December 9-22, 2016
Arriving in Chiang Rai, My Condotel
For entire duration of my stay here in Chiang Rai, Thailand I have decided to stay in a nice place called the Condotel. As the name implies it's a combination of a condo and hotel. There is an outdoor pool and a large work out area. I chose this place largely because of the workout area. They have 3 yoga classes each day 5 days a week. For 400 baht ($11.50 USD) I have unlimited classes for for entire 2 weeks here. Not too bad, huh?
My room is a very large studio, about 450 sq ft. I have a king bed, sofa, coffee table, dining table, full kitchen, and large bathroom. I also have a nice balcony overlooking the pool. A large screen TV, cable, and a DVD player is included but will get much use.
After having gone to a handful of classes already i can say that I absolutely love this teacher. I am the only guy in a class of a dozen and a half (sometimes only a few show up though) thai women. There have been a few westerners joining in though. The classes are taught in Thai and I have to pay close attention to her to make sure I don't fall behind.
Her yoga is very demanding, we hold poses for 5 breaths, which equates to 15 seconds or so. We are constantly moving, which is very unlike western-style yoga. We spend a lot of time going through the same postures, each time going deeper. In western-style yoga we cycle through maybe 15-20 different poses and only spend 60% of the time in the poses whereas here we only practice 10 or so poses and spend the entire time in them. The breaks we do get are spent in downward-facing dog...not much of a break, huh? I can now count down from 5 to 0 in Thai though. ---the type of yoga is known as Ashtanga Yoga.
First Impressions of Chiang Rai
I absolutely love this city. My favorite in Thailand for sure! SO rich in culture, and unlike Bangkok, is such an easy city to traverse. It did take me a while to find a motorcycle rental. The city is not set up for tourists, unlike Chiang Mai, which took a few minutes to find a rental place. I finally had to settle on the only rental facility I found. I asked for the cheapest bike, which she quoted was 250 baht a day. After some tough negotiating--and even me walking out only to return 30 minutes later--did we agree on a price of 130 baht ($3.7 USD) per day. I rented it for my entire time here, just so I had the option. My motorcycle is a 4-geared kick-start that's probably 20 years old. Nice!
.....My bike ended up working pretty well. It stopped running a few times, but I got the hang of how it worked so with the help of a nice passerby I was able to learn how to get it up and running again. A car had stopped while driving by and saw that I was needing help. Without hesitation the guy got out of this car ran over to me and helped. I'd like to believe this stuff happens in the US, but there isn't a chance in hell this would happen (not in most places)! One more reason I'll live here in Asia long term!
The city is reminiscent of Chiang Mai, though a fraction of the size and with much less traffic. There are some western-style cafes and restaurants scattering the city but most of the town is still very Thai. While riding my motorcycle around looking for dinner I quickly noticed how many places there were to eat--the vast majority open air dining.
Most people here do not speak english but they know enough to make it easy for westerners to get by. For the first time in Thailand I feel like I'm actually traveling again. With the exception of their main "Walking Street" westerners are hard to come by, though they are found here and there. Many of them are likely expats living the dream here. I can see myself retiring somewhere here in maybe 10 years or so. Well I don't mean "retire"...what I mean is maybe opening up a daycare, or cafe, or guesthouse and living partially on that income and slowing down my pace of life. Here is a place that one can be truly happy. People are friendly, community-based, and it's just wonderful.
Off the main walking street every night there is a night bazaar with chachkies for sale, mostly from hillside people. It wasn't anything unique, but still interesting, espically if you haven't been to a few dozen before.
Saturday Night Market
I decided to go to the Saturday Night Market, which was a good choice! However i'm not sure I'll go next weekend. It was enormous. Not as large as Chiang Mai, but maybe with more people. At least the density made it seem that way. It was so crowded that foot traffic went in only on direction as at a snails pace. After walking down one road I had wanted to turn around but was not able to. I had to wait another 10 minutes to get to the next break in stall, cross over onto the other side of the street and then spend 15 minutes snailling my way back to my starting point.
There were food, clothing, and trinket stands. However the clothing wasn't touristy in nature. Vendors were selling jeans, jackets, and typical clothing that average Thai people wear. The shopping mall is a western, and mostly American, concept, so many people in eastern cultures buy their clothing at markets like these. They aren't swept up my branding and packaging. This is why a pair of new jeans cost 150 baht ($4.25 USD). Makes you think how little clothing actually cost to produce.
Being packed there still weren't many white people, maybe a dozen I spotted out thousands. I saw families, friends, and romantic interests enjoying the wholesome environment of the Saturday Street Market.
The star players of the Market were surely the food vendors. The food was reminiscent of Chiang Rai but much more authentic--I only saw one waffle stand. Sushi is a common thing I've found throughout SE Asia. Usually you pay per piece, which ranges from 5 to 10 baht. I saw half a dozen of them scattered throughout. Fried chicken, friend noodles (pad thai), fish balls, salted fish on the grill/spigot, fruit stalls, just to name a few. They even had the cow patties, made from black/purple rice that was common in Myanmar.
