The trip down to the school was an experience in itself. If there are any traffic laws in all of Chiang Mai I’d be surprised. We rode in the back of this rickety little truck with a little shanty shack to act as a roof over our heads. The seats were bolted down into the cab with little care, so any time you hit a bump, your seat would shift to a different area of the truck. Above our heads were the “Holy Shit” bars to hold on to, which we used the entire duration of the ride.
We could see the oncoming traffic as we traveled down side streets, back alleys and highways. If there are traffic lights, I didn’t notice them, cause we were constantly going in a forward motion with no stops along the way. Only once did the truck sort of slow down, and that was just to make a u-turn…in a lane specifically for that purpose. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in Canada, most streets have sign after sign deterring drivers from any attempt of a u-turn at any time in their lives. Here, they not only encourage it, they have a lane, with a painted u-turn symbol on the pavement, dedicated to it. We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Watching the traffic around us was pretty entertaining. The number of scooters driving around the city far outnumbered the cars. And just when we started to marvel at how they could fit three people onto one scooter, along came a family of five bundled onto the smallest scooter I’ve ever seen. To top that, a driver had his dog perched on the handle bars as he zoomed by us. And still, people condemn Britney Spears for bad parenting?! She just drives Thai-style people!?
When you’re not watching all the scooter drivers dive in and out between slivers of space between the larger, crush-your-bike-like-a-toy cars and trucks, you have an amazing view of the city. There is every color of the spectrum on display. Between the clothing the locals wear, the billboards around the cityscape and the natural growth of the trees and plants, it’s very hard to take it all in the first trip down. Someone in the truck said it best, “The jungle seems to be overtaking the city, or they are constructing the city around the existing trees.”
That is something worth mentioning now that I think of it. The trees around the city are mesmerizing. The scale of them is double, if not more, of an average tree in my hometown. And the way they grow, the branches seem to resemble an old mans aching bones. They look broken and fractured, while the leaves that attach to the ends of the crippled branches, bloom leveled with the earth below. Man I sound like a really bad poet when I try to describe pretty things. But, it’s true none the less.
Finally we made it to the school. We were welcomed at the door and were instructed to take our shoes off, come indoors, (where it’s air-conditioned, thank God) and change into the required scrubs for class. I don’t remember giving them any sort of measurements before signing up for this course and it showed when I walked out with my pants tied around my belly-button and my shirt coming down to my knees. Looking around the room, I could see I wasn’t the only fashion victim. Tall people had what looked like skin tight Capri pants on; the tiniest of our group wore the “one size fits all” outfits and tripped over themselves throughout the day. We were pretty sure the school did this for a laugh.
When we finally met our instructors, we were a bit nervous. In the course outline we received, it stated that the course was demanding and that even though the environment is relaxed, our instructors were strict. This was so not the case. We had two tiny little Thai women with a severe case of perma-grin and a light-hearted sense of humor. For example, every morning, we would have to start the day with exercise and Yoga. Of course when I read that in the schedule, I assumed that from 9am-11:30am would be dedicated to JUST exercise and Yoga. Well it pays to read things properly, (like say…flight times?) The yoga and exercises consisted of a few stretches and then these little exercises that I’m pretty sure were designed to make us laugh and act a fool for fifteen minutes, (which I am more than willing to do at any given time.)
But before any of that we had to do a prayer/chant to Buddha, their King, the doctor who implemented Thai massage, and the instructors themselves. They even provided us with the prayers spelled out phonetically so we wouldn’t screw it up. But we did anyhow. This was all followed by 3 minutes of meditation, which I think was the best part of the morning ritual. But then again, I’m a lazy shit.
Before we knew it, we were being escorted out onto a patio to have lunch. Every meal was going to be a vegetarian dish of some sort. Back home, I have a co-worker who is a strict vegan, (whom I constantly tease) as well as a sister who secretly makes desserts with tofu in it just to convince me that there is no difference between that and any other dessert without it. Well if there’s no difference…then why bother?! Regardless, if they ever knew how good these lunches were, I’d have a lot of apologizing to do.
The patio we all sat at over-looked a stream that ran below the school. On the other side of it were a few grass huts with children running around in the yards chasing after some wild chickens. The huts were cloaked with a variety of trees that bowed towards the water below. You’d hear exotic birds calling out all around you. Occasionally, you’d get a hint of a breeze and sit there trying to place the smell that’s in the air. A smell that brings you back to your childhood, playing in the weeds at the family cottage, trying to collect as many crayfish as your little plastic bucket could hold.
Or at least that’s what I smelled. Everyone else smelled sweat apparently.
