DID I MENTION THE AVERAGE DAYTIME TEMPERATURE IN DECEMBER IN CHIANG RAI, THAILAND IS 80 FAHRENHEIT/26 CELSIUS, DIPPING DOWN TO A BONE-CHILLING 54 FAHRENHEIT/12 CELSIUS AT NIGHT?
I never fully appreciated the easy availability of food on every corner in Thailand until Bruce and I bicycled in Laos and found the opposite - no visible food for sale anywhere in the high mountain villages, save for a few packages of chemical-laced crisps seasoned with nasty dried fish parts. In contrast, Thailand is the world's food table: a cornucopia of gastronomical delights. Homes in rural and urban Thailand are typically designed with a small storefront, complete with a pot of soup and an open, clay grill for the hungry passerby, offering delicious soups, meat skewers, vegetables, fruit, curries and stir fries. Ride through any village in Thailand, and the smell of fragrant spices alternately caresses or assaults the senses.
Young children, giggling teenagers, men, women, and the very old peddle their soups, stir-fries, meat and vegetable skewers, fish balls, curries, garden vegetables, fruit, and sweet drink concoctions.
At our home on the outskirts of Chiang Rai, I often hear the sound of the pestle hitting the mortar, as the woman next door pounds her garlic, fiery chilis, ginger, and lemon grass, preparing what is arguably the world’s best cuisine. Descended from an intricate mix of Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, and Malaysian influences, Thai food is fragrant, spicy, sweet and sour. It is all together a delight to the senses, never staid, always surprising.
like this deep fried fish from the Khwae Yai River, seasoned delicately with garlic, ginger, lemon grass, chilis, coriander, and mint served with Tom Kai Gai soup, a coconut milk and lime bonanza.
Steaming bowls of soup are sold everywhere - my favorites are khao soi, a delicious Northern noodle speciality with Burmese origins,
and tom yam goong, a classic hot and sour prawn soup with lemon grass. Lemon grass has long pale fibrous stalks, of which only the bottom third is used and has a lemony scent. In soups, Traditionally Thais throw in whole pieces of beaten lemon grass (woody & aromatic), galangal (a tough, fibrous member of the ginger family, lemony, bitter and sharp), garlic, kaffir leaves (imparts a pungent lemony-lime flavor) and ginger for flavor, not bothering to dice up the ingredients, leaving diners to pick their way around the dish. The unsuspecting foreigner may bite into the sometimes bitter and fibrous pieces and unsuccessfully try to chew them, leaving no choice but to discreetly remove the offending morsel.
Mainstays of Thai cooking: Clockwise, starting upper top left: green onions, Chinese garlic, lemon grass , ginger, coriander (also known as cilantro), limes (plentiful and cheap at .60 US cents for a bag of 20), galangal, kaffir leaves, Thai garlic (smaller and more flavorful than Chinese garlic), with red and green hot chilis in the middle. (I forgot to add Thai sweet basil and Thai holy basil).
Less than a 2-minute walk from our house is our favorite soup guy, Pizaz, who quickly serves up delicious bowls of egg noodles, wonton, cilantro, veggies, and thinly sliced pork. My husband always add more Phrik Nam Pla - chili with fish sauce - an Asian cooking essential consisting primarily of fermented fish and salt ; I add crushed peanuts and dried red chilis from the condiment tray found on every table. Each bowl of soup sets us back a mere $1.10.
In addition to hot foods, many home storefronts have added drink stands, lined with jars filled with colorful powders, selling a variety of gelatinous substances mixed with tea, milk, or coffee.
Buyer beware, unless you see a genuine coffee maker, the coffee might be “Thai coffee” which is simply instant coffee pre-mixed with sugar and cream or Oliang, a specialty Thai iced-corn-soya bean-sesame coffee served with a hefty dollop of sweetened condensed milk. Thais seem to think that if they put out a sign advertising coffee, they will attract the farangs (foreigners, in particular Western tourists). Until a few years ago, coffee to the Thais was synonymous to a 3-in-1 product, packets of sugar and cream and instant coffee, but little of the latter. This sensibility is changing as more Thais embrace and profit from the coffee culture.
So where do the Thais buy their food, both for personal consumption and to sale? Generally not from a sterile supermarket but from the markets that clog the sidewalks, spill into the streets, and fill dark buildings. Every morning starting at dawn, the hill tribe people and other vendors occupy the street alongside the old Chiang Rai clock tower selling every imaginable vegetable and fruit, and spice concoctions. Then around 7 am they pack up their wares and move off the street onto the sidewalk so traffic can weave through.
