Air Pollution in Chiang Mai – Please Stop Burning

Air Pollution in Chiang Mai – Please Stop Burning

Chiang Mai is a wonderful city. Unfortunately, this time of year there is a lot of smoke in the air. The growing traffic congestion doesn’t help matters, but the main problem is the slash and burn agriculture practices. It is quite common in Northern Thailand to see fires burning on the side of the road and in the hills. Most of what is being burned is organic debris from rice fields, and farms. To a lesser extent there is some burning of trash mixed in too. Being in a valley, the smoky air gets trapped in Chiang Mai and makes the air quality rather miserable from mid-March to mid-April. Hot, dusty, smoky and dry are words to define this season. It isn’t always like this though…

Here we are on Canal Road coming into Chiang Mai from Hang Dong. Blue skies all around! February 7, 2014.

Here we are on Canal Road coming into Chiang Mai from Hang Dong. Blue skies all around! February 7, 2014.

In the center of the Old City, Chiang Mai. Skies are quite blue! February 23, 2014.

In the center of the Old City, Chiang Mai. Skies are quite blue! February 23, 2014.

The new building at Panyaden School, looking kind of smoky. March 14, 2014

The new building at Panyaden School, looking kind of smoky. March 14, 2014.

Pink full moon over the Ping river. March 16th.

Pink (due to smoky air) full moon over the Ping river in Chiang Mai. March 16th, 2014.

In the Old City. Kind of blue sky. March 17, 2014.

In the Old City. Kind of blue sky. March 17, 2014.

And this was yesterday in Chiang Mai. Gross! March 21, 2014.

And this was yesterday in Chiang Mai. Gross! March 21, 2014. OK, to be fair, this is a an ugly view of Chiang Mai on any day…

...so here is the lovely Wat Phra Singh. Look at that smoggy sky. March 21, 2014.

…so here is the lovely Wat Phra Singh. Look at that smoggy white sky. March 21, 2014.

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3 Kings Monument. March 21, 2014

3 Kings Monument. March 21, 2014

Wat Inthakin facing west. March 21, 2014...

Wat Inthakin facing west…

...And facing east.

…and facing east. Look at the hazy sky. March 21, 2014.

In front of Hug Academy, right in the center of the Old CIty. Smoke filled air.

In front of Hug Academy, right in the center of the Old City. Smoke filled air. March 21, 2014.

The south side of the moat near Chiang Mai Gate. Smog of March 21, 2014.

The south side of the moat near Chiang Mai Gate. The smog of March 21, 2014.

I was cycling around the Old City while taking these pictures and had to go home because my eyes were red and burning from all the particulate matter in the air. At least I wasn’t coughing, but I’ve been sneezing today. It’s time to wear my heavy duty mask while cycling.

Curious to see just how bad the air was, I looked at this website http://aqmthai.com/ to better inform myself.

This is what I found: In the middle of the Old City

This is what I found: In the middle of the Old City at Yupparaj Wittayalai School the PM level was 237. Yikes! Wait, what does that mean?

As you can see from the chart, most numbers are in white, but red means ‘unhealthy levels’ of particulate matter. The exact number of what is unhealthy seems to vary from place to place, but anything over 100 isn’t good. 237 is horrendous! Trying to get a better sense of the air pollution, I checked the Air Quality Index:

AQI - Air Quality Index, Thailand. March 22, 2014

AQI – Air Quality Index, Thailand. March 22, 2014. Chiang Mai is in the unhealthy zone at 153.

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 7.56.57 AMWhat is that blue part? Oh, a measurement taken on top of the mountain – Doi Suthep. It must be above the smog. Note: it is only 2 points away from moderate.

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 7.57.50 AM

This explains a bit about the Air Quality Index

This explains a bit about the Air Quality Index

These graphs and charts aren’t fun at all, and the pictures of different faces are hardly original. To help keep some humor about the situation, a woman in Hong Kong devised the Bruce Lee Air Quality Index for her blog Expat Lingo. I like her ideas a lot. Perhaps in Thailand we could use a similar plan – the smiling to crying elephant? Maybe employ Thai comedian Khun Note Udom to liven up the AQI a bit? At least in Thailand, we know this air pollution is seasonal, and when the rains come, it will put out the fires and diminish the smoke.

