Sunday, February 28, 2010

more of what we see

a photo of our room here in chiang mai, a little home away from dragon eye at the elephant temple...carson in the flower part of wararot market...offerings to the buddha and monks...leela cafe, "the best and special mojitos in chiang mai!"

Saturday, February 27, 2010

a day in the life...

It's funny all the different ways to travel. Sometimes we find ourselves in a rhythm of moving constantly, always on the go--long train rides and plane rides...which honestly can be exhausting. Our pace in Chiang Mai is much different than that. We have been staying put for the last five days, cuddled into our guesthouse with a little altar set up with our special things on it, a string of christmas lights with colorful fabric balls that turn the lights from white to all sorts of soft shades of purple, orange and pinks. we have a little balcony where the smells of the kitchen below frequently waft up to our room and remind us that we're hungry, even though we might not be. That's because we eat a lot in Thailand. We joked today how we are turning into hobbits of sorts enjoying breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, lunch, afternoon shake, and dinner with a mango sticky rice to follow. Well, perhaps we don't eat THAT much, but we wish that we could from how enjoyable it is to eat here. Today was a prime example of that. Waking up a little later than normal (10ish) we wandered up to a friends place, took a songthaw (*a truck taxi with benches in the back and a canopy over that for 6 people) to a brunch spot and had a leisurely 3 hour experience there with new friends. we wandered towards a temple that was recommended we check out with dogs laying in the grass, extremely old temples with stone elephant carvings around it that has a hair of the Buddha within! by this time we were getting hungry again and so we head over to the blue diamond where we sit down and enjoy some delicious khaosoi and a green curry fried rice! yum. another friend joins, then two more friends show up and 2 hours later we leave that restaurant. So the story goes on, but the point is clear. Some days are all about moving and traveling, and others are about relaxing and enjoying the company of new friends and food. Our niche here has really brought us to a place similar of what it's like to be at home with friends... except that hardly any of us work here, so we have lots of time to do things! Other things we are up to include a great anusara yoga class (of which i am recovering from today), lots of long walks around town, drinking the best mojitos in town, scouting out local markets, spa day, guys night and ladies night, starting our indian visa, and trying to make some decisions on when we're going to leave!

We are especially enjoying taking advantage of days like this because our conversation has been including India more and more these days. I have dreamt about it and we are gathering information of places that we must go. One possible plan involves us leaving Thailand in as little as a week. We are enjoying ourselves a lot, and have found a great community of people here that we really enjoy, and with all that said are getting excited and anxious about our first trip to the sub-continent of India. There is so much to see and do and experience that we feel two months will probably give us enough time to barely scratch the surface. Then again, when people ask us how long we will be in Chiang Mai we tell them anywhere from a day to two weeks. Everything is a little up in the air, as it usually is with us--which is how we typically like to travel :)

One final note of a neat experience that i had the other day....... we were visiting a temple on our way back to our guesthouse. and with a stunning twenty five foot high Buddha, I knelt to pay my respects. I started speaking words in my head acknowledging and appreciating the experience like i felt i should do, and then stopped. I just suddenly felt like instead of filling my head with words for the Buddha, i should instead stop and listen. what filled the space was not any words, but instead the sound of my own breath. I remembered in that moment the experience of being fully present, and that the present is all we really have. my breath brought me back to the truth of what i needed to receive from Buddha. (thanks Buddha!) I stood up and walked out of the temple without turning around again.

We hope everyone is doing amazing at home. Please feel free to email us if you'd like, you can reach us at carsonandmelissa(at) , or our respective emails. Much love to everyone, Carson (and Melissa)

Friday, February 26, 2010

a friday in chiang mai

buddhas and dragons from two different wats we visited this afternoon, a close up of the dragon's neck, melissa enjoying some lunch at the blue diamond, yellow flags through the wooden window poles, our new FAVORITE thai dish Khao Soi-the specialty dish of the area. soooooo good!!!! a lotus about to open, and carson enjoying a cup of local hill tribe coffee at our old fave restaurant, juicy 4u.

