I had a dream I was back in Seattle. It was nighttime and I was giving a tour of Pioneer Square to three women. I felt somewhat alarmed and thought, “What the hell! How did I get back here?” My main concern was how soon I could return to Thailand. It takes at least 24 hours doesn’t it? And that’s not counting getting to the airport. My mind was racing.
And then I woke up.
I was sleeping in a basket. Well, not exactly a basket but a room covered wall to ceiling with woven bamboo. It felt a lot like sleeping in a basket. Relief swept over me. I was not in Seattle after all, but in Chiang Dao, Thailand. And the sky was a brilliant blue and the birdies were chirping in Thai and all was right with the world.
After our stay in the suburbs of Chiang Mai, it was a delightful getaway to go to a wonderfully simple guest house in nearby Chiang Dao. It sits about an hour away and we rode “two up” on the scooter. We rode past wats, villages, and coffee shops-all the while reminiscing about the places we’d visited before. “Do you remember we did this? Do you remember we went there?” These have been frequent questions over the past few weeks. There is an expression in Southeast Asia, “Same Same…but different.” And now that we’re back in The Kingdom, these words mean more to us. What is Same Same this time? What is Different?
The Thai People are truly wonderful. They are polite and smile…a lot. The teenagers are actually sweet and innocent. They wear backpacks that look like stuffed animals and I’m talking about the boys. As a group they are well groomed and take pride in this. They are modest but when they encounter foreigners showing lots of skin they do not judge, they are simply embarrassed. They are also very generous in many ways not the least of which is putting up with our speaking Thai worse than deranged babies.
Crazy scooter traffic! I plan on devoting an entire blog chapter to the subject. Driving around Chiang Mai requires nerves of steel even after you get used to being on the left side of the road. Drivers carry all sorts of things on their motorbikes, food, boxes, fans, mirrors, poles, and even new born babies all the while weaving around other vehicles. No wonder the Thais feel so at home on a bike, they literally grow up on them. Lanes mean little and red lights are optional at times but since we learned how it works we’re holding our own. How many Thais can you fit on one bike? Four is common, I’ve seen six.
Food is absolutely everywhere! Street stalls, markets, food courts, scooters riding down the road set up as portable kitchens, burning coals in tow. The Thais love to eat. I heard someone refer to Thailand as the “kitchen of the world” and I believe it!
Golden wats (temples) around every corner, entrances guarded by mythical beasts called nagas and kinnari, half-bird, half-woman creatures. And where’s there’s a wat, there’s a monk. Actually lots of ’em.
Amazing contrasts. Landscapes with rice paddies looking like panes of glass lying flat in the fields. Nearby there may be a shopping mall, a beehive of activity. Night markets. Day markets. A constant flow of eating, buying, riding, sleeping, talking, working.
Farangs (foreigners), inextricably linked with Thai culture. Too big, too loud, underdressed, badly dressed, well intentioned, lost, looking for bargains, spending too much, mixing with the locals, criticizing the locals, pale, sunburned, happy,….us.
My beloved Moonpat.
The unexpected. Yes, believe it or not the “unexpected” fits in the category of same same. This is because every single day I can count on seeing something that surprises me. It’s always a good surprise.
Our favorite Indian restaurant is gone. Khun Pon with her food stall across the street is gone. Khun Dim who sells fruit out of the back of her pickup is still around but we ran into her in a different part of town. Our view of the empty lot in front of the building has been replaced by a ten story construction project currently wrapped in green plastic. All very small differences.
The only significant change is in how we feel. This time around, we see Chiang Mai as a second home. It’s a place we plan to return to again and again. Our language studies, our understanding of the city, of the culture…it’s all more important now. Our challenge is to take our place here more seriously while maintaining the “jai yen” (cool heart) and “sanuk dee” (good fun) that it at the heart of Thai culture.
When we first came to Chiang Mai we walked everywhere. Then we learned to take public transportation. Now we own a scooter and drive like Thais. Or so we think.
Same same, but different.