Showing posts with label Finding Farangs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Finding Farangs. Show all posts

The Expat Divide ...

It can take the form of an observation, a question or an accusation.  For some it is a nonissue and for others an obsession.  On Thailand forums the topic comes up often, so it must be an issue for many.  I am more of an observer but thought I would weigh in.  Whatever ones experience with the expat divide, I see no excuse for withholding a smile and a nod of recognition.

The things that divide us as expats are not all that different from the normal divides one finds back home.  Some of the obvious culprits are language, nationality, age, sex, money, social and marital status, education, as well as a multitude of experiential and attitudinal differences.  There is one thing that should bring us together and that is our shared experience of being a foreigner in a foreign land.  That too, however, is often overshadowed by the divide between newcomers and more established residents.

The enthusiastic naiveté of the newcomer is often lambasted by the cynical old-timer.  One side asks why expats ignore or snub fellow expats while the other side asks why they have to be nice to someone simply because of their skin color.  It is not always as simple as someone being rude, or shy, though sometimes it is.  Unless one truly enjoys the role of mentoring others, who may or may not heed ones advice, it can be tiring answering the same old questions time after time.  Unless one is very self sufficient, on the other hand, it is tempting to rely on others to hold your hand and show you the way.

Back home, I dare say the majority of people ensconce themselves in an enclave of like minded individuals who share their lifestyle, aspirations and background.  In Thailand one is confronted by the fact, that just because you may look alike, doesn’t mean you have anything in common.  Even native English speakers may find they need subtitles when confronted by the heavily accented and nonstandard variances of the English language one encounters in Thailand.  Things get even more confused as you try to communicate with those who do not share your mother tongue, whatever that might be.

The age and financial disparity among expats can be enormous, leading to discomfort and misunderstanding at times.  In the emotional baggage expats inevitably bring with them, there can also be hiding numerous sensitivities and triggers for hurt feeling or indignation.  Depending on the severity of ones negative experiences with fellow expats some individuals opt for withdrawal from the expat community or limiting themselves to those of the same nationality and their new Thai family.

This is not to say there are not those who find expat life and interaction quite enjoyable.  Those who come from pub cultures will no doubt find a drinking hole somewhere, that is filled with other likeminded drinkers.  Those to whom religiosity is important, a church or temple may become a focus.  Those with children may find companionship among the other parents at their children’s school.  If one is employed things are not all that different from anywhere else, with your friends and acquaintances most likely being work related.  I sometimes feel it is the older retired expat who has the toughest row to hoe, with few of the time honored options for relating to others available to them in this strange new world.

I have found being young and single in Bangkok, or any big city, cannot prepare you for being old, married and retired in someplace like Chiang Rai.  Age, health and finances seem to take their toll on the retired expat community who find Thailand late in life and take up rural living in a village.  Many older expats live in isolated towns and villages for a variety of reasons.  Often it is where the wife or girlfriend is from.  Many express an inability to cope with city life or they simply can’t afford it.  Unlike many, I enjoyed 30 years in Bangkok and find the negative motivations of some to be depressing.  I saw our move to Chiang Rai as a positive new phase of life, not the cheapest place to live out my final days, nor brought on by an inability to live elsewhere.

The distance one must travel to spend time with other expats can be a limiting factor in Chiang Rai or other rural areas, and unless there is some parity in the effort expended, it is easy to question the benefits.  After expending a fair amount of time and effort, I too find myself drifting away from the expat community these days.  Some tiresome and bitter individuals are simply best avoided, though it can be entertaining to be nice to people you know don’t like you.  Sometimes it is the scheduling that is just too difficult even when you genuinely like the other people.

It seems that whatever ones situation is today there is never any certainty about tomorrow and I actually seem to like that.  In my five years in Chiang Rai, each year has been different.  A few expats I have met along the way have moved away or died, one very recently.  Relationships have ebbed and flowed as needs and interests have diverged.  You meet new people all the time and just the other day I bumped into someone at the mall who I had not seen for maybe twenty years.  Having recently met a couple of young women, one British and one Austrian, who have married local Thai men I am newly fascinated by their less than familiar expat dynamics.

Even if it feels as though there is an expat divide at times, and things don’t always go smoothly while adjusting to expat life, there is something about the freshness and novelty of ones experiences that seems to grab and hold those of us who stay.  Things back home might be neater, cleaner and more predictable but that is exactly why some of us seek out this sometimes messy and chaotic life of an expat.  We tire easily of the familiar and relish the stimulation of new sights, sounds and smells. 

Expats often find that what brought them to a place is not necessarily what keeps them there longterm.  Some of us are comfortable with where we are while others are still struggling with the place, the people and their relationship to both.  Sure there are things that divide us but they should’t keep us apart or keep us from being civil or even friendly when we encounter other expats.  Offering a smile or a nod costs one nothing and may make someone else’s day.  There is no need to shutdown due to a few bad encounters.  With a little effort you can bridge the expat divide.

Our Thanksgiving in Chiang Rai ...

I will let the pictures do the talking this time.  It was a lovely meal with friends, in a beautiful location on the River.

