Cycling Around Rural Chiang Mai

Cycling Around Rural Chiang Mai

The beginning of April is not the best time to be in Chiang Mai. It’s scorching hot, and the fields and mountainsides are being burned so smoke fills the valley. My friend Rahul happened to be visiting at that time so we decided to get up a bit higher into the mountains where it was marginally cooler.

cycling in the Chiang Mai countryside

hot and smoky in April

We ended up cycling around in the heat of the day. We were joined by a woman named Erin who thought it would be a good idea to have a hat. She was correct. We got our custom fitted Thai gardener style hats.

Making adjustments so the hat could fit my head

New hats with their makers

Thai garden hat modeling…it was a short-lived career

My plan was to go to a cotton weaving village…

…but we ended up in a hill tribe village instead. The sellers were eager.

…and young, “Hello 10 baht.”

Even though we ended up in the wrong place, and the added 10 or so kilometers made us extremely sweaty, it was a nice little detour. There are several different hill tribes up in this region.

bag wrapped mango trees

After cycling in the heat of the day, a cave was a logical cool off spot.

The next morning it was time to climb to the wat on the hill in Chiang Dao.

On the way up to the wat on the hill

The smoky view heading up….

…with some good Buddhist advice along the way

view down, temple in Chiang Dao

We ended up at this woman’s orchid garden

Even though it was sweltering, the hot springs were right beside the river. Heat up and cool down.

Although I adore Chiang Mai city, it’s a refreshing change to get out to the Chiang Mai province countryside.

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3 Months

3 Months

I’ve been here just over 3 months now and I still absolutely love Thailand.

2 years ago today, I was at the zoo in Barranquilla, Colombia with my friend Kären. It was a Tuesday and we had the day off of work because of las velitas festival. I had drunk too much with Yoyi the night before, and then we broke up that morning. I was frustrated and angry, in an unpleasant job, an ugly uninteresting city, with food that I didn’t like, and my relationship had just ended. Kären, the animals, and my mattress were the only things making me happy in Barranquilla.

Today is December 8th and a Thursday, I am in working and living in the Chiang Mai countryside and this was my morning view:

Lakeside view at Nugent Waterside

December lakeside sunrise

At school, I taught a reading comprehension/vocabulary lesson of the Loch Ness Monster, read Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, and watched my students present a play on Echo and Narcissus. It was delightful.

We bow in the morning to the Buddha and sing songs. I had delicious breakfast –jok rice porridge with the vegetarian fixins, and Thursday means delicious vegetarian lunch. I love my job. I live in the countryside outside the amazing city of Chiang Mai. I’m not in a relationship, nor do I have a permanent place to live, and I’m still looking for a home for my dog, and these are about the only things making me unhappy. My life is pretty darn good here.

A man from Barcelona told me there was a German bakery nearby. Tomorrow is the day with the fresh bread, but he suggested that I could ride my bike there before the sun set tonight. I got directions and was off down the rural roads of Thailand. I passed by what has been called ‘the Thai mini Grand Canyon’ and it is quite spectacular. I continue on to another rural road, canal road, and eventually the bakery. It was about a 20 minute bike ride.

Thai version of the mini Grand Canyon

Thai Grand Canyon outside Chiang Mai

One thing I’ve learned from my travels – always trust the German bakery. Germans know bread. There seems to be German travelers and expats all over the world and so in the most unlikely places the German bakery appears. Jo’s bakery was no exception. Jo was out of bread, so I bought a stollen (some people would scoff and call this a fruit cake, but I love it), Manchego cheese, lamyai honey, and quark that was homemade and about the most delicious thing ever.

Cycling home was so pretty. Although I sometimes worry about dogs, I stopped at a small roadside market looking for fruit and butter, and I had a cute little poodle type dog attack me with kisses. I need to learn the word for butter.

Doggie on my bike

Although I don’t have a proper kitchen, I was able to make a salady concoction of tomato, capers, quark, garlic, a pinch of salt, olive oil and Manchego for dinner – yum. Stollen, quark and honey for dessert, with a glass of red wine to top it off, also lovely. I am pleased with my little adventure after work today. I need to do some more exploring and some more figuring out how to live here. It will come slowly. I’m very thankful for so much here.