supreme pad thai

flags at night, bangkok --still-life

1. mango and sticky rice at may kaidee's, chiang mai (last night we met a woman from belgium who proclaimed that this was her favorite mango sticky rice in all of thailand, so of course we had to go try!)
2. golden buddha, chiang mai
3. clouds on a pillar, chinese temple, chiang mai
4. our favorite juice lady in bangkok
5. a temple in bangkok

message from a bottle

Asahikawa, Sapporo, Tokyo. These are names unfamiliar yet familiar always in legend and lore. Sitting in this bubble in the sky I am suddenly whisked away on an adventure I have yet to conceive of in scope. All the things that have been normal for me, standard in my life, are on a different playing field. Indeed, we are off traveling again! To where, not totally sure. When? Right now! How? Probably via many trains, some buses, a few planes, and throw a boat or two in to boot. Why? Such a good question, and one that I think we are still trying to figure out as well! Because we love to travel is the most obvious reason: the food, sights, sounds, smell, especially the people, the adventure, the unknown--it’s all so exciting. Perhaps there is an element of mystery involved as well that we are yet to discover. Some unknown pull that is leading us far away from most of our friends and family (love you!) for something that can only be known to us once experienced.

Kudos to Kelsey, Melissa’s sister, for not snoozing through her alarm clock as we did the day of our flight and waking us up 30 minutes before we had to be at the Bellingham airport. Some of those last morning preparations that we had planned to do got thrown to the wayside in those moments of racing around the house trying to get ready. After our final farewells we boarded the Airporter bus that transferred us to Sea-tac in those early, brisk morning hours. The flight has been smooth, highlighted by the impeccable service of Asiana airline hostesses (One is helping a very old Asian man down the aisle towards his seat as I write this) keeping us well hydrated and fed. I enjoyed Bi-Bim-Bab, a Korean specialty featuring pickled cucumbers, carrots, mung bean sprouts, rice, topped with sesame oil and chili sauce. Also featured was a fish soup which I tried and respectfully declined. I figure I have time to build up my sense of adventure around food--in this case airport meals are just training wheels.

We are definitely excited to get to our guesthouse tonight. We have one hour left on our flight to Seoul (beautiful name for a city) and after a 2 ½ hour layover we head on to Bangkok arriving at midnight. We are looking forward to seeing sunset tonight along the way as on this flight we have crossed the dateline and lost a sunset. That’s right, we left at 1 PM on Thursday and arrive 12:15 AM Saturday morning, with only one sunset between the two nights. Flying is an endlessly compelling mystery to me. I digress though, after getting a good nights sleep, we will be heading up to the famous weekend market in Bangkok. Melissa and I packed light with the intention of finding some treasures to style out with. Returning to the place that I once consumed live shrimp and saw a twirling whirling Thai man making iced tea. Melissa wondered out loud to me about whether we will see a lot of familiar faces on the street that were memorable for us last time. It has been two years since we were there and it feels…so long ago in some ways, and I know that upon arriving the smells and sights will be so familiar, probably as though it was only yesterday. We’ll find out soon.

We have our computer with us, our Flip video recorder, camera, microphone, and two very, very skilled provocative writers. We look forward to sharing our trip with everyone, and please feel free to pass on our blog address to anyone interested! Much love, Carson (and Melissa)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

to the rhythm of the trains

Blog #2

The sun rose a couple hours ago; we are sitting face to face on our 14 hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (south to north). We learned something on our previous journey to Thailand four years ago that we have already implemented: pay a (little!) extra money for the sleeper car, and enjoy yourself far more than you would sitting up all night in the seat car. Last night we walked onto our train at 9:30pm and already had our beds set out for us; Carson on the bottom tier, and me on the top. A clean white cotton blanket wrapped in plastic, white sheet, and a pillow. We sat together for a couple hours and looked out the window into small shack houses built right beside the train tracks; small train stations with a few people waiting for their train, monks walking, dogs lounging, snack carts ready to sell treats to the journeyers. It makes such a difference to sleep a few hours on a long trip like this! We both awoke around sunrise, and have been looking out the window into little villages, tangled jungle with bamboo, much cleared by burning the land (a practice the Thais do frequently which results in quite cloudy, smoke-filled skies). The sun is pouring in, and for the first time I am quite enjoying the luxury of our new little laptop! How novel to sit on a train in the middle of Thailand and compose a blog on our very own computer! (And also how nice to write when I am in an environment other than an Internet café paying by the hour!)