Why is it so smoky?

This is a common scene just outside of town - the rice fields and mountain are stunning...and then there's the smoke. Please stop burning.

This is a common scene just outside of town – the rice fields and mountain are stunning…and then there’s the smoke. Please stop burning!

As for now, I sleep with the windows closed despite the heat. Each morning I wake up and walk out of my room, I immediately smell smoky air. Upon taking down my laundry, it smelled as if I had dried it over a bush fire, which, in a way, I had.

What is the solution? It’s a very complicated issue here. Stopping burning means using more labor intensive composting and tilling practices. It’s not an easy switch for farmers.  I am definitely not an expert on air pollution, or SE Asian farming. As a guest in this amazing country, I have no right to tell anyone how to do their business. Being an educator, I teach. It is my hope that the students will pass on the information and educate others in their communities. Children are the future. They are the ones who will make changes by leading the way to environmental sustainability.

As I was writing this very post, it started to rain for the first time in months. Hooray! Bring on the rain! Chiang Mai looks forward to having its clean air back!

Top 10 Reasons I love Chiang Mai

Top 10 Reasons I Love Chiang Mai

It's true, I love Chiang Mai

It’s true, I love Chiang Mai

Now that I have lived in Chiang Mai for over two years, it’s nice to look back and realize that I still love it here. Although the chaos, smells, heat and traffic may not appeal to everyone, here are just a few of the reasons I love it here. This list is in no particular order.

1. Beauty is everywhere – both in nature and human made

Just a bunch of gorgeous orchids hanging in a parking lot.

Just a bunch of elegant orchids hanging in a parking lot.

An organic farm - part of The Royal Project - right in the middle of the city.

An organic farm – part of The Royal Project – right in the middle of the city.

A view of Panyaden School through rice fields.

A view of Panyaden School, where I work, through rice fields.

View from Panyaden School

View from Panyaden School

The lake at Huay Tung Tao

The lake at Huay Tung Tao

Waterfalls at Doi Inthanon

Waterfalls at Doi Inthanon

Infinity pools in the mountains - here at Verandah

Infinity pools in the mountains – here at Verandah

Lovely boutique hotels in the Old City

Lovely boutique hotels in the Old City

My local wat, a one minute walk from my house.

My local wat, a one minute walk from my house.

A lotus flower in my backyard.

A lotus flower in my backyard.

Also, it has a warm tropical climate year-round.

2. Massage and other types of wellness at an affordable price. Thai massage is available just about everywhere you look. It can cost as little as $5 per hour. You can upgrade a little, or a lot.

Pre-massage foot wash. This started off what a $6.00 an hour massage.

Pre-massage foot wash. This was the beginning of a 180 baht ($6.00) an hour massage.

3. Yoga

There are so many places to do yoga in Chiang Mai and loads of fantastic teachers. The three places I tend to go to regularly are Namo, Yoga Tree, and my favorite Wild Rose.

Yoga at Wild Rose

Yoga at Wild Rose

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Acro yoga at the park

Acro yoga at the park

 4. Delicious food

In Chiang Mai I regularly get my dinner from street vendors for around 30 baht (this is about $1 USD). There is Thai food everywhere, of course, but there is also cuisine from around the globe… it will cost a bit more than 30 baht. It’s super easy to be a vegetarian here.

Grtting gway tiao (noodle soup) with Alana at Chiang Mai Gate.

Getting late night gway tiao (noodle soup) with Alana at Chiang Mai Gate…

...after our afternoon tea at the Chedi

…after our afternoon tea at the Chedi

There is always an abundance of delicious fruit

There is always an abundance of delicious fruit

The best Thai iced tea I ever had

The best Thai iced tea I ever had

And thankfully there is gorgeous sushi that is less expensive here than any other country I've been.

And thankfully there is outstanding sushi that is less expensive here than any other country I’ve been.

5. Easy to be a farang here

It’s pretty easy to be a foreigner in Chiang Mai – there are oodles of foreigners here and plenty of things to do.