After being stopped 3 dozen times for yet another asian to take 5 selfies I had had enough and left the market.
During my second time at the Saturday Market (since I was here for two weeks) I almost walked into an entire group of people in front of me. I hadn't noticed but it was 8:00pm sharp and a loudspeaker had just started playing what must have been the national anthem or some homage to the former king. Everyone joined in in the chant as they bowed their heads. Every single man, woman, and child participated. People buying food stopped cold with he money in their hands and vendors stopped cooking their chicken at once...letting their it burn. I had taken a dozen or so steps before looking around and realizing it was everyone in the entire are that had stopped. I paid my respect and followed suit. What an interesting thing to have witnessed. Oh, Chiang Rai, how I love your authentic Thai Charm!
I took a day trip out to see "Wat Rong Khun (Thai: วัดร่องขุ่น), perhaps better known to foreigners as the White Temple, [it] is a contemporary, unconventional, privately owned, art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand." It was a short 30 minute ride south west of the center of the city. It was a weekend and boy was it busy. I was discouraged but still went in. However most of the awe can be gotten from the outside. The motorcycle trip was a bit cold since the sun had not quite come out yet and my long sleeve button-up wasn't enough to keep me from getting the chills. Anything colder than upper 70s is cold for me now! I wonder how long it will take for my blood to thicken once returning stateside?
The temple was nothing short of spectacular. Unlike any other temple I've seen in Asia over the last 9 months this particular temple was built primarily as an art installment. It's free for Thai nationals but cost 50 baht for foreigners. The creator asks for donations but does not accept donations larger than 10k baht as he does not want to be influenced by any one. Again asian tourists with selfie sticks all over. There were 50 asians for every westerner. It's times like this that I have had enough with Asia. Honestly I think it's the 1st world Asian countries that have beginning to annoy me. A large quantity of Chinese and Koreans tourists tend to come in droves and I've witnessed them destroying everything in their path...pollution and not respecting wildlife. I have been reconsidering visiting China. If I go I want to avoid the larger cities and stay in the rural villages. There is a horrible stereotype about Chinese drivers which SHOULD not be applied to everyone, but there is some serious truth that it. Chinese tourists seems to have no concept of space and their surroundings. They will in front of you, spit right in your path, shove you aside etc. It's actually quite remarkable!
Mongolian BBQ seems to be very popular in this area, something we had noticed in the northeastern Shan state of Myanmar, which is actually very close to here). The restaurants charge around 190 baht ($5.4 USD) for all you can eat, which includes vegetables, meat, and seafood. You cook the food in front of you. I very much like this dining feature. It's healthy and very social. Chinese hotpot, Korean BBQ, Thai steamboat, and many Vietnamese dishes all involve cooking/preparing one's food at the table--this is something I plan to practice quite often when I'm back stateside!
Found a fun little hang out place a few streets east of the main walking street. Though I was looking for a snack or dinner I quickly learned they only served beverages and fried dough. I ordered a "Glutinous dumpling in hot ginger ale" for 20 baht ($0.57 USD). It was similar to a tea but had a much fuller flavor. It wasn't overly sweet but it mast have been sweetened. I really need to learn how to make that back at home! Inside the hot ginger ale (tea) were 3 glutinous dumplings. They were scrumptiously chewy and filled with crushed peanuts. It was truly a flavor explosion in my mouth and an experience I only hope that my Sylvie will be able to experience.
I wake up and go to yoga first thing (8:30am class). Then I either go for a motorcycle ride, read, swim laps, meditate, or go to a cafe. Then I go to another yoga class at 5:00pm. I typical take food back to my condo to eat but I ate out on 3 or 4 occasions. I find that no restaurant has been able to come even close to the quality and taste of the street food. I have been getting a massage a day (Thai and foot mostly). However on several occasions I've gotten 2 massages or a 90 minute massage. The massages are 200 baht ($5.50) and I've been spending between $5 and $7 a day on food.
It seems that prices on everything are 8 to 12 times more expensive in the United States than here in Thailand. However salaries on only 3 to 5 times higher in the US! Quality of life is better here in Thailand, no question!
Reflections on Life/This Trip
For as long as I can remember I have been driven by my thirst for knowledge. In the west, Science is the tool, or pathway our culture relies on to learn things. Science if a fabulous thing but I think we, as people, have gotten lost, because we are lazy--our unwavering science has pushed our technological boundaries further and further but at what expense...and so what? We're driving blind in a car (our life) down a highway (our world). Let's say science are the mechanics of the car, which is required to have the car operate. You can make that car drive faster, turn quicker, and have better fuel economy--you still cannot answer the important questions. Who is driving that car? Where is that car going? Who choose its destination? What path will it take?