Fish and meat vendors can be found down convoluted isles in a dark building behind the old clock tower sidewalk vendors, along with a dizzying array of household goods and clothing.
Bruce and I always have to search for our favorite shrimp and squid guy, trying to remember his location...
entering the building by the lady selling sumptuous rotis,
and over two isles from the rice lady.
Other than the old clock tower market, my husband and I like to patronize a wonderful woman named “Dang” and sweet "A", with their piles of vegetables, in the "flower market", down from the golden clock tower.
Pushing our bicycles down the isle, we greet "A" with the traditional wai, then place our chosen vegetables in a little plastic basket, which he weighs on his scale.
More delicious Thai foods and Walking Street Markets to follow....
The following pictures need little explanation.
Honorable mentions for 2 coffee shops (not pictured): "Coffee and Pee": I asked my Thai friend, Pai, what this means; she said, “Its just a name; mean’s nothing.” An English-speaking person may differ. "Coffee and Art": There's only one problem, there's no art. Art is the owner’s Thai nickname; foreigners tend not to be amused at the “deception" but they should just drink coffee and say, "Mai pen rai."
Either something is lost in translation or the Thais just want to have fun, known as “sanuk,” a Thai concept that both bewitches and confounds Western sensibilitiies. According to thaizer.com blogger Ray Cavanagh, sanuk is about more than having fun; it’s about striving to achieve satisfaction and pleasure from whatever you do (December 2, 2007). Sanuk harkens back to the Buddhist belief that life should be lived in the moment. Fun is not so much about going to Disney World; personally, I’d rather play with garbage cans than subject myself to the Disney brand of forced gaiety; instead, fun is a way of living and being. Whether selling meat in a dark, teeming market,
or building roads in your sandals, sanuk happens.
I hear sanuk everywhere in the laughter of a thousand Thais as they go about their daily lives. I hear it from our Thai gardener, from the teenagers on their motorbikes, and the neighbors as they thump on their mortar and pestles every morning. I hear sanuk from the vendors in the market as they bag our spices and goods, listen to our stabs at the Thai language, cheer our attempts to speak Thai, and gently correct our mistakes. I hear sanuk in the sound of our house “pet” gecko as he agrees or disagrees with our conversations at the most opportune times. I have even learned to hear sanuk in the neighbor’s silly dog as he half-heartedly barks at our entry through the gate. Even the birds make sanuk with their crazy noises around our house. I see sanuk in the smiles of Thais at the crazy farangs (foreigners) as we pass by on our bikes. The other day an old grizzled man with missing teeth laughed at me and gave me the thumbs up, yelling something Thai in encouragement as I ran past him, sweating profusely. I see and hear sanuk in my expat friends as we laugh about our latest experiences with the “Thai way.”
Smart Jumsai, one of Thailand's best known architects, explains, "If it's not sanuk, it's not worth doing. People will resign from a good-paying job because it's not fun." Sanuk may also explain why not much attention is payed to proper spelling. Foreign teachers teaching English bemoan the lack of apparent seriousness shown to classroom learning by Thai students. As one foreign teacher explained in frustration, “I can only play hands, shoulders, knees and toes so many times!” In addition, Thai language differs structurally and stylistically from English, making for funny translation. It should be noted that I give tremendous credit to the Thais for how well the majority speak, or at least understand, basic English. Bruce likes to joke that ethnocentric Americans only speak one language: American.
Foreigners will fit in much better to Thai society, and ultimately get much further, if they seek to make “sanuk” or harmony in their interactions with the Thais. Western “straight talk” is best avoided in favor of gracious deference. To save face, both for oneself and for the dignity of the other person, is what matters to Thais - even if it means telling “gentle untruths.” Tourists do well to understand this reality, and to be aware that Thais are usually not attempting to deceive or mislead you when “saving face.”
Even if customers shout at them, Thais continue to smile. Foreigners may perceive the smiles as not taking their concerns seriously, but nothing could be further from the truth. I saw this play out first hand when a Western friend showed anger to our mutual Thai friends and hotel owners over an alleged failure to provide a promised discount for a hotel room. When a modern, clean room with air con and wifi costs less than 700 baht ($19.40), is it worth a friendship and the accompanying bitterness to argue over a few baht? The angrier the Westerner became, the more our Thai friend smiled. I understand the rational behind, “But its the principle,” however, in this case my friend would have gotten further, and looked less like an ugly American, by choosing deference and grace over anger.