Perhaps wade in an inner tube at Huay Tung Tao

Perhaps wade in an inner tube at Huay Tung Tao

climb up the 'sticky waterfalls'

climb up the ‘sticky waterfalls’

Maybe get a massage at a spa

Maybe get a massage at a spa

Or go to Doi Inthanon National Park

Or go to Doi Inthanon National Park for a hike in the mountains

6. People are friendly

The way to react is with a smile.

Kru Neung and me planting rice

Kru Neung and me planting rice

7. There is always something new and happening in this ancient city

Galley openings - Lili Tan's work shown here at Sangdee Gallery

Galley openings – Lili Tan’s work shown here at Sangdee Gallery

Music festivals and environmental consciousness

Music festivals and environmental consciousness

Ceramics classes

Ceramics classes

Cute and functional art

Cute and functional art

Go find something new for your house in Baan Tawai

Go find something new for your house in Baan Tawai

You can see elephants in many places

You can see elephants in many places…hopefully they are being treated well

Go shopping for handicrafts in Bo Sang while on the way to Sam Kampaeng Hot Springs

Go shopping for handicrafts in Bo Sang on the way to Sam Kampaeng Hot Springs

8. Big city culture and small town safety and community

It’s nice to have something to do, but it’s also nice to go out and see people you know.

Especially if those people make you laugh

Especially if those people make you laugh

9. Buddhism and meditation

Buddhism is alive, well, and omnipresent in Chiang Mai.

Monk at Chiang Mai Gate market

Monk at Chiang Mai Gate market

The monk on his alms round right outside my house - excuse the screen

A monk on his alms round right outside my house – excuse the window screen

Even children know how to meditate

Even children know how to meditate

The Silver Wat off Wualai

The Silver Wat off Wualai St.

Wat Nantaram

Detail from Wat Nantaram

Make an offering at a wat

Making an offering at a Wat Jed Yot

10. Festivals

Thailand has some amazing festivals that are both fun and beautiful.

Yee Peng at Mae Jo University

Yee Peng at Mae Jo University

Loy Krathong dancers

Loy Krathong dancers

Floating away krathongs on Loy Krathong

Floating away krathongs on Loy Krathong at Panyaden

splashing water at Songkran

splashing water at Songkran

Sure there are more cosmopolitan cities with more to do, but for me Chiang Mai is just right.

Local Swimming Hole and สนุก (Sanuk)

Local Swimming Hole and สนุก (Sanuk)

It’s no secret, Thailand is hot. Now we’re in the rainy season, but there is still plenty of sun to be had. My friends asked if I wanted to go swimming in a local spot 5 minutes away from where we teach. Why not?

Getting the rafts blown up

Jumping for joy into the water

Even though it was cloudy, being in the water was refreshing. We were the only ones there swimming. The only other person we spotted was a lone Thai fisherman in the distance. We figured it didn’t really advertise that you should swim here, but there didn’t seem to be any signs prohibiting it either.

Apart from this…

…the other fun was swimming across the reservoir, climbing up the wall…

…running and…

…jumping off the high wall. Nice form Tracey and Jessica!

There was a restaurant up on top so Andrew and I went to get a soda manao – soda water with lime, a favorite thirst quencher of mine.

Signs in Thailand can be hilarious at mastering the obvious.

Sometimes it’s just good to order something bizarre on the menu that sounds a little bit naughty. We had no idea what it would be.

Ruby Crystal Balls with Coconut Cream (or in phonetic Thai Tabtimkrob – I think, which doesn’t sound any better) Even after eating some, I really don’t know what the ruby crystal balls were made from. 555!

After trying mysterious snacks, showering off the quarry water, and heading to the city, it was time to relax again with a Thai massage – wonderful as always.

Next, it was time for a Mexican themed dinner at a Thai cafe, naturally. How much do I love Chiang Mai? So so so much!

Yao, our lovely chef, at Bird’s Nest Cafe

Rose and Rachel having conversations with hands

musical hats

guitars and cats

giggles with Rose

and smiles-o-plenty with Rachel and Matthew

It might look like it, but I’m not on holiday. I do work Monday through Friday from 7:30 – 4:00, I take Thai classes, yoga classes, workout, meditate regularly, sometimes volunteer, and I just started ceramics class. An important thing that I’ve learned from dhamma talks, yoga, mediation, and this incredible Buddhist country I live in is that it’s good to keep life in balance.