Coffee, Conversation, Questions ...

After a morning ride on the Ninja, I used to find my way to the Doi Chaang coffee shop more often than not, until Starbucks opened at the new mall last month.  With the late opening times of the mall, Starbucks is not suited to the early risers but I seldom get into town before ten or eleven in the morning anyway these days.  Doi Chaang in the early morning had a core group of local farangs who one could visit with, but it tended to always be the same folks.  Depending on your mood, or your likes and dislikes, that could be either a good thing or perhaps a little annoying at times.

I have been meeting a broader range of people at the mall, not better, just different.  There are those I have known for sometime and bump into at the mall, though not necessarily in a coffee shop.  There are of course the coffee drinkers, like me, and many of them have been new acquaintances, both tourists and new arrivals to the area.  Where I was usually the one to make first contact before, recently the tables have been turned, and I find myself on the receiving end of other’s advances.  I assure you I am not complaining here.

I recently stumbled into an empty Starbucks, nestled my helmet into the comfortable armchair next to me and draped my jacket over that, before slumping unceremoniously into a chair myself.  Out came the phone to make my daily call to my father in Hawaii.  After that, and while in the process of texting a friend, someone said something to me, which at this point I can no longer recall the details of.  Familiar with this kind of approach, I bade him join me in one of the vacant armchairs across from me.

The text complete, I indicated there was one more item on my agenda before I would be free.  After calling my wife to let her know where I was, as is my custom, it was time to start a conversation with this interesting interloper.  He was polite enough to apologize for imposing upon my space and hospitality.  I in turn, assured him that it was only fitting payback, that someone should do to me, what I had done to so many others.  That seemed to set the tone for a frank and lighthearted discourse which at times trended toward the deep and philosophical.

Early on I realized I had neglected to order, so imposed upon one of the staff to bring my regular drink, so as not to break the flow of conversation.  In Starbuck-speak, that would be a ‘for here, grande, extra hot, cappuccino’, served in one of their nice mugs, not a paper cup.   Generally Starbucks is a self-service establishment but Thai service staff can be quite accommodating.  While I am not inclined to reveal the details of what we discussed, let us just say I had a very enjoyable time, and the length of that time, passed almost unnoticed.

I have a bad habit of glancing about during conversation, which caused me to spot one of my wife’s more attractive friends here in the Rai.  She went out of her way to come in and say hello briefly, in that very friendly way Thais have.  Big smiles, abundant pleasantries, bracketed by a delicate ‘wai’, or Thai greeting, at the beginning and end.  That reminds me, I bumped into two other old-timers and one of their wives, on the way in from the car park.  I suppose I could have lingered there, instead of rushing off to have my coffee, but I have had that conversation recently and would have missed the chance meeting with someone new.

Some of you are perhaps wondering what was so special about this day or this mystery person, and why I chose to write about this encounter, instead of this morning’s visit by the village headman, discussing something about the local temple.  The point is, it was not that special.  It was not a special day or event.  I never got his name.  We will surely never cross paths again.  It was just one of life’s more pleasant interludes, spontaneous, unscripted, fleeting, and yet memorable.  It was just the crisscross, happenstance nature of people and lives crossing paths on a particular day.  Not unlike a sunset that you will never see again but was still worth seeing.

Often we get caught up in the illusory pursuit of productivity and a purposeful existence.  Fortunately I am at a place in my life where I can live freeform and unstructured, free to enjoy simple unexpected encounters.  Then if the mood strikes me I am free to write about said nonevents.  Though it is implied that you are also free to not read what I write, it is hoped that you will and that you will get something from it.

Near the end of our conversation my blog did come up and I was asked who reads me.  I had to think about that one for just a moment.  I have asked on numerous occasions, why people read my blog but I don’t believe I have ever asked specifically, who is reading.  I have always assumed it is not the tourist but someone who has a relationship with or a connection to Thailand and is perhaps living elsewhere, using me as their Thailand fix, as it were.  Over time I have noticed a very strong readership within Thailand itself which has me in a quandary.  One would think, people who live here would have their own views on Thailand and would have less need or interest in reading about others who live here.  Perhaps my own bias is creeping into that opinion but it would be interesting to know.

So what do you say?  Who reads me?  Do you live in Thailand?  Are you new to the game or have you lived here for some time?  Did you once live in Thailand but now live elsewhere?  Are you married or in a relationship with a Thai?  Are you considering a relationship with either a Thai person or Thailand itself but have yet to make the move?  Have you visited or are you planning to visit?  Enquiring minds want to know.

Bike Ride and Potluck ...

There came a voice from on high.  It was heard to say, “Go ride young men, go ride.”  Sadly, there were no young men to heed the call, so the village elders of the Rai, did mount their many and varied beasts.  There were dirt-bikes, sport-bikes, and cruisers, from 150cc up to 1800cc.  A truly eclectic mix.  No mountain too high, no rut too deep, no trail too rough, no sand too loose, no pachyderm too large, no river too wide and no bridge too flimsy to stall the momentum of these intrepid adventurers.  Couples and singles, big bikes and small, all held their own on this lovely but hot adventure.  Oddly the day bore more resemblance to our Sunday Potluck than your typical biker’s melee, as we spent more time sitting around talking than actually riding.  In the end, however, we were lucky and no one came off or damaged their bikes.

