Siamese Xmas: FlÂneuring Thaixtures, Riding the Bamboo Snake, Reading Super Cell Anemia and Getting Inked at Bloodhound
Twas the Night Before Xmas
Drunk and battered, we caught the midnight train from Phitsanulok, arriving in Chiang Mai the next morning. We debated whether to go to Chiang Mai being that it's so touristy, but what the hell. I actually liked Chiang Mai. It was a good flâneuring city, with copious wats, good restaurants, funny dogs and lots of eye candy. A good place to spend Xmas eve, or more importantly, our 12th anniversary. We did what we liked to do most, which was to flâneur aimlessly.
Wired for Buddha
Besides the usual touristy stuff, which I'm sure you can find plenty of pictures of, I was fascinated by the telephone and electrical wires that would meet at these ratnest nodes.
Thaixtures of Chiang Mai
There were also a lot of interesting textures in the walls and on the ground.
The Thais are big on tattoos. A lot of the guys have them, even monks. I was inspired to get something. I cant' find a photo of the finished product, but you can kind of tell from the video below. I didn't have anything in mind, but told the artist Bo I wanted something to go with my current ones, and he appropriately gave me a book on aztec designs to peruse. So I kind of designed my own thaiztec fish/rooster/eye abstraction from it. I'm sure it will surface in a future photo.
TREK = DUMB
Xmas day we decided to go on the requisite hill-tribe trek. It was pretty dumb, but whatever, it's just something you have to do. We were packed into the back of a truck with some other backpackers, two Irish lads, a Kiwi living in Oz, a Swiss woman living in Canada, a Singaporean woman, some honeymooning Kenyans that were living in Bangkok, and us, the Americans living in Kenya. Funny how there's so many people living elsewhere in the world. These sorts of things you learn more about the rest of the world than you do where you are trekking through.
We followed the same tired circuit that every "trek" followed. First stop, elephant ride. We felt stupid and bad riding on the backs of these awesome creatures, but you just have to embrace these things I guess. The elephants would reach back every five seconds demanding a banana—pretty funny when you could just see the end of the trunk like some sort of snake making breathy noises like Darth Vader. It would be cool to have a trunk, but not as cool as a tail.
Then we went to some waterfall and had lunch and began the trekking part of our "trek." Jess and I were hoping to at least get some exercise out of it, but no such luck. We just kind of mosied up a hill talking with all the other foreigners on the trail (our group kept morphing and combining with other groups). We got to the village, which was nothing really that exotic. But then again, we go to a lot of rural "villages" in Africa. The villagers seemed to subsist on catering to mzungus or gringos or whatever the Thai version is. We stayed in some hut and they cooked us some mediocre food and sold us some of their crafts.
A bunch of kids came to sing for us, but they seemed really bored like they were forced to do it every night but didn't care because there was nothing else to do. In response we sang Christmas carols back to them.
We slept on the floor, some dozen us of us packed in a quonset hut. A couple of people were snoring so it was hard to sleep. The things people do for "fun." We got up and left the village and "trekked" back. After being crammed like cattle into a truck and then fed, we were put on these bamboo rafts that were assembled right there on the banks of the river. This was the best part of the trek actually. Our raft was sinking and we were laughing so hard we almost fell in a few times. Jess and I were stuck with the Kiwi, who was a complete screaming maniac. The Kiwi that looked like a rugby-playing Tom Selleck, sporting a shirt with a big rainbow-colored cannabis leaf on it that said something like "I smoke pot." The Kenyan couple and the Malaysian woman were on another raft that was hellbent on sinking us.
Somewhere along the way, I read Super Cell Anemia by Duncan Barlow. Not that it is at all relevant to Thailand or this trip, but he gave me the book a long time ago and I hadn't gotten around to reading it and figured this was as good a time as any. Upon cracking the cover, I even discovered that he thanked me in the credits. Brian Evenson and Laird Hunt both blurbed the book, which was appropriate enough, as to me Duncan's writing style is like a hybrid between the two—macabre as Evenson, while being noir-sleuthy like Hunt.
Gilles is the electrically charged (literally), obsessive-compulsive, germophobe hero/anti-hero. He periodically needs to chomp on copper strips to diffuse excess charge that builds up in his body. This strange condition provides a certain tension to the book—when you're reading for a while and he hasn't discharged, you almost feel yourself charging with him, in need of release. In a paranoid and hyper-aware state, Gilles navigates through a world of bizarre characters including a calico-cat man, a strangely sympathetic landlord and his confidante Dr. Moore who strives to understand Gilles' ailments, though he appears to have ulterior motives of his own, to use Gilles as his guinea pig. And there's his love interest, Charlie, through which Duncan exposes the strangeness of human dating (when you stop to think about it) by breaking "contact" down to a molecular, germ-obsessed level.
I actually finished and left the book down on the beach in Krabi for some unsuspecting soul, the day after Xmas which was the fourth anniversary of the Tsunami, and I was watching a show on Thai TV on how animals can predict Tsunamis. In light of this, some of the wisdom Dr. Moore imparts on Gilles was especially interesting:
The book is full of such interesting well-researched anecdotes, that usually don't seem too forced or tangential. And even if they distract from the "story," what is it we read for anyway, these morsels of sensory interest? At times it was almost like reading an archaic lecture, or one or those old juju-science books like Devils, Drugs and Doctors. He even lists out categories in the book such as anthroposoph, psychosophy and pneumatosophy, which further break down into sub-categories of
Appropriate enough for the censory name of this blog. There's even a bar in the book called the Frayed Knot—I'm assuming an inside reference to my favorite joke about the piece of the string that walks into a bar and orders a beer. Though the first mention it's called the Fayed Knot. There were a number of distracting typos in the book actually, which reflects on Afterbirth Books more than anything, and there's twelve pages of unsightly ads at the back of the book. Somehow this otherwise literary object got pulped, which I guess might make sense for it as it does fall somewhere in between (i.e. not overly pretentious or high-brow, but not mindless trash)—making it a good poolside read.