Eternal Summer’s Version of Christmas

It is that time of the year again where the night sky is lit up with tiny lights and images of people bundled up against the cold get plastered on the side of every established business. Songs about melting snowmen and chestnuts roasting over a fire play over the lobbies of hotels and speakers at gas station all around the world. Kids bundle up in new pajamas as they make their lists for toys that they would love to have from the jolly fat man from the north, and parents fight holiday crowds and their bankbooks to make those dreams come true.

It is truly a magical time of the year.

I will admit that when I was younger that this was my favorite time of the year, and probably contributes a lot to my love of snowy days. One of my fondest memories growing up involved a Christmas Eve blizzard that trapped us in our house on Christmas day. I was very young at the time and I always thought that it had to snow on Christmas Eve and the light flurry of flakes that fell that evening as I walked outside in my new Christmas pajamas to pick up the night edition of the paper confirmed this belief. It started out innocent enough, but when I woke up on Christmas morning there was a big surprise of a couple of feet of snow that had not been on the ground before. I don’t remember at all what I got that Christmas because the snow was the greatest gift we could have ever recieved.

I have since grown up and after many brown Colorado Christmases, I now know that snow on Christmas Eve is not a guarantee. In fact, there are many places in the world where seeing snow on Christmas would be considered crazy. Some of the more memorable ones I have spent in recent years have come while I have been on the other side of the globe in Australia and New Zealand. It was a strange feeling enjoying the holiday in a place where I knew that it would never get cold.

I am soon discovering that this year will also be one of those years that will not have a chance of feeling like the picturesque holiday season. It won’t be completely bad because Thailand loves to celebrate this holiday just like any other country in the world. The malls are packed with people and deals, and they tend to pump Christmas carols everywhere you go. The stores also try to outcompete each other to show who can make the brightest of all of the holiday light shows. I wasn’t expecting it much, but I did feel that magical spirit start to bubble up inside of me while I walked around downtown and viewed all of the Christmas displays wherever I went.

The only difference is that I will never feel that cold that I so cherish this time of the year. I won’t even feel a cool breeze that might hint at a chilly Christmas evening. The closest I will be able to get will be to turn my air conditioning on high so I can bundle up under a blanket and watch some Christmas movie where they get to experience a white event. Despite this small problem, it will feel more like Christmas than a lot of places around the world. There will still be the people taking the time to spend with each other, the children excited about the arrival of Santa Claus, and the endless celebration that takes place during the month of December.

I know I am looking forward to it either way, and I hope that wherever you find yourself this holiday season that you are able to make the most out of this month as well. Have a great holiday season, and I will let you know about what is happening in the land of eternal summer as I enjoy mine.

Black Friday

Ever since I have moved overseas, Thanksgiving Day does not mean as much to me. It is not that I do not appreciate the holiday. It is just that the holiday is a very American experience and other places in the world do not celebrate it or even acknowledge its existence. Because of this, I have had to work on the past six Thanksgiving Days, and after the sixth time, it is hard to get excited about this day.

It fills me with sadness when I recognize this fact because for a long time it had become my favorite holiday. It was the one day where we stripped away all of the pretentious behavior of our daily routines, and get together with family to share a delicious meal and make memories. There was also the looming consuming beast of Christmas looming right around the corner, but we could put that aside for a moment to just enjoy being with the people we love. I know that other countries have holidays that are comparable to this, but it is hard to get into the spirit of them when they jump out at me from nowhere and I am expected to understand the traditions of these days. The traditions of my past are the ones that stick with me and which I yearn for every year around this time.

There are other Americans at the schools I have taught at that help to keep this tradition alive. I have had one Thanksgiving dinner already and I will be experiencing another one this weekend, and I appreciate that people take the time to make sure that this holiday makes it across the ocean. But since I have moved to Asia, I have started a new tradition that makes me just as happy. It involves the day after Thanksgiving which in the United States is one of my least favorite days of the year. It is not because I am working off my turkey coma or I am depressed because I find myself without my family again. It is because I believe that this day brings out the worst of Americans as they push and shove to get crazy deals on crap that they really don’t need. It is fodder for the television news broadcasts and every year it gets just a little worse. Hopefully, with Covid ravaging the land, people will take it a little easier this year, but the current state of things has proven that many people would not let this tradition pass them by no matter what danger may loom in a crowded room.