Attending both events, the Potluck and Bike Ride, on consecutive days, I feel qualified to comment and eager to share pictures.  Being as spread out as we are here in the Rai, special effort must be summoned to gather the rank and file in one location.  A monthly Potluck picnic has been instigated for the more laid back and food motivated residents.  The reward being homemade dishes from various lands, often unattainable in our local restaurants or anywhere else for that matter.  It is a pleasant afternoon spent by a lake with a near equal share of Thais and Farangs. Primarily, Farang men and Thai wives but with the occasional Farang family or couple.  Seasonal residents and guests do make an appearance on occasion, as well.

The Chiang Rai Hash is another monthly venue aimed at the slightly more athletic, though in truth it is geared more to walking and talking, than it is to running.  Sorry no Hash pictures as we have not attended for quite some time.


Potluck Sala

Hot Springs.  First Stop on Bike Ride

Kok River at Hot Springs

Motorcycle Bridge

View from the Bridge

River view at our lunch break

My Dream Guest House for Lunch

Lunch Venue

Harley in the Forest 

Elephant Camp

Finding Friendly Farangs, Part II ...

I find it enlightening to look back on how things have unfolded over the last three years.  The first year was pretty much taken up by the construction of our house.  The second years was an extension of that, with moving in, finalizing the relocation from Bangkok, internal decor, garden and various other projects.  The list of hobbies and interests grew as I settled in.  Eventually, a greater curiosity about the local expat community began to surface.

Of course there were still Bangkok, Hawaii and internet friends, but lacking was the sense of companionship and intimacy that comes from having a best friend or the sense of community that develops when one casts a broader net, allowing for spontaneity and casual interaction.  Our trips to town are now brightened by chance encounters, friendly smiles and casual greetings.  Small things that mean a lot to me.  Some would find the constant press of people in the village, sufficient for their social needs.  My wife and I, unfortunately perhaps, have grown to want and expect more than what can be found in the village.

Thought I might share, briefly, what has worked for me, here in the Rai.  Keeping in mind my established status of lone-wolf and non-joiner by nature, I have found groups and organizations still have there function even if not a member.  I met a couple of friends and a few acquaintances by attending two Hash (HHH) events.  Not a fan of the whole Hash House Harriers thing, I still got what I wanted from it.  The same can be said of the Chiang Rai Expats Club.  The event itself is not that interesting but I have met a couple of interesting people there.  With just a few connections, a network begins to grow.  It is no longer uncommon to bump into people we know in BigC, Makro, various coffee shops, and even at the veterinarian. 

Not being a golfer or an elbow bender in the local bars, I cannot comment directly, but do know people who indulge in both, and claim to enjoy the company they find there.  There is a book club and art events but due to our distance from the city, we have yet to attend any late night events.  Well, there was one evening party recently at a friends house in town, but that was an exception as it included my birthday and his son’s.  Parents with young children will benefit from school activities and the friends their kids bring home.  I’m sure the religious could join churches and there are missionaries a many in these parts.  They figure the locals need saving, I guess.  I had best refrain from heading down that path, so moving on...

Most of my friends are aghast that I frequent the pages of Thai Visa, but they do have a Chiang Rai Sub Forum, through which I have met a few interesting and a few not so interesting members.  Not having previous experience with online forums I have approached it as a sociological experiment and a form of entertainment at times.  In spite of the nastiness that can surface in these online environments, I have witnessed people both giving and receiving help on many occasions.

Some old-timers, myself included, will warn against hanging out in certain places or with certain groups or types of individuals.  I have softened my position on that more recently, not for myself but for others.  Given the preponderance of men who discover Thailand late in life, burdened with failed marriages back home, meager pensions, and questionable choices in Thai partners, there is a good chance they will indeed have much more in common with the average punter in the bar than they would have with me.  For them, taking my advice or emulating my life choices, would no doubt bore them to tears.

My new and improved advice, would be to give it all a go, and formulate your own opinion about others and where you fit in.  There are no universally right or wrong answers in life, or in Thailand for that matter.  There is just what works for you.  My route has been a little bumpy at times, but it has suited me overall and I am burdened with few regrets.  I now have a best friend in the Rai, an ever growing network of acquaintances, expanding interests, and my wife once again has a visa for the States, after surrendering her Green Card a few years back.  Perhaps we will start to travel again, as our home base has been firmly established here in the Rai. 

I think we made the right choice moving here.

The Continuing Saga of Finding Friendly Farangs ...

