Wednesday, September 14, 2005 10:52 PM
subject: 24 hours.
It’s raining. And it has been raining from the day I set foot on Thai ground. I’m in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand where people go to trek in the mountains or to bungee jump or do all kinds of exiting stuff. The bus we’re taking here from Bangkok is labled VIP and everyone on it is young and white. We all got our ticket on Khao San road and depending on luck or bargaining skills we each paid between 200 and 350 baht (4 to 7 euros) for the 12 h night drive. The air condition isnt working and the girl in front of me is leaning back so far my legs are tangling in the aisle. Next to me is a 21y-old German guy whose name I never asked even though we talked all night. Talked while everyone was sleeping. How could they be so naive? Didnt they read all those lonely planets horror stories about stealing on the private buses to chiang mai? Well, fine. It’ll be me then who’s meant to stay awake and scream loud if anyone trys to steal anything. I’m wearing all money and important papers on me under my clothes. My cameras are in a bag I’m keeping on my lap while another piece of hand luggage stands next to me on the floor. I rest my feet on it, so any thieve will have to touch me first before he can get to the rice cookies and shampoo bottles I keep in there. At around 4 am my German neighbor wants to sleep he says and I’m left with the impossible challenge of keeping myself awake without light or tv or conversation. So I fall alseep.
A loud and annoying Thai woman with too much make up gets on the bus. she explains that we’ll be picked up by passenger trucks and given some coffee and that they would “help” us to decide where we could stay if we hadnt have a hotel yet. We arrive somewhere called “nice place” which doesnt quite live up to its pretences but they serve good coffee.
We all sit down around a table and some guy makes a big fuzz around their 3-day trekking tour and how it’s so much better than all the other trekking tours around town. The swedish couple next to me is easily convinced. I’m slightly turned off by the fact that the trekking is happening in Pai – a small town near the river which flooded two weeks ago and left about 20 people missing (including westerners). I promise them to think about it and they smile with disbelief. I grab my stuff and I’m back on the street. It’s early and no one’s really out yet. I’m hoping that Chian Mai is not notoriously dead like this and start walking. A woman in a tuk-tuk (they have different names for them in each country, I still call it rikschaw like they do in india) stops beside me and asks where I’m going. Banana Guest House I reply and and I’m surprised by the 20 baht she asks to take me there. I understand why it was so cheap when we arrive only two minutes after I got on. How was I supposed to know it was just down the street? I get off and book myself into a single room with shared toilet.
My knee had been hurting all night and didn’t feel much better now. I take a shower and realise that it’s double the size it usually is (my knees are naturally fat but this was too much). This scares me and I lie down hoping that some rest would get the swelling down as well as the pain. ‘Oh great’ I’m thinking, if it’s not food poisening or high fever it’ll certainly be some broken foot or swolen knee. All day I stay in bed until I eventually give in and take a tuk-tuk to a hospital. It looks modern and I find that comforting. They have me fill in some papers, they take my blood pressure and measure my weight. I hadnt eaten all day and was shocked to realise that I hadnt lost any weight since france. It must be the shoes. Everyone knows that birkenstocks are heavy.
The doctor receives me shortly after and asks whether I speak thai. I find that an odd question but stick to just replying a shameful ‘no’. He doesn’t seem to have a clue of whats going on and just guesses the same guesses I have had all day. But he does give me drugs and I’m happy about that. Lots and lots of medicine and I’ll be trekking along the highest mountains shortly.
The guy who’s giving me the medicine at the hospital owned pharmacy is friendly and I ask him where I could catch a cab back into town. He’s advising me to take the “led car” and I nod, having no clue what the hell he’s talking about.
I pay 496 baht (10 euro), grab all my medicine and go out to the street waiting for transportation. The kind of passenger truck that first picked us up from our VIP bus stops next to me. That car is red (or should I say ‘led’?) and has a small “taxi” sign on it. I ask the price to the Banana Guest House. 20 – he replys and I hop on. Back in the place I have dinner and go to my room to read and feel sorry for myself. My book is called backpack by Emily Bar and it’s about a girl from London who leaves for South East Asia by herself and talks about what happens to her. I take comfort in the fact that she seems to have an even shittier time as myself.
Today I wake up at 7am and tell myself it’s too early so I fall asleep again and now it’s 10am. I get up, am pissed to realise that my knee still hurts and am rushing to breakfast so I could eat some more pills ( which are supposed to be taken in after the meals).
Over a somehow spicy banana pancake I try to figure out whether I should go out despite my bad leg or book into a hotel that features cable tv. Both options sound attractive but only one is cheap. So I go out. I walk along a street with a bunch of shops. It’s so dead, noone’s out and it’s raining. Again. I find an entrance to a market and am pleased to admire all the different cookiedough foods they have. I turn to the right and there’s an alley of ‘fresh foods’, which in this country means alive. Fish kept in bucktes, fighting over a spot of their heads under water, chickens and a bunch of other animals whos names I dont know. As I walk along I hear the sounds of a slaughterhouse and as I peek in I only see big knives and pig heads so I decide not to go in. Not even for the sake of science. I continue wandering around keeping my eyes open to the oddities of foreign cultures. An Italian restaurant that promotes ‘”slow food” for example or the ever prominent buddha everywhere you go. My guest house puts incense and a slice of jelly toast and milk in front of their buddha every morning. I figure they believe that the ants who come to eat it are sent as divine creatures.
Well, so it seems that Chiang Mai has not just cooled the temperature down as opposed to bangkok, but also my euphoria.
It’s cool. Going through rough times will make it easier to appreciate the good ones to come.