Chiang Mai Stamp

I bought a card at Chiang Mai Stamp, a line drawing of an elephant brushed on mulberry paper. Elephants are everywhere in Thai culture, having been relied on for centuries in war and for logging and transportation. This morning I realized that I didn’t know how to mail the card.
On my way back to Chiang Mai Stamp, I passed this goddess.

I love how she is placed to hide and protect the red standpipe behind her. Why shouldn’t beauty stand beside the ugly? This seems more practical than trying to design things which are at once functional and beautiful, the western approach. Sometimes we succeed, but usually the functional and the beautiful dilute each other.

Most shops and homes have a place like this somewhere outside for offerings of food, drink, and incense.

Small industrial and craft operations are common in the city. You are never far from a motorbike repair shop or a tailor. Here is a paint shop farther down Ratchaphakanai Road.

At Chiang Mai Stamp, I asked how to mail the card.
“You need stamp.”
A young woman was hopping about the shop. She had shortened arms extended at an unusual angle and seemed to be the owners’ daughter. She made several loud cries, and, after each, her mother responded, closing a display window once and moving a telephone to a different place. The daughter came close to me. “Kaak! Kaak!”
“She wants you to shake her hand,” her mother said. I bent over. The girl took my hand and didn’t let go.
“Kaack,” I said, more softly.
“U–U!” She let go, and squatted on her heels. “KAACK!KAACK!KAACK!” It was a pleased sound, like a giant macau who just ate the best mango ever.
The mother applied four different stamps to the envelope and a piece of tape to close the back. “28 baht.”
I paid and asked directions to the post office. She looked out the window and pointed to a red mail box.
“Ah.” We were all pleased.
The language of the heart is universal. After days without conversation, it was good to be reminded of that.

Laughing, Remembering

Arthur Fink’s story of his interview
with the U.S. military draft board
during the Vietnam war:
he came exhaustively prepared
to argue for concientious objector
status. “Any physical ailments?”
“My right arm does not pronate.”
The doctor bent Arthur’s arm up
at the elbow and tried to twist.
“Hmmm…you’re right.
You are disqualified.
You are unable to serve.”
“What?! Why not?”
“You cannot salute properly.”

Blue Diamond
Chiang Mai


Lichees, Sleeping Buddha

A nice way to start the day, a fifteen minute walk to Blue Diamond, across the moat and past a street market where monks in orange are collecting alms, chanting to vendors who give and then sit on their heels, heads lowered, palms together to receive the blessing. The vendors are mostly women in their forties and fifties; the monks are often teenagers.
Breakfast at Blue Diamond: scrambled eggs, a toasted freshly baked roll, lettuce, slices of tomato, a plate of fruit, and coffee. The coffee is excellent—mild and earthy, grown locally. On the fruit plate: banana, watermelon, pineapple, passion fruit, mango, lichee, papaya, and a fruit I don’t know, deep purple with tiny black edible seeds. ($4, no tip expected.)

This house is just down the road from Blue Diamond. Old and new are side by side in Chiang Mai.

Wat Chiang Man, around the corner, was built with the original city and is now 600 years old.

The most imposing buildings in the old city are the wats (temples) and schools, a nice change from the impersonal banks and financial institutions that have come to dominate U.S. cities.
If you are up early in this neighborhood, you may hear singing, an anthem of some kind from the Yupparaj Wittayalai Private School. I followed the sound and arrived as the assembly was ending.

Across the road, hungry school girls.

Wat Prah Sing is the largest in the old city. This Naga dragon guards the entrance.

Just behind the main temple is a small shaded building where Buddha rests.

At the southwest corner of the moat, I turned back toward Veerachai Court. Bamrung Biri Road was busy—cars, trucks, motorbikes, tuk-tuks (open three–wheeled taxis), and scooters heading east. The perimeter traffic is one way, counter-clockwise, around the old city.
A row of vendor stalls edged toward the road, side by side, all pretty much the same, tacked together, maybe 6 feet wide by 4 or 5 feet deep, all selling lichees! Very Asian. No one trumpeting bigger and better, people friendly, chatting, competition and cooperation in balance. Do the stalls disappear when lichees are not in season?
It makes sense when you think about it—with lots of vendors, customers are unlikely to find the lichees all sold, and the row along the highway allows more than one car to pull off, buy, and leave—fast fruit. Perhaps the vendors have family that grow the nuts. One woman was waving at cars with a handful of the long brown stems, each with its dusky red husk at the end. Looked like she had a handful of fireworks.

Letter from Chiang Mai

Veerachai Court is surprisingly quiet considering that it is five minutes walk from tourist ground zero at Thapae Gate. It is located on Soi 2 (lane 2) on Thapae Road, about halfway between Thapae and Chang Moi Road. Here is the view from my “private balcony.”Veerachai Court balcony view

The outlook improves from the front door:

Veerachai Court view from front
Thailand’s climate is described as “hot, hot & wet, and sometimes very hot.” My room is on the top floor (4th) and catches an occasional breeze. Pure luck! I picked the place on the net. It turns out to be well known to locals for reasonable rates, one night stands, and time in the city if you have to be there and have nowhere else to stay. A few elderly Aussie and American expats seem to call it home. They have a grizzled, tired, puzzled look.

If you walk down Soi 2 to Thapae Road, turn right, and continue past a row of travel agents, banks, and tourist shops, you arrive at Thapae Gate,

Thapae Gate
a break in the fortifications ordered built by King Mengrai to protect a new capitol city from invasion by Kubla Khan. Ninety thousand men were conscripted to dig a moat and construct a wall around a rectangle 1 1/4 miles long by 1 mile wide. Note the slits through which you can fire on invaders. The city was formally consecrated in 1296.

The moat remains along with fragments of the rebuilt wall:

Chiang Mai moat, east side
The moat’s main function these days is to limit traffic access to two or three points on each edge of the rectangle. It gives the “old city” breathing room from the surrounding city which spreads along the Mae Ping (River Ping) and toward Doi Suthep (Mount Suthep) which rises nearby, a green spur of the southern Himalayas.

Chiang Mai is roughly twice the size of Portland. It is the second largest city in Thailand, home to several universities, major hospitals, and an airport with flights to Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Macau (for gambling), Yangon, and Seoul. I’ve been exploring the old city—just a mile by a mile and a quarter—but, if you consider some 15 lanes running north-south and 15 east-west, along with many interconnecting diagonal lanes, there must be 40 or 50 miles of walking! More about this in the next letter from Chiang Mai, the rose of the north.

Finally Alone

After Fate Has Ripped Away The Curtain Of Your Dreams,
And You See That Everything Is Taken From You

unexpected lightness,
sunrise at sea,
spreads through you