On again, off again plans...the ever changing world I live in.  I thought about going to this ‘thing’.  Then there was talk of going orchid hunting in the forest.  Then there was talk of going shopping in town together, but skipping the ‘thing’.  Then at the last minute the forest outing was back on and I found myself alone driving to town, to do the shopping.
 Orchid Hunting In The Forest

Approaching town I notice the timing was perfect for attending the ‘thing’, but should I or shouldn’t I?  We have clearly established, I think, that I am not a group person.  Neither sheep nor shepherd shall I be, marching steadfastly to the beat of my own little drummer.  At the same time I am nosy and inquisitive, eager to form my opinions through firsthand experience, not through the biased pontifications of others.  Sometimes, to avoid getting set in ones ways, it is good to step out of ones comfort zone and do something one would normally avoid.

Still uncommitted I drove into the parking lot of a hotel that has seen better days.  Spotting a familiar couple, I lowered the window to say hello.  It was at that point I guess I committed, as I seemed to have no excuse not to.  Inside I was confronted with some of what I expected.  There were the usual suspects, in the form of Hashers.  One of them, being in exceptionally fine form, immediately began outing me as the Village Farang, to all within earshot.

Now I am in no way ashamed of my alter-ego, but my wife’s Thai sensibilities are not comfortable with some of the nastiness that inhabits the online world.  With respect for her wishes, I have established a policy of don’t ask don’t tell.  Anyway, seeking a quick escape from that group I spotted a likely retreat in the far back corner.  The sole occupant of that table was unknown to me which seemed a good thing and could be easily remedied, if I wished.

A little friendly banter ensued about ours being the misfits table and us sporting identical name-tags and things were off and running.  Noticing his car keys resting on the table I quipped that he must own that big ugly black thing parked next to my big ugly black thing.  Only afterward did we discover that I was indeed correct.  Same make and model but with slightly different modifications.  So as the vehicles found each other in the parking lot, the owners found each other at the corner table.

True to form the movers and shakers of this newly evolving group, were local businessmen.  Farangs with an appetite and avidity for microphones, as well as drumming up more business through organizational membership.  Nothing at all wrong with that, just an observation.  Of course being the contrarian that I sometimes am, I might be less inclined to frequent their establishments.  That is just me, though.

The day’s speaker was topical and of some interest to me.  After all he lords over my passport and my wife’s visa for my home country, at least in this region of Thailand.  I passed on the coffee, even though I had paid for it.  I wasn’t going to waste my caffeine quota on the nasty stuff.  Better to wait until I could get to one of my favorite cappuccinos.  When I mentioned the hotel venue to my wife there was an audible groan, but I can see the logic for a new organization, trying to get by with as little investment as possible.

So all considered it was a good morning and I had met someone new who I thoroughly enjoyed talking with.  Wasn’t even bored by the guest speaker.  However, having avoided any mention of the internet at all in our conversation, I was a little disheartened when my excessively exuberant friend found it necessary to come over at the end to out me, once again as Village Farang, complete with a warning that my new friend might find himself on the pages of my blog.  As if that would be a bad thing.  Not sure what motivates people to do things like that but I try to take it in stride.

I wait with bated breath to see if I will be making a repeat visit...

The Changing of Seasons ...

Gone is that fresh crisp chill, and occasional fog, of the early morning hours.  Though still pleasant enough, things are warming up, noticeably.  Gone too are our views of the mountains.  They are hidden behind the perennial pall of smoke and haze that permeates the region at this time of year.  Soon, I think very soon, I will find myself reluctant to head out on the mountain bike or motorcycle. 

There will be days when the urge will not be thwarted by temperature nor brown featureless vistas.  Those days will be fewer, however.  Though this winter was pleasant and punctuated by some memorable events, I am at least a little disappointed with myself.  I somehow feel the list of things I did not do, ended up much longer than the other list.  Well, perhaps next winter.

It is yet to be seen how the change of season will affect this strangely gregarious and more convivial nature, that has overtaken me of late.  Perhaps a phase.  Perhaps a measure of time and how long we have been living up here in the field.  Whatever the cause, I have been on a quest or hunt of sorts.  Visiting and corresponding with people we know, but also reaching out to strangers.

My wife’s Thai sensibilities leave her reluctant to talk to strangers.  You know, the whole family, village, school chums, fellow members, and introductions, thing.  Knowing how she feels, I refrain for the most part when in her presence, which is most of the time.  Yesterday at BigC, she turned her back for a moment and I got naughty.  Left guarding the heavily laden shopping basket I spied yet another farang nearby, faithfully performing the same valuable function.  Temporarily unleashed, I sprung into action and a conversation quickly ensued. 

Fortunately the timing was spot on, with my wife returning only shortly before the other guy’s wife joined us.  Introductions were made and then the wives were allowed to sort themselves out, while we continued our manly repartee.  The girls hit it off instantly and exchange phone numbers before the guys did.  My wife’s sister was with us but remained outside the circle, waiting for us.  She had a hard time understanding how we could have such a friendly and animated conversation with people we didn’t know.

I suppose there are a lot of reasons why foreigners snub each other while walking through the shopping center.  Surely not everyone is busy and pressed for time, however.  For me quite honestly, I think appearance and first impressions have something to do with it.  I know it is superficial of me but ugly, dirty, disheveled, or a dower expression are things I find hard to overlook.  On this occasion the guy looked slightly older but with an athletic appearance and a relaxed confident gait.  The wives were very close in age, maybe three years, and equally attractive. 