Just a Typical Day in November

Just a Typical Day in November

A friend and former colleague of mine hadn’t heard from me in a while and asked for anecdotes of a typical day of mine. Here you go:

Waking up it wasn’t quite as cold as yesterday, meaning it was around 68 rather than 65 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m not kidding that it does actually make a difference. I heard the song of several birds and the chirping of geckos. Leaving my lakeside guesthouse, put on my flip flops, bike helmet, and cycling shorts under my skirt, I wai and “sawadee khaa” the gardener.

My lakeside view

I ride down the dirt road past the harvested rice field to the other dirt road next to the busy paved road. On the second dirt road there is a canal between me and the busy street, but on the grass on the side are the Asian type cows, and one calf. They are so peaceful lying there. I have no fear of them because of how docile they are even though they are at least 5 times the size of the dogs who I sometimes fear here.

Thai cows on the way to work

Cow and leaf roofed hut

After the bridge, and crossing the busy road is an undertaking – motorbikes whizzing by, songthaews (these are basically pick up trucks with a red roof top that serve as taxis – song = 2 thaew = row because they have 2 benches in the back) actual pick ups, and cars, people walking, trucks full of people pulling in front of me and stopping, it’s scary. I should buy mirrors for my bicycle. I get across the street and then head down a third dirt road that leads to my school.

Canal and cows

My school is an amazing work of art. That’s really all I can say. Pictures show how nice it is, but don’t really do it justice.

Panyaden School in late November

I eat breakfast of papaya and Thai rice soup, then we salute the flag, sing and prostrate to the Buddha, and then the students have class.

flag raising

Debating the pros and cons of dams with a pen as microphone.

DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time in the wall cubby hole

Lunch is buffet style, homemade, and delicious

buffet style lunch

Teachers and students and teachers eat together. Staff and students all wash their own dishes.

vegetarian Khao Soi

There are 4 sinks in a row to make it simple to wash and rinse while conserving water. From what I’ve observed, the students like doing it.

little ones washing dishes

I enjoyed teaching the Pacific NW Native American tale “How the Raven Stole the Sun” story in our mythology unit. The students love it and have never heard anything like it. I had to deal with a silly behavior issue, but it’s manageable. My school director agrees with how I handled the situation. It’s nice to feel supported in decision making. It’s Wednesday so it’s free yoga after school. Another reason to I love my job.

rice harvest time

Cycling away the guards open the gate and say “Khap” each day as I leave the school. I never cease to delight in the simple beauty of the rice field.

rice harvest time

The air smells of burning field smoke. I ride through occasional clouds of tiny flying insects.

getting back to my guesthouse, the room has been cleaned – fresh towels with no gecko poop on them…yet.

The internet isn’t working very well. I go down to the restaurant closer to the source, it still isn’t working. Talk to some British teachers in training with their CELTA course in progress.I order the chicken Indian curry – they make it vegetarian for me without me even asking because they know I don’t eat meat. Very kind indeed. I drink a Bia Chang. While eating something falls from the ceiling, and almost lands in my dinner. I think it’s probably a gecko, but actually it’s a good sized frog. This makes me laugh.

I get frustrated and give up on the internet. I talk to people from Iran, Ireland, Slovakia, England, and of course Thailand. A British guy plays ukelele and sings in the garden by the lake and makes us all laugh with his never ending looping medleys.

CELTA students and me at Nugent Waterside

I talk in Spanish to an English guy who taught in Ecuador when I was in Colombia. I go to bed too late to the sounds of chirping insects and the occasional barking dog in the distance.

I have an endless amount of mosquito bites on my legs, I don’t have a kitchen to cook in, I have to give away and find a new home for my dog who I love, I am working tomorrow, which is Thanksgiving, but I am happy because I still love Thailand.

