Friday I tell everyone in the office that I’m leaving for Thailand. We have a casual Friday at work and I chat a lot with the staff in between work. We talked about what seems like a common point of discussion in every country I live, marriage. They asked when I want to get married and how may kids I want. Some of the women want to have around 6 babies and one of them who is 21 kept saying that she wants kids, now! They were quite surprised when I told them I would probably wait for another 5 years or so. It’s funny how in the US 30 is quite normal, but in Ghana and Laos I’m already old at that point. The time comes to leave and it was really nice the sending off everyone gave me. Everyone stopped working and told me to have a good trip and be safe. I’m only missing a half-day of work today, Friday, and will be back on Sunday in time for work on Monday, but it seems like I’m going on a long trip the way that everyone is acting. It’s really nice to feel such a connection with the people I work with. Ai Mai, our pop driver, takes me to the airport. I’m feeling a bit nervous because I have done almost zero planning. Other than the hotel, I haven’t looked into anything. Normally I look into some alternatives, but this time I’m just going for the adventure. The plan goes fast and in an hour we’re landed in Chiang Mai. The visa checkpoint goes fast as you don’t have to pay when going to Thailand.
In the lobby I go to the tourist desk and ask about waling to the part of the city called Night Bazaar, next to the Old City. She tells me to take a taxi outside and I ask them if I can walk and they, both without hesitation, tell me now way it’s too far. I walk outside and nothing indicates that it’s a taxi to me. I probably should have done some more research into how to do this and what I should expect with the prices. I walk down the terminal and some tourists next to me bet into a red truck with a covered seating area in the back. I cross the street and start walking. I kind of want to get a car, but they can’t stop where I am, so I decide to walk. I’m probably one of the few strange people in the world who would rather walk out of an airport instead of taking a car to their hotel. I like it, I think it makes part of the adventure.
After about 10 minutes walking down the road, I start to think this is a bad idea. There are sidewalks, but they’re towered over by a 15-foot tall fence with barbed wire on either side. I feel like I just got released from prison and I’m walking out to freedom. I think they really try hard to scare people out of not walking so they will take the overpriced transportation. Well, they clearly haven’t met someone as stubborn as I. After about 20 minutes of walking I get to the end of the street I remember at looking at the map and get ready to take a right onto the road for the short walk to the Night Bazaar. People here and in Ghana for that matter always say a long walk is 2 kilometers, which to me is just stretching my legs. That’s not even enough to feel a work out.
After sometime walking down the busy main street I see a huge bank and head over to ask about exchange rates and try to take money out. Last time I was in Thailand it wouldn’t let me take money out because the fraud protection. I found out the conversion rate and went to the ATM. Rejected. I try again, but go through the menu a different way and somehow it works! I get out more than enough money for this trip and probably any future times I go to Thailand. I was right at the end of my patience with walking, but now this has revitalized me to keep going. Okay, another 10 minutes of walking has gone by and I’m about ready to get that ride. Just then I see a 7-eleven and get really excited, with a small stain of pessimism in that excitement. Last time I went to Thailand I was excited to get a slurpee and the only 7-eleven I found didn’t have a slurpee machine. I went in and immediately over to the drink area and happily found the slurpee machine with coke flavored and some weird green one. Coke was good enough for me. I could find the cup, but there are no straw or lid around anywhere. After going back and forth along the counter a few times like a mad man, I finally just fill up the cup anyway. Nothing will stop me from drinking this slurpee this time. Odly enough at the counter after I pay he gives me a straw and lid. Kind of a rip because there a good inch in the lid I could’ve filled up extra. But, I’m happy I got it, I swear!
Then I get back on the road and have, once again, a renewed energy to walk. It’s probably been a good hour or so by now. I ask some one where the Night Bazaar is to make sure I’m still on the right path and he tells me to turn up the next street. Either I asked at a perfect time, or he doesn’t want to tell me how far I’m off and that I’ll have to take another right after that. Up that road a bit I see a man with a shirt that says Tourist Police. I’m not sure if that means he’s here to protect me or arrest me… I figure at this point I can turn around and run or I can walk by him and introduce myself. As I expected he speaks great English. He teaches me that the red truck looking things are the taxis that will go where every you want and the yellow ones are on a specific route, usual to a nearby market. I ask him again if it’s close enough to walk and he tells me know. I’ve been walking for an hour, how much further could it be!? Then he introduces me to his friend who has a big smile as he asks me where I’m from and enjoys showing off that he knows L.A. and has been many times. I tell him what I’m doing, he teaches me some Thai, asks me the usual questions of marriage and then to religion. I tell him I’m Buddhist and he looks like I just slapped him in the face. He takes a few steps back and tells me that I’m on the wrong side. Still trying to hold my smile I ask what that means? Does he mean I’m on the wrong side of town to be Buddhist? He takes a few steps away and pulls out his phone and looks at it like he all of a sudden has an important email to check. Then he looks up again and tells me that it doesn’t make any sense how ‘my people’ have put in so much effort to come here and talk about who has created us all and who we belong to. He never actually said God or anything specific, but he made all the references toward that. Then, he takes a few more steps away and turns slightly away from me and completely stops talking to me. On both sides of the world I am reminded of how much I don’t want to be in a major religion. I don’t know what I