One does seem to notice more foreigners around these days, but they are few enough, that certain couples standout.  My wife later acknowledged that she had noticed this girl upstairs in the supermarket.  Finding her attractive and somewhat atypical for a farang wife.  Strangely she had not noticed that she was pregnant, however.  Hopefully we will all get together again, sometime.

Just the day before I was off on a bike ride and found myself enjoying a cappuccino and reading the Sunday paper, at the Doi Chang coffee shop.  On this occasion I struck up a conversation with quite an attractive young French girl.  As she entered looking somewhat lost, I noticed another guy sitting outside, light up when he saw her.  Perhaps she sensed his eagerness, but for whatever reason they did not make a connection.

We, however, ended up having an expansive wide-ranging conversation until I felt it was time for me to leave.  There is just something about an attractive face and personality that makes conversation so very easy.  Perhaps being happily married, and not on the prowl, makes me less threatening.  Then again they could just find me too old and fatherly.  Strange that, having never had the desire to be a father.  Anyway I have always been better with women than with men and it was a pleasant conversation.

After a little errand for my wife, I headed home along the river route and met yet another farang on the side of the road working in his yard.  Later I found my thoughts drifting to my past and how I have interacted with people.  A few things came to mind.  For example, I like low maintenance relationships.  There was a time in Bangkok when I was on TV, and later working at a five star hotel, where basically everyone knew me and I needed to make little or no effort socially.  Squash served a similar function later on.

In the Rai, with our location being somewhat isolated, I have reexamined groups and organizations as a way to meet people and found them lacking, so have struck out on my own.  Slowly I am finding that when I am in town, I either bump into someone I know or am able to meet someone new.  I return home with a feeling of satisfaction.  Something akin to a successful hunt.  My circle of acquaintances is expanding as is my enjoyment of our trips to town.  This is a good thing since I am notoriously bad at planning and making appointments.  I still prefer a spontaneous encounter.

So are you the type who sticks with family and a close, closed circle of friends?  Or are you going through a phase, like me, where you are making that first move and meeting new people?  How do you respond when a stranger says hello?

Where to enjoy Coffee in the Rai ...

I am a coffee lover, and though indulging in coffee is relatively harmless, I do consider it a vice.  Being short of vices, one has to make do.  Making my own pot of coffee, in a rather large French press, left me drinking rather too much in the past.  In an effort to reduce my intake, coffee consumption is now restricted to public venues.  That means a minimum fifty kilometer drive, oneway.

I have by no means sampled every coffee venue in the Rai, nor do I intend to.  The cheapest place for anything, including coffee, is beyond my area of interest or expertise.  Flavor, presentation, ambiance and of course convenience are highest on my list.

Since shopping usually means a stop at BigC, among other places, my coffee fix is more conveniently found there.  S & P's, Blue Cup Coffee, is my favorite and just happens to be located there, but I can make do with Black Canyon Coffee, if perchance the wife would prefer eating lunch there.  A Blue Cup cappuccino is served in a signature white ceramic coffee cup, a bit larger than most and holds its foamy head well.  That is important if one wants to enjoy that unique cappuccino experience.  Neither of these two places have any ambiance to speak of, so it is down to flavor, presentation and mainly convenience.

The two main, Thai coffee brands, are Doi Chang and Wa Wee, both with their own coffee shops in Chiang Rai.  Doi Chang is arguable the better tourist or farang location, only a short walk from the Night Bazar area. 

Doi Chang is located on a convenient corner, in an older, slightly rundown building.  The decor wisely uses that to advantage with a rustic, relaxed feel.  The location, tight quarters, mismatched furnishings, a little garden/pond area at the entrance, as well as a couple of antique computers, create a place that seems to attract farangs.

Personally I like the muffins, and the food and pastry selection appears appetizing from what I have seen, but the cappuccino is served in a smallish glass cup with a brownish foam that I personally find unattractive and unappetizing.  At least it is not a paper cup, but neither is it a proper ceramic cup.  If you want to be among other farangs you will overlook the coffee presentation and substandard foam.  The cats, that sometimes make a leisurely perusal of the premises, (a Persian and a Siamese if I am not mistaken) add a homey touch for animal lovers.

Wa Wee is also located on a corner, but the parking area out front, can only be accessed by a oneway road not far from the famous Ha Yak intersection.  While convenient for bank and government workers in that area, it is not as convenient for many farangs.  Unlike Doi Chang, this place is very modern with a more Thai clientele.  Kind of a Thai version of Starbucks with clean modern lines, plenty of space and comfy seating options, that seem to appeal to a more upmarket Thai crowd.  Even the computers, Apple iMacs, say modern and trendy. 

The large cappuccino is served in a brown ceramic mug, which again, I prefer to a glass cup.  The food or snack selection did not appeal to me and the (order & pay) first, reminded me of Starbucks in Bangkok.  Not necessarily a bad thing.  The presence of Thais in office attire is in stark contrast to the sometimes colorful farangs one encounters at Doi Chang.  One can be fooled into thinking one is in a much bigger city.