สนุก.

 

สนุก (Sanuk) is a significant Thai word that means fun. สนุกดี (sanuk dee) means to be fun or enjoyable, but literally translates to ‘fun good’. Fun is good. Maybe this is part of the reason Thai people smile so much – they’ve figured out work and play can both be fun and it’s essential to have a balance of both. Life cannot be in balance without a healthy dose of สนุก.

นวด Nuad – Thai Massage

นวด  – Thai Massage

Thai massage is everywhere in Thailand and it’s so cheap that it’s accessible to most everyone. The standard rate at your average Thai massage place in Chiang Mai is 150 baht an hour – that’s currently about $4.78 USD.  I get about 1 a week.

If you’ve never had a Thai massage, it’s not an oily rubdown, but rather you get your energy lines (sen) worked with what sometimes is brute force. You’re given fisherman’s trousers and a loose fitting shirt to wear, and generally are massaged on a mat on the floor. Sometimes the room is shared with other people getting massages. Most of the time it starts from the feet with a large focus on the legs. It can almost be like having someone do yoga for you with all the stretching that is done.

When my sister Wendy came for a visit, right after I picked her up from the airport, I took her to get her first, but definitely not last, Thai massage.

Wendy in her Thai massage outfit getting a beautiful foot wash before her massage.

I took her to a place I like in the old city called Viangchaokun Thaimassage and Spa. (Yes, Thaimassage is one word. In Thai language there are no spaces between the words which makes reading kind of challenging, but that’s another story). It’s a very elegant and very Thai place. It’s 180 baht an hour ($5.72 USD), but I figure it’s worth the extra 30 baht for the foot wash alone.

Rose petals, kaffir limes, an assortment of herbs, milk and honey all make the foot wash both lovely and wonderful smelling.

Upon walking in you are given slippers to wear, served herbal tea, and given a menu of massage options to choose from. They give you massage clothes and a locker to put your things in. Next is the foot wash, and afterwards it’s upstairs for the massage.

Unlike many Thai massage places, Viangchaokun has massage tables, rather than mats on the ground.

Time for Wendy’s first Thai massage!

Since the goal is to relax, I did not take any pictures of the massage itself. Each massage therapist does their own variations, and when you find someone you whose touch suits you, it’s like pure gold. My current favorite is a woman named Gae. She is a petite younger Thai woman who is gentle, yet firm, and every touch has a purpose.

Sometimes Thai massage can be very intense and even a little painful. I’ve occasionally been worked the way someone would tenderize meat. There are others where they’re just missing the spots you need. And then there are the ones that are juuuuust right.

Wendy thoroughly enjoyed her first massage, and in her 9 days in Thailand, she got 5 Thai massages, and one foot massage. Sometimes I feel a little spoiled having this luxury, and at other times when I’m in pain, I really think massage should be affordable for everyone.

Just another of the many reasons to love Thailand.

 

Soaked and Smile Lines from Songkran

Soaked and Smile Lines from Songkran

Splash! Songkran is here! It’s Thai New Year and one of the funniest holidays I know.  Its origins are of cleansing Buddhas and paying respect to elders and monks. Now it’s more like the whole country is in a huge water fight and the center of it all is Chiang Mai.

Some friends of mine asked if I wanted to ‘play’ Songkran with a bunch of people. They had a truck (a purple truck :)) and would be driving around the moat with us throwing water and getting water thrown on us. There would be some adults and also some children. It sounded like the way to do things. It is the hottest time of year in Thailand and the end of the dry season – let the water throwing begin!

Preparing for Songkran in the back of the purple truck before we left

You can see us throwing water, but might not be able to tell there are not only several bins filled with water, but also a baby pool filled with water in the back.

Buckets, squirt guns of various sizes, and lots of water comprised our artillery. Our water had delicately scented flowers to keep with the cleansing tradition, despite the water guns.

We were prepared for the fun as we left and headed to the old city.

This cute little girl in the white dress was an indefatigable water thrower.

Songkran is a holiday for all ages.

I quickly realized that although people of all ages were participating, to my mind the best age to be would be somewhere around 10-12 years old. Luckily, we had some kids representing those ages in the truck. Songrkran is a good time, but it’s a better time when it’s spent with kids.