Like the Thais, my Western friend could have used another oft-repeated Thai phrase: “Mai pen rai”, which means “never mind” or “just accept and move on.” Technically “mai pen rai” means “you are welcome” but, similar to the layers of meaning assigned to sanuk, the phrase means much more than that.
For example, the Thais show a remarkable resilience against stress which I am slow to learn: “Oh, that truck almost hit me on my bicycle when he passed another car on a corner? Mai pen rai, no harm done.” Consider the picture below of the Mae Klong Railway Station Folding Umbrella Market in Bangkok, that has to quickly fold up every time the train comes through, eight ties a day. The train passes mere inches from the market stalls lining the tracks, whose stall holders quickly spread their wares on the tracks after the train passes. I saw this remarkable event several years ago on the only organized bike ride in Thailand I have ever taken.
With his decidedly unorthodox approach, colorful hawaiian shirts, love of life, and constant joking, Bruce fits in well with the Thai worldview, and has a wonderful way of connecting with the Thai people, like this welcoming Thai lady, owner of Grandma's Kitchen, at our favorite roadside lunch spot on the way to Khun Korn Waterfall, Rt 1208, Chiang Rai. She makes the best Khao Kha Moo.
Almost everything and everybody is acceptable to the Thais (Linguistic Perspectives of Thai Culture by Peansiri Vongvipanond, Summer 1994). This may explain in part why so many expats choose to live in a land where dress, religion, status, and politics does not matter - so long as one shows respect for the Kingdom’s monarchy and Buddhist monks and temples - and where you feel accepted, or at least ignored, to live your life as you choose, and where kindness, hospitality, and good humor is valued over possessions, being “right” and being first. Not to mention that the cost of living is insanely inexpensive here for most expats.
Want to ride down a mountain at breakneck speed hanging over the edges of a song taew? Sounds like sanuk!
Behind this song taew on our motorcycle, we saw the driver of the song taew run off the road, mow down small trees, and careen back on the road, continuing his speed unchecked, riders still hanging on.
My ever-loving hubby helps me develop my sanuk and mai pen rai attitudes by having me test all the bridges out for safety prior to him crossing.
Thai’s sense of sanuk pervades their color choices for houses, schools, decorations, and businesses - bright pink, orange, blue, purple, yellow, and green. An expat friend told me it took him forever to understand that nothing can ever be decorated too much or have too much color for his Thai wife. He had beautiful, discreet tile work laid in his bathroom, only to have his Thai wife insist on overlaying “tacky” ornamental designs. Color always trumps understatement.
DC and Bruce outside our favorite guesthouse in Phayao. Room colors are pink; bathroom colors pink and blue. It might be tacky, but it's clean and inexpensive, and the owner goes out of her way to accommodate us. On our last stay she went to market and brought us back kao tom gai soup so we would have something in our bellies for our early morning bike ride back to Chiang Rai.
Even the dogs and chickens practice mai pen rai. The dogs lay out in the middle of the road, and the chickens scratch around; unconcerned with passing bicyclists or vehicles.
Many dogs here also have no choice but to practice sanuk, to their owner’s delight.
However, tourist beware: somewhere between the Thai desire to maintain sanuk, avoid confrontation, and a “never mind” or “up to you” attitude, lies a gray area tourists should tread cautiously. Not knowing the real story and the hard facts can cause grief, misunderstanding, fouled-up plans, and frustration, including monetary loss or worse.
As David Luekens of travelfish.org (27 February, 2013) explains, mai pen rai may also trump sensible safety measures. David recounts the story of a speed boat operator in southern Thailand indicating “mai pen rai” to him when he ignored the operator’s suggestion to move to the back of the boat for the upcoming ride. David got tossed about the boat repeatedly due to the wild bucking of the boat against the water, and he realized, too late, that in this case, his silly obstinance combined with the operator’s “mai pen rai” attitude could have cost him his life.
On this darker side, mae pen rai may also be perceived as a way of avoiding accountability and responsibility for one’s actions, an excuse to be lazy or an excuse for inaction. Late to work or no-show? No hot water? Dogs barking non-stop next door? Graft? Injustice? 10-year-olds riding motorbikes? Job not completed on time? Room more money than promised? Foreigners charged more money than Thais for the same product? Trash thrown everywhere? Homework assignments copied from the internet? Mai pen rai! Over time expats living in Thailand can become very frustrated and disillusioned with what they perceive as the more negative connotations of this quintessentially Thai attitude to life.