Thailand. Here we are. Day 4, we just realized, and it already feels like weeks! Perhaps it’s because we have been here before, much is familiar and so feels like a continuation of our last trip. We stayed at the same guest house in Bangkok: the Wild Orchid Villa, just off of the crazy (crazy! Crazy!) Khao San road and off of a little loop road called Soi Rambuttri. It felt “same same but different” there, similar surroundings but a different smell (I had remembered the incense smell from last time for the past two years, and didn’t notice it at all for the three days we were there), a little more expensive for our room, but the same cool lounge area and great location for walking around the area or hopping onto a river boat to take us to other locales. Upon arriving in Bangkok (which was very late, due to our three hour delay in Seoul) we drank a couple of coconuts from a street vendor at 4:30 am, then slept until about 11 am. Carson walked downstairs to pay for our room for another night, and promptly met Will down there, our friend from Portland! What timing! It was fun to see a familiar face right off the bat! We walked with him around the Khao San area and across the river, to a little organic café we remembered from last time. While we were there , a monsoon like downpour occurred, but luckily did not last long and instead helped in making the air in Bangkok feel a little fresher. We took a river boat that day down to the Chinatown exit. The river boats can be an adventure; upon every stop, the man in the back of the boat will blow his whistle shrilly several times, and then hop onto the dock as soon as he is in range. He ties up the boat, and then lets a flood of people off and a flood of people on. We mostly stood and laughed for our entire ride, amused by both the craziness and the efficiency of the process.

Chinatown is perhaps one of the more congested, hectic places to go on your first day in a new country, after not much sleep, and with jetlag. Aside from all that though, we had a great time wandering through the narrow pathways. First we walked through the knick knack area, hair accessories, fake hands and feet with cuts and blood, Halloween style masks, shoes, dolls, stuffed animals, nail clippers….so many things that you end up realizing you don’t need any of them! Especially when your backpack is already stuffed to the brim and it’s only your first day of a 3 month trip! J We then walked into the food area (which we visited last time we were here with Jeromi) and weaved our way through most foods that we have never tried, and some that we might not want to…..stomachs in brine, brains, sea cucumbers, other organ meats that I do not know, crabs with claws bound, fish, baskets of dried teas, hibiscus flowers dried, herbs, roots, gutted and hung chickens and ducks, fancy cakes white and pink for temple offerings…..We emerged out of that little tunnel to find a large Chinese/Thai temple full of people performing a sunset prayer of sorts. Everyone held a bundle of burning incense, and circumnavigated around the temple courtyard, bowing their heads in prayer to different buddhas and deities, with the incense smoke streaming up towards the sky all the while. Will walked inside the main temple area, and we stayed near the entrance and watched everyone, not sure if the looks we were receiving were because the sight of farang (foreigners) there was rare, or because we were intruding on a sacred, private space. We walked out and met a small older Thai woman and she explained to us that it was for the Chinese New Year (year of the Tiger!) that began a week ago. We wandered through some back streets until we emerged at a temple, with many booths set up of food (food is everywhere in Bangkok, at all hours, on the street!) and a carnival of sorts! We watched a cute little Thai boy and girl go round and round on a merry go round, riding a swan and a zebra. They would smile and wave at us each time ‘round (how precious!!!!) We marveled at the roofs of the temples, all covered in gold, sparkling in the sunset light and contrasted with the bright blue sky. We walked to the back of the temple area, and saw children painting little white ceramic idols, a ferris wheel with blasting Thai dance-style music, shooting games, and a blind man singing his heart out on his little speaker, drowned out by all the sounds of the fake guns and ferris wheel music. He was still singing his heart out though, mouth wide open, so we gave him 10 baht and continued on. We found a street market full of houseware items of any kind: shower heads, air conditioners, wrenches, TV’s, faucets, you name it. (And we were definitely the only non-Thai people there; how many tourists will need a shower head?!) We were starting to get hungry and overwhelmed but had no idea where we were, so we continued to wander and happened across a beautiful park! It was green and had winding paths throughout, a fountain, fresh grass, an elephant statue wearing garlands of prayer, Thai women doing an aerobics class, young men in a soccer match, joggers and walkers and children, and plumeria/frangipani trees (yum, they smell delicious and remind me of Hawaii!) It was a relief to find a bit of green amidst the business of the city. Carson and I enjoyed walking in the grass with our new Vibram Fivefingers shoes (quite a trip, they have a little pocket for each toe and are supposed to be great for running, hiking, yoga, etc but were quite a pain to break in on that long cement walking day!)