Best age for Songkran? 10-12.

Regardless of all the sitting in traffic and the water throwing, people were peaceful. My friend commented that in England people would be fighting. I agreed and added the US too. Can you imagine any US city with a big water fight and people not getting angry? I cannot. Here in Chiang Mai the only people I saw getting upset were the foreigners.

Songkran water shooting with smiles. It looks like it’s raining in these pictures. It isn’t. In fact it’s been very dry. All the water shown is from people throwing or squirting it.

Carefully pouring the motorcyclists going by, though not everyone is so careful

3 on a motorbike getting splashed on Songkran

Does it look dangerous? (I mean the water throwing on moving vehicles – 3 young people riding a motorbike without helmets is the norm here). Yes, well, I agree throwing water in the face of a motorcyclist is not a very wise idea. It happens, as do accidents, but the general vibe is one of fun.

As if there was a fire, people banded together to get water out of the moat.

It’s a crazy celebration, but all in good fun or sanuk the Thai word for fun.

The Fahrenheit forecast for the Songkran weekend. It was 88 at 10 am.

After riding around in the back of the truck and getting drenched for hours, even though the forecast was balmy, I actually got cold. I decided to ride inside the truck for a while, which was the only safe place to take pictures. This video shows a 25 second snippet of what was happening outside:

Most of the Songkran festivities fall within 3 days in the middle of April. Besides throwing water, it is also Buddhist cleansing ceremony. I poured jasmine flower infused water over my Buddha images and brought lotus flowers to a wat in Chiang Mai. Supposedly this will bring me luck for the ‘new year’. {FYI – the current year in Thailand is 2555, which began on January 1. The Buddha was born 543 before Christ, hence the calculation. I can write 2012 or 2555 as the date, but when dealing with the Thai government it’s 2555.}

Classic water throwing of Songkran

throwing moat water – keep your mouth closed

My friend Alana and I thoroughly soaked on the third day of Songkran.

…and Alana getting splashed with ice cold water

It’s good fun, but by the end of the third day, I was ready to be dry again. Overall, I laughed so hard, I’m sure I added more smile lines to my face.

สุขสันต์วันสงกรานต์ – sook san wan Songkran – Happy Songkran!

Aging and Appreciations

Aging and Appreciations

Am I thankful about getting older? I’d love to say yes, but that would be a lie. However, I do have appreciations to people who made getting older a lot less painful.

Having a birthday on a Friday is fantastic thing. My colleagues and students were sweet. Kru Goy got me a traditional Lanna (northern Thai) style shirt in my favorite color. She and the students made me a card with a lotus flower on it for my Thai name Bua (lotus).

My Lanna style blouse and bua card from Kru Goy

On the evening of my birthday I made plans to go into town for yoga and out for sushi with two friends. It had been a sweltering day so I was not totally shocked when my car overheated and wouldn’t start again.

Naturally, it was not in the the best spot during rush hour traffic and 95 degree weather, so I got out of my car and asked someone to help me push my car to the side of the road.

I could have done 2 things in this situation:

1 – This sucks! Oh this f-ing piece of s–t car! I’m missing yoga! My plans are ruined and it’s my birthday, anger and pity party for one…on and on like that.

Or…

2 – Well, looks like my car overheated, let’s focus on a solution..  “Khap khun khaa” (Thanks) for the push to the side of the road, “Rawn maak!” (it’s very hot while motioning to the car). Pop the hood, trust that the Thai person, named Noy, would help me, while trying to communicate in my rudimentary Thai and smile.

I chose option 2 and this is what happened: Noy got some water and started putting it in the engine and asked his daughter to go get some more and sent her in search of coolant maybe? She came back and said some things to me in Thai that I didn’t understand. They were clearly trying to help me, but there was a language barrier. Let’s be honest though, do I know all about car parts in English?

Suddenly, I realized I knew a bilingual mechanic whose number was in my phone! As I was talking to him, Noy had called one of his friends who knew English so she could explain to me what was going on. So we switched phones to communicate with our respective cell phone interpreters, as you do.