As the writer known as "G" notes on his buddhaspace.blogspot.com, any approach to life that is used without wisdom will have negative consequences (Thai Buddhism: Never Mind, April 27, 2013). In truth, few of us, Thai or foreigner, Buddhist or Christian, Muslim or Hindu, are able to practice the universal principles of mediation and reflection, to let go of our petty attachments to life’s annoyances, and quiet the mind. We will do well to use “mai pen rai” as a kind of mantra as we seek to let go of negative emotions and make harmony with ourselves, our Thai brothers and sisters, and the world around us.
I conclude my post (excuse the length please) with this honorable mention of a local coffee shop sign, taken with our daughter Fay and friends. Yes, you can play with cats and make sanuk while sipping your joe and practicing reflection.
And may the force of mai pen rai and sanuk be with you always.
Initially I refuse to go with Bruce on a motorcycle ride to Phayao to visit DC and Pai —I am staying home in my nice cool house, reading and writing. He is not going to entice and trick me by saying, “Oh honey, come with me. It’ll be a nice, easy, ride.” Regardless of whether my hubby talks about a “nice, easy ride” on the bicycle or the motorcycle, it is all the same. It is never easy and rarely nice.
First rule of thumb. Bikers talk trash, and they can never be trusted. Either they will drop you with great pleasure (cyclist slang for leaving you in the dust) after falsely assuring you that the ride is an easy spin —a mere “recovery” ride —or they will make you suffer immeasurably trying to keep up.
Bruce is no exception. His speciality is blowing your doors off on steep, nasty, short hills and leap frogging in direct violation of Rule # 38 from www.velominati.com/the-rules. His definition of fun is the kind where your hair sticks to your scalp in a plastered-down, hot oily mess and vehicles blow smelly fumes in your face. Your face glows demonic red from exertion and ghastly pale white from exhaustion all at the same time. Your feet burn. Your clothing sticks to you and your bum chafes. Never mind that you put gobs of Hoo-Ha Ride Glide on your Betty Boo Down There.
However, because I try my best to refer to Rule #5, “Harden the F___ Up,” in deference to the gods of cycling yore, I acquiesce once again to my dear husband’s siren song. Besides, the clincher is that Pai is taking us on a visit to her home village of Ban Pin, about 33 km south of Phayao. Like a dutiful patient being led to electroshock therapy, I don my full face helmet, leather jacket, boots, and gloves, and climb on the back of the red devil Honda.
The start is relatively pleasant, the morning air deceptively cool. We pass rice field after rice field, lush with recent rains, and ripe for harvesting.
After stopping in Phayao to pick up our friends and have a caffeine fix at Love Station Coffee,
we climb back on the motorcycles and head south. Juxtaposed against mountains to the north and east, the roads gently wind to the small village of Ban Pin.
Not only does Pai’s extended family greet us with coconut drinks from their backyard,
they bring heaps of food for an unexpected and delicious lunch treat.
Yanni, a most engaging chap from Switzerland, was also at the gathering for his weekly English lesson with the village children. Yanni was married to a Thai woman for 11 plus years, but, as the relationship deteriorated, he found solace and distraction in teaching young children, and thus he has stayed in the village after the divorce. Eventually, he knows he will need to leave Thailand as visa requirements become more difficult and complex but until that time, he stays.
One of the students creeps up to my back with a large cricket - I am not sure if the cricket is dead or alive - and chases me around the yard to everyone’s laughter. Then he promptly shoves the cricket in his mouth and swallows it, the legs of the cricket hanging out of his mouth as he giggles hysterically.
Pai gives me a tour of her childhood home, a Thai wood home with open windows and no screens, a concrete addition, big courtyard, outdoor kitchen under the main house, complete with a noodle shop, abandoned vehicles, satellite dish, TV, dog, chickens, water tank, and drying rice.
We bid our goodbyes and give our best wais.
Suffice it to say that my dear husband does not listen to DC’s directions on how to return home, and, like a fool, neither do I. Neither do we ask the king of maps, Dave. As we leave the village, the sun fries us on our left sides, casting long shadows as we pass soi dogs and shops and bicycles, heading northwest.
