Saturday, June 4, 2011


Greetings everyone from Chiang Mai!  The weather is hot, I'm sweating like a hog, but all is well--for the most part.

So the plane ride proved to be real colorful.  On the way down I met some shady characters. 
The first was a real-estate mogul from Minneapolis who was heading to Honduras, looking to find a place tio permanently settle, because as she saw it America is getting too expensive.  I didn't know whether to feel sorry for her or be upset, because while she talked passionatrely about how for forty years she paid into medicare and social security and now nmo longer believes it'll be availabe, yet she also seemed mostly interestedi n her own well-being and didn't give much to think about how she'd be living in luxury at the expense of the natives.

My next flight heading out from Houston was an adventure.  Next to me was a guy nicknamed "Joe."  Joe was the classic "talker" on airplanes and never could shut up for a minute.  But that was alright, as he was an art teacher and we had much to talk about.  Joe was heading out to the Phillipines to meet up with his mail-order-bride-to-be.  He went on and on about how her family mostly hates her, and didn't seem to know the reason why.  Oddly enough, the other guy next to me (which I never got his name) was also going to the Phillipines, to also go meet up with his mail-order-bride.

In Thailand, the term "Farang" is used to describe foregners.  Usually it is a degogatory term--llowed by a few colorful metaphors.  So on the flight I was forced to associate myself with Farang, and while I appreciated their company, in the back of my head I kept saying, "Lord, please don't let the Thai people think I'm no different from these people."  It was a classic tax collector and the Pharasee conversation.

When I finally arrived, what an adventure!  The sii law (a red truck that drives you everywhere) couldn't find my apartment, and so I happened to meet somebody who offered to give me a ride.  When we made it to the apartment, he told me, "This place is too expensive, why don't you come see where I live?"  So naturally, I went.

Boy, what a world of a difference!  My new friend--Jakkie--lived in wooden hut with windows dut-taped at the seams, no air conditioning, no bedding, and covered in mold.  The place was 1,500 Baht (about forty-five dollars) a month.  While at first I thought, "What an adventure!)

Then by the time I tried to sleep, I had different thoughts.  Jakkie warned me the place had a mosquito problem and that the local restaurant played loud traditional Thai music until real late at night.  By 9pm I decided, "I can't do this!"  And so I took my stuff and hauled it through nighttime Chiang Mai to a hotel.  If I had done that in any other city I probably would have been mugged and found half alive in an alley the next morning.

Before the night was over, as a last-ditch effort, I decided to go find my Thai host parents.  These two people, Punnee--Khun Mae--and Wichai--Khun Paa--took me in when I lived in Thailand the first time.  Well, things got off to a bad start when the present I got for them--these pomegranate coated pretzels I love to no end--melted in the plane.  I thought, "Great!  I'm now going to look like an ungrateful son!"  I walked down through Chiang Mai University campus to Talaat Romsak where they have their night market with a plan thatr I'd offer 3,ooo Baht per month.

I had eaten at Talaat Romsak every night for every day I lived in Thailand.  The routine was always the same.  Khun Mae brought out the food, and kept bringing more and more out even when I said, "Im leew!" (Not hungry.)  So I came hungry.  Much to my surprise, nothing had changed.  Everything was exactly the same.  Even the people who worked there that I knew were still there.  It's great to know that while so much has changed in my life the past two years that there was one small remote spot in my life that Time didn't mess with.

Khun Paa was the first to greet me, followed by Khun Mae.  Khun Mae saw me and said, "Chang uan!"  Which means literally, Charles fat.  Thai people are more direct than Americans, and while nobody else bothered to comment on the fact my pre-Thailand binge of Buffalo Wild Wings, Popeye's Chicken, and all the other American junk food that I'd be missing out on for three months, was catching up to me, Khun Mae did.  Then she proceeded to make fun of the fact that things with my lasty girlfriend had gone down the sewer drain.  And then when it came time to ask if I could have a place to stay, well she burst out laughing.  I looked to the people at the table next to me--who spoke English and Thai and were helping negotiate the deal--and asked, "I just got dissed big time, didn't I?"  That's my Khun Mae!

I woke up the next morning and left the hotel to try and find an apartment.  Even on a Satuday morning, the offices for all the apartments by the university were open.  I looked at a number of them, but didn't quite like them.  They were all in the 5,000 to 8,500 Baht range, and I thought, "Heck, the apartment I originally booked only cost 6,500 baht a month, and it has a pool!"  So needless to say, that's where I went.

But then when all was said and done and I signed the paperwork (and anyone who knows me knows how much dread paperwork conjures up in me) the woman at the feont desk said, "There are no bedsheets.  You can rent them from us for 500 baht a month."  Now, in America where a milkshake costs five bucks that kind of price for bedsheets would be reasonable, but in a country where I can get lunch of chicken and lime leaf stirt fry for only fifteen baht, I'm not happy.  So I politely said, "I will look around," when in reality I was thinking,  "No way!  Five hundred baht!"

So I headed off to the mall.  Part of the mall has a traditional Thai market, and I met a woman selling beautiful cloththing, and I saw two shirts I really, really liked.  Combined they were six-hundred and forty baht.  In Thailand you can barter with sellers, though if it's a western-style store you can't.  So I wasn't sure, being the woman was in the mall and all.  So I said, "Thaaw ray haa roy bahtmai?"  (This cost five hundred baht?)  The woman's face lit up, and then she said to me, "Hok roy baht, (six hundred baht).  So the deal was done.

Then when I found the store where the bedsheets were sold, I couldn't believe the price!  6,ooo baht for the most basic sheets!  It didn't make sense to me that bedsheets would cost as much as to rent my apartment for one month.  I was left thinking, "What kind of country is this?  I can go to the doctor for six bucks, I can barter down a beautiful silk shirt to about four, but bedsheets cost a whalloping!"  And of course all the western style blackberry phones and iBooks cost way more than what most of the rural poor make in a couple years.  And we think the gap between the rich and the poor is bad in America.

And this is a special occasion, as I've made it back to the printshop I always went to back in 2009 to use a computer with Internet.  The woman who runs the place was still there, and I wasn't sure if she recognised me or not.  Oh well, she'll recognise me when I come in once or twice a week to write in this blog.

Now I'm back off to my apartment.  I'm going to put on one of my nice new Thai shirts and head off to Talaat Romsak, hopefully to get a free meal and convince Khun Mae to take me shopping to find some bedsheets.

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