The rest of the day flew by pretty quickly, but even so, it drained us of every ounce of energy we had. The trip back in our cab-o-death was silent for most of the way back. We were all sweaty and just completely spent. I carried myself up to my room and stepped right into the shower. As soon as I was cleaned up and smelling half decent again, I got my second wind. A few minutes later I was bouncing down the stairs to meet up with a few of the group to decide where we were going to eat that night. Before we headed out, one of the receptionists at the hotel had a message for “Mr. Jason”. That would be me.
The message in short said, “Someone more important than you is checking in. We are kicking you out of the deluxe suite and moving you to a smaller room, immediately!” Maybe not those exact words, but it’s how I felt reading it. So upstairs I go and quickly packed my things up as one of the housekeepers made their way to my room to help me move my luggage to the new room. I had just enough time to raid the newly stocked mini fridge and pack it into my suitcase before the housekeeper arrived. They can take my deluxe room…but they’ll never take…MY FREE PEPSI!!!
The new room is basically the same, except the bed is about a third the size it was in the other room. Not a big deal. Back downstairs I go and off to dinner we all went. Or so I thought.
We made it up to the main drag where the new part of the city met up with the old part of the city. The way I understand it, is that the old city had a wall built around it at one point which eventually they tore down. Now, the rest of the city kind of expands out from that old city and the ruins of the wall which are still there. That’s probably a very over-simplified telling of Thai history, but what can I say…I’m a simple minded guy, who is also easily distracted when people are giving me history lectures.
So there we were standing at the edge of the very narrow sidewalks, watching the endless flow of traffic zoom past us. Now remember how I said there are no visible traffic lights? Well finding a crosswalk is a greater challenge. The only way we were going to get across is by trying to weave in and around the oncoming traffic, or throwing one of our party in front of traffic so they might stop and let the others pass. I was elected to be the crossing guard, (or target practice, however you want to look at it.) I walked out into traffic with my hand held out, as if I was Moses about to part the Red Sea. And to my surprise, I did not die. The girls ran across the street to the other side and I bowed in thanks to all the patient drivers who let me live.
Now I thought we were going to dinner, but apparently the girls wanted to check out the markets first. We made it up to the mouth of the beast as it were, the starting point to a maze of tables and kiosks of goods and wares. There were lanterns hanging from tent poles as far as the eye could see, illumintaing just how far we could trek. We stood there for a moment trying to take it all in. We all agreed before we set foot in the swarm of merchants that we were going to stay together and not get lost. So naturally as soon as we took three steps, we were all off in separate directions. I think that was due to the fact that we all wanted to get away from the starting point as quickly as possible. That’s where they try to sell all the food. So between all the spicy meats on the open grills, the smell of fresh fish coasting in the hot night air and the unmistakable smell of raw sewage from the river running through the city, it was a pretty potent aroma.
The markets are just incredible. It’s a shoppers dream come true. Almost everything was hand made. Every piece of fine fabric in every style imaginable, any color you could think of. Jewelry, bed sheets, shoes, dresses, suits, shirts, toys, knick-knacks, paintings, fruits, vegetables, spices, drinks, perfumes…it just never ended. Until at some point you get deep enough into the whole display and realize it’s all the same stuff over and over, just spaced out and repeated after a few booths.
You really had to have a keen eye, (or be a girl) to pick out something totally unique amongst all the items on display. It’s harder for me I guess, because, well nothing here really interests me. Like, I don’t want to come back from this trip all decked out in Thailand garb just to prove that I’ve actually been somewhere. Cause you know as soon as that week is up of wearing the Thailand style, you really have no other time that you can wear it out in public without everyone thinking you’re a mad man. Then again, I’m a typical white t-shirt and jeans kinda guy, so convincing me even to wear a suit is going to give you some trouble.
Eventually we all ran into each other again. The girls had their shopping fix for one night and now, it was off to dinner. On the walk back towards the hotel, we came across this nice little patio restaurant that seemed to be engulfed by bamboo trees, so of course we had to go there! Surrounded by trees that are completely foreign to me, in a country I’ve never been, about to eat food that may or may not agree with me, and the only thing that is going through my mind is, “Why the fuck is Celine Dion playing on the sound system?” I can’t get away from that skinny bitch.
But the food…oh Holy Gods!
I played it safe for tonight with a chicken and cashew dish, (making sure there was no garlic in the menus description) which was so so good! In front of me was a small dish that looked like soy sauce with tiny little peppers floating in it. The girls warned me that on the previous night, Crystal, (the only member of our group who looks even remotely like a happy-hippy) had tried a dash of it on her food and immediately turned from pale white, to sweaty red, saying “Yep, that’s got some hot to it,” as she downed her water. So…of course I have to try it. One tiny pepper later and I wanted to “make the bad man stop!”
I thought I’d be a little exotic by getting a watermelon smoothie to drink. My exotic order just made the rest of the group question my sexuality. And I was nowhere near exotic after a couple of the other girls ordered dessert, which came served in hollowed out coconuts and pineapples. Ah well, two more weeks to order me up some of that.