The way I have avoided the pain of this day is to take in the meal that I usually miss because I have been stuck at work during Thanksgiving day. I have had the fortune to have the next day off, and the Asian countries though they ramp up the shopping experience during Black Friday, it is no where near the insanity that can be found in the United States. The restaurants are still open and this is a great day to hop from one to the next as I indulge in a little bite at each one. It allows me to get out there and see a bit of the holiday spirit as it takes over the community while not fighting with people over a bunch of stuff that doesn’t really matter in the long run. This is the tradition I would like to see take off for this holiday. We need to step back from this idea that stuff will make Christmas perfect and look back at the holiday we have just enjoyed. It is about family, and all holidays should take Thanksgiving’s tradition to heart. This is what my new tradition would be about because you do not go out to spend money on people, but you meet up with them at various restaurants to enjoy their company.

I hope you all found yourself in a wonderful spot on this holiday and that you are taking the precautions to be safe during the next month. Be thankful for those people you have in your life no matter where they may be.

The Bookstore Experience

If I wish to know about the culture,
I just need to find the local bookstore.
The imagination, here, they nurture,
And discover what these large tomes are for.
All the mythology and history
Gather together in neat little rows.
Here I can unpack a new mystery
As my knowledge of the old country grows.
Opened books come with an enchanting smell
Of adventure and anticipation.
Within its musty pages I will dwell,
Exploring all the corners of this nation.
On my trips, it’s a box I like to tick
‘Cause reading is a hard habit to kick.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

As I close up on this vacation, I reflect back at the great time I was able to have in this northern city of Thailand. According to Wikipedia, it is the country’s second largest city, but it is so much smaller than Bangkok and so much more intimate. I do not feel the hustle and bustle that goes on constantly in the country’s capital, and it reminds me more of the city that I grew up in. It does not only have to do with the mountains that are always looming to the west of the city, or the slower pace that the city likes to enjoy. But it is the smaller town atmosphere that comes with Chiang Mai. Though it does sprawl along the base of the mountains, it does not feel like you are very far from any place else and if you wanted you could walk across the main parts of the city and come across a few people that you know while you are doing it.

I also have to count myself lucky that I landed in a country that has a variety of cities to go and visit during this uncertain time in human history. Thailand has done a wonderful job of keeping this pandemic out of its borders, but it is doing it by making sure there are strict rules set in place about who can enter and under what conditions. It is also stressed on everybody the importance of frequent temperature checks as well as wearing masks to keep the whole population safe. Things have loosened up every day because of these precautions, and even though wearing a mask is sometimes a little annoying, it is a small price to have to pay in order to enjoy these freedoms.

I also feel lucky that I am able to enjoy the sunsets over the beach towns in the south of Thailand during one excursion and turn around to enjoy the cooler mountain air of Chiang Mai on another one. The temperature out here has never gotten to the point where it is too chilly to go outside, but it was definitely cooler than the oppressive heat that we have been experiencing in Bangkok.

As we head into the holiday season in a part of the world that celebrates it a little differently than what I am accustomed to, it is nice to know that we have moved on from the quarantine struggle at the beginning of the year, to a time where I can go out and enjoy what the holidays have to offer. I still miss the opportunity to take a quick trip to my home country, but I know that as things progress that there will be a day that I will be able to see it again, and it means that I just have to take in stride all of what this part of the world has to offer me while I am here.

Even though it is a part of the world I have been to earlier, and I am already planning on coming back again for the lamps during New Year’s Day, it is nice to be able to take in Chiang Mai a second time around. The first time I was out here as a tourist, trying to experience all of it that I could as fast as I could, but this time around I get to savor the moments a little more. I was able to revisit the places I really enjoyed the first time here, and I got to find new places to look for the next time I am out here. And I found those little things that made it an even better experience, the art that amazed me, the people that made me feel welcomed, and the signs that made me laugh because of their loss of translation. It has been a great trip, and I am happy that I have been given opportunities to take moments like this when they are not always available to everybody.

No matter where you are, things will open up again some day, and we will be able to travel the world again. Until then, make the most of what you have and enjoy the experiences that are given to you. I have, and it has made life just a little more interesting because of that.

