Saturday, February 25, 2012

We're living in Chiang Mai

It's been quite a while since I last wrote. A lot has happened since the apartment hunting episode. Of course we found a nice place as I've already mentioned -- not as quaint as the one on Samsen Soi 4 in Bangkok but it's brand new and quite a bit larger for about the same money. Our new place is actually roomier than the cabin where I spent the last three summers up on Diamond Ridge. And it has running water!

A couple of weeks ago I did a 4-day stint with my Homer buddies over in Nan where we traveled on some of the best motorcycling roads in Thailand -- terrific stuff. Then Nut and I made the return to Bangkok to pack our things for the move to our new place. But the break in writing is mostly because I've been lazy. What we've been up to these days isn't particularly exciting. The mundane, quotidian things that everyone must do when moving just does not make that compelling a story. And I imagine any guy who writes about his day to day routine while trying to make it sound perpetually exciting must slip into the doldrums occasionally. That's where I've been.

I've also been reading. A lot. I finished several page turners over the past couple of weeks. I've really been caught up in reading books on my little Netbook computer. I buy them from Amazon online and usually have several going at one time. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, is about a family of doctors set in Ethiopia. Verghese himself is a doctor, so the story is especially compelling and very well done. His writing is smooth and masterful, his characters breathe on the page. A hell of a good book.

I also read 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles Mann. It's about the Columbian Exchange, as researchers call it, and is the reason there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in Florida, chocolates in Switzerland, and chili peppers in Thailand (not to mention rubber trees and sugar cane). When Columbus opened the New World the planet was changed drastically and permanently by these exchanges, either intentional or accidental, of plants, animals, and people, including slaves. I read Mann's earlier book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, about the Western Hemisphere before its  discovery and subsequent domination by Europeans, and loved that one as well.

And Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival ... by Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote and received critical acclaim for her book Seabiscuit a few years ago. This is the true story of Louis Zamperini, Olympic runner and bombardier on a B-24 Liberator bomber in the Pacific Theater during WWII. The plane crashed in mid-ocean in 1943. After surviving shark attacks, starvation and serious dehydration during 47 days adrift he was rescued. But by the Japanese. Far from being over, his ordeal was only beginning. This is one of the most remarkable war stories I've ever read, and I've read plenty of them. Now I feel compelled to read Seabiscuit, a book that came out when I worked in the library and that I dismissed out of hand because I didn't want to read about some damn old race horse.

A couple of photos from the bike trip deserve inclusion. Appearing below are almost the same cast of characters I first rode with two years ago on my first visit to Thailand. "Vancouver Andy" is missing but Sean from Homer, as the only Phantom owner, is with us. Along with being lifetime motorcycle riders all are Homer residents and regular winter visitors to Thailand. From the left we see DC, Al, Sean, and yours truly on route 1081 north of Nan. Al and I did this same trip a few months ago but we were both riding Phantoms then. He recently retired his 2005 Phantom, trading up to a Kawasaki KLX 250, while I have the CBR. This tour was more demanding because we did it at a faster pace. But it was lots more fun. The CBR is very well suited to the tight curves and seems to go through them so much more eagerly than the Phantom cruiser.

The Homer crew on Route 1081, north of Nan
The next day DC and I did another well known loop out of Nan to the north. This one involves Route 1148, another outrageously beautiful road that's blessed with innumerable curves and hills. Riding with DC is a challenge because he likes to go fast, very fast. But the motto with us is always, ride your own ride; that is, don't try to drive beyond your ability. Good advice for any rider. It was an awesome loop and one I'm sure to do again, especially now that I live in the north.

View of Route 1148

Nut and I went down to Bangkok last week by sleeper train. While we were there she packed everything up, separating things to leave behind for her daughter from the stuff we wanted to take to Chiang Mai. Rather than moving everything we elected to give away a lot of the smaller and easily replaced stuff. We sold our fridge to one of Nut's girlfriends which left the new 40" LED flatscreen TV as our only bulky item. Homer friends Albie, Phil, Big Al and Sean were all in Bangkok so we resumed our "regular meetings" at the Gecko Bar on Rambuttri Road. They were readying to return to Alaska but hanging out in The Big Mango for a few days before their flights winged homeward.

(As I write only Albie is still in Thailand -- the rest have returned to face the remainder of a Homer winter that some would term wonderful, and others awful. (I'd be in the latter camp.) There are many feet of snow on the Ridge above town -- my friend Jenny told me she's never seen snow like that in her 19 years up there. It will be around until well into June.)

I tried to get our assorted bags and boxes in the freight car where they belonged in order to keep them out of the way of the other passengers (and us) but even with Nut's help, was unable to work the Thai system to make that happen. First, the freight scales were broken, or at least that's what our hired porter insisted. Imagine, you're in Bangkok, the capitol of Thailand, at the the main rail station and you need to ship some equipment to Chiang Mai. But the scales don't work. Seems impossible doesn't it? Not in Thailand. (Well, maybe not in Laos or Cambodia either ;-)

Our guy said to Nut, No problem, for 200 baht I'll help you load your stuff into your passenger car with you. I kept insisting I wanted to pay and did not want to force other passengers, and us, to have to deal with our stuff throughout the ride. In the end there was no other way. Into the luggage racks went our stuff, all of it, including the big TV. I'm sure we were set up by the porter and I'm pretty sure Nut was in collusion with him just a wee bit. She didn't want to pay the freight rates and likes doing things "the way Thai people do" them. Why I think she subconsciously cooperated with him is because she told me later that was how she moved her things when she moved to Bangkok from Betong a few years ago. Wake up, David. Why pay for freight when you can simply scam the system? That's what Thais do.

It worked out pretty well in the end.  It took two separate taxis to get us with our boxes to the station in Bangkok but taxis in The Big Mango are cheap -- 60 baht apiece. And in Chiang Mai Nut found a friendly songtaew driver who took us to our apartment for 200 baht.  Overall I think the move, not including our own railroad fares, cost us about 20 bucks.

We've just now bought a few pieces of furniture including a desk and chair for me, and a nice wood dining table and chairs. We no longer have to eat picnic style on the floor. We're pretty comfortable in our place and the northern weather is just about perfect this time of year. Consequently, I'm back to playing tennis again and although I'm rusty and out of shape I'm enjoying it. And I'm getting to know some other farangs with whom I have shared interests -- tennis and our Thai sweethearts.