Oh my God. I knew this would not be easy, mostly because I have been a semi-retired woman who only does the work that she wants to do with massive breaks in between any exertion! Weeks stretch out in front of me that are entirely my own, and I use empty time to take flights of fancy in creation when I am on retreat. This is not a retreat, and I didn’t think it would be, but I thought I would have more time to reflect. I guess my brain needs much space to roam, and very little thinking about others. Pretty spoiled! And here I sit on a porch overlooking the street in Old Town, Chiang Mai. I drink coffee and eat a fruit salad (papaya, pineapple, banana, watermelon, passion fruit, and a fruit with white meat dotted with little black seeds) and feel especially spoiled as Thai people all around me go about their jobs even on Sunday. I have gotten coffee at the same guesthouse for at least six days in a row, and the staff does not change. When is time off? I wonder what the day of rest is for Buddhists?
I want to report on a fun series of actions with Birch, just to give some idea of my time with him. This particular morning was entertaining. We’ll start with climbing the stairs to this pool area a couple of doors down from My Mum Home which is where we stay…..okay put rocks on the tiles that surround the pool, push them off back into the rocks, with force and then more force, splash in the water which starts to lead to more, deeper, faster, so I head him off,….ah the Christmas tree with a big Santa Clause ornament which I show him, we find eyes, nose, mouth, feet, stomp, stomp, stomp, “gentle”, put SC back and find a smaller Santa Clause ornament…thus begins Santa’s Big Adventure….almost dropped in the pool, but Santa says “I hate water”, so Birch finds a puddle instead to drop him in countless rounds of Santa jumping up into Birch’s arms, “no, I hate water! Aaah, I hate water!” Then over the edge of a wall to the street side with Santa, into the bamboo hedge. We must go down the stairs to search for Santa deep in the bamboo forest….find him…and then three times more, then we stay streetside as Santa climbs the bamboo and jumps into Birch’s arms, and then he climbs with Birch’s help and slides down the bamboo, over and over. Time for Santa to start digging in the dirt, jumping in the dirt, rubbing in the dirt, flinging the dirt, which devolves into wild flinging dirt and smashing clumps of dirt into the street by Birch without any help from Santa….in fact, Santa is forgotten until he asks to go back to his branch on the little fake tree. He is a changed Santa….scuffed, wet, unglued, and dirty, but happily back home. Oh the stories he can tell. I really do not think that there is a problem with having let Birch “adjust” Santa’s look. Here we are in a Buddhist country coming across this accommodation to Western visitors. If it had been a Buddha, no way, or the image of the Thai King who is revered. Santa is just a commercial icon that used to have more meaning in the lore of so many countries.
So now I am in Laos having crossed the border yesterday. This is a solo trip I planned back when the week was free of any Thai Massage classes for Willow. I will go on this romp called The Gibbon Experience in which I will hike, zip line and sleep in treehouses along with a group of eight in the Nam Kan National Park in h Laos. It sounds like a real adventure, and I am excited to get going. I have been loving meeting people from all over the world, and I have a feeling this will be quite an immersion. Some encounters are so quick and sweet: ie I met another Margot this morning over coffee. I asked to have a photo with her! I met this dear Japanese man who was in the same van from Chiang Mai. We did not talk until we were navigating the border. He was young and on a six- month trip. He was extremely polite and expressed such interest in what I shared. I am sure I took advantage of his kind ears. Blessings on these simple and sweet meetings in passing.
I am on my second full day in Houayzai which is the border town/city that stretches out a long way along the Mekong River. Yesterday my stomach was slightly off which made the day a bit hard, but I roamed around the streets and took in the very different life here. Homes are open to the street; well not all, but many you can look in and see very little furniture, and a table, tv. Mostly, I try not to invade with my eyes. Dogs lay around everywhere and could care less about me. Chickens and roosters are about, or under woven domes on the busier streets. All the stores are open wide to the street with possibly living areas in the back.There are small shrines everywhere; even a beautiful red lacquered one in a car supply store that drew me in for all the jumble of stuff. I was hoping for more of a variety of stuff, but it really was car supplies. Seems like many businesses also offer meals.
I talked to Nam, a sweet man who hailed me off the street the first night I arrived. He is working the Farang presence in his area by providing eggs and bacon and squishy white bread…nice Western breakfast. He’ll also cook Thai/Lao food and ask for compliments for his cooking. I like him very much, and realized that I should take advantage of his English to learn more about his life. Money here is crazy, like when I exchanged 8,000 baht which would be equivalent to 300 dollars, the money changer joked that I was a millionaire because I got about 1,800,000.00 Kip)
Nam says inflation is a real problem, and people are struggling. Very few people have insurance, so medical care is out of the question, and people just die. His father had heart problems that he couldn’t afford to treat, and he died too young. Nam and his wife run a business and Nam figured that he could use his friendly personality to make some extra cash. He is good at it. The main border crossing used to be right down his street, but the government built a bridge about 6 kilometers away, so tourist traffic is down.
Tomorrow begins the Gibbon Experience, so more stories soon! Thanks for reading.