Wat Sri Suphan, Buddha’s Man Cave

From the first glance, the temple looked like any other temple you would have seen anywhere in the world. Yes, it has a unique design, and it was made purely out of silver, but it was still an example of how too much could be spent on something that was intended to give a religious figure praise and attract thousands of patrons to bow down in homage. All religions do this, and it is a marvel to see the designs that are produced from the various faiths.

But Wat Sri Suphan is not a temple that should be passed by quickly. You need to take a little bit more time to really inspect what is going on in this temple that was built on the site of a sacred older temple in 2004, and it took into consideration the modern age when it came to its design. From the intricate artwork carved into the silver to the wooden steps leading into the main part of the temple that looks like water pouring out of the doors, there is always something to look at.

Unfortunately, this work of art is only open to men as there are many signs at the entrance that claim that women are not allowed to enter. I know it is not fair, and there is still a lot on the outside of the temple to keep everybody entertained. There is also a pair of virtual goggles on the outside that women can wear to see what it is like on the inside, but it still doesn’t do it justice. One must go inside to truly appreciate the design that went into making this temple.

Upon entering, you are greeted with even more beautiful pieces of art, but that is when you start to notice that things are not quite what the seem in this temple. Is that an electric guitar that this sea deity is clutching on to?

That’s when you want to take a closer look at all of the pieces of art found in this place. You start to recognize what appear to be space ships zipping around on the floor, and you start to think that this can’t be right. There shouldn’t be U.F.O.s in a Buddhist shrine. They have to represent something else. That is until you start to see a couple of these ships filled with aliens, and pictures of aliens etched into the silver on the floor.

The surprises keep on coming. The designers must have been Stan Lee fans or Stan Lee himself because pictures of the Avengers start popping up. It makes you wonder why these were placed there in the first place and what they have to do with this ancient religion.

And why are the faces of these modern day heroes portrayed proudly while the face of Jesus is turned around from one of the most iconic locations on Earth. The list on bizarre things continue. It becomes like one of those pages in the old Highlight magazines where you had to find all of the items hidden in the cartoon picture. You can list them all down and you could spend a day looking for them all. There are the seven wonders of the ancient world, the six wonder of the modern age, important cities from all around the world, Thai mythological creature, and Buddha himself. By the end of the time spent here, it becomes one of the most memorable sites in all of Chiang Mai, and worth going to no matter what your gender might be.

The whole thing makes you wonder if the place wasn’t designed as a luxurious room for Buddha in the first place, a little man cave where he can feel comfortable with all of the images that surround him. Or was this just a place where they let middle school kids have a little fun as they design a temple? Either way it is a great place to visit and is a must see for anyone visiting Chiang Mai.

The Man with the Purple Socks with Golden Doughnuts on Them

The center of town is the place where most tourists come to when they visit Chiang Mai. It is the place that holds all of the wats that they want to visit, and has the best restaurants, and sites. The most impressive site is a a large wall that surrounds this square section of town the sits over an ancient moat. The moat is all there and they maintain it nicely, and there are still a lot of the sections of the wall left but mainly on the corners of the square and at the places where the ancient gates used to be. Despite it being a cool thing to check out, it is also a way of designating places as they are located near certain parts of the wall. This is how I ended up at the North Gate Jazz Co-op last night.

Jazz clubs can be an interesting place to go to because the term jazz is used very loosely these days. It can mean anything from rap, rock, blues and what most people traditionally think of as jazz. The problem with this definition is that most of the time, you do not get to see jazz at these clubs because it is the one style of music that brings in the smallest crowds. The places try to fancy themselves up as a lounge that really has nothing to do with the origin of the music style, and most of the artists that play in these clubs are good but could never let the moment take over them as they let the music just pour out of them. It isn’t like the traditional places that are holes in the wall with a small stage and musicians showing up to join the house band to make some great music.

The North Gate Jazz Co-op is one of those places in the world where you can experience a more traditional jazz experience. They do have bands that are scheduled to play at certain times and they are strong musicians with great musical theory that allows them to explore a song for all that it has to offer them. The musicians progressively get better as the night goes on. You can tell that sometimes the musicians have not played with each other before and they don’t know where they can take a musical thread. There is a lot of handoffs with the song and nods of approval as moments of brilliance are played out on the stage. And there are the special guests that have just popped in and join the band for a song.

