In Southeast Asia people eat spicy food and sit outside. Tourist drink beer on the porch of their, $3 a night, bungalow without a shirt on. Local kids walk around barefoot, selling things to white people, unsurprised by their blue eyes and curly hair. People that barely know each other touch each other. And I still cannot comprehend that this is a place that my older sister calls home. So many things exist in Thailand that I long for so often. Yet, when it is all in front of me it is overwhelming. To come from overcast days and solo cups of coffee to streets that are alive after midnight on a Tuesday is like being thrown into a bucket of ice water. And for the first time since I moved to Japan I left Japan without a partner in crime to stare at these exhibitions of lawlessness with in complete amazement.
I got ripped off by the cab driver on the ride from the Bangkok airport to Carl's apartment, arriving late Wednesday night.
Thursday morning Carl went to work and he pointed me in the direction of Jim Thompson's house. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon alone in Bangkok. The house itself is a hardwood fantasy home. It is full of 19th and 20th Century Thai treasures matched to suit a New York City architect who appeared in only black and white photos.
Carl and I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Bangkok.
We boarded the night train at 6p.m. to Chiang Mai. The train pulled in around 8:30 a.m. taking about 12 more hours than the BKK to CM flight. Carl woke me up as the sun was rising. I climbed down into his cabin to drink bad coffee and watch light creep over the Thai countryside. It made flying feel like cheating. All things that take place between the departure point and arrival should be cherished a bit more. Perhaps the final destination is the point in engaging in travel, but the things that take place in between should not be rushed for they can bring unexpected pleasures as well.
Once we arrived in Chiang Mai Ann was host to her world of coffee shops and Burmese coworkers.
On Saturday night the three of us went to the SWAN (Shan Women's Action Network) ten-year anniversary celebration. There was loads of delicious free food, dancing, and a documentary. The documentary was about two Shan children who want to attend school. They live in the mountains of a tangerine farm where their parents are waged laborers. Due to finances and location they have a difficult time trying to get to the school. In the end, they find a way to get the children to school and there are shots of the two boys happily reading off the blackboard and playing with schoolmates. After almost three years of working full time in the education field these Shan boys got me thinking, hey - I am a teacher and that feels good sometimes.
On Sunday afternoon I got a bus to the northern town of Pai. Ann and Carl had originally planned on coming but I was having attitude problems and it worked out best for all parties that I just go ... alone.
Pai is a backpackers playground. Spending about twenty minutes with another person translates into days in backpacker time. I rode around on the back of my new friends rented motorbikes and we went to the bar with all the other twenty-somethings who are traveling around Asia looking for something. Everyone talked about where they are from, where they have been, where they are going next, and how long they will be away for.
Some peoples trips around Asia are about drinking and putting notches in their belts. Others are about finding their zen and meditating. Everyones story was too self-indulgent and frivolous. I want my Asian story to be about educating and real relationships.
I left Pai the next day relieved to be in Thailand as someones little sister; perhaps not such a cliched character in the tale of a year or two spent in Asia.
The following day I drank coffee at Elliebum and got a ride to the Maesa Elephant Camp. The Elephants at the camp put on a show that includes picking up a paintbrush and creating a work of art. After feeding the elephants bananas and watching them roll around in the water I managed to get a pretty Thai girl to give me a ride down the hill to the orchid garden. The owner of the orchid garden then gave me a ride back into town and I could not have asked for a more pleasant day in my life.
Ann took the following work day off and we decided to go back to the elephant camp because it is a particularly magical place. And I determined that I must be either a baby or an old person based on the things that bring me pleasure.
And once again, elephants and sisters have been replaced by teacups and blankets.