Oddly enough, if a solitary outing on the Phantom leads me into town, the chances are you will find me at Doi Chang.  The reason being that more often than not, I will bump into someone I know or meet someone new.  A brief spontaneous encounter is something that suits me.  More typically I am with my wife when in town and less inclined to strike up a conversation with strangers so will be found in S & P nursing my favorite Blue Cup cappuccino.

The above mentioned locations are all located on my map.

(As an edit to this post we now have Starbucks and a few other coffee options at the new Mall.)

As of 2012 Chivit Thamma Da is my favorite place for coffee in the Rai.


The Chiang Rai Hash, Again? ...

I am nothing, if not a man of contradictions.  Where is the fun in being predictable, steadfast and never changing ones mind?  It is the simple mind that sticks rigidly to an idea or belief, fearful of a change of direction or even asking questions.  Fearful that fingers will be pointed and contradictions pointed out.  Where is this leading, one might ask?  It is leading to the fact that we went to another Hash House Harriers, yesterday.

Considering the trouble I got into the last time I went and wrote about the Hash, one would be justified in asking me, “Why?”.  Well, I will get to that but the obnoxious answer would be “Why not?”.  To be honest, I was even asked when I could be expected to pen something about this outing, to which I laughed and replied that I might abstain this time around.  So here I am contradicting that response as well, in the manner of my own choosing.  Not constrained by Hashly etiquette or protocol I am able to do, or not do, as I wish.

Perhaps I should start off by explaining how this all came about.  From the very beginning I had ulterior motives for attending the Hash, even the first time.  One might say I go to the Hash, in spite of the Hash, not because of it.  There just aren’t that many places where farangs of the Rai, gather in the light of day.  Of course one sees them in BigC and Makro, but it is not the done thing, to acknowledge those to whom you have not been properly introduced.  Something we have picked up from the Thais, no doubt.  So the Hash presents an opportunity to meet others, that you might not otherwise cross paths with.  Sometimes that is a good thing, the not crossing paths part.  Sometimes you get lucky and meet a like minded soul or someone you can at least enjoy a conversation with.

We happen to know and like the hosts of the Christmas Hash and have been to their house before.  Though we frequent the city seldom, on two recent occasions our paths crossed.  Most recently at Makro, where they extended an invitation to the Hash they were hosting.  Okay, so they were just being polite, but my wife wanted to go.  Not that my wife would ever be so straightforward in acknowledging her desire.  With a healthy dose of that uniquely Thai notion of “Krengjai” she queried as to whether I would be too putout if we tried another Hash.

She knows full well that I have never refused her anything, but still she doesn’t wish to impose or appear to come off as pushy.  With her typically Thai distaste for confrontation, she asked if I would feel uncomfortable in going again and perhaps bumping into someone of disagreeable  manner.  I assured her that no one was going to ruffle my feathers and I was quite capable of fending for myself.  My only consideration was what she wanted and nothing else mattered.

On the day we arrived a bit early to secure a safe and convenient parking space along the side of the soi.  There were quite a few new faces, new to me at least, so I basked in my anonymity.  There were a few who were surprised to see me, and the look on their faces, was worth the 65 km trip.

As others mounted the farm lories to be driven to the starting point, a few of us and one lovely chocolate lab, proceeded on foot.  We did come for a walk after all.  I was determined to approach things differently this time.  To that end, we decided to linger near the back. 

In a rush of testosterone, all the male bluster and bravado vanished into the forested hills.  Most of the way I was accompanied by four women and two children.  I have always appreciated the company of women.  We were familiar with two of the women, being the hosts of this and the previous Hash we attended.  We probably did more talking than walking.  Discussing life, health, events and travel, made for a very enjoyable, social stroll through beautiful surroundings. 

One of the children with us, looked as though he would be much happier in front of the computer or a playstation, and seemed to be suffering a bit.  He was a trooper, however, and suffered in silence.  With no other men anywhere to be seen, I slowed my stride as we all adjusted our pace to that of our lumbering young friend.

After a lovely walk, we were the last to arrive at the pickup point.  This time, no one turned down the ride.  There was food and drink for all and a little entertainment for the kids.  All of whom, went home with a lovely Christmas Poinsettia.  As the more Hashy stuff began, we quietly said our goodbyes to our hosts, and slipped off into the darkness.  Apparently not the thing to do but seemed best for us.

It was after dark, with a long drive ahead of us but we opted to make a brief stop at the walking street to purchase some food to take home, from the many vendors that line the side soi we frequent.  All in all, it was a good day and we found a way to make it work for us, without detracting from the enjoyment of others with differing sensibilities. 

So will we do it again?  Truthfully, I couldn’t say.  If my wife expresses an interest, then I guess you know what my answer would be.

Leaving Questions Unanswered...