This is where the guy with the purple socks with golden doughnuts on them comes in. He stood on the periphery of the club the whole night and would have been easy to miss if it wasn’t for the fact that other guests came up to him to get there picture taken with him. The other musicians would step away from their songs to talk to him for a minute before making it back for their turn at the mic. He seemed like somebody important, and it was in the middle of one of the sets that he finally showed his worth.

I know it is not the best picture of the guy but if you look closely you can see the socks I am talking about. Despite the fashion choice, he did grab one of the mics and impressed the crowd with his ability to improvise a scat mixed with a rap. It was good, and the crowd loved it. After his one song, he returned to his seat and the rest of the set went on as normal.

It begs the question as to who this guy was. Is he a famous Thai singer that just happened to be in the area that night and decided to join in for a song like what happens at all of the great jazz bars in the world? Was he a local favorite that happened to stop by and would do so again in the near future? Was it just some random guy that convinced the band that he was good enough to join them and proved it with his chops? Or was it a musician that plays at the Co-op from time to time and just decided to come down this night to have a little fun? I have no idea but it added a little flavor to the evening and made a great experience even a little more fun.

The North Gate Jazz Co-op is a must if you are in town. The music is great and it is a favorite of locals and tourists alike, and you never know who might pop in to share in on the fun.

A Different Pace

This has been a different kind of trip for me. A lot of it has to be because I have already been to Chiang Mai and I have already been to most of the tourist destinations, and I would rather spend the time relaxing by the pool and going out to eat at many of the great restaurants that are out here, and there are quite a few of them. I have not gone to the smaller local ones yet, but I have already had some great Thai, Italian, and Mexican food and there are plans to get some Khao Soi and go to my favorite place out here, Rustic and Blue.

It is funny that when I have been to a place before the tourist sites don’t hold the same kind of sway over me, and I would rather look for a place to unwind. This does not mean that the vacation has been a total waste of time. We all need those moments of relaxation, and some times when we go to a new place, we are so busy trying to get the most out of the moment that we forget that sometimes our bodies and minds need that downtime.

That doesn’t mean that I still do not see some beautiful things and enjoy the moments that I have. It just means that I take them at a different pace. It might mean that I am starting to get into the spirit of the tropics where everybody takes things a little slower because the heat just makes it harder to put forth the effort. It might also be the current situation in the world where places are not able to push that tourist mindset because there really isn’t tourists anymore. There are only locals who have already seen what there is to see.

I no longer see the groups of people walking around with their cameras trying to capture each moment so they could look at it later. It might be the reason that I have taken less pictures myself. I flip through my phone and I already have these pictures among them, so why should I sit down and take them again. It is easier to just take it slower and enjoy the moment without having to record it for prosperity’s sake. This is part of the reason that even though this trip as centered around a lot of eating, I have not taken many pictures of the food I am about to eat. I am too hungry to make sure that I take a picture of it, and by the time I am halfway through the meal, I realize my mistake. But on the other hand I am satisfied because I have enjoyed a great meal.

I do apologize if this trip seems a little more boring than usual, and there are plans for it to pick up, but for right now, it is the perfect pace for me. I know I will have to get back to the hectic pace of being a high school teacher here shortly, but for a brief moment, I can enjoy the fact that the world’s pace has slowed down a bit, and I can take that in for myself every once in a while. I know this pandemic has stressed a lot of people out lately because it has forced them to take life at a different pace, but maybe it is not such a bad thing. This go, go, go attitude that we have all subjected ourselves to might not be the best thing for us. It may cause us to miss the things we would notice if we slowed down for a bit. It will give us the pause to really appreciate the things that we have and not worry about what don’t.

Stay safe out there, and enjoy those moments however they may come to you.

A Day in a Bookstore

I know they are all over the place, and it does not make a big destination spot for people going on vacation, but I have always loved bookstores and I look for them when I go on vacation. It must be the English teacher in me. They are the place where I can lose myself and I can spend hours in one of these places combing the various cases, looking for that one book that will hold the next adventure I get to read.

