Margery, Fran (our friend from Milwaukee) and I flew to Chiang Mai for the weekend. Chiang Mai is an unusually beautiful place in mountainous northern Thailand. There are about a million people in the whole area, but the central old city is very small, only a couple miles square. About a hundred temples and wats exist in this confined place, intricately decorated with bright paint and gold leaf. A muddy river bisects the city and there are also many klongs, or canals throughout. As a result, the town has a very peaceful feel to it. It moves at a slower pace than Bangkok. Additionally, its tourism is largely backpackers, young people seemingly on a mission to explore and enjoy Nature rather than to just 'party'.
There is less evidence of the sleaze of some of the other Thai tourism centers such as Pat Pong or Pattaya or Koh Samui. There seems to be an emphasis on ‘eco-tourism’ and ‘adventuring’ as attractions for the 21st century hippie-types. The whole vibe hints at an almost college-town atmosphere. The biggest fad right now is zip-line tours that take you through the forest canopy at high speed. That kind of experience, along with white water rafting, mountain biking and bungy jumping, is perhaps less attractive for gimped-up senior citizens like us.
A strong attraction for Margery and Fran was the shopping. Textiles, especially brightly woven stuff from the hill tribes (Hmong and Karen mostly) are everywhere. Lots of shops sold loose gems and finely made jewelry. Street-side stalls and blankets on the sidewalk displayed carved wooden elephants and amulets. There is a Saturday open market, a Sunday market and a Night Market, which only opens after dark. I can only do about a half hour of look/stop, look/stop, pick up/examine, before my eyes glaze over and I need to retreat to some sit-down place for a glass of beer with ice in it…yes, I have been corrupted by Asian customs!
But, the food, the food, the food! Fiery coconut curry soup with egg noodles (called bahmee), braised chicken legs and fresh pickled cabbage and a topping of crunchy deep-fried egg noodles with a squeeze of lime. What a mélange of textures and tastes! The dish is called Khao Soi Gai and it is my favorite, especially washed down with Chang beer, a powerful (6%) beverage. I am also a fool for deep-fried air-dried pork covered with sesame seeds. It is almost like pork jerky but more tender and delicious. The spring rolls are different from those of China, filled with black mushrooms, sprouts and minced pork. There are many kinds of hand-made sausages, all very garlicky and spiiiii-cy! Follow it all up with chunks of sweet, fresh, juicy mango over sticky rice and covered with sweet coconut cream to cool the fire.
One downside of the trip was air quality. Farmers are burning the rice fields, as they must, three times per year. As we landed the night before, we could see fires everywhere. There was a blood-red-sunset haze and you couldn’t see the mountains in the distance. Next morning, my eyes were burning and before long, my asthma kicked in. I was reminded of my time in Japan and I had to haul out the old Albuterol inhaler for a few snorts to ease my breathing. I put on one of those masks that we bought at a street side pharmacy, but I think they almost make matters worse as there seems to be even less air coming in with it on than with it off!
Still, I hung on into the day and after visiting yet another temple, we stopped for fresh pineapple juice and then decided that we should take a break and get a massage. Our seven years in China have both Margery and me addicted. We have discovered the joys of Blind Massage and their ability to relax and take away fatigue and knotted muscles. In Asia, blind people are often employed to give massage and we have learned that they usually are the best. They seem to ‘see’ with their hands and have an uncanny ability to find and remove knots and relieve soreness. We found a place named Chiang Mai Conservation Blind Massage #2. It looked clean and inviting to us.
We paid our 220 baht (7 bucks) for 90 minutes and filed into a room lined with mats on tables. We were fully clothed. Fresh clean sheets were put down and pillows provided by sighted attendants. Three people entered. One felt his way along the wall and to my table. The other two, both female, seemed to know exactly where to go. Margery’s masseuse? masseur? whatever, massage person…was profoundly blind, with deeply sunken eye sockets and the stereotypical appearance of a person blind from birth. She was extremely soft spoken but carried on conversations with both her colleagues during the whole procedure. The other two people were chatty as well, paying attention to us only with their hands.
My guy had an extremely powerful grip and I knew immediately I was in trouble. He started with my feet. I can’t understand how a person can cause such pain with a fingertip. I grunted and asked him to be a little bit more gentle. Perhaps he had a hearing deficit also. After brutalizing my feet and calves and up to my thighs, he had me flip over on my stomach and commenced to reefing on my back, often bearing down directly with the point of his elbow. He found some spots on my shoulder blades that caused me to moan in pain. As I was gasping for breath, Margery’s massager turned toward me with a beatific and gentle smile. Both Margery and Fran burst out laughing as she advised me in a soft voice in perhaps the only English she knew,