Next thing I knew a mechanic showed up (maybe this is the what or who the daughter went in search of?) He spoke a little English and explained what was wrong basically saying, “Hot. Need water. Broken.” Noy and daughter left me with Aoun the mechanic and I thanked them profusely.

In the meantime, my friend Kate who I was supposed to meet for yoga and dinner, lives in the opposite direction, but offered to pick me up. How kind! Then I talked to Yuzu, my other friend I’d be meeting, who would be passing by here on her motorbike and she offered to pick me up, which made more sense.

Back at the car in our fundamental Thai and English, Aoun communicated to me I’d blown a gasket. OK. I should keep refilling the water. OK. I should not drive my car too far. OK. The charge for this roadside assistance $0. I will take my car to him later.

I drove my car the short distance home and Yuzu drove me to town that night. She, Kate, and I had a delightful evening of sushi then 2 1/2 hour spa – foot massage, Thai massage, herbal compress massage, and facial. Relaxing, refreshing and so inexpensive!

The next evening my friend Azriel and I got tea at a very European style cafe in the Old City. On the way there he stopped at one of the many street food stands and said, “I love these Thai donut things, but they’re so unhealthy.” I responded that I really don’t like donuts, but I do have a sweet tooth for chocolate cake. After we sat down at our booth, I saw him talking to the waitress and thought he was telling her it was my birthday. Then he came back and said, “Do you want to share a cookie?” Ok, why not. About 30 minutes later, I turned bright red while being serenaded the birthday song by the entire wait staff and was given this:

Frosting flowers and ‘Happy Birthday K. Elizabeth’ artfully decorated the plate with the chocolate cake – my favorite. I was totally faked out by the cookie decoy. Nice one Azriel!

Everyday I am humbled by the kindness and generosity of Thai people, and this weekend my expat friends too. I think its true that ‘when you smile, the world smiles back’. It might not be possible to be a ray of sunshine every moment, but if I find something negative, I try to also find something positive. Somehow that seems to work. This advice was given to me by a priest in high school, and a monk has shared similar information with me here. You know what, those guys just might be on to something.

I am now half the King’s age, and we were both born on a Monday, could that be auspicious? A big thank you to all the people here who made my birthday special, and all those faraway who sent their wishes. You are the best!

Acroyoga at the Park

Acroyoga at the Park

Suan Buak Hat is the only park in Chiang Mai Old CIty. If you head there on a Sunday afternoon, you might find a gathering of acroyogis basing and flying. It was set up by Wild Rose as an acroyoga play group, no teacher, just fun. Most of those who join are expats, travelers, people here studying Thai massage, and every once in a while a Thai yogi.

I decided to go play in the park after already doing a 3-hour Anusara Inspired class. Upon arriving I ran into Alok and Anjuli, the couple who had spent a week living with me at my house. Alok is a yoga teacher in the Bay Area and so he was an excellent base and luckily Anjuli snapped some photos for me. Time to fly!

Alok, as the base, guided me on what to do.

It takes strength, flexibility, balance, and trust.

Smiling and waving to Anjuli. This is fun!

I love flying!

Anjuli hooping

Alok handstanding

Looking for balance while upside down with my new base. Not quite there yet.

Being upside down is exhilarating!

Just hanging and being stretched feels so good!

This reminds me of a game we played as kids called, 'light as a feather, stiff as a board'

I am being spun around by my strong and coordinated base.

Thank you for such a fun afternoon acroyogis! I will join you again!

Panic and Prayer

Panic and Prayer

As usual, when I stay in Chiang Mai Old City, I have breakfast at Angel’s Secrets cafe. It has reasonably priced, delicious, homemade, mostly vegetarian, sometimes organic food with a stunning presentation, lovely ambience, and excellent service. This morning I was there accompanied by my friend Dan who was visiting from Korea, and his friend Chi.

This is what you get when you order an Americano at Angel’s Secrets. Beautifully presented Americano, milk in cute elephant creamer, green tea, and two little cookies. As a bonus, there is refreshing watermelon served as a palate cleanser with every meal.

‘Lovely Bowl’ at Angel’s Secrets

Chi and I shared French toast and ‘Lovely Bowl’ at Angel’s Secrets

Dan’s breakfast at Angel’s Secrets

When we left we spoke with khun Jo, the dear owner. She did not want to take a tip from us, and said it was her pleasure having us enjoying the food and atmosphere of her restaurant. The amazing food, service, and pleasant atmosphere of the little garden setting in the center of Chiang Mai Old City always make it a delight to dine there.

