This morning the damn kid was crying again. For two nights now, a woman and her child (who I would guess is maybe two or three) have been staying in the room adjacent to the dorm room I have been occupying in Chat House. The building was originally a regular house and has since been converted into a guesthouse, meaning the walls are super thin and there are some gaps — more like cracks, small but present — where the interior walls meet the exterior of the house. In the mornings, there are usually rooster calls and monks beating drums somewhere nearby at around 7:30 in the morning, which is entirely forgivable and even enjoyable due to the novelty. But a kid in the next room whining day and night? God help me. His mom talked to him in that baby-voice, cooing “I love you” through his tantrums in a way that reminded me of Mishka. In my bed, I muttered a long-held mantra that gets me through moments like these: neverhavekids neverhavekids neverhavekids, ad infinitum.
But the kid wasn’t the only reason I left Chiang Rai. Since yesterday, the itch started to make itself known. There is a feeling that comes on in any place, no matter how nice, after you have been there about a week, maybe less. It is the call of the road, the promise of new adventure in a new place. I really enjoyed Chiang Rai, and there are a few spots I marked on my map that have yet to see, but it was time to move on. I decided this while taking a quick morning walk, and returned to find that the guy sharing the dorm room with me had the same idea. Was he leaving because of the kid too? I didn’t ask. In fact, we only ever said hello and good-bye. (Plus I said sorry once when he found me on the stairs, stuff spread out as I searched for the room key that always seemed to find its way to the bottom of my bag.) His pack was light, which made me feel mildly embarrassed as my pack is fit to burst. But I have to commend my pack and defend my logic here.
A) The pack, which I got when my dad and I did our Grand Canyon hike during my last high school spring break (good memories, dad 🙂 ), has proved its worth many times over by now. It is like a magic bag: uncomplainingly accompanying everything I can think to shove in it. I thought after Luang Prabang I would certainly have to start using the last-resort collapsible duffel bag, but – alas! – with a little strategy, I was able to fit in all of my new purchases in Chiang Rai. And I didn’t even have to start using my black backpack or wear layers of heavy clothing! (That will come later, in the airport. I can almost guarantee you I will be frisked with the get-up I’m planning.) Good on you, pack. This is another chapter of a beautiful relationship.
B) Though all my shopping makes me look more like a giddy tourist than a stoic, minimalist traveler, I think my logic is sound. Right now, I am in Thailand. In a week, I will be in England, where I will be staying autumn and the start of winter. Everything is cheaper in Thailand, including clothes. Therefore, I will buy clothes (and some other things, like notebooks) while I am in Thailand and bring them to England. Genius! So what if I look a little silly with my pack full of winter wardrobe? I’ll be the one laughing when I get to Oxford and already have a snazzy wardrobe in tow. Sure, things may need to be ironed, but the uniqueness of my goods are worth it.
Speaking of this wardrobe: I am going for patterns and colors, conscientiously seeking out what others may call “hippie clothes,” with great success. Which means, much to my mother’s chagrin, that nothing matches. If/when I layer up, I’ll look like I went through a garage sale with a color magnet and put on everything that came to me. My Uncle Dave Fitz once told me that if I wear thirteen different patterns I’ll really freak people out. I don’t know if I can manage thirteen patterns yet, but I am probably somewhere on the “Why, she’s rather odd” scale. Then again, wasn’t I there already?
But I digress. Getting to the bus station was easy at this point, and I still managed to find a new way to get there. I meant to have one last meal at the vegetarian restaurant (30 baht for a heaping plate of guaranteed vegan food! Best deal in town because it is meant for locals.) I have been frequenting, but it was closed on Mondays. There actually is a large number of these vegetarian restaurants (identifiable by the word jay (เีีีีั้ิิจ) and lots of red and yellow banners) in town, but I took the closure as a sign that I should give into my craving for salted peanuts in the shell (I eat the shells too. It’s good roughage.) from 7/11. With peanuts, water, and black sesame soymilk in hand, I found a bus that was conveniently leaving for Chiang Mai in twenty minutes. The bus was immaculate, air-conditioned and presided over by a severe woman with too much make-up. She enforced seat assignments in the stringent manner of a Victorian governess. I settled into 12B, and aisle seat at the very back of the bus, and tucked into my peanuts just as other Thai passengers were eating their snacks (green mangoes, meat kebabs, chips, etc). For most of us, the food was gone before the bus even left the station. There is an opportunity to buy more snacks and go to the bathroom halfway through the journey, and all garbage is left on the bus when you alight for the final time.
