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June 10, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I have so many things that I want to write about right now. So, I’m going to just throw some scattershot thoughts out there for a bit.

If you have ever wondered what became of all of the old Singer sewing machine frames and treadles, rest-assured. They are not occupying landfill space. They are all in southeast Asia, repurposed as table legs. Many of the treadles still work, so it’s kind of fun to rock them with your feet as you sit down eating your food or enjoying an iced coffee.

Speaking of food, I went to the market in my little village this morning. There is a large, open-air space that is covered with a tin roof on one edge of town. Each morning, vendors can be found selling fresh vegetables, herbs, and meat. The meat is about as fresh as you could hope for, the animals most likely having been slaughtered the night before. Next to the different cuts of meat that are still being butchered, there rests the head of the unfortunate pig. The chickens are either sold whole, or in pieces. Beef, fish, other fowl such as ducks are also available. I wandered through the stalls marveling at the abundance of fresh produce. Last week, I purchased a toaster oven, an electric pan, and a rice cooker, all second-hand. I then went to a small general store and bought other supplies for my “kitchen”, such as a knife, cutting boards, bowls, and spatulas. I realized that I have not cooked anything (hot water over instant ramen does NOT count) since early December of last year, and I really miss it. So, even though it will probably be more expensive for me to do so, I want to prepare some of my own food. But, walking through the market today, I didn’t buy anything. I realized that I am intimidated. While I recognize many of the ingredients available, I am stopped because I don’t have little jars of spices with names in English at home. I don’t know how to ask for anything without pointing. I don’t know what herb that is they are selling. And I just know that if I do buy meat and vegetables to make a dish, I’m likely to forget something and it’s not going to come out right, and then there’s the storage issues and I’m going to have to clean up without a proper sink and all kinds of other excuses… Basically, I’m being a coward.

On the bright side, I discovered a small café/food stall that offers khao kha moo, which is stewed pork leg over rice. It’s one of my favorite dishes over here in Thailand. It’s served with chopped, pickled cabbage and sliced boiled eggs. On the side you’ll find a savory and spicy red sauce to add. It’s absolutely delicious. I have had it in the city of Chiang Mai several times at the stall operated by a lady in a white cowboy hat who was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show. But I didn’t know where to find it in the village of San Kamphaeng, where I currently work and live. So, it was a nice find. I’m building a small collection of favorite places to eat khao soi, pad kapow, khao man gai tod, and pad thai.  I’m now almost confident enough to order these things without having to consult my pronunciation list, although I still screw up from time to time.

If I wish to become fluent in the Thai language, I’m going to have to dedicate time for lessons. I’m also going to have to lose my ego and just go ahead and start asking for help. I’m going to have to let myself make mistakes and have people helpfully correct me. In one way, it really helps me to be patient with my students, knowing how difficult it is to remember the words. These past couple of weeks I have been drilling my second-grade students in names of family relationships. “Father, mother, sister, brother”, etc. They have gotten those down pretty well, but are having more difficulty with “parents” and “children”. It’s repetition that is key, and the fact that I oftentimes cannot remember the Thai word for some object or food really helps me to empathize with my students. I’m possibly going to make flash cards for myself to practice remembering the words and proper pronunciation.

The ride into Chiang Mai from San Kamphaeng was beautiful. I am still in awe of Doi Suthep, the mountain on the west side of the city. The way that the clouds come rolling over the top of the peaks, shrouding them from view is still mesmerizing. I grew up and lived most of my life in flat parts of the country. While I did live for a year in the Mohonk mountain area of New York state, and then a few years in northern Virginia close to the Shenandoahs, I’m still taken aback when I see the majesty of the large, looming outcroppings. Chiang Mai area is surrounded by mountains, and the topography creates some interesting weather patterns. I hope that the weather isn’t the rainy variety when I get ready to ride back home later.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in the Nimman Road area of Chiang Mai while I’m writing this. I rode into town to meet someone that I connected with on a certain dating website. She’s also American, a few (okay, several) years younger than me, and it’s simply a friendly meeting. I’m cool with that. From our online conversations, she seems to have a great sense of humor and is wickedly sarcastic. She just sent me a message to let me know she’s walking this way. (For the record, Danielle, if you get to read this, I checked my phone, not to see if you responded to my message, but to remind myself of your name.)

That’s all the time I have for this post. Still have lots more to talk about. If you have anything in particular you would like me to write about, let me know. I’ll try to work it into an upcoming story.

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