Seeing that the resent surge in hits from Thailand ISPs has subsided, perhaps it is safe to once again come out to play.  Tempests in teacups, disgruntled detractors, all hopefully faded to nothing more than an unpleasant memory.  I am sometimes drawn to see what lies beyond my field of view.  To venture on foot or by vehicle, even metaphorically, to explore what lies around the bend.  Often one has a very good idea ahead of time, what is there, but to see it first hand does lend a measure of authenticity and veracity. 

With 30 plus years in Bangkok, one might safely assume that I have had a smattering of experience with expat circles.  I thought it perhaps presumptuous on my part to assume, however, that my observations were universal.  I therefore set out to see if expat fauna of the Rai differed from that of the Big Mango.  Not unexpectedly, I found evidence of the usual suspects.  Ranging from the dregs to the do-gooders, they were not hard to spot, even with the variance in dress code afforded to this less than urban environment.

As the pot was stirring recently, over I know not what, emails were exchanged that I naively thought were addressed to one individual.  I opted not to use the bully pulpit of my blog and instead resorted to emails that were promptly forwarded to a half dozen other individuals.  A more sophisticated approach would have been for others to use the bcc: function in the letterhead of the email.  That way, I would have been none the wiser.  Subsequently they had me at a disadvantage, knowing what I was saying while I knew nothing of what they were discussing amongst themselves.  It all leaves me wondering what could possibly be in it for me, to revisit a repeat engagement. 

In a round about way this got me reexamining my readership and from whence it comes.  The majority are from English speaking countries, and many but not all, have some sort of Thailand connection.  The total number of countries represented is impressive and some seem to use translations.  I often wonder how well my words cross from one language to another.  I am clearly not someone who picks his topics from news services or other bloggers and therefore I post at irregular intervals.  That leaves me wondering why there are so many of you who click so regularly on my page.  An RSS feed, set up in one of the many Readers out there, would surely be more functional and alert you to any new postings.  Some seem preoccupied with downloading every picture I post, to which I do not object.  But then again, one does wonder what is being done with them. 

The software which is supposed to tell me who you are and where you are from, leaves me with many more questions than answers.  While many of you have been in contact there is an equal number who still lurk in the shadows and keep me guessing.  Perhaps that is as it should be.  The urge to answer all questions and remove all mystery could lead one down the path to a dreary, less colorful tapestry of life.  So part of me wants to know, while another part of me does not.  If recent events are anything to go by, perhaps it is best to leave some things to the realm of imagination.

Rehashing the Hash ...

I can’t imagine that there are many individuals who head off to a social gathering hoping that they will not meet anyone new or find anyone to talk with.  Yet it seems to be the nature of many expat groups to be less than welcoming to strangers.  Responses can range from looks, to avoidance, to dismissive monosyllabic answers, when attempts are made to break the ice, with the established members of a group.  Then again, I could be lacking in social graces, since I have led such a charmed existence, where jobs, friends, women, all seemed to present with little or no effort on my part.  It could also be the transient nature of expat existence.  People come and go from our lives with such regularity that perhaps calluses are formed in places one cannot see and it takes time to size one up as worth the effort of befriending.

And so, I left the Hash last week feeling less than satisfied and completely unaware that a chain of events had been set in motion.  A chance encounter, beside a babbling brook, of two individuals feeling a bit on the fringe of an event.  Few words were exchanged as we crouched at the waters edge.  I basked in the simple pleasures of Cookie lying in the cooling waters.  Next to me a proud father stood guard as his beautiful young son frolicked in those same waters and caught Cookies attention.  As fate would have it he read my blog and was gracious enough to email a kind remark and remind me that our paths had crossed, if ever so briefly.  Emails went back and forth, and culminated in an invitation.  My wife and I became last minute additions, to an informal dinner party.  We knew one other couple, and they were quite surprised to see us there, as they had no idea we even knew the hosts.  I was perhaps just as surprised to be there, considering the way it all unfolded.

It was a perfect evening in a good location, with good food, good people, good conversation and gracious hosts.  No one could have asked for more.  We were the first to arrive and the last to leave of the farang guests, though I’m sure that Thai family and friends kept things going a bit longer.  An evening that will not soon be forgotten.

Living as we do, scattered over the Rai in sometimes distant locals, finding friends and meeting new people takes more effort than in a city.  No doubt luck plays a major part as well.  Though I have lived in Thailand for a very long time, I am still a newcomer here in the Rai and am still trying to strike a balance between being both old and new.  Somewhat reluctantly I must revisit the Hash and give more credit where credit is due.  We received good exercise on the day and explored new trails and while not enthralled with every aspect of the day, did in the end in a somewhat circuitous manner, make new friends. 

My apologies to those hashers who found my words disrespectful and irreverent.  If as I have heard, the official scribe can fall afoul of the faithful, then what hope have I to escape their wrath, however.  My only true regret, being my detractors lack of eloquence in articulating their displeasure.  Though some may not be pleased to see me, I am not dismissing a second coming, depending on the host and location of course.

The Hash ... Chiang Rai HHH ...