We pulled into a station marked called “Bus Station Terminal 3,” and I waited for a few minutes on the bus. Other passengers did the same, but eventually everyone got off. This was the end of the line. I collected my exceedingly bulky bag (which I insist on handling: if you can’t handle your own luggage then you shouldn’t bring so much stuff) and wandered uncertainly around the terminal. This seemed like the long-distance station as every bus was going to Bangkok or Phuket or Ubon Ratchatani. There was no apparent info desk, so I asked a lady in a uniform if I could find a bus to Pai. At first she didn’t understand since I said it as other foreigners say among themselves: pie. In Thai, the p is more of a mix between b and p and the vowel is longer: Bpaai. Now having the correct pronunciation, she directed me to the bus station across the street, where I repeated the name to enough people to make me remember as well as get directions to the buses to Pai, located in the back. Buses left every hour on the half hour; it was 1:40.
With an hour to kill, I set off in search of a fruit stand and was shocked that I didn’t find one. So I patronized the second 7/11 of the day, choosing from one of three in the immediate vicinity. I got a Thai iced tea from a machine that would sell syrupy fruit drinks in the states. Wandering the aisles, I sipped it furtively before getting a modest refill and paying eighteen baht (60 cents) for the whole shebang. Do I have questionable morals? Maybe. But 7/11 makes plenty of money, and this isn’t as bad as when I eat a quarter pound of grapes while shopping in the grocery store in the States before making it to the register. (Just try and stop me!)
Time passed pleasantly in this fashion, and it was time to board before I knew it. The bus could seat eleven passengers in reasonable comfort. There was a Swiss couple, the woman had a most impressive girth; a flustered Asian tourist (from Japan?); and everyone else was Thai. I was tempted to sing this song, the opening line of which means “Do you want to go on a trip?” but decided to hum it to myself instead. (Side note: the song is an innuendo, asking if the listener wants to go eat dab, which is cooked intestines, but the dabdabdab refrain is referring to a certain noise that can result from intimate contact between two people. The song gets most Thais grooving and is easy enough for a foreigner to learn. I forgot about it until I heard it on a bus trip in Laos.)
On this bus, there was no music. As we left the urban sprawl of Chiang Mai, I continued to read Notes From A Small Island and watched for my Chiang Mai host family’s village. A word about each:
First: in Chiang Rai, I found Orn’s Bookshop (courtesy of a flyer taped to the wall next to my bed) and traded another book for this one. It is an account of Great Britain and British life by American travel writer Bill Bryson. I have been nibbling at this book for a few days, and if I am in a particularly jovial mood will laugh out loud. The hope is that this book will get me excited for my upcoming spell on said “small island,” and I must say it is doing a good job. However, he had less than positive things to say about Oxford. In fact, he went on a bit of a tirade about the place, saying that there are many beautiful buildings but it is being ruined by ugly new installations. I’ll just have to see an judge for myself, though I am poised to like the place immensely.
Second: during my year in Thailand, I stayed a week with a family in Chiang Mai. This came about when I was told that I had to take the SAT (which I had previously declined to do since it was not required for admission to UT) in order to fully qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. It was a bit of a bother taking the SAT in Thailand, but I found an international school in Chiang Mai that was offering it. I contacted the school, and they took care of everything. A bus picked me up from the station, I was given an absolutely lovely apartment to stay in for the weekend, and I was allowed to eat in the cafeteria. The English headmistress met me personally (if her accent didn’t give it away, talk of a cricket match that weekend did) and was proud to inform me that her institution taught the best and brightest, including twenty of the children of the Bhutanese royal family, whom she had met personally. Around the school there were posters about not showing off how expensive your clothes and accessories were since not everyone can afford them. What a place. But I took the test, did well enough to get the scholarship (with no preparation besides a twenty-minute internet search the hour before to see what exactly I was going to be tested on), and then spent the following week with a local family, found courtesy of AFS Thailand. I think they lived in the outlying time of Meh Rim, which we passed through today, though I didn’t see anything that looked familiar. Warm thoughts to them, wherever they are.
