Many times throughout any given day I have moments of reflection on being here. Yes, I’m really here and I’m not even halfway to any date of departure. Everywhere I look is the familiar and the not so familiar, the totally foreign and the becoming not so foreign.
There are so many things to appreciate about being here, like not having to carry around the bike helmet all the time. Nobody does. Well, I saw a European woman in the grocery store the other day carrying hers. I thought maybe it was something special. But no, it was ordinary. Why was she carrying it? I leave things on the bike, a hat, small purchases. They’re all there when I return.
And there are almost no insects here. Me, a notorious delicacy to mosquitoes, unscathed. OK, once. But that’s it. What’s up with that? It’s the dry season. Wait until May or June. Different story. I can also leave my room unlocked while I run local errands. Some hotels advertise safes in the rooms. Mine does not. They used to have safes, but they didn’t work very well. And people leave your stuff alone here anyway. I have virtually no concern about my passport, cash or valuables. OK, I take care of the passport.
It’s also entirely routine to have genuinely cordial and friendly encounters. Every one of them. The fruit vendor I buy from nearly every day. We greet politely, exchange, depart politely. The woman who does my laundry–same thing. The guy at the 7-Eleven. Helpful, patient with communication. The waitress at a local eatery. The hotel staff, all earnest, young, genuine, and helpful beyond the call of duty. The other day the owner took me in his car to a nearby mall to translate for me with a local wireless network vendor so I could get a Thai phone number and a data plan. It’s as though we are all one of these elephants talking to another of these elephants.
This is also a seriously young city. Maybe it’s because there are several universities. Or just the places I am going. But it also has to be a general feature of Thailand. Apparently it’s not against the law to tint all the car windows, so I often can’t tell who’s driving unless the window is open, so maybe older people are the ones driving. I’m probably looking for the driver in the wrong seat anyway. But all the scooters look to me like they’re darn near all kids…I mean under 30.
I finished “Writing Down the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg. It’s a book about the struggle with the flesh and bone of writing, the truth of it and the daunting scary monster in the dark of it. I threw it down when I finished, just as I am throwing down these words now. Let them out. I’m done with them. Goldberg always talked about using a pen and filling notebooks(it was the 80’s). I can’t imagine how she, or anyone, did it without a computer, typing away almost as fast as your thoughts the way we do now. And damn the typos, right? Then again, even though the words get onto the page more quickly, I am still awestruck by the howling tornado of my mind at times. It stops me right in my tracks, as though I can’t even take the next breath I am so stunned by the activity that cannot be captured. It’s amazing to be capturing anything, really, there’s is so much going on.
Oh. Did I mention? Every cappuccino is perfect.
But I digress.
As I was saying, the small things about being in Chiang Mai, they fall upon me, swirl around me like the gaseous cloud of a hundred scooters within any fifty yard moment. I am becoming smooth, adept, but not complacent. I am fitting in, silently amidst the noise. But every moment still requires focus. It’s just that my focus seems to be organizing data more quickly, processing more around me than a week ago.
The safest place to be while riding among trucks and fast moving vehicles is right where you are. Do not vary left or right. Move with the flow. Be very definite about your slice of the road. Do not waver or swerve, keep your eyes forward and let everyone else decide where they want to be as they move around you, with you. Driving as metaphor.
Now, moving through increasingly narrow places on the scooter, I’m as cool as the locals. Sometimes I do simply act sane. Stopping directly behind a car as if I was just another vehicle sharing space and staying in line. Oh, the ordinariness of it. Being a member of the species instead of a collector.
I thought today, considering the ease of travel, the confidence and smooth navigation through traffic, that I had arrived, at regular city living. The movements of other vehicles, the tuk-tuks, the red taxis, their speed and path are increasingly predictable. Other scooters are no longer intimidating. Cruising through congested areas where traffic is merging is also more comfortable. There are also some crazy drivers here, kids on scooters hauling at breakneck speed. That’s why staying in your lane is so important.
What is it about this place that makes so many believe they can sing? There are so many karaoke bars. Or maybe it’s just my neighborhood. The only drawback to being in my current location is that there is a string of karaoke bars a near block away. I can hear them late at night. With the windows closed. They go on past midnight. Not so loud that I can’t sleep. But loud enough for me to know it’s music, off in the distance. Being right next to each other, they are competing for airspace, trying to be louder than the one next door. And the singing in each is even worse than the last.
I watched the Super Bowl with a bunch of expats in an Irish Pub at 6:30am, drinking coffee, eating breakfast and talking trash. Some of them have been here for 10-12 years. The retired, the businessmen, the misfits. We’re gonna hang out again soon.
This is the weirdest post I’ve written…so far.