Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wandering the Walled City

So out into the world again, is it? It's another day – one of those days where you say, self, you are going to sweat. And when you sweat it will be gross. And odds are you're gonna wear that same shirt tomorrow, because that's just how it works, so get used to it and try to make the best of it. And self said ok.

But, you know, that didn't happen until about two hours after I'd woken up. I got up, checked my email, and saw that some people were on skype. I was dragged into what turned out to be a two hour planning session. And it was really quite delightful. April – Japan – was planned out. Casting all of my work done months ago to get myself ready, aside. But this is alright. Just a few deposits here and there will be lost. And it was during this planning that you really marvel about the technology we have.

There are my friends, back in the Greater Toronto Area and I'm talking to them in Chaing Mai Thailand. The wonders of skype Video Chat are just beyond... And I've not used it so much as to think it normal, and just another part of technology. It still exists as magic to me. And that they an see me walk around, background changing, as I move to reconnect to the wifi signal is fantastic. I imagine a world where free wifi (have I mentioned lately that other people pronounce this as wee fee instead of Why Fie? It's weird...) blankets a city, and you can walk around showing off the entire area, from thousands of miles away. Honestly, how is that not magic? Its time will come soon.

So with April planned, and made marginally more expensive, but potentially cost saving as I'll now be using a JR Rail pass, I headed out for the day.

This had nothing to do with my netbook's battery finally running dry. Not at all.

So, with that done, I started my walk into town. People look at me as if I'm crazy for walking. The walk is one kilometer. I return the look.

I don't get all that far. I make it to the gates of my little ex-pat community, in which the hostel is situated: Located just out of town allowing you to see the real Chiang Mai that we love. Uh huh – if real Chiang Mai is all ex-pats, then sure.

I make it as far as the gates, and there a taxi driver offers to “give you a ride? Cheap.” I ask how much for this one kilometer driver. “Only 140,” he replies. Oh iis that all? For a ride that would come up to about 39 on the meter? No thank you sir. I'm willing to pay 20. He tells me to take the red bus. I have no idea how this red bus works. And there's no one to explain it. So I start to walk. It will show me the area, so why not, yeah? The walk is mostly shaded, and there's a two meter wide sidewalk. I've never felt so safe and secure moving around in Thailand. Still – the intersections are adventures by the minute. There are no walk signs here. There are no pedestrian crossings. There are eight lanes of traffic, constantly moving in a cluster flux that you must navigate. Two lanes are constantly turning never stopping, three one way stop while the three the other are given the signal to go.

It's like Oregon Trail. You almost feel like hiring a ferry to float you across (pay a tuk-tuk 10B or so to drive on through) but even still... accidents happen. So you run throgh the stream, wait for the three lanes to stop, stand in the middle of moving traffic, wait for the next three to stop, and then run through the final stream, before the cars start up again.

Perhaps you think I'm over selling this. I am not. I have seen locals engage in just the same activities which makes me feel better, and also terrifies me that this is a culture that thinks, “sure, this is fine. What's wrong here?” The best part? You need to cross this gauntlet before you can walk through the city gates. Right before, infact.


But, once inside, the world is yours. The cars have slowed, the mad tuk-tuks exist only on the outer right, and you should have no problem making your way around. And where will you head? The temples of course. This is Asia. There's always another temple, or a shrine, or a place of past and future worship. There always is.

And I just think, thankfully I went to Angkor Wat before here. Yeah - Angkor Wat was more impressive, but these temples are pretty spectacular in their own right. More impressive, taller, different, than the ones in Bangkok. Had I seen these first, Angkor Wat would have been amazing still, but – maybe a little less so?

I don't know why people bill Chiang Mai as the anti-Bangkok. A more authentic Thai Experience, you're constantly told. It is not.

