Loi Krathong & Yi Peng: Chiang Mai, Thailand 2013.

About two months ago, I was convinced that packing up, moving home and settling back down into a 9-5 American routine was probably the way to go for me (small personal meltdown met societal pressures, met “screw it, I’m going home”). Except my Canadian roommate convinced me that if I left Thailand before the lantern festival in November, I’d never forgive myself (though if I’d gone home, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing). It’s a good thing I didn’t pack up and leave.

Especially since I got to experience one of the most remarkable festivals in the world (seriously, it’s voted in the top ten worldwide, just Google it.)
I do admit that I spent most of the weekend good and drunk, as one should.

I have yet to figure out how to search for “How many people died in CM during Loi Krathong this year?” Numbers aren’t there yet, I guess. Mixing Thai whiskey, fire, fireworks, flaming lanterns plummeting down from the sky, mob-mentality and getting drunk next to a river while trying to send off little flower/incense rafts has to result in at least one death. At least—though no one seemed overly concerned.

The festival was supposed to last for three days, but I distinctly remember at least five, because I went out Friday night for “one quick drink”, and didn’t actually return home until late Wednesday afternoon (I’d been home. But by the state of my bedroom Wednesday afternoon? I wasn’t home for long, and it was mostly to shower, find clean clothes without singe-marks from torches, lanterns, or fireworks, and then to head back out to do it all over again).

Later I’ll try to sit and write about each day of insanity, but for now, I’ll just post a few iPhone captured photos and call it a night.

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Postponing Phnom Penh.

I fully intended to get home from Cambodia, pack up my bags, turn around and take a job as a journalist in Phnom Penh and live out my dream of working as a reporter in a third world country with shitty infrastructure.

Except that I didn’t. A couple nights after I got back, I went out to visit some friends and I was asked, “Hey, do you want a job?”
Uh… Yes? Yes. It’s summer, and my work is going to take hiatus, whatcha got?
And the next day, I just so happened to become employed.

Cambodia was already starting to feel a long ways away, and also… it was monsoon season. And I did nearly die by crocodile*, so maybe I could just put that move off for a bit… And really, postponing lifelong dreams? Nothing new to me.

So I’ve been lulled back into Chiang Mai. Something I was very intent on not doing.
But it’s not so bad, good friends, great weather, pretty scenery—and I live up the road from the best Caesar salad in the city. An important thing, I assure you.

Not so horrible.
*And the death by crocodile? It was stuffed.
Torrential downpour, laptop, dirt road that instantly turned into a mudslide, and there was me, stupidly running for cover when I slipped and slide my way straight into the jaws of.. yeah… stuffed crocodile. Smooth, I know. Because my middle name should be Grace, and I’m all kinds of awkward.

Condo Hunting, Day One…

This afternoon, I headed out of my guest house to stretch my legs and grab a smoothie, and to see who was out and about on the soi. Turns out, today was a break in the intense heat*, so the answer to “who is around today?” was: everyone and their favorite lady-boy.

I say that last part with love and affection—I’d say instead, “everyone and their mother”, but you know what? Our mothers are not here. The lady-boys are.

I made the terrible mistake of telling my friends that “today I swear I am going condo hunting. And to the pharmacy. And looking into getting a motorbike. And writing 10 articles. And… and… and….and look what I did to my foot last night, never let me drive again.”

Unfortunately, much to the loathing of my laziness, I have recently made a friend who is more of a “stop talking about it and just get things done” kind of person. Which meant my day quickly went from idealistic dreaming to “oh, really? You’re going to do all these things? Get on the bike. Let’s go.”

Four hours, a sushi break and cramped leg muscles later, I have seven or eight condo business cards in my wallet and have a better idea of what I’m looking for. I also looked at motorbikes which was fun.

And you know what? I was not grateful enough to my ex for handling all of the apartment living issues in China, and finding us such a beautiful home. I should’ve been kissing his feet and going “Oh, you glorious man, I never again will doubt you, you goddamn golden god, you.” Instead I was more like… “Really? Is it REALLY necessary to kick your shoes off IN the bed? We’re going to trip, fall down the stairs and break our necks.” Yes, everything about me had become a worried housewife. 

Luckily for me, my new friend also speaks Thai… and Mandarin… Lao… English… Taiwanese… French… Probably three or four more languages I don’t know about. Some days, I think he might be a secret agent. But regardless, he vroom vroomed me around the city and introduced me to one building after another, all well within my price range. And I loved… none of them.

There was one, but the building was called Hillcrest, and as a San Diegan, that one had a special place in my heart. As well as a desk, armoire, huge shower, and two balconies. But at 4700 Baht a month, it wasn’t love.

So in the end, I am back in my guesthouse trying to make a decision, and not coming up with any easy answers. To move out of the old city, I have to have a motorbike. To have a motorbike, I have to pay 13,000 Baht. To pay 13,000 Baht, I have to cringe at my summer slow season budget and find a local job. And to do all of that, I have to put off my dream of moving to Cambodia for just a bit longer.

So today I accomplished a lot, and nothing at all.

*when I say “break in the intense heat”, I mean it was one degree cooler than yesterday, and there were three drops less of sweat lost all afternoon in comparison to usual. It’s a measurable thing, I swear. 

You can usually tell a lot about a poet/person’s mood, based on the quotes they find personally relevant each day. Hello, Wednesday.

There is not much poetry in my life lately.
And good lord, have I missed it. This will be month seven or eight since my last performance, and I don’t know what to do with all the extra energy that doesn’t wind up on a stage somewhere. So I am stuck stalking all of my favorite poet friends and following their progress and tours from very far away.

