We stared at the blue dot pulsating on the GPS. Oh. There we are.
Not helpful at all.
Distrustful of navigational systems, I’ve witnessed first hand the blind trust of others leading to construction sites and impassable brick walls. It’s especially annoying when they talk, rudely interrupting human conversation, reminding the driver to turn right in 100 meters—in that ultra-calm tone reserved for idiots and maniacs.
Jimmy and I had scootered up into the mountains, high above Chiang Mai. In cooler air, we traveled along serpentine roads without guard rails, past food stands obscured by smoking grills, and village stores with dark interiors open to the street. We leaned into curves, hugged the edge to let others pass. Not in a hurry. But when our bottoms grew sore and stomaches complained, the desire to locate our guest house grew more pressing. After several failed attempts to employ the GPS, we defaulted to the stone age solution of asking for directions. Unfortunately, our Thai wasn’t good enough, so back to the bikes. A few locals, quite entertained by our passing back and forth in front of them, watched from an outdoor bar, At last, utilizing process of elimination, we arrived. Somewhere.
This had to be the place. A tall wooden gateway beckoned, Thai script displayed cheerfully across the top. Two security guards, armed with nothing but smiles, waved us through and we entered the moobaan, aka the neighborhood.
It is not my habit to gush over plants and flowers, but I make an exception here. The landscape impressed me immediately, an exquisite jungle of color and texture, tamed by the hand of man. Like an oil painting by Turner, luscious and wet, nature’s brush strokes described dynamic spiky forms as well as soft and blurry transitions. Hills rose up on all sides, creating a hammock of green cradling two dozen charming homes. They peeked out ever so shyly from behind the vegetation which was peppered generously with splashes of vivid red-orange, pink, and violet. A single street, paved with circles the size of coasters, wound gracefully around immaculate yards, edged with low stone walls and hand built wooden fences. Enchanting. That was the only word for it. We putt-putted to our lodging, gawking all the way.
After checking in, Jimmy and I strolled. Things look different on-foot, previously unnoticed details come into view. The houses, siblings all, revealed a genetic make-up handed down from Thailand, Europe, and possibly Middle Earth. The overgrown Hobbit-like dwellings suggested Scandinavia while the patterned brickwork resembled Thai weaving. Precious and meticulously tended paths led us under trellises, to stairs, up porches, by swings. Through multi-paned windows, we spyed wooden posts still tree shaped, glossy with lacquer, limbs chopped abruptly like cactus. In every ceiling, exposed beams floated like logs in vanilla pudding, framing ornate chandeliers. Below, the rooms were filled with folksy country furniture. My Turner painting had taken on the super saturated light and color of a Thomas Kinkade. Where were we?
The moobaan, largely empty, shutters closed, lacked vivacity. Passing over the babbling brook and keeping our voices low for some reason, we approached a grand house, groundskeeper out front, clipping away at the hedges. A ruin amidst the perfect garden, the sagging porch, collapsed railings, impassable staircases, gap toothed roof, revealed themselves slowly upon approach.
Back in our room, I sketched myself in the mirror. My Global Positioning System, my GPS. Here is where I am on the planet. Here is where I was.