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how many wat puns fit into a chili pepper?

THAILAND | Friday, 20 June 2008 | Views [803]

hello there,
it has been some time since I dusted off dusted off my faded army backpack. The painted flowers are several shades lighter and the musty smell of africa still lingers in the leather straps. But now it is time to journey to the other side of the globe in pursuit of adventures and understanding.
Four years seems an interminable amount of time to forget all of my tricks. I packed and packed again until I fit a months worth of life in under 30lbs.
The flight itself was a new frontier- 20 hours on a plane without stopping- Chicago to Seoul, South Korea. The airplane meals were korean dishes that came complete with directions for the foreigners staring at the ground meat and vegetables wondering what to do with the tiny little vials of sesame oil and hot chili paste. Landing in Seoul, the airport was a mimick of the Lost in Translation set. Bright Harsh florescent lights and glitzy Neon ad campaigns seared the eyeballs with blues and pinks not found outside of the 1983 resale bin. I found myself a corner of a sushi bar and watched, fascinated at the parades of people that did not look like they had intentionally left the united states.
My flight to Bangkok, Thailand was filled with more white people, specifically more americans than thais. By the time we landed at 1am, I was shocked to find the airport as bustling as if it were 3pm on a friday afternoon. The city never sleeps. I had booked myself in the airport hotel, even though it was putting on the Ritz, and was grateful that my time clock had reset enough from the deprivation of 28 hours of wakeful preparation the days before that I fell right into a coma.
The next day I was not letting any dust settle on my heels- only one month of time before work begins again and not a day to waste recouperating any losses. I flew straight to Chaing Mai in the North. The clouds were putting on impressive impressions of celestial bliss as we crept away from the sea towards the bushy green mountains. The development of cemented mansions is impressively more than I had expected, but the tiny two carousel airport was much more my speed. It was easy to get a taxi, easy to find people who speak english everywhere I turn. They are a people of spoiling the tourists.
The first guesthouse I handed at was booked full of dreadlocked soldiers of youth hotly debating the superiority of their travel portfolios with the same vengeance that their antithesis trades stocks on the floors of the mercantile exchange. I managed to trounce my way to the next best on the list with absolutely no problem not reading the street signs. I have futilely tried to write down the thai script for important words, like Women (bathrooms) or Do Not Enter, or Please Take off your Shoes. but the squirmy lines and widgets just dance elusively out of the grasp of my pen. I try to say, okay its like a hat on top of a dancing loon, but the hat never makes sense, and is that a loon or a duck now that I really look at it.
Anyways, The Gap house is where I will stay until Saturday relieves Thailand of my folly and sends me skittering to Vietnam's Hanoi.
The $10 a night room is much like the little hovels of africa. Comfortable enough for a backpacker, but filled with lots of little antsy visitors and a toilet in the shower (hey, saves the age old debate of whether it is wrong to pee in the shower, doesn't it?)
There is even a primative air conditioning, and though the heat and humidity rival florida swamps in August, I prefer the fan and the night air.
I settled in to the friendly place and soon followed the bellowing sounds of monks chanting to the Wat (the thai word for temple, perhaps even the buddhist word for temple because it it used so often in the guidebooks for the region). The gilded thatched pagoda roofs gave way to solid gold statues of buddha facing all directions. I was beckoned inside by a friendly neighbor and sat with him listening to the prayers call back in time to the days that pandas kept their secrets in silence and tigers danced their moonlit prowls without humans to prey upon their stalkings.
My favorite part about this time of meditation was observing the harmony surrounding the temple. The lizards were not held in reverence of his shining glory, they crawled upon his back as welcome as creatures of the earth reclaiming their metal. And the ants took this time of preoccupation to scurry about lifting anything not tied down to make a new home up inside the branches of the mango trees.
It was all just perfectly at peace. It was a feeling that has been absent far too long.
The night market was an endless labyrinth of stalls- each selling goods more beautiful and original than the last. Buying souvenirs should be next to impossible, I am so mesmerized by everything that glitters under the lanterns and sure that I could never deserve to touch such graceful Things. Silks, jewels, charcoal portraiture that you watch the dirty fellows creating, just stunned that much artistry can be trapped into replicaing chubby tourist faces peering out of photographs dropped off by the hour.
I found a crowded restaurant serving up seafood and as I dug into my charcoal grilled whole red snapper (only 4$)- I found myself daring that inner chid to taste every hot red curling pepper and see if I had what it takes to make it in thai.
Dizzy from the sweating and the heat, I found the heaven that I have been waiting for my entire life. A thai massage- one hour for three dollars. The legacy of the people, an inaliable right that I could sign declarations to support- a little old lady that could kick mike tyson out of the ring in tears, I plan on going back every night that I am here.
Finding my way back to my bed was a blissful walk of contented sighs and peaceful wanderings. The city is alive and safe at Midnight, just the same as morning rush hour. The tour book said you are more likely to be charmed out of your money than robbed, and I believe it is 100% true.
Today was my thai cooking class. The market tour was full of alien containers of green paste and purple powders, and fear factor creatures in every shape and flavor. Worms, eels, snakes, frogs, they are for eating, for setting free in celebration of buddha, for buying and keeping as cute little friends, your choice.
And later, as I learned to master the chili and stirfry my way out of a box, I mused on how happy everyone here is. There are no harsh angry voices, no vying for my money and attention in ways that make me huddle my backpack a little closer to my chest. It truely is the Land of Smiles, and I am smiling, knowing that my smile is not interpreted as an opening for business. Knowing that the questions asked are really just a friendly curiosity and any help given is not followed by demands for payment of service rendered. my aged backpacker defense mechanism is left dusted in the closet at home. And though the "low season" is filled with white people, who very likely came for the vacation and decided to stay for the ease of respect effortlessly caressing every life into fulfillment; its not just the monks who are finding inner nirvana here.
love, emily.

Tags: chaing mai, emily predny, gap house, predny, thai cooking classes, thailand

 

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