Everyone wants answers, and reasons for life, and a greater purpose, etc. It's why we identify with trivial things like what country we were born in, what our religion is, what our family history is, what music we listen to, etc. None of these things actually matter but we choose to identify with them because we're scared and we feel a need to belong and identify with something greater than ourselves--to give us purpose. Humans have used science for great things, however sometime over the last 100 years it has become the de facto means in uncovering our reality. Though science we have 'debunked' ideas that cannot be recorded, measured, charted, and archived. Science has allowed us to rid the world (or limit its impact) of astrology, religion, philosophy, chiropractic medicine, and other fields and other fields that make scientific claims but without the science. However there are things that science just can't answer. Not everything important can be measured. However we are faced with a real problem because we have mistakenly turned science into the barometers for human progression. We, in the west (and oh so so so much in America) have a habit of needing to stay busy, be productive, show results, etc. Science is great for this. However it wasn't until this 16-month-long life journey (9 months in Dharma-centric cultures) that I learned I had it all wrong.
We put science on a pedestal because is can answer all the questions we were taught to ask. We live in a culture that focuses on careers, salaries, promotions, buying, shopping, etc. This nasty consumeristic practice unique to America is so all-encompassing that it takes being fully removed from it for a very long time to see how destructive it is. When we tear down the walls of consumerism, pop culture, luxury, greed, etc. we find much less use for this science of the west. When one can learn to be happy with only the clothes on their back and food in their belly everything else doesn't hold much weight. Using science to create a faster computer is a nice convenience but convenience in itself can be very destructive. Your grandfather's story about having to walk 5 miles to school each way (both times up hill) actually had a purpose.
When we rid ourselves of material goods and pleasures we can focus on more meaningful endeavors. I am using the word pleasure and not happiness because happiness is stable and is not dependent on something. Pleasure is something that is experienced for a short period of time, usually in response to a stimuli (gambling, drinking, new TV set, good food, entertaining movie). Most things that create pleasure can be/are destructive. However we tell ourselves that in moderation it's not a big deal. That's a fight for another day.
We can finally rid ourselves of the American cultural tendency to focus on progress, money, and acquiring wealth. My primary motivation in the past was financial in nature. It's the reason I got my BSE and MSE in only 4 years and why I moved to Memphis, TN and then again to Philadelphia, PA. However after 16 short months I have a new primary motivation--Happiness.
When one puts happiness as their main goal in life problems we thought we had don't seem important any more. We stop asking others what they think and what culture deems appropriate and we start looking inside ourselves. Compassion, empathy, kindness, love, simplicity, patience--these are the important qualities of life that science can't even dream of coming close to touching. It's true that through science we can measure brain waves of someone experiencing one of these emotions, however that is like saying you know what it's like to experience the nth dimension because simply because you received an 'A' on your string theory examination.
As a culture we need to learn from our neighbors in the east. Wealth, higher education, individualism, trust funds--these things don't bring happiness. Let's change our external searching behaviors and refocus those energies into self introspection. Let's teach our children how to be happy when they grow up instead of asking them what they want to be (career wises). Of all the 60+ countries I've visited, just maybe with the exception of Bolivia, the United States is by far the most unhappy country. But "oh boy" wouldn't our teacher be so happy...we have the highest salaries around and isn't that what our schools are for?
East vs West
I think, in the long term, I would like to live in the east. Here are just a few of the many reasons why (and this is based on living in the east for over 9 months):
- Life happens outside (not in the comfortable a/c of our large homes)
- Work-Life balance (like you couldn't even believe until you have experienced it here yourself)
- Things cost what they should (quick motorcycle chain repair, $10. Why does this cost $100 in the states?)
- Larger sense of community (homelessness doesn't exist)
- Smaller sense of individualism (why is it that people always say, "I did this all by myself". Or look at Steve Jobs. Do people actually think we live in a vacuum. Jobs stole much of his work from Sony, but even so he had a team of thousands of people.
- More culturally accepting (America is one the WORST places for cultural diversity. Yes I said that! Hey America, wake up! Cultural diversity does not mean you went out for Indian food last night, you have a black friend, and you know 10 asians. If you live a different lifestyle in America people will often gossip and judge)
- Happiness means something here (in the US happiness is just a word and comes second to work and social obligations)
- People practice modesty (for the most part) here
- Most people are atheist and don't leave things "up to fate"
- People don't rely on pop culture and TV to deceide their opinions for them
- People don't obsesses about things that don't impact them directly or are out of their control--thanks to Eastern philosophy. (In America people obsess about politics, new TV shows, etc.)
- People are happier here, smile more, are more helping
- The culture isn't obsessed with progress for the sake of progress (In the USA if it cannot be measured, charted, or articulated, it doesn't count)
- Eastern religions crease a sense of tranquility
- It is SO much safer in the east. I leave my helmet, food, property in my motorcycle during the day/nights and no one bothers to take other people things (This sense of greed is largely a western thing)
- People are happy with what they have (In the states people are always wanting more; money, property, stuff, etc.)
- Life is slower in the east, but more meaningful!
- I love Asia, even you India!