Luckily, we proceeded to stumble upon a vibrant and happening night food market, and I had a delicious som tam salad (spicy papaya salad) and Will & Carson found some special phad thai with fresh prawns, prepared expertly (watch for a video of that soon!) All fed, we meandered our way back to our Soi Rambuttri home, getting sidetracked into a path through some Thai houses that was masked by a thick ornate white wall (you would never know they were back there!) At first we were apprehensive to be three farang wandering, basically, through their homes, but we received several smiles from the Thai people we saw, so we assumed it was okay and perhaps even a pleasant surprise for them. We ended up coming out at the corner of the Grand Palace all lit up at night, and a statue of the revered and adored King silhouetted in light and a white throne-like background. The moon hung like a belly in the sky, and we found our way back to our crazy tourist backpacker haven of Khao San road. Every night there, we proceeded to feel more and more overwhelmed by the hecticness and extravagance of that area; so many foreigners come here (like us) because of an abundance of cheap lodging, lots of food, many many (many many!) items for sale, lots of bars and restaurants, and the happening day and night spot that it is. But this also means that there is a lot of excessive drinking and loudness, bright lights, pumping music, cover bands and artists, so many people trying to sell you something…..I have such opposite feelings about this area, depending on the mood I am in and my level of tiredness. That night, Carson and I both started to crash, from our lack of sleep and jetlag and just the sheer culture shock, that we went to bed soon thereafter.

The next day, the three of us took a lovely taxi ride all the way up to Chatuchak market, an enormous weekend market full of anything you might like to buy. On our way there, our driver took us by the King’s housing complex, very large in area and surrounded by a moat on all sides. On all four corners of the property were large ornate photos of the king, and guarding the outskirts of the property were armed guards every 200 feet or so. We looked through the wall as well as we could, and within we saw a beautiful forested area with paths, many buildings, and several dairy cows and a stable! The market was big, overwhelming, and very very hot! We saw dozens of little puppies, some the cutest little furrballs that hopped around and made even us want to take them home, though we have no home to call our own but each other and our backpacks!

