Monday, March 16, 2009

The Rose of the North

Ahhh, Chiang Mai. The second largest city in the country, the aptly named 'rose of the north'. A charming old city, established in 1296 - sacked by the Burmese (twice) and now considered the 'cultural capital' of Thailand. There's a moat that runs in a pefect square around the center of the city, with old castle wall ruins on each corner. Fountains, flowers and wats (Buddhist temples) permeate the landscape. Some days I think I see more orange robed monks then bohemian style tourists.

I left Singapore in December, managed to escape the most rule ridden country I can imagine without one slight infringement. Maybe the fact that they charge $8 for a bottle of beer helped keep me such a law abiding citizen....saw malls give birth to other malls in the time that I was there... beautiful to witness the true miracle of life.

After countless dodgy buses through Malaysia and one death trap boat ride I landed in Thailand. The path North was paved with beaches, beers, sunscreen, surongs, dance parties, spicy food, coconut shakes, like-minded wanderers, wretched bus rides, beautiful sunsets and just a few paralyzing days of some sort of food poisoning...

Bravin' it through Bangkok and the ancient capital of Ayuthaya for a bit, night train to Chiang Mai and couldn't sit still so headed more West, toward the boarder of Myanmar. Mountains and chilly weather filled me with a giddy delight, as did the fantastic group of friends that came together in those few weeks. Elephants and huts and motorbikes, ohhh my.

Then came a crash course month in teaching English... have been to like 6 colleges and in about 6 years but Cambridge whooped my ass! At the end of four weeks I felt a bit dead inside... like yesterdays flower. Mid-way through the fifth day after the course was over I sprung back to life (as did the other people that stayed here after it was over) - we started livin' the Chiang Mai way... bottles of whiskey at a bar for about $10, and keep em comin'.

It's not all just whiskey and roses here.... have been doing 'monk chat' at a wat near my apartment, Wat Suan Dok, built in the 1300's. It's stunning and on a clear day you have a view of all the mountains just behind it. The monks want to practice English so they invite people to come and have a chat... I've been reading random Buddhist books for years and like almost all Americans it's nearly impossible to really put any of it into context when you're a world away from it. Cause even heading to a temple in the States you're walking outside into a whoooole different world, filled with attachment and craving. Here there are little spirit houses and places to make offerings on every corner. It's been 'enlightening' to talk with such humble and understanding men. Most are from Cambodia, a country with an incredibly violent history and yet an incredibly resiliant attitude. I don't subscribe fully to Buddhism or any other form of organised religion, but they are certainly worth emulating in day to day life.

Now there are just 2 of us left here and we've spent 2 weeks tramping around, looking for jobs, because we're both equally as poor at this point. It's strictly street side food for us, 70 cent plates and you can bring in your own bottle of rice wine for an additional 70 cents, so we're gettin' by quite alright. When you have nothing and want nothing, you're free!

And, I found a job and got a 6 month contract! It's summer school in Thailand at the moment, so it was actually a bit difficult to find anything, I feel really lucky because I love the place where I am and it's 2 streets away from where I live. The New Zealand Educational Services Language Institute... it's bright and colorful and full of lots of life and lots of resources (rare for Thai schools). Started yesterday and they throw you right into the blooming, buzzing confusion of a class full of 4 year olds who speak almost no English whatsoever. There were 6 girls, all dressed fully in pink. There was one little boy who came in late, threw up everywhere and then left. Not sure if it was all the pink or he just didn't feel like screaming at the top of his lungs, running around in circles and jumping on my back like the rest of them....

Today they put up a united front against me - sticking out their tongues, not listening whatsoever, telling me 'no'... screaming 'no' is maybe a more fitting way to describe what they were doing. I won them over with tickling and piggy back rides, like the giant sized American big sister they never had.

A week or two of babysitting the cutest little devils I've ever seen and I can move on to adults, thank Buddha ;)

So, for now am enjoying the irrepressible satisfaction with the gift of life. Am spending more time with Thai friends, and it's as entertaining as any blockbuster movie. It's as hot as an oven here sometimes... good thing I'm cool as a cucumber.


accordion67 said...

Thank you Nicole for taking Petra in. She enjoyed being with you and we were relieved she had a place to stay when being treated for her wrist. I'd like to hear from you, or if we could do anything you need from Atlanta. Petra's dad, Harry.

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