Pardon me if you can't read this properly; not only am I using a keyboard on which all the letters have been rubbed off, leaving only plain black keys which I am stabbing at indeterminately, but I've also just stepped off a bus after ten hours curled in the fetal position, and my fingers are still numb from having had them stuffed in my ears the whole night in a feeble attempt to block out the intermittent bursts of Thai polka music that spewed forth from the radio at one and two and three a.m, like the wake-up call from hell. On the plus side, I've learned a new curse word---an English curse word, that is---thanks to the movie on the bus, and all I can say about that is boy, the person writing the English subtitles must have been in a bad mood when he took on that project. I am entirely unconvinced that the Thai dialogue in the movie was meant to contain such phrases as "your father's a fag" and "you suck," however loosely it was translated.
We arrived in Chiang Mai, up in the north of Thailand, in the wee small hours of the morning, and finding a hotel proved to be tricky. We were originally dropped off at the one we'd chosen from the Lonely Planet, the one that promised---and I quote---"will make you feel like nouveau riche with its modern rooms and squeaky clean bathrooms" and immediately backed away gagging, our hands held up in protest, both at the sordid excuse for a toilet and the lies we'd been fed by the guidebook. "I don't know how that made me feel, but it wasn't nouveau riche," said Sean. "Nouveau depressed, maybe."
Happily, I seem to have recovered from my bout of travel malaise; turned out it was nothing an afternoon lazing about in Bangkok with a few black-market People magazines and an Oreo Blizzard couldn't cure. Thank you all so much for commiserating with me, and assuring me that I'm not the only one to have given into the lures of comfort, familiarity, and air conditioning when traveling. Now that we're in mountainous Chiang Mai, which seems at first glance to resemble a super laid-back town in Colorado---Boulder, perhaps---I'm recharged and ready for Hardcore Culture again. Bring on the temples! Where are the wats? Somebody get me to a water puppet show, stat!
We're here for almost a week, before we fly---on what I'm deathly afraid is going to be a tiny toy plane---to Mandalay in Burma. (Do we have to call it Myanmar? I'm sorry, I know that's its real name, but I'm going to stick with Burma, unless anyone objects. The Burmese government, for example, though I shouldn't think there's any danger of them finding me since they're not allowed to have the Internet there.) But goodness gracious, this country had better be worth it, because applying for a visa was not fun. Or perhaps it was fun, depending on how you view sitting in a concrete room from 9am until 3pm, waiting for number 39 to be called and realizing, as the hours tick by, that the counter is still only on number 11. That might be your thing. I don't know. If so, I've got a great place for you to hang out.
Also, if anyone asks, I work in retail, alright? Sean and I read beforehand that "listing a profession such as journalist or photographer" would complicate the visa process, and since, whoops, I'm a journalist and Sean's a photographer, we were sort of forced into getting a little creative. Sean, being a man of many talents, was able to honestly write down "graphic designer," while I toyed with truthful variations like "writer" and "editor" and decided both still sounded too threatening. Thus, I tried to think of the most innocuous profession I could, and came up with "retail." If anyone asks for specifics, I will say I sell candy. And puffy clouds and sparkly heart-shaped stickers and sweet little stuffed animal toys, most likely puppies and kittens.
While waiting for number 39 to be called---which finally happened, by the way, after we'd been there six hours eating Toblerone after Toblerone, beacuse if there's an activity that can't be ameliorated by the consumption of a Toblerone then I don't know about it, except for maybe watching golf on TV---we met the hippiest of hippie girls. I mean, trust me, I thought I was getting pretty out there with my ethnic headscarf/no makeup combo, but this girl's idea of fun was spending three months in a Burmese monastry learning to meditate.
"You know," she said to me at one point, her spacy drawl belying the fact that she was staring at me with the kind of earnest intensity that comes from eating too many lentil and mung bean casseroles. "There are two kinds of freedoms. There's the freedom to go where you want to go and do what you want to do. But there's another kind of freedom, an even deeper kind of freedom, and that's the freedom of just viewing your whole journey as a pilgrimage and seeing what manifests from that." And I said, "whoa, lady. I just asked if you knew what time it was."
The best thing about Thailand---apart from the fact that they play the national anthem in the movie theater before the show, and you all have to stand up and keep a straight face---is the dogged devotion they have for their king. I've never seen anything like it. When Sean and I got on the public bus on Monday morning, to make our way over to the Burmese embassy, we noticed an awful lot of yellow. The bus driver was wearing a yellow shirt. The bus conductor was wearing a yellow shirt. A glance from left to right revealed that eight out of ten patrons on the bus were also wearing yellow shirts, and nine out of ten of the people outside were as well. "Did we miss the memo or something?" I hissed to Sean, panicked, for I was wearing pink.
Turns out I wasn't far wrong. At lunch, we asked our waitress why everyone was wearing yellow, and she told us that on Mondays and Tuesdays, EVERYONE IN THAILAND puts on a yellow shirt to show their love and support for the king.
Now, seriously. Can you even imagine the havoc this would wreak on your wardrobe? For a start, yellow doesn't go with anything. Forget the ubiquitous black pants; you'd look like a bumblebee. Yellow and brown would turn you into someone's couch/kitchen/dad from the 70s. Yellow and pink would make you look like a sorbet. Yellow and orange would make you look like someone on acid, or someone who wanted to be. Yellow and green could work, I suppose, and maybe yellow and blue, depending on the shades of each, but I think you'd mostly have to go with yellow and white.
And this means you'd have to own two wears of white pants, one for Monday and one for Tuesday, and god knows it's hard enough to find one flattering pair of white pants. (Please tell me you also have to buy your white pants one size bigger than your normal size pants.) Alternatively, you'd have to have just the one pair of white pants, which you'd need to keep clean throughout all of Monday, in order to be able to wear them on Tuesday as well. Could you do that? COULD YOU? And don't get me started on the complex lingerie strategizing you'd have to do---I'm talking pie charts and everything---to ensure that you had the correct nude-colored undergarments on hand to go beneath the white pants, and the right bra to match, in case you happened to be in a car accident on Monday or Tuesday and all the doctors at Bangkok General found out that you thought it was PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE to wear a black bra with nude-colored knickers.
Fridays must be so much easier. They only have to wear blue then, to show support for the queen.