Today, walking by one of my favorite bookshops here in Chiang Mai, I stumbled across a “20 Baht Sale” table, and saw a poetry book called Jeremiah, Ohio sitting on top of a stack of beat up romance novels.
When I got it home, I found it was a signed copy, inscribed “With shared passion for the writer’s thirst.” –Adam Sol.
It was exactly what I needed. So, here is some of the good stuff I’ve been rolling around in bed with today::

“For a while I fancied myself a paper crane—
                I was intricate and prone to luck. Now even
my arches are fallen.”
                -Adam Sol

When you leave him, it will not feel like crushing a
light bulb in your hand—more like slowly, so slowly,
removing the glass from your palm.
-Sierra DeMulder

“You photographed my eyebrow shapes and turned
them into flashcards: mood on one side, correct response
on the other. You studied them until you knew when to
stay silent.”
-Miles Walser

“I had never feared insomnia before—like prison,
wouldn’t it just give you more time to read?”
-Lorrie Moore

“I would like to get away to some quiet place with
some nice person and recover my goodness.”
–An interview with Tennessee Williams

“Home” again.

I felt a bit homeless and uprooted when I moved to Chiang Mai from China. Right, okay, so if I follow the logic of “home is where the heart is” and I think about the one thing that I love most that I have with me, then it must be my $300 pair of leather lace up, knee high boots that two years after purchasing still leave me with butterflies in my stomach. My El Salvador boots. Sigh. Materialism.

I left them stored under a friend’s bed when I headed to Cambodia. Therefore, by logical assumption, my heart is in my shoes, and my shoes are in Chiang Mai, so apparently, this is “home”.

I did not say it was perfect logic.

Anyway, I am “home”, whatever that means these days, and happy enough to be here. Though my old landlady is decidedly unhappy with me for moving in across the soi, rather than rent from her again. How does one say “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!! The bed over there is so much more comfortable!! AND THERE ARE TWO FANS!!”

My usual dinner companion, a retired American from California, shook his head at me last night, and said “this guilt, it is an American thing. We feel as though we owe someone something for having enjoyed it in the past—we do not owe anyone for a good experience. Do not make empty promises; simply tell the truth and stop sugar coating like a Californian with ‘maybe when….’.”

I am the queen of sugarcoating.
Washing California out of my skin is not a plausible thing, but I am told yet again that I need to try.

It’s 92 degrees today and humid. Sticky. Sweaty. The usual. I do not remember what it was like to have to pile on layers of sweaters and parkas just to go across the street to the market. I also don’t remember what it was like to not sweat buckets each hour. I’ve never been particularly good at remembering to hydrate, so I have taken to chugging down a bottle of cold water from 7-11 every two hours to combat the headaches.

Hung out with a friend today on the patio for awhile—we have similar symptoms, and both just got back from Bangkok. I thought I had discovered allergies for the first time in 27 years, but instead, migraines, constant sneezing, body aches and upset stomachs (which seem to be normal, everyday occurrences) are shared symptoms, rather than just individual misery. He thinks, maybe, that there is a fever going around and we probably have it.

I can never tell if I have a “fever” or not—my body temperature is usually overheated as is—or if, even, “fever” in this case is just the follow up word for things like “dengue” or “yellow”.

Either way, I am most likely sick again, and this makes the XX time I’ve been feeling deathly ill in the last five months since moving to Asia. “Sick” is now relative, and I only use that label when I am so ill, I simply can’t be bothered to get out of bed for three days+ in a row.
But, I am home, and I don’t have to go anywhere for ten whole days. Erm. Nine. Nine whole days.

A few basics and a geography lesson

When I tell my friends I live in Thailand now, they go “Oh! The beaches! The islands! Perfect white sand and clear blue waters! You must be on the beach every day!”

My response is… “Uh, no, actually…” There is always a lot of confusion afterwards. Like; uh, C, you live in Thailand, and you chose a city in the mountains? Why on earth would you do that??
I haven’t been to a beach since I left California.

So I live in the mountains, about three hours south of the Burmese border. Which is great for visa runs, but on the spectrum of beaches, there are none. There are mountains. And jungle. And temples. Lots of temples, there are more temples in Thailand than there are Starbucks at home. That little red star on the map? That’s where I live.

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I can walk down my street and pay 100 baht to swim in their pool for the afternoon. Or jump on the back of a motorbike and head up to the waterfalls and go hiking. There’s a quarry outside of town with a three story jump into a lake that I’ve been dying to go dive off of, but each time we get ambitious and say “tomorrow morning! Nine am!”… It doesn’t happen. No surprise there.

What I love most about this city are the long walks and the night markets. Stall after stall of colorful lights and happy people and crammed farang bargaining with the sellers. I love getting kebabs from one of the sellers, buying gelato and wandering around with nowhere to be.

My neighbors and friends are great, but I am not overly impressed with where I live. It’s beautiful, there are no problems or worries—and a distinct lack of drama, mostly because it’s so hot no one can be bothered. We sit around and say “there is no edge here.” And yet, most everyone finds themselves back in the city again after a month or two, because the ease of living is unparalleled.

My life here is much the same as it was in San Diego. I have an Irish pub down the road to watch football in (soccer, not American), a market a block away to get watermelon shakes and fresh fruit. I see friends every day, go to a French café each morning for scrambled eggs and toast. It was pointed out to me one evening, “So basically, you could be at home and doing the exact same thing.”

…Yup. I have to get out of here. But this city is so pleasant, it sucks you in.