Thailand reminds me of the free festivals I attended occasionally in the UK in the mid to late 80s. There’s a chaotic order and unspoken civility but one that borders on the edge of disintegration at all times. Whilst everything goes well for everyone concerned things go on as usual. But things don’t always remain that way and then will be the true test of one’s mettle. Sometimes the rush of blood from my head, as I stand up too quick, reminds me of that wafer-thin barrier between reality and insanity.
At the moment, Thailand is far more beautiful at night, when the rough edges are hidden in darkness. The smoky haze of the day’s white skies now unseen, along with the mosquitoes that suck on your sweaty ankles.
The days are full of dust and dirt. Individual abodes may gleam and glitter powered by personal responsibility but the bits in between are left to rot and ruin. Construction is everywhere, as in all developing countries, ignorant of the political decisions made in far-off lands. I try not to keep up with the news of the world but the stupidity of the American presidency is hard to ignore, like a train wreck in super slow motion. I know enough about Thai politics to not talk about it. I am the stranger in the strange land and that suits me fine.
We avoided any house stresses by taking a quick trip to Chiang Mai. This was its own small test of my driving skills. Whilst puttering around the city of Chiang Rai is a pleasant enough affair, the open road, full of its mountainous twists and turns, is a different beast altogether.
Tail-gaters desperately seek advantage and pull out at any opportunity and decide they will ‘go for it’ if there is even an inch of space. All this at high speeds that even had me bemused at how fast I was going. Amy and I whooped and hollered at one particular basket case who we hoped to see crash in a fiery ball of petrol and oil but instead, everyone acquiesced and moved aside and let the danger advance to be somebody else’s problem.
Settling into the drive, it is quite a pleasant trip through some nice forest and jungle, offering some nice views when you may afford a brief glance away from the road. After three hours though I was happy at the approach of Chiang Mai.
The city has grown considerably since my first visit and I must confess my dislike of it now. It sprawls and crawls, taking its dusty entrails out into the paddy fields, eating up new villages as it goes. We were lucky enough to be heading out into those edges though, to meet our friends from Sydney past.
Jess is one of Amy’s best friends and she was staying with her aunt and cousin. It took us a long while to find the location but once there it was an oasis of frangipanis and beautifully cut grass. A big main house and steps leading to what was until recently a small and very popular restaurant. So popular in fact that Jess’s aunt was on TV just a few days previously talking about the construction and design.
Two dogs, one in its autumn years, the other a bouncy teenager, sniffed at us and the younger one was warned not to get too excited. Aunt Siripan advised that sometimes he can get aggressive for no reason as I would discover several times through the evening. Though he never bit he would snarl and bark, teethed bared and scarily so. But a few seconds later he would be calm and look up at me with a sorrowful face. It was shocking and amazing to see. One second I was expecting a bleeding arm and the next I’m in love with this pup’s dopey eyes and soon after scratching his belly again, prompted by a paw offering.
Auntie’s food was amazing as expected. She had spent a fair amount of time in different parts of the world, including England, even speaking with a stronger English accent than myself. She spoke a very deliberate and thoughtful Queen’s English which was impossible not to like. We were regaled with stories of her life and past times, though saddened by the sudden death of her husband last year, which eventually saw her overwhelmed with the task of running a successful restaurant solo.
She was now reviewing her plans for the future but still in obvious mourning for that close comfort and steady hand of guidance of a partner. She commented that if she died now she would die happy with her life as it was but I encouraged her to consider that if she lives until she is 100 she still has another third of her life ahead of her.
Our evening was enjoyed with other Sydney friends, all now scattered worldwide, Lekky and Steve and Lena. We were so happy with our time there that inevitably Jess was asking us to leave as she was tired and wanted to go to bed. Jess is the bright shiny smile as she awaits food, but once filled just wants to slip away and retire.
We cheered everyone off as Amy and I headed over a suburb or two to stay with her old high school friend Oh, around midnight. Amy wasn’t quite done for the night though and got Oh to ride to the 7-11 to get more alcohol. So it was at 2am we finally go to bed with plans for a late meet up with Jess and her dad the following morning.
That done, we headed back over the mountains for the quick return journey. Exhausted I was by the day’s end but finished off nicely with a full and fancy dinner with an ice cold beer.
So it was for the next couple of days, us totally escaping the realities of our house build, a mini-holiday, a quick trip via a tea plantation into Myanmar, to get me a new leave-by-date in my passport and to score ridiculously cheap malt whisky that I just hope is real when I get to open it in our new house…..one day!