Letting Go

Letting Go  17.11.11

As I left my guesthouse today and rode my bike to work I was feeling back to my energetic self. I arrived at school to be greeted with a hug by my lovely Thai teaching partner Kru Goy who I had not seen since the last week due to my visa trip to Kuala Lumpur and her being absent yesterday.

It’s Thursday, so that means it’s our day to present at the morning assembly. The theme Kru Goy presented this week in Thai was how to bow to the Buddha with the appropriate hand gestures and words. I was delighted to learn something about Thai culture and Buddhism first thing in the morning.

I went back to my classroom and opened my computer to begin planning lessons when I noticed the subject line ‘Sombra’ in my open e-mail window. I knew whatever I read would not be good. I was correct.

Sombra is my dog. I have my house rented out to 2 wonderful women (sisters) who love and take good care of my house, garden, and dog. Sombra is a rescue dog, and I’m quite certain he was abused in the first year of his life before I adopted him. The Humane Society let me know that he did not do well with other dogs. I found out that he is a dog that doesn’t really like to be petted by people he doesn’t know well, although he is quite loving when you get to know him. Needless to say, he came with some baggage and issues.

On the other hand, he is very smart and really an adorable dog. He is a black labrador/Australian shepherd combination. One feature that makes him particularly endearing is his little half tail that he wags any time he sees me. I sing a song that basically just repeats the name Sombra that makes him wag his tail even harder. His name means ‘shadow’ in Spanish. The reason I gave him that name is because he follows me everywhere I go.

Leaving him when I came to Thailand was very difficult for me, but I knew that it would be nearly impossible to bring him. When I left, I didn’t know where in Thailand I’d land, what I’d being doing for work, or where I’d be living, etc. What I did know is that most places in Thailand there are street dogs with varying degrees of mange.

My tenants were growing more and more attached to Sombra. He certainly has some odd behaviors, but is also easy to take care of because he is independent. They tell me often that, “He is a just the cutest dog.”

Then yesterday he had an incident.

One of the tenants was petting Sombra when he suddenly turned around and started biting her. He caused her some puncture wounds on her hand, a trip to the hospital, a course of antibiotics, but perhaps worst of all the loss of trust. Although they love Sombra, understandably they think his behavior is too unpredictable and do not feel comfortable living with a dog who might attack them. I don’t blame them one little bit. I know they have treated him with nothing but kindness. They do not deserve the worry of another potential dog biting incident in their home. I quite distraught about Sombra and feel horrible for my tenants.

So, that leaves me with this problem: what am I going to do with Sombra? He can’t stay living with my tenants.  I’d bring him here, but…A – I still am living in what is basically a guesthouse, which is not a permanent situation for me (and even if it was more permanent here, they do not allow pets). B – He would have to take several long and extremely expensive flights (around $5,000 USD for most pet carriers Oregon to Thailand) to get here and then be quarantined for who knows how long. C – If he made it through that, he would most likely pick a fight with a street dog, and he would lose. D – Even if I did have a house with a yard here he would probably need to remain inside while I am at work. E – Most of the year it’s quite hot here, which would not be an ideal environment for him. So, for these and several other reasons, it just wouldn’t be practical for him to come here.

This is heartbreaking for me, but I think I might need to give him away 😦

I will put positive thoughts out there and focus on him ending up with an owner that would be just right for him. I hope to find somewhere that when I come back, will allow visiting privileges. Maybe I will even get to take him back.

As I was riding my bike home today, the sun was setting in a spectacular array of colors and each cloud had its own glowing outline. The rice fields that had been bright green just last week have turned golden, and the harvest has begun. The air was filled with the scent of freshly cut rice. Taking this all in I was thinking about how life is in continual flux, as was so clearly evident to my changing scenery. No matter how pretty the moment is, the next moment will be different. We need to let it go. Somethings are easy to let go of, like a sunset, but other things are much harder.

I have been thinking about Sombra all day. I might need to let him go and trust that he will end up exactly where he is supposed to be. This makes me extremely sad. I just need to trust that with the outflow, there will also be an influx.

Deep sigh. Letting go breath. Breathing in. The practice of non-attachment.

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Oh, Sombra.