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October 2, 2013

Many Cities Rolled Into One

Tom McLaughlin

Chiang Mai, Thailand – The old city of Chiang Mai, founded in 1296, is in the shape of a box. The founding fathers, or I guess emperor, fortified each side with moat and large brick wall for defense.


The town grew up inside this square. As Bangkok grew, more people moved to Chiang Mai, followed by the westerners. Now, it is an Asian city populated by Americans and Europeans. Chinese tourists have started to flock here because of a love movie filmed here. Very few Thais seem to be around except for those in the service industries. Our trip advisor has said it is one of the 25 best tourist destinations, but I really don’t know why.


There is one road I will call Temple Road, because it is filled with magnificent Buddhist temples, one after the other on both sides for about five kilometers. There are many, many others scattered throughout the city. I wanted to find a guide to explain the top five temples, as it were, but none were to be had. It would take months to properly visit each one, but a worthwhile venture. I wish I could have had a detailed analysis of just one or two.


Another road I will call Alcohol Lane because it is lines with bars, hundreds of them. They are about 10 feet wide and 30 feet deep with a long bar and stools. There are two or three small tables out front. Each serves about the same menu with the exception of a national dish thrown in. The English one has “bangers and mash” added. The American one has “hot dogs,” and the Norwegian has kippers and something. You get the idea.


There are many westerners retired here. Their pension goes much further in renting a house or flat, food cost and with the weather, there is no heating bill. Unfortunately, many of them report to their respective bars at opening time and don’t leave until closing. Loneliness and being a stranger in a strange land is a very difficult adjustment.


There are also a few retired Americans leading productive and enjoyable lives. I have met two famous writers, I promised not to tell because this is there hide-a-way, people who have formed or joined organizations to stop trafficking in children, the protection of elephants, the rehabilitation of prostitutes and other members of the sex industry so prevalent in Thailand, and a major tourist attraction. Some teach English in schools because as Thailand marches forward to become a developed country, English will be required.


Another road, I will call Animal Avenue is probably the most disgusting and abhorrent area in the world. It is divided into parks where inhumanely treated animals are forced to put on shows.


There is the monkey show where small simians are dressed like humans and forced to perform. The crocodile show has a human sticking its head in the jaws of the beast. I hope it snaps shut.


There is another one with a person lip kissing a Boa Constrictor. The saddest is where one can have their picture taken with well drugged full grown tigers. People lie down next to these magnificent beasts for photo opportunities.


We were accidently taken into the non-paying part of the show (I don’t read Thai) and watched this spectacle. A branch with some palm leaves on the end is rattled above the head to make the tiger sleepily look up for a photo op.


We went to the butter fly farm. Inside, these critters fluttered all around us as educated young Thai ladies would point and explain the habitat and tell us the species and common name. It was wistful relaxing afternoon as we sat unwinding, softening and watching with my 2-year-old son looking on with amazement.


More to come…


. . . . .life is good. . .


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