Then, oh no! now the sun's burning up our back sides because we are erroneously going east, which warrants a belated phone call to DC for further directions. Feeling doomed, we schlep south, backtracking with the sun laser-beaming our right sides until we are finally northbound again with the sun spiraling downwards, along with our moods. We arrive home thoroughly baked. What should be a two-hour trip has turned into a Mad Max four-hour odyssey. By this time, I want to rip off my full face shield helmet, rip my beloved's head off as well, trash my leathers along the road in violation of Rule # 77, and ride naked and screaming down the road. Will I never learn? I guess I should refer myself to Rule # 81 - never talk it up, and as always, Rule # 5.
After all, we did get home alive, and we owe a debt of gratitude to Pai and her gracious family for a truly wonderful day in the village. Khob khun ka (thank-you).
Yes, my dear Watson, it is true. All I want for Christmas is a white, twin-size, flat, 400-thread, Egyptian cotton, top sheet. I cannot find any flat, top sheets in Thailand. I thought I had staked out the desired object twice, only to be foiled by deceptive packaging
and my inability to read Thai: first by the department store called “Big C” (K-Mart on permanent blue-light special, topped with fish sauce)
and second by a place called “Koncept” (Ikea but cheaper, across from a place called Makro, or, Costco on MSG).
Setting up house here in northern Thailand is no elementary task, involving trips by bicycle
and by tuk tuks.
Initially, I outwitted the Thai sensibility by bringing my own queen-size sheet set from the States for my bed, but alas, my suitcase was 49 plus pounds, and could not fit one more thin little mint. Now I am trying to make a comfortable guest bed for the intrepid person who dares to make the journey to the Land Without Top Sheets, but, alas again, not only will you be subject to a mattress harder than the most seasoned Napoleon of crime, but you will also be forced to cover your nakedness with a heavy, nasty thing called a “duvet.”
Whoever came up with this vilest of a thing called a duvet should be forced to spend eternity wrapped in thousands of unwashed, scratchy, smelly, duvets on fire, drug from the cesspools of Bangkok, all while gazing at pictures of mortals resting in blissful repose under cool top sheets of the finest spun cotton. It remains an unsolvable mystery: during my five months investigating Thailand and Laos, I have yet to encounter a hotel or guesthouse bed with a top, flat sheet. I have first hand evidence.
Meanwhile, back at my homestead, I chopped the gathered edges of the ugly green fitted sheet with my scissors, bought at the 20 baht store
and made a sorry-looking top flat sheet
I think you know my Cheap Charlie husband’s methods by now; nothing more than 20 baht ($0.56 cents) can be spent on anything - other than bikes of course.
But forgive me, I digress. According to my Western persuasion, the selling of top sheets should be elementary; the Thais sell every thing else under the sun, and the average temperature in Chiang Rai in November is 84 F. Could it be that the impossible is true? That Thais like to be hot?
No, not that kind of fair sex hotness, silly.
The other hot. The curious incident where even the dogs bear witness to the belief that any temperature below 80 F requires covering with heavy things,
and where chefs seem to enjoy setting themselves on fire.
Therefore, my dear Watson, if you could avail yourself to find clues as to this warped persistence that persons should cover themselves with blankets versus sheets in a land where sweat knows no end, please enlighten me. And send a top sheet, please. That would be most excellent.
Inspiration for this blog taken from:
This past weekend Bruce and I rode our Independent Fabrication bikes from Chiang Rai to the pretty lakeside town of Phayao; 68 miles, 3 hours and 45 minutes, on the world’s second most dangerous roads.
Not to worry, Mom, I felt very safe, as I have my entire time here in Thailand. But, according to the Asian Correspondent (2014, February 25), Thailand’s roads are the second most dangerous in the world in terms of fatalities, and 74% of those accidents involve motorbikes. While in Phayao, I took pictures of the many motorcycles passing by.
My observations on bicycling and safety in Thailand:
Gratefully, drivers usually give way to us, and in our five months cycling around Thailand, not one single driver has blasted the horn at us in anger or tried to run us off the road (see exception below). Buddhist zen influence perhaps? Unlike Florida, on our first day back in the States last year, one man shouted at us in Trump-like fashion from his car, “Get in the bike lane!” (there was none) and another driver blew his horn non-stop because he had to slow for two seconds to pass us.
