Life in Chang Rai

Today is Thursday, July 16, 2015 and it’s been almost two weeks since I last wrote. I could say it’s because I don’t want to overload you with writing so often but it’s really a small collection of more mundane reasons: 1) I’ve been pretty busy and 2) I’m a terrible procrastinator, and 3) there haven’t been a lot of new and interesting things to report.

It’s the rainy season here in Thailand (July and August) but it hasn’t rained all that much. Every day I check the Accuweather report for Chiang Rai and every day it predicts rain with thunder and lightning. Maybe it’s raining somewhere around here but not much wherever I have been. Last week I did take a chance and rode the motorcycle into town. Unfortunately, I lost that bet and had to ride home in the rain but fortunately, it was only sprinkling and the bike protects my legs and feet so only my shirt and face got wet. Also, I was really careful on the drive home.

Speaking of the motorcycle, I just have to get a face shield. I am really tired of getting smacked in the face by bugs and there are LOTS of bugs, especially around sunset for some reason. I usually have to clean my glasses afterwards but at least I have glasses. Do you know how to tell a happy motorcyclist? By the bugs on their teeth (bah-da-boom). I definitely ride with my mouth closed!

Bugs notwithstanding, I prefer to ride the motorcycle to the truck except when it’s raining or when I have a lot to carry (think grocery shopping). It is orders of magnitude easier to find a place to park and gets a lot better gas mileage. Also, riding the bike is cooler and I don’t have to use air-conditioning.

Another thing about bikes in general is that there are a lot of bikes on the road and most of them ride in the strip along the left side of the road. Oh yeah, they drive on the left over here which was not as hard to get used to as I thought it would be. You just have to watch out when making a right turn (think about it). Anyway, those riding in the strip off the main part of the road usually go much slower than traffic and often have two (and sometimes three or four) people on one bike. It’s not uncommon to see a man in front with a woman and baby behind him. No helmets, of course. I have a name for people who ride bikes without a helmet, organ donors.

When riding the bike, I usually ride in the lane with traffic, most often in the slow lane unless I will be making a right turn or a U-turn. Highways are interesting because they are largely divided so you cannot make right turns where you want unless it is a bigger intersection. Instead, they have U-turns about every kilometer or so with a turning lane so at least you are out of the fast traffic lane.

And now that I’m thinking about traffic lanes, on the highways here in Chiang Rai, drivers mostly respect the lanes but not always. In Bangkok, lanes seem to be taken more as a suggestion. Lots of drivers straddle the lane lines perhaps thinking that this gives them the chance to switch to the more advantageous lane as needed. In very heavy Bangkok traffic, the expressways end up with cars in each of the defined lines plus ad hoc lanes on both the left and right sides. Basically, they ignore the lanes and fit as many actual lanes as possible in the space available. If you are an anal-retentive rule follower, driving in Thailand would drive you crazy.

One interesting thing I have noticed here is that the drivers are, in general, more interested in what works than what the rules are. I have seen (and actually done it) motorcycles in Bangkok riding on the line dividing two directions of traffic. No big deal; oncoming drivers see you and just move over a bit. There is a lot of the “move over a bit” here to accommodate vehicles and other obstacles. Another think is how they use the horn. In the US, the horn is mostly as an audible way of flipping someone the bird. Here, it is a signal that you are here and that someone should pay attention. They are usually short beeps just to say, “here I am, be careful.”

Still there are at least as many stupid and inconsiderate drivers on the road here as anywhere. I don’t remember how to say it in Thai but they have an expression that refers to farmers driving and indicates that the driver is unfamiliar with the task and/or is not paying attention. I’ve found that to be true to some degree in Oregon as well. Having grown up in and around Los Angeles traffic, I would describe the drivers there as aggressive but capable while Oregon drivers are, in general, not aggressive but also sometimes not really paying attention. I’ve noticed, when driving down Interstate 5 to visit family and friends that once you get about 200 miles from Los Angeles, the aggressiveness of drivers on the Interstate increases in inverse relationship to the distance to that city.

Back to Thailand. I am trying to establish some kind of routine here but it has not been easy. I am still getting settled in though that is mostly done. A lot of my day seems to revolve around food, making it, buying it, and eating it. Restaurants are nice and not expensive. I found one not far away (7 Km, I measured) that is a hot pot buffet. In the middle of every table is a single “burner” induction stove. If you aren’t familiar with induction stoves, the stove itself isn’t heated but a metallic pot on it is heated electrically via a magnetic field and only the pot heats up. They work really well.

Anyway, at this restaurant, you take a selection of meats and vegetables and they give you a pot of broth. You bring the broth to boiling and add the meat and veggies and when it is cooked, ladle it into your bowl and chow down. You can go back and get more, it is a buffet after all. There was a good selection of meats, veggies, noodles, and even eggs (no selection, there were chicken eggs only). And the grand total was about $5 US.

I didn’t initially know what I was to do or the protocol so I just stood there. My Thai was limited but with a little bit of Thai and a little bit of English with some physical instruction, I got the idea. A women at another table helped also. When she saw I was taking the cooked food to my bowl with the small Chinese-style spoon, she brought me a ladle. Now I know and I will be going back, it was yummy.

There is another restaurant even closer. It’s an organic restaurant and it appears to be a family business. Any of three ladies, including the cook herself, will come to take your order. It’s not a huge menu but everything I’ve tried has been delicious. They have what they call a Vietnamese Salad which is different kinds of lettuce, julienned carrots and other salad-type veggie that they wrap in a rice paper at one end. It ends up looking like bite-sized salads with a handle on one end. You get a plate full of these along with a home-made dressing that includes chopped peanuts and some diced vegetables that I can’t identify. Spoon a little dressing on and pop the whole thing into your mouth. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it (or maybe because it’s dinner time).

Maybe in my next post I'll write more about how my diet is changing over here but for now, like I said, it's dinner time!

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