Will left us that 2nd evening, and we continued to get more and more tired as the 15 hour time difference caught up with us. Yesterday we awoke with a start to some very drunk people outside our room (only a screen for a window for air circulation so we could hear everything). Really, how can people be so insensitive at 6am? They were yelling, slamming doors, and eventually puking for about 1 ½ hours. Finally we had had enough and got up early for some fruit and muesli bowls (papaya, mango, banana, pineapple, dragon fruit, oh my!) And then begins our day 3 adventure; getting Hepatitis shots in a foreign! Oh boy! We didn’t end up having time to do this back in the US, so I researched reputable places to get it done in Bangkok. We found a clinic near Khao San road that was cheaper than the US would have been, but was also twice as much as if we just went to the Tropical Diseases Hospital Travel Clinic (within a main Bangkok Hospital complex), across town. To save $60, we decided to do that. We didn’t really know what we were in store for, but it ended up being a good story. Here goes: We started out riding the river boat all the way from Pier 13 to the Central pier (about a 45 minute ride or so). It was a beautiful day; I really love riding the boat (even though I continue to hope none of the water will splash up on me, for the river is quite polluted) because, as with a train, you get such a different view from the water than you would from taking a taxi or tuk-tuk through the busy roads. We got off and took the sky train all the way up to the Victory Monument stop. We got out and wandered through a market and found the hospital complex. We asked one man, who led us to a woman, who walked us and asked another woman, who pointed us in a direction, where we walked into a building and down a hall to the “Travel Clinic” but there were no people there. A woman walked by and into a door and said “farang” (foreigners) to her co-worker, but by that time we weren’t sure what we were doing so we walked outside to the street. We felt discomforted that there were not any people in the “travel clinic” who seemed to speak English, or any clear signage telling us what to do to be able to talk to somebody about getting a vaccination. (the website of the hospital had seemed much more promising) We decided to walk back in and ask somebody. We knocked on a door, and said “Travel Clinic?” with questioning eyes (oh how we’d wished we knew how to speak Thai!) One woman said, oh oh! And called someone on the phone. She said rest here, so we sat on a bench for about 15 minutes. A woman came and got us, and led us to the OPC (out-patient clinic?) where we sat again. Then a very very very (very very!) nice (our favorite!) semi-English speaking nurse came up to us, and asked us what vaccination we were wanting. She led us out to the reception area where we filled out our info: name, birthday, country of origin, address in Bangkok, telephone number, occupation. They made folders and ID cards for us and we went back and sat in the waiting room. Then about 10 minutes later we got up and were weighed and had our blood pressure/heart rate taken. Then we sat down for about…..hmmm….an hour and a half. By that point I was very low-blood sugar and still unsure about this whole process, but Carson is a steady rock as he always is and suggested that I go outside for a minute and get some fresh air. That did help me to retreat from the verge of tears and “I want to go home right now!”-ness and be able to be more present to wait. We waited another half hour or so and then went into a room to see a doctor. He spoke fairly good English, and we showed him our vaccination forms from before. He suggested which Hep AB shot to get, and signed us off. Then we walked over to the pharmacy and gave our little slip of paper to the ladies in there (with help from two sweet Thai girls waiting for their own prescriptions, as all the signage was in Thai at that point!) They gave us a receipt, and we went to the finance desk to pay. Then we went BACK to the pharmacy and picked up our two little vials of the Twinrix vaccination and took those BACK to the OPC to wait for our beloved nurse to take us into the little clinic room and give us our shots (Finally! At many points during this experience, we both wondered, “Why didn’t we just pay more and get these shots a block from our guesthouse, where it would have been so easy and taken about 20 minutes?”) But something about sitting through this experience, and navigating through it in the first place, with the help of so many sweet Thai people who spoke very little English but guided us nonetheless, was really quite a breakthrough for us. Sticking it out, and doing something so out of our comfort zone and ordinary, helped to make us stronger! And our nurse, so sweet, had us sit for 20 minutes in the “Observation Area” to make sure that we were okay. We both had some soreness in our arms, but that was it. She released us with a huge, glorious smile as we bowed our heads and hands in prayer, saying “kap kun kah! Kap kun kap!” (thank you thank you!), and we walked back into the world, feeling all the more acclimated and relieved. We found a food cart with a woman roasting little mini bananas over hot coals, a cross between bananas, plantains and sweet potatoes. We bought 6 of them and ate them steaming with little sticks poked through for a fork. (So good! Finally blood sugar is revived back to normal!) We took the sky train to Siam Paragon, the enormous 5 story modern mall complex with the bottom floor full of restaurants and a gourmet food grocery store palace! (This was a favorite place of ours on our last trip, a little air conditioned haven). We had a lovely fresh salad bar, sushi, and snacks for our train ride. We took a taxi through grid-locked traffic back to Khao San, had amazing $3 half hour foot and leg massages (the best deal for $3 anywhere!!) and packed up our little room to head to the train in a tuk-tuk (our second tuk-tuk ride of the trip; this one very pleasant. Our one with Will the day before was with, perhaps, the most reckless tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok, flying through the streets at a harrowing speed, turning corners too quickly, and weaving in between cars so closely that I hoped we would all walk off the ride alive! Oh, but those kinds of rides are as exhausting as they are thrilling, and help to add a little spice to the trip, as well as a good story (and very funny photos of us with our hair blowing straight up from the velocity and the wind!)

Okay now, am I back to where I started? On the train, journeying to Chiang Mai. Only the start of our fourth day, but as I have described, we have done so much already that the journey feels epic in comparison to the length of it. I’d say after our hospital experience yesterday, we are finally getting acclimated (or acclimatized, as our Scottish family in France would say) to being here in Thailand. It is a lot to adjust to, even if we have been here before. The heat, the humidity, the concentration of people, the language barrier, the culture, the time shift, everything.
I am looking out over rice fields and a very hazy sky, due to all the burning and clearing of the fields. (We are hoping Pai is not this smoky!!!) Lately at every little village the train stops in, women will walk onto the train carrying trays and baskets of food for sale. We bought some tamarind covered in chili and raw sugar; I have seen little bags of white rice, fried legs of chicken, green mangoes in a bag with chili salt and sugar, some sort of sausage, orange juice, puffed rice crackers with drizzled coconut sugar and sesame seeds (my favorite!) My lungs are burning a little from the haze in the air. I am looking at Carson, wearing his cool shades and gazing out onto the villages and landscape so far from our home. He and I have started studying our little Thai language book (thanks Karolyn!) which is exciting, as even though we were here for 3 months on our last trip, we hardly learned how to say anything beyond hello and thank you. It is so relevant and important to try to learn to say more than that, and makes such a difference. I am in love with the smiles I see here; I’ve caught a few smiles from the train, looking out and connecting with someone walking by or in a train going the opposite direction; at that last moment, a glorious smile!!! Oh it really makes everything okay when I see a smile like that! And I am smiling too, because I really am happy to see them and connect in a way beyond language or nationality or borders or skin or history. Day 4, here we go!