Yes, some vehicles do come very close, especially the silver tourist minivans. The drivers of these hit-mobiles are notorious for unsafe driving; they pass on corners, speed recklessly, and force cars and motorcycles off the road. Speeding to yet another pretty temple? No such law as the “four feet passing” exists here like in Pennsylvania; not that drivers in Pennsylvania pay attention to it anyway.
In addition, speed laws are rarely enforced, especially at night, in keeping with current, inconsistent enforcement of helmet laws by Thai traffic police. At the many daytime roadblock checkpoints, police have been known to literally back hand helmet-less riders as punishment or call them “bad” and send them on their way, with or without a 200 baht fine ($5.50 USD). This fine may or may not line someone’s pocket. Name-calling and sporadic collection of fines appear to have little effect as less than 43% of motorcycle riders regularly wear helmets (Asian Correspondent, 2015, October 4). Graphic roadside billboards showing accident victims split in half freak me out, but appear to have little effect on safety behaviors.
Driving while drunk has yet to be demonized and the laws apply more to some than to others. For example, in 2012 the Red Bull heir, Vorayuth Yoovidhaya, was charged with drunk driving in a hit-and-run accident in which he killed and dragged a police officer for 200 feet with his Ferrarri before fleeing the scene, but he was never prosecuted. Don’t pick mushrooms illegally in Thailand though: you might get a 15-year prison sentence, as in the 2010 case of Daeng Siris-orn and her husband Udom Siris-orn.
Bike lanes do exist in Thailand, including the recently renovated 23 km. Suvarnabhumi Airport Green Bike Lane, but let’s get real. Most bike lanes are really for food vendors, motorcycles, tour buses, garbage, parked cars, and impromptu roadside beer parties. Although Thailand plans to open the longest bicycle lane in Asia by 2017, in honor of the King’s birthday, one blogger plugged the announcement, “Soon to be the longest food stall in Asia.” This pessimism is logical: one only has to look at the current state of the sidewalks, which are little more than commercial spaces for vendors and pooping grounds for stray dogs. I for one accept this reality as part of the charm of Thailand (minus the poop): I am happy to find food on every corner. And what an awesome parkour course!
After my initial horrendous experience riding the streets of Bangkok on only my second day in Bangkok - which included seeing a picture of a dead cyclist on the front page of an Asian newspaper - I have learned to feel comfortable wiggling up to the front of a line of cars - along with the motorcycles - dodging trucks, tuk-tuks (popular 3-wheeled taxi motorcycles), songtaews (small pick-up trucks with 2 rows in the back facing each other to transport passengers), taxis, the omnipresent silver Toyota flat beds, vendors, and any other odd concoction of vehicle, weaving in and out of traffic. Blogger Mr. Pumpy aptly describes Thai traffic as “polite chaos.”
No one seems to get upset if someone pulls out in front of them; everyone gives and takes. Very few traffic lights exist, because drivers know how to merge, and more importantly, know how to be forgiving. I may pull out in front of you, but you may also pull out in front of me, and we will all get to our destinations alive. In the meantime, please keep praying, Mom.
“All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun,” Ecclesiastes Chapter 1
And so it goes, dear readers, there is nothing new that I, a farm girl from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, can regale you with that you have not heard or seen or read in some similar fashion from yet another wandering soul or narcissistic blogger or selfie-tripping tourist. I can only offer what Polonius in Hamlet knew, “To thine own self be true” and the persistent notion that I must write.
On the one hand, I am filled with dread to expose my private self; paralyzed with fear that my ramblings will not be witty or wise or worse, sloppily crafted. Yet, on the other hand, I am driven to expel the rumination(s) that rattle around my brain and settle, like a leaf on the sea, to the page. So, what shall I write about? Time will tell.
Yes, I will write about my travels, not in a day to day diary per se, although this may occur if I deem the day interesting enough, but more about themes, about people, about stories, about places, and my observations, however limited by my Western world view. While some posts will occur as a result of being a mere mortal, with the accompanying baggage, most posts will be generated by bicycling in Thailand and Laos and by living in Thailand.
To illustrate, the other night, over his 4th glass of cheap, red wine (most cheap wines here are, sadly, of an unpleasant nature, unlike the cheap thrills gained by red wine from Trader Joes, and no, they do not support me - yet) an expatriate lamented his failed marriage and alleged betrayal by a Thai woman. Although this same story has been repeated ad nauseam by many a Westerner in the exotic Land of Smiles, maybe the telling makes him laugh at himself. Maybe the writing offers a cautionary tale or a sense of wonder to the reader: who’s fooling whom?
