Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kindle and Coffee: Daily Life in Chiang Mai

Today I took a photograph of my Kindle next to a cup of coffee at the Graph Café in Thailand. Immediately after doing so I was reminded of a similar photograph I took in Japan. I was at the Starbucks in Matsue city, only weeks after I moved to Japan. Toni Morrison was my refuge from culture shock and from homesickness. I could lose myself in her words enough to forget that I was supposed to be speaking Japanese. I didn’t live in Matsue, though I would have preferred that. I was only there for a two-week training before my real job was to begin. Each day after training I would walk 2km to the station, which housed the only Starbucks in the City, and I would sip green tea brownie Frappuccino with Toni Morrison and laugh and cry with her characters in Beloved.

This past year I found myself again drawn to her words in Song of Solomon, only this time they found me in Thailand. I wasn’t living in Chiang Mai then either, merely stopping over for one month, on what might also be considered a six-month training before my real job was to begin. Wherever I go my habits follow. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Being Present: More Thoughts from Chiang Mai

Mid-day moon in my neighborhood

I am never in the present moment. I always have one foot in the real world and one foot in the dream world. I believe this is who I am. This is what makes me so interesting. That I am always dreaming. That I simultaneously live in both the present and the future. The future always being the future. Always being a dream. It is not practical  to have both feet in the dream world, when I spend my days in a haze,  lethargic and moody. Living totally in my head and not living in my life. But to have both feet in the real world seems equally unappealing. Dull, even. Where do my dreams go then, when they are not being dreamed? What is the other have of my brain thinking, when it is not thinking these thoughts? Would I become more aware, more observant, more astute, more intuitive? On the contrary, I think I learn a lot from my dreams. Whether they are realized or not, they tell me a great deal about myself.

Even my dreams are difficult. If life is difficult, then dreams should be difficult too. They are born of this world. They are awkward and flawed and painful too. Most people are not brave enough to live their dreams. It’s hard enough to live our lives sometimes, let alone our dreams.

I wonder what my dreams were of Asia before I set foot on this journey. I think I dreamed less of my day to day life here and more of the person I would become as a result of living those days. I dreamed of how good it would sound coming from my mouth in conversations, not the actual experience of it. But in reality my day to day life is so uninteresting. The real journey is an inward one. It stretches long and deep. It is hard and fulfilling, surprising and redundant.

When you surround yourself with a language you can’t understand, you start to notice things. You stop paying attention to signs – you can’t read them, and you stop listening to conversations – they don’t make sense. But you start to acutely notice body language, gestures. You notice the movements of strangers. Why is nobody walking down this alley? How are customers getting the attention of the wait staff? You don’t wait for a signal. If there was a signal you wouldn’t understand it. The message is in visual cues. And it always has been, it’s just that with language we get to be reinforcing or redundant, or conflicting or confusing. We overwrite those cues with our words and we learn to rely on that. Our unused senses grow weak as we wait to be told what to do. The art of mystery is all but lost. Being abroad is a re-education in the senses. You are re-learning how to observe not look, how to listen not hear, how to interpret, not just perceive.

Saturday, Dec. 6, Artisan Café, 3:50 pm

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Did I Eat in Thailand?

Thailand is food heaven where the average meal costs $2 or less. I took advantage of the cheap eats to indulge many of my Thai and western favorites. 

  1. Food I wished I had but didn't:  Fresh melon with chili. I kept hearing about ti, but never found it. 
  2. Food I had but wished I didn't: probably salad. Not that it wasn't good, but come on, there are so may better things to eat in Thailand. 
  3. What should have been on the list: milk toast! 
  4. Biggest surprise: Thailand's chicken rice is better than Singapore's. 
  5. Most delicious meal: tom-yum eggs for breakfast

Papaya salad
My favorite food in Thailand. So sweet. So spicy.

Pad Thai
The staple at Thai restaurants in America turns out to be a legitimate dish!

Milk toast
Never heard of this before coming to Thailand, but it’s excellent. French bread, toasted and butters, then covered with condensed milk.

Chicken rice
What I thought was a Singaporean dish is actually a classic Thai one too. I like the Thai version better because it sometimes comes with a piece of blood cake, and the sauce is spicier.

Street food
Thailand may well be the best country in the world for street food (second only to Taiwan – but I’, very biased). Winning points include variety, freshness, sanitation, and expert takeaway packaging.

Mango sticky rice
My favorite Thai dessert (and possible my favorite dessert of any kind) is widely available on the streets and in restaurants across the country. I heard that mangos would only be good in summer, but even in winter I thought they were great!

Rotis are originally from the Indian subcontinent, but the Thais have reimagined them as desserts and crepes. I ordered a ham and cheeses roti which was excellent (though not filling), but the rottis with whipped cream and fruit are the most popular.

Cake is great in Thailand. I had all kinds of cake. Red velvet cake, rainbow cake, cheesecake.

I was told not to eat salas in Asia because the vegetables are not clean and are washed with unsanitary water. However, I could not resist the wildly popular Salad Concept in Chiang Mai. Best salads in the country!

Thai Breakfast
Our favorite hole-in-the-wall was this almighty breakfast noodle place and we ate here almost everyday. I loved the spicy tom-yam eggs, and tom-yam noodles.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Chiang Mai Cafe Catalog: CMU Edition

These cafes are located south of CMU, about 15 minutes from Nimman by walking. 

1. The Barn
Run by graduates of Chiang Mai University, this hip hangout boasts a quirky art atmosphere, delicious cakes, and sutiable coffee. I recommend their signature drink “The Barn” iced, with a mocha tart.

2. Uncle Coffee
It’s hard to miss this mustache café and its mustachioed owner. A laid-back, local hangout with fast wifi and large iced drinks.

3. InBox Cafe
A large, multi-purpose complex attached to the Snoozebox hotel. Was busy as hell when I arrived mid afternoon. Drink menu is standard. They also serve food such as cakes and pasta.  

Touchdown Tokyo

Every time I fly to Japan, I have this routine of changing clothes in one of the large, accessible stalls in the arrivals lobby. I would do ...