Upon leaving Chi, Dan, and I were making plans for the rest of the day. We all parted in different directions. I decided to head to Talad Warrorot (Warrorot Market) to buy some fabric and have some skirts made.

At the beginning of my walk there, I ran into my friend Aey – an appearance genius who always seems to turn up on his motorbike and ask, “Where you go?” each time I visit Chiang Mai, and then promptly offers me a lift. In the heat of the day, I gladly hopped on back of his motorbike and we sped through traffic toward Talad Warrorot.

I spent some time perusing the local goods the market had to offer: fabrics, gold jewelry, clothes, cosmetics, and as everywhere in Thailand – food.

Inside Talad Warrorot – looking down at part of the food section

I bought some woven and printed Thai fabric for getting made into skirts and decorating.

Thai style matmi, or ikat woven fabric for a skirt

Thai style batik fabric for my couch

Close up of oven fabric for…not sure yet, but it’s pretty.

I met with one of the many seamstresses on the second floor to have some skirts made. “Ao grapong kha” (hoping I said, I’d like a skirt please). She understood! I did drawings, thrilled to find that A-line, or some derivation of that, is also how you say it in Thai.  Gesturing, speaking rudimentary Thai, and basic English I tried to convey that I want an A-line not just a wrap around sarong because, gaayo lek – I have a small waist like Thai people, tapok yai – but big hips, not like Thai people. She confirmed this with her head nod, hand gestures, and the numbers reflecting my measurements. We and shared smiles and laughs – non-verbal communication speaks volumes. Pointing to the calendar is when I found they’d be ready, next Saturday. For 3 custom made skirts, the grand total was 600 baht (about $19.25 USD).

Upon putting my dictionary and Thai language notebook back in my backpack, I suddenly realized I was missing my laptop. Oh shit! Panic, panic, panic. Breathe breathe breathe. Where is it? Was it stolen? No, I don’t think so. I left it a Angel’s Secrets across town. They close at 4. It’s almost 3 and I left there nearly 3 hours ago. Shit!

I rushed through the crowds of Talad Warrorot, got outside and flagged down a tuk tuk. We agreed on the 50 baht price after a bit of haggling. Not a good price, but I didn’t really care, I just wanted to get there quickly, no time to bargain.

In the tuk tuk I started to pray, “Please God let it be there. Jo knows me, she is a lovely person, her customers love her, she will have it.”

Thinking of Buddhist non-attachment to try to calm myself just in case it’s not there, but ugh! I use my laptop daily for work in my Buddhist school, not to mention to stay in touch with people near and far, listening to music and news, reading, and writing. In this case it seemed more appropriate to return to my Catholic roots. I decided to pray to Saint Anthony – the patron saint of lost articles.

About 15 minutes later we arrive. I run into Angel’s Secrets, and Jo sees my panic and calmly asks, “Elizabeth, your laptop?”

I hadn’t realized I was actually shaking a little.

Khap khun maak kha khun Jo!” I cannot thank her enough.

“It wasn’t me, my regular customer give it to me,” Jo humbly replies.

“Please thank him or her so much. Whew!”

Handing my laptop to me, “I am your hero today, na” Jo smiles.

“Jo, yes, you are my hero many days, but especially today,” I say smiling back.

“Don’t worry if you leave things here, I will keep for you and give back.”

“Thank you so much Jo. I believe you!”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the way things go in Thailand. I am one lucky lucky lady. Thanks Jo, her honest customer, God, Buddha, and St. Anthony. I, again, am extremely grateful.

Beginning to relax, I order a mango lassi and immediately write what has just transpired on my miraculously recovered laptop. Just now I’m noticing the coincidence that this cafe is called Angel’s Secrets.

Mango Lassi at Angel’s Secrets

Khun Jo playing from Nirvana to the Beatles ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ at Angel’s Secrets

Thanks khun Jo! Khap khun maak kha!

A Snake Eating a Huge Gecko…

A Snake Eating a Huge Gecko…

…is what I thought I saw.

