travel

“Maybe you’re just meant to be in Chiang Mai…?”

I saw the dentist yesterday who verified that my wisdom teeth were indeed coming in (had come in) and that they were problematic; I have a "very very very small jaw" and the teeth are "quite large" and coming in "transverse" - "very problematic". There is no question that they have to be removed and, given that I'm going to have a series of infections until they are removed and suffer the pain - the sooner the better. Normally, the dentist told me, he would be able to do the extractions - but my case was "so difficult" that he referred me to a dental surgeon.I saw the dental surgeon for a consultation this afternoon. The dental surgeon took a look at my mouth and winced. He looked at the x-rays from the dentist and winced some more.

"Will you be staying here a long time?" he asked.

It turned out to be a rhetorical question.

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Sorry it’s been a while (since I’ve written home)

I’ve been sick.That “cold” didn’t shake itself and I’d been running low-grade fevers on and off for the last few weeks, utterly sapping my energy. And, thanks to a bad case of dysentery, I lost ten pounds week-before-last.

When I last said I was going to You Sabai, I actually ended up in Pai (missed the You Sabai songtaew three days in a row, met another traveler on their way to Pai and decided to go along for the company – I’d been meaning to go back, anyway – because I thought I was feeling better). Where I got sick, again, worse. When I realized what I had was worse than food poisoning and that hiding out in my guesthouse trying to wait it out wasn’t a viable strategy, I got a bus back to Chiang Mai and saw a doctor who told me that I had a fever, raised blood pressure, a bacterial infection, and gave me handfuls of pills to take.

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In summary: Reggae festival; onwards to Burma

1. Have passport!

2. Am in Mae Sai; arrived last night from Chiang Mai, slept for 15 hours (it was beautiful but unintentional; I’ve got a cold and my body appparentlly needed the sleep) and am on my way to the Burmes border in a few hours.

3. Was convinced (by a grad student on the bus from Pai to Chiang Mai who is studying/working towards the application of DDR – disarmament, demobilization, and reintigration – alongside Burmese social leaders) and reassured by friends in Chiang Mai (who work with a school training Burmese refugees in civil rights action, and write/traslate textbooks for the refugee camps) that spending a few nights in Burma was not only completely safe but a good idea. Since the visa-money goes to the government, the only ethical way to do a border run is to support the local economy – so I’ll sttay at a guest house, eat at some restaurants and tea-houses, and buy something at a market. I’m only going to stay a couple of nights; I’m only allowed to stay a week, anyway, and can’t go farther than two towns (Tachilek and Ketung).

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Common Denominators: Soy Sauce and Chillies

I wake at dawn to do yoga on a mountain top. Mist rises in the valley below as the clouds float into the sky above like a curtain peeling back. I sleep in a mud-and-straw hut with a thatched roof. Orange curtains, the same color as the monk’s robes, hang in front of the fine blue netting which covers the windows.

Cooking classes commence once we’ve all gathered in the Coffee Shop each morning. The Coffee Shop has, technically speaking, neither walls nor corners. There are a woven mats covering the floors, two long low benches molded from the same earthen clay as the floor and counter, shelves of books in both Thai and English, bamboo curtains, pillars made from whole logs (bark intact), dozens of pillows, and - somewhere (I can’t manage to spot it though I’ve tried) - an espresso machine. The cappuccinos are wonderful but the fruit shakes are amazing - as is the homemade bread, still hot from the oven that we eat for breakfast each morning.

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Regaining my Equanimity at You Sabai

[Various excerpts from my journal… Bit fragmented, sorry!] 

I can’t manage to slip my gaze past the valley without it getting caught. I find myself staring off into the view, which is nearly omnipresent. (I find the other guests – even the other residents – doing the same on a regular basis; to say that the view is distracting would be an understatement.)There are more shades of green on display than I had imagined existed.

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The fat lady has yet to sing…

I was so, so, so very close to having a passport this morning.

Woke up at 6:40 to catch the 6:45 truck to town, threw on some clothes, stuffed my sleeping bag away, and set off to run through the rice fields to the road (toothbrush in hand, Theresa-style); ran into Caroline who told me the truck wasn’t coming due to the Chinese New Year; ran into Theresa who told me the truck was waiting. Due to the confusion I was the only one (of what should have been a large group of us from the farm) ready to go into town – but I went – managed to communicate with the driver, even, get off in the right place and orient myself in Chiang Mai. Found one of my favorite cafes (tiny place on a side street – amazing coffee, painfully-slow but ever-so-free internet, friendly dog) and settled in.

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Tee nai Tourist Police?

“Hey Noelle, yee’alright?”

Ruben starts all conversations this way – he says it’s the Isle of Man’s equivalent of “What’s up?” (He also says that he’s Manx, not British and not Irish) but it still startles me each time I hear it. Particularly this time, given that I’m calling because I’m not all right.

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Who are you with? Are you a journalist? Why are you here?

Playing solitaire for two hours accross the street from the US Embassy makes the guards incredibly nervous.

It wasn’t Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and it was, indeed, one of the two days of the week that the Embassy was open to the public – but when I arrived the Embassy was, nonetheless, closed.  I’d slept later than I’d intended to, slowly pulled myself together, asked around the hostel for directions (no one knew how to get to the Embassy or even the river, but I did get 100 baht – after having dinner the night before I was down to 60 baht – from two Canadian guys who took pity on me), tried to walk it, gave up and got a tuk tuk (50 baht).

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“Sing that funky music white boy, sing that funky music WIDE EYES…”

They say (the proverbial they being, in this case as in all cases while traveling, Lonely Planet) that Chiang Mai doesn’t have much of a nightlife. And, to be fair, it might not have the shining neon, triple-story giant clubs of Bangkok or the endless dusk-to-dawn partying of the beaches in the southeast – but they have music here. And the music is wonderful. A good helping of classic rock (I hear “The Wall” at least once per bar any given night), enough reggae to keep the Caribbean happy, indie-alternative (with more bass) and the occasional hip-hop. A Norwegian music producer (ex-psychologist who decided to pursue a happier life) brings new cds to Bohemian’s every few days. Every third place has a live band or a dj, and from what I’ve heard, they’re all good. There seem to be a countless number of dread-locked Thai men who play a great guitar and – funnily enough – while the music might be western the musicians are Thai.

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The frustrations have moved past petty.

I’ve spent the last two days – and it looks like I’ll be spending the next several – dealing with all the beauracratic red tape that follows being mugged and losing your passport, credit card, camera, all of your cash (I was left with less than $3), and (subsequent to the actual robbery, due to extreme fatigue and stress and not watching my belongings) my cell phone.

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Being the Bad American at The Bohemian’s Café

“I figure it out,” he told me. “Your next president is Britney Spears.”

He’d asked me, the day before, whether I thought Hilary or Obama would win. After explaining that they were both on the same side and that, in my opinion, neither could win a national election due to the American culture of repressed racism and sexism (not to mention the Electoral College), I’d refused to hazard a guess as to the next American president.

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Just Remember Not To Smile…

“Just remember not to smile,” the Canadian told me, grinning. “You’ll get bugs in your teeth.”

I watched the motorcycle driver balance my pack on the front handles and, with a pleading look at the man from the travel agency, made a complicated gesture that I hoped resembled a helmet (the only response was a laugh and a pat on the back), I threw one leg over the back and climbed on. I must have thrown a last dubious glance at the Canadian, because he continued with reassurances: “You’ll be fine. It’s a great way to see the city. And he’ll get you to your bus, no worries. This one time in Perth…” The driver throttled the engine and we took off before I could hear the rest.

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