am, so I just say Buddhist because I want to improve myself and look up to some teaching or something bigger than myself to aspire toward and Buddhism doesn’t have any kind of barriers to entry or qualification. You hold your self accountable and that’s enough. It’s just such a turn off that when I talk to people about not being in the same religion as them, they either feel suddenly adverse toward me or they try their hardest to convert me to think the same as them. In my greatest efforts I can understand and appreciate those who want to try and convert me because they honestly believe that they want to help me, but the aversion is unattractive and exhausting. I turn around and ask the other man again how to say thank you. He tells me to say “Kawb ru Krup”, with the Kawb being at a higher tone. Kawb ru is the thank you part and Krub is something that he tells me to add for men. Just then I remember my lesson with my Lao teacher and how she told me that in Thailand for women it’s Ka, with a high falling tone. I thank the other man as I pass him and he says nothing to me. I keep walking for some more time and now I’m seeing more foreigners, so I’m feeling like I’m getting very close. Finally I get to a corner and someone tells me in near perfect English to turn left ninety degrees at the next traffic light about 1 Km down the road. I haven’t gotten that descriptive directions in a long time. I forgot how to say thank you so I just smile and mumble something close to Kawb jai, which is what they say in Laos. I get on a street with tons of massage places and women yelling at me “messash!” I always try to let them down with a smile, but it’s hard when they yell at me every half block. I get to the end of the street and with no luck turn around. I’m now getting tired and it’s about 4:00 PM, so I am worried about eating too late after I go back and take a shower. I find a burger place and get a beer and some fries and rest before going to the guesthouse. I walk down the street and talk to an India looking man standing out front of a tailor shop for dress clothes. We talk for a bit and I find out that he is from Burma and his family from Nepal before that. We exchange some fun slang things from our culture, like saying “what’s up?” and then I keep going back to find the guesthouse because I can smell myself now and I want to shower. After some more walking I find the guest house, with luck, and talk with the guy at the front desk. I practice my Thai with him and tell him that I’m living in Laos and know that language.
I shower in the room and go back down to put my valuables in a safe on the first floor. This time I just give up and speak Lao to him. He understands what I’m saying, but it doesn’t really work when he talks to me, so he just uses English or teaches me a new Thai word when he responds. I can understand some of the Thai words because they are very similar to Lao, but I’m not quite good enough to switch it over like he can do so fast. He’s also speaking a different Thai in Chiang Mai then they speak in Bangkok. That’s the Thai that is, I believe, the official language that you might hear on the news or in a lot of the songs. The northern part of Thailand used to be apart of Laos, so their languages are quite similar. I set my stuff in the locker and head back out. It’s still only about 6:30, so it’s not late, but the atmosphere has completely changed. I’m really trying to look around a get a gauge of how it is here, even though I’m in tourist central. I walk down a small, but well lit path that goes between about 10 bars on either side and at the end of the path, it circles around a boxing ring. I have to go investigate what this is all about. On my way down the path, the women barmaids are all yelling at me to come over. Some are very polite, some just with a general yell, and some act like we’re best friends and they have been waiting for me to show up for a long time. I couldn’t help but laugh at their attempts to get my money. I also notice how many old white men are in these bars already. I guess they bought the attention. Or maybe they were looking for it. Either way I take a side road out and get out of that area as fast as possible. On my way out the side parallel path, it all hits me. This is exactly what people complain about not liking about Bangkok. Most of the women were barely dressed and covered in makeup. I want to pretend that they were just trying to get me to buy drinks, but I’m not nieve enough to think that the only money they were trying to earn. Then, I start to notice that even at the bars on the bigger road were filled with old white men with their, way too young, Thai ‘friend’. In fact it seems like those are the only people who are out at the bars at this time and now I’m still having the massage women yell at me. A lot of them are even dressed a little too suggestive for their job. Again, I just want to push it away and say it’s the same as the women at Hooters, but I know it’s not. I have to say I’m glad I chose to come to a big city in Thailand, but I’m feeling like I’m a bit over it and much more like I prefer to live in Laos. Or at least if I did in Thailand, I would want it to be in a smaller town away from all the glamor and glitz. I still wanted to see more around, so I walked down the road and found what looked like a night market. I walked through it and found an old ruined wall. Through some small research for my guesthouse I learned that there is a part of Chiang Mai called the old city, that is surrounded by either a river or broken wall, with bridges going in and out of the city. I walk across into the old city and just along part of the road, not wanting to get lost in a city I don’t know at night. I walk along the road and then decide it’s time to head back. I’m much more tired than I though I’d be after that walk earlier. I try to look for some ice cream on my walk back, but all I see is a mcdonalds, which I haven’t seen since back in the states cause there are none anywhere to be found in Laos. I don’t think there are any international chains there, or maybe that’s just Luang Prabang. At least I know there are none of the biggest in Laos. Then, I notice a burger king and starbucks on the other two corners across from the mc donalds, which happens to be just outside my guesthouse. Sorry, but I refuse to use my time here in Chiang Mai to eat Mcdonalds. I’ll be back in the states next month and I can wait if I really want to eat there, which I really don’t. I get back at about 9 and pass out quickly.