we're gonna party like it's 2548
so have i mentioned that it's the year 2548 here? no, i don't mean that thailand is a super-advanced society centuries beyond us (although i am impressed at the ability of the women to ride motorbikes in their spiky little heels). but really, why would a buddhist country want to use a calendar that starts from the year jesus christ was born? ah, it's so great to be back in thailand... why, i remember, back in '47...
so i arrived in chiang mai saturday morning, after a pleasant overnight train ride that arrived an hour late. pee keng (pee is the title that means "older sister," it's an affectionate thing) was there waiting to pick me up ("i will pick up you at that time") and take me to crystal spring house, where we all stayed last year. i settled in and killed the morning and afternoon reading books and walking around the neighborhood. then keng picked me up for dinner at a delicious vegetarian restaurant, khun churn (i recommend it, for any veggies heading to chiang mai!), where we met 2 of her friends, and then all went to the night bazaar together. keng kept on saying how happy she was that i came back to visit, and asking about all the other people from last year's group, and telling me that any time i wanted to come back, she would take care of me, and if i brought my family, she would be our guide. she's really sweet.
yesterday (sunday) morning around 11, i got picked up at crystal spring house by nook and king, 2 of our buddies from Payap last year, and they spent the day with me. they're really cute too, and they're both so tiny... i think maybe less than 5 feet tall. we went out to lunch, and then they asked me what i wanted to do for the afternoon. i didn't know, so they said, "do you want to go to the soo?" "the what?" "the soo, the soo!" ????? ohhhhhhhhhh, the ZOO! haha. i didn't understand them at all for a minute. they have trouble saying the "Z" sound, but we eventually got it cleared up, and for the rest of the day, they'd say "zzzzoo!" and cut up laughing.
so we went, and it was pretty fun. got to pet some small elephants and see a bunch of other animals. the gibbon monkeys are really charismatic, they swing and jump nd flip around in their cage area with complete abandon. it's been so long since i've been to a zoo... when we saw the giraffes, i was amazed just by how BIG they are. we also saw the pandas, who are housed in a special air-conditioned place where you have to be quiet and sterilize your shoes before you go in. they are really adorable, and one of them walked up to the edge of their enclosure, only about 20 or 30 feet away! it's kind of sad, though, all the animals' enclosures look too small, and they look bored. one of the pandas was sitting up high on a rock and making little noises, and the keepers said that meant she wasn't happy. i never know how i feel about zoos. but it was nice all the same.
after the zoo, they took me to their favorite temple... i think it was called Wat Umong, although i already forget. There, they have an informal discussion of Buddhism, in English, every Sunday at 3 (Chiang Mai has tons of American, and other Farang, tourists). I listened to that for a little, but didn't learn too much new stuff. Then i went and ate fruit (learned how to eat a mangosteen without making a huge mess!) and fed the fish with the girls. They are these huge weird catfish type fish, who swarm around the food in a sort of slimy mass, and they really like popcorn. After that we walked around the temple a bit, explored the tunnels (i think umong, or whatever the word is, means tunnel), through which i had to duck but they didn't. Then we left there and stopped to get some cheap food. I got a big watermelon shake in a plastic bag-- yes, they put liquids in bags here, it sounds crazy but it works just fine-- for 7 baht, which equals about 18 or 20 cents. i couldnt even finish it all.
After that, we went to tam boon (make merit) at this Buddha image nearby. You buy some incense, a little stick with a tiny garlic clove and a piece of paper on it, a lotus bud, a little candle, and a sort of necklacey-garland thing of flowers and ribbon. First you light the incense and kneel and pay your respects, then you light the candle and stick it with all the other candles, and stick your incense in this pot with all the other incense. Then you put your lotus blossom into this other pot. Then you go up to the Buddha image, peel your garlic clove, and rub it on a spot on the statue, and then open up your little piece of paper, inside which is a little square of gold leaf, and you stick it on the image. Then you hang your flower garland on it. At first i wasn't sure if i should participate, not being a Buddhist and all, but it was neat just to see how they actually do it.
After that, we went to Nook's house to pick up her dad, who was taking us to and from the Sunday Market. It is a cute little modest Thai house. They invited me in and Nook's tiny Thai dad cleared away a spot on the little day bed that is also their couch, and had me sit down, and talked to me in English about his daughter who in an au pair in NJ ("my daughter, he called me up last night") and stuff like that. Totally cute.
We went to the market, where we met up with Om (another of last year's "Thai buddies") and walked around for a while, and had dinner. Throughout dinner, Nook wants to make sure my food isn't too spicy-- "Are you spice?" Hehe. At one point as we walked around in the street, the national anthem came on, from somewhere in the vacinity of a traffic light, and everybody froze until it was over. Not sure what occasioned it. It's so funny to see a street packed full of vendors and tourists and Thais just stop for like a full minute-- looks like something out of a movie.
Toward the end of the evening, the girls surprised me with a little gift they'd bought for me. Too sweet. Then Nook's dad picked us up again and they took me back to Crystal Spring, where i was totally exhausted, and fell asleep early.
Today and tomorrow they're all busy with school and work. Their semester is in session right now, and they have exams soon. Midterms, i think. So i'm on my own. I think today i will go up to Doi Suthep, and tomorrow I'm hoping maybe to go to an elephant camp or something, if i have time before my 5pm train. I'm only disappointed that i haven't been able to get in touch with Nui, i'm not sure if i'll see her before i go, which is frustrating. Oh well.
The fact that my time in Thailand is finally drawing to an end is unbelievable. Time becomes so weird when you travel... some things on this trip seem to have taken place so long ago, and yet each segment has gone so fast. Like, leaving Pathom Asok, I was sort of disappointed, even though i originally didn't know if i'd hold out... and then same at WTK, at first i was glad it was only a week but then i met all those nice people and a week ended up being barely a taste. I donno. I get everyone's emails, too, and it pulls me in both directions... Ian's email from down south, where he is helping with tsunami relief, makes me wish i had another month here to go down there and help and meet all those amazing people... but then i get emails from everybody at home and i can't wait to see everyone (and Ruby and Dixie and Chessie!!) and hang out, and visit st mary's. I read on the website that they took down the water tower.That's so sad. I still think they shoulda turned it into a smoothie bar.
Anyway, i don't want to fritter away my last bits of time in this air-conditioned place with no sounds but keyboards clacking! I want to go hear some roosters and motorbikes.
Love to everybody!