Even when you plan not to plan, you can’t help still having…expectations. Faint and gossamer-like maybe, but nonetheless, underlying strands on which you expect your endeavours and adventures to be based. So whilst I didn’t know what I was going to do day-to-day in Chiang Mai, I knew that a) I had a friend here who would look out for me in the first few weeks if I needed it, b) that I could quickly start rebuilding my relationship with my body by getting fresh air, exercise and sunshine as I walked round markets, temples and other interesting vistas to nourish my brain and c) that I could quickly read and engage with all the improving texts and books I’d brought with me.
But the universe and I didn’t share the same views. It decided to sit me firmly down on my backside and remind me that there was no rush. And that no expectations really was the best way to be. And that I really didn’t have anything I needed to do.
Firstly, my good friend here had a family emergency, and has had to leave Chiang Mai to return home to the UK for Christmas. I feel desperately sorry for her, and despite us only having caught up for a few days was really sad to see her go. And one of my expectations was gone.
Secondly, after 5 days of mostly sleeping and feeling dreadful, I took myself off to the Doctor’s, and she diagnosed bronchitis, antibiotics and another 10 days of rest.
10 days! Unthinkable! I had things to do – edifying books to read, cafes to sit in, temples to visit! And I needed to start now or I’d never tick everything off in The Lonely Planet!
This expectation didn’t disappear quite as easily. The first day after the Doctor I really chafed. Well, when I was awake. I set my alarm, and got up and showered as if I was going out. And then I lay back down on my bed and went back to sleep. But I felt guilty when I woke up.
The second day, I didn’t set the alarm. I slept till the afternoon. I got up, had a read, and then had another sleep. Read a bit more, had a sleep. Watched the TV (‘Fox Asia’ the only English speaking channel), had a sleep. You’re getting the idea now I think.
And all the time, I kept thinking I had things to do. And that I should be doing them. That in some way things weren’t living up to my expectations because I was ill and staying in the apartment, not out there making the most of things. It’s amazing the list of obligations we can create for ourselves in the absence of other, more structured and traditional responsibilities.
And then I slowly realised that I didn’t actually have anything I had to do. Nowhere I needed to be. That the temples and cafes would still be there when I got well. And that in fact, some rest could only do me good in the long term.
Of course, this is probably all very obvious for you reading this (especially if you know me at all).
But whilst I don’t subscribe to things happening for a reason – ‘why me’ just isn’t a useful or valid question to ask – I do believe we can and should learn from our experiences. This illness has been a true white-space between the UK and Thailand where I’ve had some enforced rest, sleep, and read about a dozen books (all on GoodReads if you’re interested).
I’m not at the end of the 10 days yet (that’s Christmas day…), and I’ve started to go out for small excursions (like coffee), but there’s still plenty of room for sleeping in my day. And I intend to keep it that way.
On a lighter note, several people have asked me for some details on what it’s like to live here. Yes, I am drinking bottled water (and I think I’m ok for the reminders on that one now thanks!). In fact, the water’s not potable here, so everyone buys water. Once you have a container, it costs about 10p for 5 litres, and I can buy it from a vending machine in my apartment block. Not too onerous…
In terms of the locality, I’m staying in a more residential area, with mainly Thai people around. The apartments have some western travellers of different kinds, but there are also young Thai professionals living here. The restaurant downstairs, ‘The Salad Bar’ also has a real mix of locals and visitors. It’s pretty close to the town Stadium where you can go at any time and use the facilities. At most times of the day and night there are people walking or running round the track, and a busy, community feel. It’s a nice place to be living, as it’s away from the real hustle and bustle of the tourist / city areas, but easy enough to walk or get transport there.
Chiang Mai was originally surrounded by a square moat with city wall, and the moat (and the odd bit of the wall) remains around the old city. The moat is really clean – in fact, generally I’ve been really impressed by how clean the city is overall, not that I can claim to have visited much! My apartment is a few hundred yards North of the top of the moat, and it doesn’t take long to walk into the old city and explore. Of course, you have to cross the ring roads to get in – I’ve started to be brave and just walk across, and trust that no one runs me over. I’ll let you know how that works out….
If not walking (or on a scooter/bike), you can get either a Tuk-Tuk or a Songthaew (‘Song-Tau’). A tuk-tuk only takes two people, and so is like a taxi (ish) and is therefore more expensive. A Songthaew is like an open-backed mini-bus, with two benches of seats inside, which anyone can flag down, and creates its own route depending on where the passengers it picks up want to go. This is really cheap – the last ride I took was only about 20p, but it’s slower because you have to go where other people want to go first. Of course, if you’re in no hurry, that makes it much more interesting.
Trapped in my apartment so much I’ve eaten my own food for the majority of the time so far, which I’m pretty sure is more expensive than going out. Mainly this has consisted of scrambled eggs and cheese sandwiches – yes, you can get bread, cheese and eggs here no problem (in fact, eggs, weirdly popular). The first thing I ‘made’ in my kitchen was a scrambled egg sandwich with my microwave and a borrowed spoon and bowl. I even spread the butter with my spoon. Very Blue Peter. Crockery and cutlery are on the list for some of my excursions soon.
Things I like less here are the ants. They are everywhere, even in my third floor apartment. You can’t leave any food out, especially sweet things as I have learnt to my cost. The mosquitos have also found me, despite my DEET infused repellant. Others (people not mosquitos!) who’ve been here a while don’t wear it, so I’m hoping they’ll find me less tasty soon – I currently have at least 10 bites…
It’s still very hot – about 30degrees in the day – but I’m amazed at the number of Thai people who wear heavy coats. Everything really is relative.
In other news
- I have only seen my Gecko a couple of times since the last post, he mostly lives behind the sofa. I loved the name suggestions, and was very impressed with the creativity! If I see him again I think I’ll try out Eddie (L)izzard and Gocke (though ‘Gordon’ was highly tempting too…)
- I don’t have a tan yet, but do have ‘a bit of colour in my face’. At the (very relaxed) massage place I’ve been to, they said I was ‘very white’ several times, although seemingly in an admiring way rather than derisively, and I opened my eyes at one point to see one of the other girls (not involved in my massage) stroking my face and saying ‘very lovely’!
- There’s not much sign of Christmas where I’m living, but in the tourist areas there’re a few bits of tinsel. They look all wrong against a blue sky though.
- Please do send me Christmas comments/emails/facebooks! I’ve loved the responses so far, I’m really grateful for your interest and kind words, and will reply to you all individually soon, the bronchitis has definitely slowed me down.