According to Thai legend, as explained by my teaching partner Goy, this was not the case.

What actually happens is the gecko has eaten too much. The snake comes along and eats the insects out of the gecko’s stomach. It is a golden tree snake and a tokay gecko. So apparently the snake does not usually kill the gecko, but rather just makes it regurgitate its food.

Is it true? Oddly, I think it is.

Did I see this in the countryside? No, I did not. This was right outside Wild Rose Yoga Studio in the Old City of Chiang Mai. Just goes to show that nature and all her mysteries are alive and well, even in the city.

La Infinita Tristeza

La Infinita Tristeza 

Even though I know just how lucky I am, it was a day where things weren’t exactly going as planned. I was exhausted from the night before, worked all day, tried to make it in town for yoga, but got stuck in traffic and was too late. I was supposed to meet a new friend for dinner after yoga who I’d met at the acroyoga workshop. When I did meet up him, he was with a huge group of folks from massage school. I wasn’t in the mood for trying to be social with a group of people who all knew each other, out of whom I knew only one.

I could tell I just needed some time on my own. I told my friend, “I think I’ll get a massage.” I didn’t know I’d be getting an intense abdominal chi cleansing organ massage. So very intense I cried, partially due to pain, but generally because it was a huge energy and emotional release. I felt extreme sadness and the phrase la infinita tristeza kept going through my mind – the infinite sadness. I felt my own sadness, my past sadnesses, things that always make me cry, like losing my mom. Then other things on a global scale like war, abuse, poverty, animal cruelty, and the sadness of the whole world came into my brain, and overwhelmed my senses through the release in my body. It felt like I was connecting with the suffering of every sentient being – rather overpowering to say the least.

After lots of tears and the treatment ending, I was a bit embarrassed to come downstairs to see people I’d just met. At that moment the best thing possible happened. At the bottom of the stairs, even from my downward tilted gaze I saw the warm smile of my friend Matthew who I hadn’t seen in months. He said, “It looks like you just had a really good treatment,” and gave me a comforting hug. It was exactly what I needed. It somehow felt that all of the events that hadn’t worked out all evening were leading up to this reunion.

Matthew and I drank ginger tea and proceeded to catch up. I decided to stay with him instead of the other group of people. In showing him my groovy Evel Knievel helmet and we were off on the back of his motorbike. We eventually met some of his friends from massage school at a cool place neither of us had been called the Teak House. It turned into a rollicking dance explosion and despite our lethargy, suddenly we had renewed stamina.

Dancing and laughing at the Teak House

We wanted to keep the dance party going, so four of us piled on Matthew’s motorbike – 2 men, and 2 women – and we drove through Chiang Mai in Thai style. We ended up at a deafening bar that was horrible really. After the spontaneous dance party and our 4-on-a-motorbike entrance, obviously everything afterwards was going to be a let down.

The next morning, Matthew and I went out to delicious breakfast at Angel’s Secrets. With him it’s like being with an amigo verdadero – a true friend. We are connected. We have a lot of similarities and both think that we were Thai in a past life. It occurs to me now that maybe we both were and we somehow knew we had to meet up here again.

We parted ways, but ended up running into each other clothes shopping later that day. I had just tried on a jacket and the first thing he said when he saw me was, “Suay maak maak!” Very beautiful. As he left I mouthed the words, “I love him,” and sighed. I realize on some level I do love him.  I’m definitely not in love with him. It feels more like a divine friendship or kinship.

Later that week, Matthew came to my house and traded the Thai massage body work he’d been learning in exchange for home cooked meal. During my massage he said I had tension in the left lung. He proceeded to tell me the left side represents the female, and lungs represent grieving. He concluded, “This is most likely you grieving for your mother.” Wow! Told you we are somehow connected. Thank you for understanding Matthew. It’s true. I miss my mom. My mother passed away several years ago from lung cancer.

While Matthew and I were eating dinner, Infinita Tristeza by Manu Chao randomly played on my iTunes. I remembered lots of parts of that song: a little boy wants to have children and aks why he can’t. One line I did not remember at all was the mother saying to the child, “Yo siempre estaré a tu lado.” – I will always be by your side. I believe my mom wanted me to know that.