple (hot peach tea), and got an early seat.  The meeting organizers were Chris and JJ, and the group was a pretty eclectic set of people: all Westerners; with a pretty even gender distribution; in ages ranging from about 20 to their 60s; some of them Buddhist, some more generally New Agey, some more Western Philosopher types (the sort who’ll claim to know what Kant was really on about), and others.  A number of topics were suggested by the moderators and the group, and the greatest number of votes went to “Are feelings and emotion overrated?”.

The whole thing was a strange experience.  I’ve had plenty of philosophical/religious discussions in my time, but always in small groups of 2 to, say, 8.  Here, there were so many people and nearly all of them strangers, and everyone was being polite about not dominating or going off on a tear and giving everyone a chance, and the effect was kind of like arguments by sound bites.  If you had a point, you really needed to get to it fast, because you weren’t going to have a chance to build a theme and make a full case.  There were a couple of people who were more participatory, a couple who barely said anything, and I was somewhere in the middle.

There were some useful points made, and at least one thing that I’d like to think about a bit more.  But rather a lot of the time I was divided between thinking, “Well, that’s pointless,” and thinking “How can I not sound like an idiot when I open my mouth?”  I found both sentiments to be a bit challenging and kept working on letting go of them.  I’m not sure if the format is conducive to really exploring anything to a useful depth, but maybe it’s sufficient to have a good time batting the conceptual balls around the court as a social event.  Maybe that’s even the primary purpose.  I’m not well wired for that sort of thing, but, hey, new experiences right?  And there were some very likeable people in that group, so perhaps that will turn out well.

The thing lasted 2 hours, and I helped one of the attendees move the tables back into their normal cafe locations when we were done.  By that time, everyone else was standing out in front of the front door talking, and I hate standing at the outer edges of conversations.  Plus, late hours are not my friend anyway. So, mission accomplished, I left, looking forward to the next one.

Settling in:

The biggest difference this week is that I’m kind of settling in.  I ride the scooter down to the Monster Cafe in the morning for the WiFi — and to play Elder Scrolls Online, sometimes with Mom and/or Sarah. (I’d walk, as it’s not far, but then I have to brave the gauntlet of the neighbor dogs.)  Then much of the day is spent online, in research, blog posts, Twitter, meditation, and the like. (Later meals tend to be chopped veggies for lunch, and tuna and cheese for dinner, which saves driving out for it and will do for the short term.)  Then the evening is Youtube or reading.  This base pattern is interrupted by errands (I got a local phone, and found a really big Rimping almost as big a moderate-sized Whole Foods, and bought the new helmet) or by the social occasions.

I’m going to be getting back into traveling about the city eventually, but, honestly, it’s been really nice to just hang out and relax with no pressure to do anything.  I may keep doing that until I move to the new place on Thursday.  Then I’ll be in the Old City and can walk about that more, and head out from there at my convenience.

I’ll post again after I’m in the new place.

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5 Responses to People, hotels, helmets, and calm

  1. Familywitch says:

    Sounds like you are settling in nicely. I am glad you are taking some time to relax, though I am very impressed that you socialized AND remembered people’s names. It is almost like you cared. 🙂

    Really like the new helmet. Almost want to buy one and just carry it around, but I am not that cool. The videos are cool. In the first one there is a passenger on the back of the scooter in front that could almost be Mark.

    The place you are going to rent looks nice. The building itself kind of reminds me of your place back in Venice. The pictures of the inside are nice, though last your personal touch! I bet you are more than happy to only have the backpack with all the moving around you seem to be doing.

    Hope to talk soon!

  2. Mark says:

    Great post. Like jane said its cool you settling in. There is (or was or will be) some
    Magic moment when you don’t feel like a tourist anymore and feel like you are home. That’s when you zen will probably completely kick in. Have fun!

  3. Florida says:

    Honestly, I get so into your posts and it’s like reading a good book that just keeps going on and on, completely absorbing me. I am finding myself annoyed when you stop and I have to wait until you write another post. What can be done about that……….?

    • Charles says:

      Meditate on the poor children in Ethiopia who have no blogs to read. (“I felt bad for myself because I had no blog, and then I met a man who had no Twitter.”)

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