There are also stories that need to be told about experiences which have yet to render my penned voice. After visiting the Vientiane museum, Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE), and learning of the horrors of America’s secret war on Laos, I was so distressed by my birth nation’s horrific actions on the gentle Laotian people that I stored those memories in a part of my brain that I promised to visit later. For the little boy who perished from a “bombie” (unexploded bomb) while trying to support his family, and for the parents who cry for him, I will tell the story again.
No, I cannot promise fantastic pictures from my “not-so-smart” phone camera, nor will I ask you to follow me on Twitter or Instagram. Further, I promise not to stage pictures - unless I forewarn you - and to use only photos taken by myself or my husband. I do ask one thing, for you and for me, the ability to be forever curious: curious about your world, about my world, and the world of others, however many times the same stories have been repeated. My story is yet another nuance, and the hope for a collective solace in our never-ending growing under a jaded sun.
"If confusion is the first step toward knowledge, I must be a genius," Larry Keisner
How did we get to where we are today: living in a Thai-style house, surrounded by greens, thatched-roof gazebos, spotted doves, and geckos down a quiet soi (alley) in the city of Chiang Rai, Thailand?
It all started when, in my not so distant past as a nurse working in Pennsylvania, USA, I developed a knack for getting fired. First, I got fired from my seven-year job as assistant director of nursing in a large nursing home; the not-for-profit company had been taken over by a for-profit company, my boss had died, and the new company wanted new blood. Plus, I was told I was “aggressive.” So I took time off to get my graduate degree in nursing leadership and eventually got another job in nursing management. I resigned from that job after a year, then promptly got fired from another job after only a week; I was told I “didn’t fit.”
Second, disgusted with management politics, I returned to bedside nursing as an oncology nurse in a teaching hospital. Six months later a former employer asked me to come back to nursing home management, but I got fired from that job too after 6 weeks: I was told I “lacked commitment", despite working and being on call 24/7. Back to the teaching hospital I went, working with cancer patients in their 40’s who frequently told me, “I want more time. I wish I had lived life more, traveled more, been less worried about my job and the small stuff.” Hearing their stories was my “ah hah” moment.
My last day at work I rode my bicycle 30 miles, worked my 13 hour shift, ate good-bye cake, and off I pedaled into the great unknown. At this point I should mention that my husband is 17 years older than me. As a self-employed electrical contractor, his services were always in demand, and he worked non-stop; in-between biking of course. He wanted to retire, but at home his phone rang constantly with work requests. I realized that if we were going to wait to travel till I reached retirement age, or “until the time is right” he could be gone, and his dream of retiring to Thailand gone with him (posts on his story to follow: from bad boy to Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iran to a failed marriage, to bankruptcy and back, to cycling and to Thailand).
Together we made a plan. We purchased our Adventure Cycling Association Maps, bought bicycling touring gear, made our packing lists, and shut down the house. A week after my last day on the job, my husband and I took off on a self-supported cycling trip from Pennsylvania to Florida ( posts to follow), cycling 1800 miles in 23 days. Upon returning home (we flew home for a friend’s wedding), we worked on our apartment buildings for two months, and made preparations for a cycling trip to Southeast Asia.
First time around, we bicycled in Thailand and Laos and fell in love with Chiang Rai and its people, staying four months (posts from November 2014 to March 2015 to follow). Now we are on our second go-around here in Thailand. The rest is...well, both history and the open road.
"A bird does not sing because it has an answer, It sings because it has a song," Maya Angelon
Lois, aka Lois Lane, is married to superman Brucethebiker and follows him around the world, most recently to the Kingdom of (northern) Siam, where she is doing what she has always wanted to do - writing - and what she sometimes does not want to do: riding for hours in the hot sun in spandex to places known and unknown, but bicycling anywhere on two thin wheels in any number of miserable conditions is better than what she gets paid to do in the United States, namely nursing, however noble the profession. Wonder woman’s wannabe mug and fake tan appeared in fitness magazines in her heyday, but now she merely appears in old(er) expatriate’s book and film clubs rosters (who’s unique members she intends to write about). Reared a Mennonite preacher’s daughter, she is still confused as to her calling: Mother Theresa or Vegas show girl or old cycling queen, but, in the meantime she is using her farm background to write a children’s book on her pet chicken, and she will continue cycling, traveling, writing, nursing (maybe) and applying lipstick (always).