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ASIA & CHINA - THE "KEEP ON SMILING" TOUR

Chiang Mai Postcard

CHIANG MAI

"HOT AND SPICY"

It had been just under a year since I arrived back from South America, bruised and battered. Once the black-eye had subsided I was no-longer the clown of the class within my local community; just the clown with no circus, a child-hood memory.

Walking around, not exactly knowing what he was looking for, I enrolled in a six month barista course at the local polytechnic.

People to this day still ask why.

And the simple answer is 'I used to stroll into a café, look up at the menu board and not know the difference between a latte, mochaccino, flat white or a cappuccino'.

Six month later, having obtained the skill of making an adequate flat white, I was on a flight to Bangkok, finding myself sitting beside a Sikh, telling him of my plans to visit South East Asia and China. He replied with an account of his own personal experiences, visits to China which had left him impressed and amazed. To him China was a symbol of economic progress well beyond the reach of his own country, India.

Many year before I had been to India, waiting in a queue for a train ticket, with no plans to return. From there I had caught a flight to Bangkok. Now I was returning to Bangkok, but from a different direction.

On arrival in this Bangkok there was no parade nor procession.

For that I might need to go to the Grand Palace. But the notice board said it had a financial cost. My memory was fading, with so much happening in the intervening 12 years, the 12 years since I had last been to Bangkok, stood in approximately the same space, looked at the same entrance fee notice board, no doubt looked at my wallet and promptly turned my back.

Chiang Mai temple
A Chiang Mai temple

I had been here before, the repeat making things more confusing, the present and past intertwined, feeling confident I was lost; once again just wandering around in circles.

Then there was that night bus to catch.

Bangkok was a one-day stop-over. I was on my way north to Chiang Mai, sitting in one of the few spare seats the bus had to offer. By 10pm I understood why. The stink of the toilet below was nauseating, interfering with my sleep, reminding me of my dreams in India.

I had to remind myself I was in northern Thailand, place of the Million Thai Rice Fields. Soon I would be wandering through the wilderness, walking through hill-tribe villages and, apparently, finding out what life was like when sex was involved.

But first, I needed sleep.

******

Chiang Mai wildersness walk
Chiang Mai wildersness walk

On this trip there was no suffocating schedule; just a six month return ticket to boredom and depression back in my home town of Dunedin. In the meantime I could spend the day casually walking around Chiang Mai, casually visiting the city’s 300 temples, one by one by one.

Chiang Mai vegetable market
Chiang Mai vegetable market

Then it was onto that wander through the wilderness, for three days. I was in a tour group comprised of mostly male British backpackers. Through the promised rice paddies we tramped, drinking beer at night, celebrating life away from drudgery, taking time off to ride elephants the size of Oliphants.

It was the start of a new adventure, feasting on wild pig, the juices running down my throat as my teeth tore at the succulent flesh.

I was a man.

Out there in this wilderness of these rice fields.

Give me more. I need to feed this hunger. We will rip apart this life and gorge upon the blood that our ancestors sacrificed so that we may feel comfort. I have returned to my primal roots and I walk upon this earth naked, as all the gods had intended.

Chiang Mai Thai cooking class
Thai Cooking Class - teacher's pet

Returning from the wilderness into Chiang Mai there was only one course of action to take – a Thai Cooking Class.

Into the market were tramped, searching for that day’s ingredients. Then it was into the kitchen, where I was reminded of a story about a guy I had once worked with.

Apparently visitors to his house assumed he was a fairy because he kept his kitchen spotlessly clean. Only later did they realise his kitchen was so spotless because it had never been used; not even to roast a wild pig he had caught earlier that morning.

Perhaps he should visit Chiang Mai.