I usually try to avoid the big chains because they are all the same. When you have visited one of them, you have visited all of them. Barnes and Nobles comes to mind when I think of this. Granted there are some of them that are more open and airy, but the only thing I am going to find in one of these stores are your typical bestsellers and reproduced classics.

There are some megastores out there such as the Tattered Cover in Denver and Powell’s in Portland, Oregon that have some deeper cuts. Powell’s adds a new flavor to the mix by selling used books as well as new and it is easy to really get lost in either of these places. They usually have a coffee shop in them as well that adds to the enjoyment factor and will keep me in the place a little longer. The Tattered Cover partnered up with Twist and Shout, one of the last music stores in America, that forces me to split my time between the two places, but I always enjoy the day.

Things get a little more difficult when I visit bookstores in a foreign country. It becomes increasingly difficult to find books in English. Of course, I could use this as an opportunity to learn the language of the country I am by reading a book written in that language, but it was hard with Korean and even more difficult with Thai. Of course the bookstores I find usually come with books on how to learn the language, but I have enough difficulty with the apps that I am using to try to pick up some of the language that I am pretty sure the books would be just as useless to me. There are a couple of used places that are nice, the best one being Dasa on Sukhimvit in downtown Bangkok. It is a skinny little store with five floors to explore filled with well loved books and a variety that can’t be found anywhere else. I also found a nice one in Hua Hin that a nice selection of books but most of them were the pulp fiction mysteries that most people bring with them on vacation and then leave behind as orphans after they are done with them.

The best bookstore that really highlights the culture of Thailand while giving a wide selection of books happens to be a chain brand. It is an Asia Books in Chiang Mai. You never know what you are going to get when you walk into one of these bookstores. Sometimes they are huge with a wide selection, and sometimes they are so tiny that they only focus on a couple of titles and a bunch of games for kids. The one in Chiang Mai is the only one that has a section dedicated to Thai history, culture and literature. Of course, you can always find some of this in the other stores, but nothing like you can at this one. I like it because every book I read about Thailand as well as living out here give me a little more perspective of the place. I have read a lot about the last century but I know that there is more to this country than that. Yesterday I found the depth I was looking for at the bookstore. I was able to add a book of folk tales to my collection that will give me insight about the history and culture here that came before the 1932 revolution, and I look forward to learning more about it.

It is not the exciting thing to write about with your vacation, but I do recommend stopping at these places when you come across them. You will find that you will learn more about your travels by going to a bookstore rather than just absorbing the culture around you.

The Same Town Second Time Around

It was only a year ago that I was in Chiang Mai and I even find myself at the same hotel we were at last time, the Shangri-la. During my last visit, we stayed here because we wanted to pamper ourselves a little bit, and even though that is part of the goal this time around, it was not the main reason we decided to stay here. Hotels are having great deals right now because they are competing for what little tourist dollars are out there considering the only people who can visit right now are the ones that are already in the country. For a country who has 40% of its economy based on tourism, this means that there are a lot of great places that are empty right now.

It is nice to stay in such a beautiful hotel, but we are not spending every minute here to get the most out of what we are paying per night. We still spent a day at the pool because it is a great pool and it is a wonderful way to unwind after a tough quarter at school. But we did not spend the whole time at the hotel. We have gotten out a couple of times and enjoyed more of what this city has to offer. It is crazy what you notice when you go back to a place you have just recently been to.

Small little things you see make you laugh because you are no longer looking at all of the sights. We saw this advertisement in the airport and at first glance it looks normal, but after a second glance, it is obvious that it was not written by a native speaker. First off, I know that there are a lot of Swiss people who live in Thailand, but I wonder what language that they believe they speak there because they have included it as a language on this poster.

Secondly, I am not quite sure what they mean by “Female Native Speakers”. Does this mean that they should be females, and if that is the case, I would hope that they rethink the picture that they used to accompany this picture. Or they are native speakers that know how to speak the females, in which case the guy in this picture starts to look even creepier.

There is also some really good street art going on in certain parts of Chiang Mai. I didn’t really pay attention to it the first time I was out here, but I have been surprised by the little corner I turn around and find these masterpieces waiting to show themselves to me. This has to be one of my favorites, a Bansky inspired piece that really speaks to the culture and people of Thailand that no other piece could.

