Thailand: Vignettes

January 29th, 2007

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Web Gallery of Vignettes: (650px)
Web Gallery of Vignettes: (450px)

Pick a stand. Any stand. Maybe it’s noodles tonight. Or possibly rice. The meat is often on display, sometimes not far from its original state; pig hooves, complete chickens, bowls of liver. Vegetables are sparse, often merely a garnish to a meaty broth or saucy carnivore’s delight. So far I know only the minimal, the necessary words. But I know how to point. Getting what I hope for is a bit like roulette at these street-side affairs with plastic chairs nearby, small tables topped with tissue-sized napkins and racks of chili and other spices. (at right: in the Library Cafe, serving Thai and foreign fare)

True, there are sit-down restaurants costing four to five times as much as the 20 baht street vendor. If you’re in a more farang (foreigner) part of town, English menus are common. You can get Indian, Japanese, quasi-Mexican, vegetarian, Korean, even a place we call the ‘hanging feet’ restaurant as you sit on the second-story floor and hang your feet over the first floor. The entire place, like many restaurants, lacks walls. (at left: jeff and marshall survey the dinner options)

However, some restaurants, like many store fronts, are the first floors of a residence. At one Indian place when we ordered beer the wife left for the store to buy it. Her husband was busy in back preparing the dishes for our party of eight, their young daughters wandered in and out of the kitchen. In the bathroom, with its typically wet tile floor and open drain, I found a washing machine and other signs of domesticity like the family toothbrushes wedged behind electric cabling. The staircase overhead led to their living quarters.

I will say, though, while I’ve suffered chili-pepper hiccups and the subsequent next day’s abdominal urgency, the only sickness I’ve genuinely suffered (in spite of two rural village, home-cooked, hand-eaten meals) was food poisoning in Mae Sai. Several Thai staff from DEPDC also got sick as well as four University of Wisconsin students who spent the night in a Bangkok hospital.

Crazy Horse.
Another day out at the climbing crag Crazy Horse. I only took one lens, one body, and the intention of making no more than snapshots. I *do* want to get back out to do a real photo shoot; there’s a large cave with a route traversing the ceiling, from one stalactite to the next. A wash of sun paints the line. So intense is the light that when I shoot it the rest of the cavernous chamber will fall into the blackest of shadows. (at right: marshall climbing in the Archway)

Outside, moderate lines meander up sheer faces rippled with the waves of dissolving limestone and rounded cracks. There is an area aptly named “The Archway” with several routes wrapping up the tufa; these are exposed, steep lines but with their sizable features nothing is harder that .11+ or 5.12. Not that my injured, out-of-shape hands can climb this now. (at left: mindy in the cave)

I’m down to one pair of underwear and socks but, like last time, I’m completely out of shirts. Both pairs of pants are in the 20 baht washing machine down the street; I’m committing the cultural faux pax of wearing shorts while I eat kao soi for lunch at the noodle shop just down the street (the other way). It’s right next to the Thai massage place. 150 baht for one hour of relaxingly painful deep tissue massage.

The drug store is across the street (yogurt, soap, sweetened condensed milk for coffee), the shop is on the corner, and the pig’s feet noodle stand is around the way.

The temps have gone up, the humidity increased. It’s kind of subtle. The mornings are cool but as the sun burns through the haze of pollution the sweat starts to gather until it’s dripping, tickling my chest, wetting my temples, making my clothes musty with accumulated perspiration.

It’s not so noticeable in the often open-air environment of Chiang Mai life but as soon as I’m in an air conditioned building my own smell becomes very apparent.

Of course I pick the hottest, busiest time of day to run; I think I am trying to stick with my habits back home where I run in the afternoon or at night when I finish my self-imposed work day. I am not a morning runner but here only the foolish would do otherwise.

The old city is 1.6 km per side (about a mile); ringed by two one-way roads divided by a moat it is a bold exercise in assertiveness (and faith in the drivers) to sprint across the multiple lanes of cars, trucks, tuk tuks, and motobikes.

Within the old city I ran through a warren of alleys passing as streets, the scent of sewage and fish sauce filling the air. Crossing the moat roads I headed down Suthep road and its six lanes of heavy diesel exhaust. Imagine running beside Aurora in Seattle or down Broadway in New York in the growing heat of summer. Ah, I forget, it is winter here.

By the time I reached the track at Chiang Mai University I was parched and drenched; it is culturally inappropriate to run shirtless here but I was wishing I could strip. I also wished I’d been smart enough to take 20 baht with me to buy a drink.

Several laps and I headed back to the old city thinking I could take a side street to avoid the exhaust. Soon I found myself lost in another warren of alleys unable to make it across open ground to the moat roads.

My 40 minute run became an hour and a half. Oops.

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