Bug over, bring on the pizza, but hold the ketchup

There are many experiences to be had in Thailand—noshing on roadside food, bargaining down to the last baht in the weekend market, getting an hour-long foot massage for about five bucks, to name a few. But you’re not fully initiated until you get some good bacterial food poisoning that makes it nearly impossible to leave the apartment. I hosted some kind of parasite about a month after moving here, but haven’t had any problems since then until last week. This time around I hastened recovery by spending 24 hours in the hospital hooked to a constant drip of fluids and antibiotics. The hospital I go to is unbelievably nice, even a little surreal. Bright, shiny and distinctly modern down to the white Barcelona-style chairs grouped in mass in all the waiting rooms, it’s more akin to a spa than any hospital I’ve been to in the US. All of the nurses wear skirt suits, heels, nurse’s caps, and a wide smile (come to think of it, I have yet to see a male nurse, I suppose due to the more defined gender roles here). Anyway, it was actually kind of nice to give in and let food and drinks come to me. I left my apartment in a hurry, intending on a quick appointment to rule out dengue or anything wild like that, not even grabbing a book. A book was exactly what I first longed for when I agreed to stay, but all literary inclinations were forgotten once I found the remote control. I grew determined to make up for a year of almost no TV, devouring National Geographic, CNN, BBC, Oprah, CSI, and my new favorite sitcom. Was I just that light-headed or is The Nanny really one of the funniest shows ever created? I pledged to buy the whole set on DVD and was disappointed to learn later that only the first two seasons are available. Ah well, maybe I can catch reruns when I’m back in the States.

Oh, and by the way, I’m 100% better now. I even ordered a pizza the other night for the first time since moving here. My medium pepperoni pie arrived with six packets of ketchup, a Thai fascination I don’t really understand. Most Thais will completely smother non-Thai food—pizza, pasta, sandwiches—with ketchup or chili sauce to give it more flavor. I love how humorous cultural differences can be. Like this one: It’s perfectly acceptable to pick your nose here (I’m talking half a finger outta sight) and then examine the, uh, fruits of your labor. Then on the other hand (forgive me), it’s seen as completely repulsive to bite your nails or put your fingers in your mouth, actions that are fairly innocuous to Westerners. You funny, funny world.

[Writing this blog sometimes gives me ideas of pictures I need to take. I'll add one to this post later. It's either going to be a ketchup-covered pizza or someone digging. Got a preference?]


More on Chiang Mai

I spent most of my time in Chiang Mai catching up with people I got to know last year and seeing some temples that I never got around to during that time.

A girl friend and I were out one night when we realized the tendency men have for comparing women’s features to animals. A guy approached our table and told her she has eyes like a panda during the day and like a cat at night. That reminded me of P’Tom who tells me he likes my chicken egg face and rabbit teeth. (Apparently, it’s a plus here if your two front teeth are longer than the rest, and there was even a time when hi-so women were shelling out for the dental work to accomplish this).

Another observation: As much as I love Chiang Mai, Bangkok has it beat for sure in one area—public transportation. In Bangkok, almost every place you’d need to go is convenient to a skytrain stop. And if it’s not, you just flag down a taxi anywhere, anytime—for cheap. Chiang Mai has overpriced tuk-tuks and songthaews that can be hard to find at times. Most people who live there depend on motorbikes, so if you won’t ride one, you’d better be prepared to stand your ground against a lot of peer pressure. I’m one of the rare few who won’t but for what I consider pretty good reasons. It was just about five years ago I was learning how to walk again, and once in a lifetime is enough for that. During rehab, I also met enough people there because of motorcycle accidents to dissuade me from ever riding one. Despite this, I really did almost give in for a short ride with a guy who swore on his safety. Last second, though, I couldn’t do it and shared a pricy tuk-tuk with someone else. When we all reached our next destination, the girl who did ride on the back of his bike was very shaken and scratched up. They had had an accident on the way over and she fell off, but luckily walked away with only scratches down one leg and arm. Because they were both foreigners and collided with Thais, they had to give all their money or deal with the police. No matter whose fault it is, the foreigner will always pay, and the police will make especially sure of this (they would get a cut of course).

This obviously affirmed my mistrust of motorbikes. It also reminded me of a Thai guy I know in Bangkok who wrecked his bike once, smashing all of the bones on the left side of his face. After many surgeries, he wrecked his bike again and smashed all the bones on the right side of his face. Sounds tragic, but he claims it’s okay. After the first wreck, he was ugly on one side and handsome on the other, but after the second, he was ugly on both so at least it’s even now. Gotta know how to look at the bright side I guess!


Back in Chiang Mai

I remember now why I loved this small city so much when I lived here during the first six weeks of my time in Thailand. The (relatively) fresh air, mountainous backdrop, and denizens so laid-back they make Bangkokians look uptight (wow, how will I ever adjust to the American pace again?). I'm here now on term break and feel so re-energized. Don't get me wrong - Bangkok has its own special place in my heart. I'm content with loving each place for very different reasons.

I arrived by overnight train, which left Bangkok at 10pm and reached Chiang Mai about 15 hours later. Sounds unpleasant, which is why my expectations were low, but I actually loved the experience. Reading at length, staring out of the window at gorgeous scenes passing by like a picture show, chatting with people from all over...these are things you just can't get on an hour flight (not to mention train travel is much more economical). Rumors of a frigid first class convinced me to go for second. With a fan and cool air blowing through open windows, its temperature was perfect. A look at my mattress in the morning light, though, revealed all that accompanied that nice breeze. Dead mosquitoes and even a huge moth peppered an area too close to my pillow. Note for the return trip: sleep with head toward the front of the train for minimal critter contact. Despite having a semi-conscious sense that this was happening (I had a very vivid dream involving mosquitoes), the constant, rather loud "clickety clack" of the wheels underneath and the frequent and sudden jolts, I managed some sound stints of sleep. The trick? Earplugs and an eye mask. Never travel without them. I woke rested to a splendid morning in the countryside.

So now I have about 24 more hours before hopping on the train again. I'll post pictures and more words when I get back to Bangkok!