An easy trail quickly turned into a muddy, rock strewn stream that had shrunk to a mere trickle in this dry season.  During a tropical downpour, an obvious death trap, but on the day a minor obstacle to focus ones attention and balance.  The first hill was a completely different matter.  With your heart leaping from your chest and your lungs searing with pain, you were also confronted with the proverbial, take two steps forward and one step back.  Unable to gain purchase on the soft, freshly tilled, hillside soil, many a stride failed to advance one even fractionally toward the distant crest.  Apparently all made it to the top but I had my doubts about that outcome, as I surveyed the scene and waited for my wife to catch up with Cookie and me.  Confronted with a choice after cresting that horrific hill, many a shattered soul opted for the short route back to food, beverage and relative comfort.  Cookie was already sniffing out the long trail and we had not driven 80 km just to take the easy way out. 

It became a much more lonely affair at that point.  We saw no one else on the trail, until we reached a bewildering crossroads.  We joined forces with a group of young women there and several trails were scouted before finding the way.  Our trekking poles helped us to navigate, without incident, down a very steep, dusty, and leaf strewn hill and to ford small streams.  Crouching low to navigate the bamboo thickets was made easier by the lack of leaves, giving one vantage beyond ones nose, which would not be the case most of the year.  Cookie helped us break trail but even she had difficulty finding the way at that one puzzling crossroads.  Our normal trails have ample water along the way, with a reservoir for swimming at the turnaround, but high on the hillside it was very dry and our little girl seemed to suffer from the heat.  We gave much of our water to her along the trail.  At the end she lay for minutes in the cool stream, just behind the host’s house and gathering area, luxuriating in the refreshing current.

According to our host, or hare, we were a rather large group, of which nearly half appeared to be virgins, in Hash terminology.  The host and scribe for the Hash, does a much more thorough job of producing statistics on his blog.  Naming names and recounting who did what, being his forte.  I might suggest clicking on his HHH BLOG for more details.  Children were well represented on the day but I cannot provide much insight as to what they brought away from their experience.  I found so many people cumbersome and difficult to navigate.  But then again, I have always come away from group gatherings feeling less than satisfied.  My taste runs more to a sit-down lunch or dinner with long hours of thoughtful discussion, with one or two other couples or families.  Often that leads to the children playing in the yard, the women doing as they wish and the men sitting around solving the world’s problems.

The Hashers seemed more focussed on the ceremonial drinking, rituals and chanting at the end of the day, than on the beauty and bounty of the trail.  I have always been in the minority, with my view of group activities like this.  So pay no mind of my words and if the opportunity presents, by all means go to a Hash and form your own opinion.  It will be a safe bet that no two trails will be identical, providing variety, and each evening will end the same, providing continuity.  So as the Hashers would say in their rather quirky terminology, ON-ON.

To Chiang Mai and back again ...

From here to there and back again.  All that remains is to trek over to the boarder and transfer my visa from the old passport to the new.  I’m sure there are those who are enamored with the sappy nationalistic quotes and the abundance of pictures and information on nearly every page, but in my opinion, it leaves far too few usable pages.  After all a passport is working document, too soon filled with stamps, and not a magazine to be read in a waiting room.  With a lifespan of ten years, no doubt I will be adding new pages at some point.  It would have been nice, to have been offered twice as many pages, but alas I was not.

We tried leaving Cookie at home with the mother and the maid this time, with good results.  Unfortunately it left that much more room in the truck for additional household goodies.  Our past purchases had focused on the living areas and we had neglected the bed rooms to a great extent.  That was partially dealt with on this trip to Chiang Mai with another overflowing truck load.  Literally I was able to close the tailgate, just.  With a large heavy box hanging over the lip, it was impossible to bring the window down and fasten it.  So we drove home with the back open and the rearview mirror blocked with only the side mirrors to monitor the erratic driving behavior of those behind us.

Again we stayed with our friend’s parents, their dog being quite disappointed that we came without our furry little daughter.  One last stop on the way out of Chiang Mai to visit a friend from Hawaii and checkout her recently opened hair salon.  Not the last stop as it turned out, as we bought orchids at a roadside stand in the mountains, inspected yet another ceramic shop, and bought some ghastly fermented goodies, that our neighbors so enjoy eating at another roadside stand.  All in all, another productive trip but oh so good to be home.

No rest for the wicked, as we are going to make every effort today to attend our very first Hash House Harriers event.  I am not the type who is overly dependent on others for motivation and often find I get a better workout when on my own.  So this will likely be more of a social networking event for us.  Surely we will be traveling further than most with a roundtrip in excess of 160 km, and returning well after dark on our unlit country roads.  Hopefully we will meet a like minded couple or two and no doubt Cookie will have a great time exploring new trails.  I do know the host of this event and my motorcycle buddy and his family may be there so even if we don’t make new friends it should be a pleasant day.

This being the ugly time of the year, I am focussing on being more social and saving my wanderlust for a later time when all is lush and green.  Being in the tropics our seasons are less varied that in higher latitudes but things are different enough, that one can clearly draw a line under this season and say it is not a favorite. 

Sorry to be so remiss in my offerings on this site of late.  There has simply been no need for the catharsis that my writing often provides me.  Life is good, we are well and my muse is on an extended leave of absence, it seems.