Bangkok may be a city full of tourists, but Chiang Mai is a city built for tourists. That's all it is. Every restaurant advertises their “American Dishes” and many sell them for 600B a meal. That's about 20USD. Sure that seems normal for us. You could probably eat a month for that as a local. The temples are flooded with beaded white guys (look, I know – but these are the short cropped Riker beards that say “I am sophisticated, or a hippy not willing to fully invest”) with their baggy clothes, and their girlfriends with dreadlocks, and all sorts of other nonsense. No – ok maybe they understand the religion and aren't just holding incense because they were pushed upon them by woman who then guilted them into “donating to her.” But this is what you see –

and as #71 on the terrible racist website Stuff White People Like (http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/02/20/71-being-the-only-white-person-around/) we do so hate our cultural experiences being trampled upon by others who may so look like us. (indeed it is a racist, and I still can't believe the book is sold in the humour section at Chapters – Canada's evil near-monopolizing bookstore, that I love so much, for some reason. Don't get me wrong – the website is pretty genius, and it's bloody funny. But that's the internet. You take that and throw it off the internet, and try to justify it by putting it in the humour section? I don't know. Not worth it I guess. So many words wasted already. Still – full marks for accuracy!

So there you are wandering temples, feeling just as much a part of real Thailand as if you were on Koh Samui getting drunk and burning yourself on flaming skipping ropes. But hey, there's some neat stuff here. So you look around, you take your pictures, and you find yourself amazed by what you see. Still – this is about as authentic as Brugge, and Tallinn. Quite similar in many respects too. Each of those sums up what you'd expect to see in Europe, Eastern Europe, and South East Asia. But none are real. People lock up their shops at night, leave the city, and go to their real homes in their real communities. But we rarely look that far, do we? Who has the time.

After the temples, I wandered my way through the streets, and coming across a boxing stadium. Apparently there'd by a match tomorrow. 400B. How could I refuse? People keep saying that you can't go to Thailand without seeing a fight. Mind you, they also say you can't go without riding an elephant, so it's all really up in the air, isn't it?

Anyway, I bought my seemingly legit ticket, and then found a place to go sit myself down by at the three kings monument. It's strange watching people pass by here. They stop, they bow, they pray. It represents those that created the city. But people bow to it, palms pressed together. Imagine that. Imagine if every time you walked past city hall, you really thought back and appreciated the formation of your town. I don't know if that's what's happening here – but something certainly is. You need only watch a few moments to see it play out.

When I see my city hall it just makes me watch to watch Resident Evil 2 again, so I can see it blown to bits at the end.

But that's me. North American cultured. Kaboom.

It may also sadden some of you to know that I did not blow up a cow with a rocket launcher, nor shoot a rocket launcher, nor any high powered weapon. Yes I had the chance. In a few countries. But – paying equal to a months wage for ten seconds of depressed trigger – it just seemed wrong some how. I would pay that much to do it in Europe, but not here. I don't know where the money is going, and that leaves me feeling somewhat under informed. Too much so when dealing with weapons.

Eventually I left the city, walking back to my hostel. When I'd less than a kilometer to go, I asked a tuk-tuk driver how much a return trip would cost. I was told 80B. I laughed, saying no no too much. Stone faced, as if he'd offered me the deal of my life he repeated the number. I offered forty. He walked away.

For the first time I was honestly offended. Offended that we would even suggest such a price, and offended that he would not budge. If anything points out how touristy this place is it's that in late January there are still enough tourists for a tuk-tuk driver to turn down a fare, knowing someone will be along to pay the high priced one. It should also be noted that he could have dropped me off and been back to his spot within about three minutes. It was a straight shot, no lights, no traffic. The ride would have started at 50B and been negotiated down to about 25 in Bangkok. He was that sure that someone would be by within a few minutes that he could afford to not even try to negotiate with me. Chiang Mai? It's nice. But if someone tells you it's authentic – just remember this.

Back at the hostel I set to devouring more media. It is my mission to complete Torchwood before I leave this city.

Hey, I have time. I have two more nights in this hostel, and then five more in one across town. This is a three night city. Four tops. There's trekking and that's a good reason to come here – but like I said, I have many more nights to fill. Can't rush it all at once. Just give yourself one mission a day.

Tomorrow it will be the fight. If my ticket is legit. It must be – there's a stamp on it.

And I wrote my name on a slip of paper, placed under a cigarette tray!

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