Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, has quite a different “beat” from Bangkok. It’s still busy and tourist-friendly (in fact I’m ecstatic to report that I’m using a super-fast satellite connection from the Internet cafe attached to my hotel), but not nearly as crowded or as mercenary. (The tuktuk drivers, for example, only want to charge you *twice* the going rate, which in Bangkok is practically giving the house away.) Handicrafts are clearly a major theme here–the tourist brochures are dominated by advertisements for handwoven silk, handmade silver, various hilltribe crafts, and so on. Also elephant trekking, hilltribe treks, and trips to nearby countries (Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia), plus the ubiquitous “massage houses”, though they’re (mostly) more discreet than the ones in Bangkok. it’s also a lot cheaper here than in Bangkok; I have a room with fan, hot shower, and air conditioning for 150 baht/night–plain but quite livable.
My contact here is Phil, who’s a friend of the body painter’s. Long silver hair pulled back in a ponytail, forties to late fifties, nice guy although I only talked to him briefly this morning. (He’s nocturnal, because he deals a lot with the West Coast of the U.S., but stayed up “late” to help me get in from the train station.) He’s active both in textiles and on the AIDS circuit, so it will be interesting talking to him about the sociological aspects of AIDS in Thailand, and the local handicrafts. He’s also going to introduce me to a friend who is a textile expert…I can’t wait.
On the train down I “met” a 20-year-old American (Syracuse U) college student traveling with a friend of his, and arguing over the meaning of life in what was very clearly one of those 3am college conversations. *sigh* Very friendly, totally clueless, puppy-dog, wanted to know all about the subtle differences between Chinese and American cultures, but didn’t understand a single word as far as I could tell. Very much like a hyperfriendly puppy that simply will NOT go away (I finally had to get rude). it made me cringe, thinking about my high school days when I was probably just the same.
On the flip side, I’ve had a lot more fun since I realized that at any given point, I’ll consider my five-year-younger self a naive idiot, and that there’s therefore no point in trying to play conservative (a daring naive idiot has more fun 🙂 ). Sure, five years from now I’ll probably cringe, looking back at this particular trip–but at least I’ll have photos of a painted barbarian to console me. 😉
Speaking of which, I’ve put together the first draft of the little “tiara” I’m making for my hair for the barbarian painting. It promises to be quite nice (and exactly as I visualized)–it’s a set of five handmade sterling silver leaves, in gradually descending sizes, which I’m wire-wrapping with a coil of wire I bought on one of my crafts expeditions. I may replace the center leaf with a large jade cabochon, I aven’t decided yet. Depending on the color scheme Richard uses, I may also have to spray-paint it gold, although turning sterling silver into plain costume jewelry seems like an awful sin. We’ll see how it works out.
Off to go exploring…owing to a small panic this morning (I left a shopping bag on the train…with my digital camera battery charger in it…so had to go back to the train station and try to communicate the idea of a lost bag in mime–fortunately my hotelkeeper helped me out by explaining in Thai), I haven’t yet had time to really explore the city.