After navigating the urban sprawl, we made it to the mountains. My precursory internet reading warned me that people who get motion sickness should take adequate precaution, which proved to be sound advice. If I were keeping a gratitude blog (which I think I will do someday as an exercise in writing, gratitude, and habit), today’s entry would be that not only do I not get motion sickness, I am able to read, sleep, and enjoy the view with relative ease and enjoyment aboard pretty much any means of transportation. Others in the car are not so fortunate. The climbing and sharp turns had barely begun when I heard what sounded like the Thai word for vomit — OO-ahk — coming from the seat behind me. My head turned toward the sound, and the Thai lady sitting in the middle, wearing her hair in a ponytail and a purple floral polo, was emptying the contents of her stomach into a plastic bag as unobtrusively as possible. (Something to love about the Thais: they don’t make a big deal out of things since the extra attention would just make it worse.) It smelled like chicken and looked like corn sunk below some clear yellowish liquid.
Thank goodness for a window seat! Much to my delight, the window opened and I spent the entire ride with some body part sticking out. Usually it was just my left hand and maybe some forearm. On occasion, my whole head would thrust out, grinning and panting in the cool mountain air like a dog. I gripped the van from the outside on sharp right turns, preventing myself from tumbling backwards into the guy next to me (no one was wearing seatbelts), and was thankful I wasn’t leaning into a door on the sharp left turns. On and on we went, S-curve signs around every bend, as if the serpentine nature of the road was news. The driver was pretty good, passing another car on a double-blind curve only once, and in general I didn’t feel like my life was in too much danger. Plus the road was velvety smooth for the most part (as far as roads go) and we even made a rest stop just as I was thinking “Gee, it would be nice to pee.” Thailand’s perfect potty timing record remains untarnished.
And the view! All that climbing wasn’t for nothing. Much of the land we drove through was national park (a word I learned under humorous circumstances involving a mass gathering of AFSers, a party on Koh Phi Phi, and a hotel mix-up; but I won’t get into it here) and was duly untouched. Low-lying clouds drifted through the mountainside forests like the train of a giant invisible bride. Rain spat on us occasionally. Nature was doing her duty to keep the land lush. While I watched the beauty, ooing and ahhing appropriately (I swear I enjoyed the ride significantly more than anyone else), I was also thinking about the future. I have Oxford to look forward to, then another year and a half at UT, with a college summer thrown in between. And then… graduation. The deadline for entering the real world. Or is it? There are so many options out there, and no time like the present to gather information and start planting seeds that could come to fruition two years from now. Whatever happens, it certainly will not be a 9-to-5 in some box somewhere. Youth shouldn’t be spent like that. This trip has opened my eyes to many new possibilities, and I am eagerly contemplating my options.
But for now, I am in Pai, Thailand. Once upon a time it used to be an outpost for hippies, and has since turned more touristy but retains some of that hippie vibe. Upon alighting from the bus (the poor sick woman held up remarkably well) I checked out a map and was approached by a motorbike driver. He said the cheapest rooms were 300 baht, but was friendly about it and pleased that I could speak Thai. He was called away to drive some other people (I am adamant about walking to get to new digs since I want to know I am in walking distance to the bus station and other important places, like internet cafes and restaurants) and was replaced by a woman driver. She offered to walk me to cheap accommodation. I followed her, apprehensive until I asked her if I would have to pay. She said no, but winked and followed up with “But if you do, mai ben rai.” Another use for the ubiquitous Thai “never mind.” We both laughed and then were at the place immediately. The owner was a middle-aged, cheerful, impeccably polite man. I asked for the cheapest room, at which point the driver lady said that I could stay at Auntie’s house (Thais often speak in the third person, which mercifully eliminates the need to navigate complicated pronouns) for free. “Really?” I asked, and we laughed again. It was a kind-hearted expression, but I wasn’t going to take her up on it. She went with me to check out the room and reminded me to keep the door shut and locked at all times before leaving, even calling me look, child (used as a term of endearment) a few times for good measure.
What a room! For 150 baht ($5) a night, I have a bed, working fan, working TV (finally I can catch up on my Thai soaps and K-Pop!), two towels, and complimentary soap and water. There is even soap and toilet paper provided in the shared bathroom! This is above and beyond for what I usually get for this price or more. I think I like it here. To sweeten the deal, a guy on the street outside was handing out pamphlets for live music at a nearby bar tonight. Actually the music is set to start in five minutes…