I have travelled to a lot of different countries and places all over the world, and it has always been a great experience. Sometimes I enjoy the trip more than other times, but I always learn something new from going to these places. But rarely do I get to make my way back to certain places and really absorb the culture there. Many places I have been to top my list of places I would like to go back to someday because they hold a special place in my memory, but rarely do I make it back there. It is even worse that those select places where I do make my way back to, it takes me many years before I am able to get back there. I guess one of the advantages of the current situation is that I get to make it back to places in Thailand and really absorb the culture here. If it wasn’t for that, Thailand would have ended up being a hub for me, a place that I could jump off to so I could see other places in southeast Asia. I am glad for the chance to really experience the place I am living in now and get to know it better. It was one of the reasons that I decided to go into international teaching in the first place, and even though at the time I first made that decision, Thailand did not top my list of places that I hoped to know more about, I am glad to have landed here during this tumultuous time in world history.

When it gets back to that time to travel the world again, make sure you take advantage of it. Until then, take the time to really get to know the corner of the world you find yourself in. It may surprise you how rich it is in history and culture, and it will help you appreciate it more.

Back in the Air

For those of you who follow my blog, you know that on a regular basis I am making my way to the local airport to take a voyage to various places around the world. With a pandemic taking over everywhere, this option has not been made available and I have not been on a plane since last January. Though I do not miss being packed into a tiny cabin with thousands of strangers and trying to find a way to entertain myself while trying to get comfortable, I do miss the opportunity that this minor inconvenience allows me to take. I miss the excitement of travel, going to see things I have not seen before, and eating new food and having small adventures. I get that this is not the way of the world right now, and there are people that are making bigger sacrifices to get through this trying time, but it has been my way of recharging my batteries and getting ready for another long stretch as a teacher. So when the first break came along this school year, I hopped on the opportunity to get out of Bangkok and visit another part of Thailand. Granted I only voyaged to a place where I have been before, Chiang Mai, but it is nice to have a change of scenery.

This was also the first time that I have gotten back in a plane for a long time. It was only a one hour flight, but it was nice to know that this part of my life was starting to boot up again. Of course there were come concerns. Is it safe to be in a cabin with recycled air with so many people? How will things be different? Are they going to be as strict or will there be even more regulations, making air travel even more annoying than it was before?

Would there be some benefits? Would they separate us even more on the plane, giving all of us a little more room? Would they stop with food and drink service because it would require us to take off our masks and it was only a short flight anyways? Would getting off the plane be more organized without people pushing and shoving each other to beat each other off the plane?

Well, all of my questions were quickly answered. It was basically the way it was before, except everybody was required to wear a mask, and we had to wait for them to dismiss our row before we could get our bags and walk off of the plane. I actually liked that part. There are places in Asia where it is ridiculous to get off the plane. As soon as they land, people lose their minds as they try to be the first person off of a plane, even if they are seated all the way in the back row. I have had people shove me out of the way to try to make it one or two rows further up and get off the plane a couple seconds before me. I get the idea of wanting to get off a plane quickly, but I think when you do this, it only slows down the process, and lowers the respect I have for humanity in general.

As for the recycled air, I did happen to watch a piece on the nightly news the day before we left that demonstrated that air travel is actually safe, and even though you are seating right next to a person, they way they move the air through the cabin makes it like you are seven feet away from each other. Basically all of the air is pushed to ground and they are constantly bringing new air in from the top of the plane to replace the air that is being pushed out at your feet. All small air particles are pushed down away from places where you could get infected by a deadly disease. It was reassuring to hear this, but I have gotten sick after many plane long plane flights, and wondered how this explanation could account for that. Luckily this was a short flight, and I can’t recall having the same problem with my health on flights like this.

Overall, it was a quick, easy, and now very affordable way to get to my destination. I am still not able to leave the country because of a fear of being able to get back in, but it is nice to know that air travel is an option if I want to use it. I noticed that many international flights were cancelled yesterday as I looked for where I checked in, and hopefully someday these restrictions loosen up as well. Until I can see other nations of the world, I will continue to explore this great country of Thailand.

Until next time, be safe, and experience something new.