Chapter 4: Wednesday: Lovely, Gracious Chiang Mai



Flying into Chiang Mai, the surrounding countryside looked incredibly rural, with large plots of ground and not too many roads. On the whole there were mostly simple farmhouses surrounding this northern capitol with very little high rise. The Chiang Mai airport was very quaint about the size of Santa Barbara airport, where we are from - small - not too many airlines - certainly not international.

As we emerged from the airport - after passing a casual customs official - about a dozen taxi cab drivers descended upon us wanting to take us to our hotel. Discovering that we were to go in the hotel shuttle was a big disappointment for them. Note that all the interactions were gentle, not hostile at all.

"Our five minutes of fame," remarked Laurie, my Person's wife.

Upon arriving at our hotel, the Chiang Mai Plaza Hotel, we were greeted with bellmen to take our bags, a doorman to open our door, and hotel clerks dressed in ethnic garb. This was not peasant level, but royal attire, with gold touches on everything, from the hems of their jackets to the spray of gold coming out of their heads, as elegant hairpieces. The gold tended to reflect off their oriental skin and black hair to set up a striking contrast.

"We are impostors," giggled Serena and Miranda. "Posing as royalty."

Me: "When we are of peasant stock."

Due to an incredible exchange rate, we are middle class in America, but upper class here, at least in terms of hotel accommodations. The Chiang Mai Plaza Hotel was definitely the nicest hotel, any of us had ever been in - strolling musicians and incredible food. The hotel itself was an elaborate work of art, exquisitely furnished - with statues everywhere - As we were to find later there were examples of the different architectural styles of Thailand thrown in and around. The hotel was like a museum, artistic wonders popping up unexpectedly.

An artistic dining experience at the Hotel

Ms. Lek, our Thai travel agent in Chiang Mai, who Scott had recommended, called immediately after we arrived to plan our itinerary. Rather than go to her office, she said she would meet us at the hotel about 11AM. But Miranda was starved and it was about 10:15AM. We couldn't leave and she was getting cranky with her falling blood sugar. We decided to eat in the hotel.

Although we were the only ones there, everyone treated us courteously, opening the door for us, then standing around waiting for us to order. We were surprised by the menu, which had Chinese, Japanese, European, and American items as well as Thai. It seemed that they were trying to make any foreign visitor comfortable.

One humorous item that they included was a list of different types of 'Pizza Huts', pepperoni and cheese, pineapple, vegetarian. Evidently 'Pizza Hut' is what they call pizzas, showing the influence of national chains in representing American culture overseas. “One Pizza Hut to go.”

We ordered Thai food. Laurie ordered something that came out with a beautiful swan on it sculpted out of a carrot. "Gorgeous!" Don in a state of relief that everyone was safely where they were supposed to be, was in an ebullient state. He had ordered fried catfish. Out came a plate full of shredded threads. Where's the catfish? This was it, nothing underneath the filigree. Applying the Thai condiments to my dish, it was incredible. Light, airy, crispy, flavorful. Not at all nondescript. It just evaporated in my Person's mouth and he was in a momentary state of ecstasy, perhaps the beauty of the food combined with the exotic preparation of something that was beyond his Imagination combined with the relief of being safe and eating in a foreign place combined with being a bit intoxicated on Thai beer, Singha, which is actually a malt liquor, a few percentage points higher in alcohol.

Anyway my Person was in heaven, and then he heard a piano accompanying the background music, becoming louder and louder until it became the music and there was no more background - a seamless transition - His eyes had been entranced by the swan, his tongue had been overwhelmed by the filigree catfish, his ears were now enchanted by the music, he was safe with his most treasured companions, his family in Thailand, Thrown pell-mell into the Now, not worrying any more about future preparations or past mistakes, he was in the perfect place at the perfect time with the perfect people. He reached a state of At-One-Ment. His whole prior life was justified by this ecstatic moment. However every peak is just that.

"Can't afford Angkor."

Midway through our dinner, Ms. Lek, a small Thai lady, Oriental or Mongoloid in appearance, arrived to talk about our plans while we were in town. After showing us a few local options, Don mentioned that we'd thought about going to see Angkor Wat in Cambodia. She said she'd check with her boss and be right back to us. She whipped out her cell phone to call headquarters, A few minutes later she came back with a fax, showing our exact itinerary if we went to Cambodia, a three day stay, with hotel, food, and tour guide included for $500 per person.

My Person reacted immediately to the price. "Too expensive! Out of the budget! Already spending too much. What about our savings? Let us spend more time here." Thinking to himself, then aloud.

Don: "I think we'll just hang out today and recuperate from our trip. Then tomorrow and Friday we'll go with your tour guide to the temples and then to the mountains, for river rafting and elephant rides. We'll rest on Saturday and then on Sunday we'll go on a trip to the Golden Triangle in the North, where Laos, Thailand and Burma meet and see the Mekong river."

Ms. Lek: "What about Angkor Wat?"

Don: "Seems a little too expensive, for now."

Ms. Lek: "Keep the literature and call me if anything changes,"

Off the Beaten Path

Wandering around Chiang Mai - tons of traffic - Tuk-tuk drivers, with their small 3 wheeled taxis - lots of motor scooters - driven by any age who could including preteens, at least by appearance. No helmets - lots of noise.

What's this? - off to the side - in an alley way - tucked behind a tall fence - an old overgrown temple - Let's take a peek inside - Look! - flowers and incense - And what's around this corner - but a like-size meditating Buddha - a bit worse for wear with paint chipped off - but obviously still venerated - wrapped in ribbons - with the smell of incense in the air.

Any vestige of fear evaporated we felt safe - the Buddha was looking over us to protect us from harm - in a foreign culture far from home - wandering side streets.

After our little stroll the 14 hour time difference took its toll (2 PM Chiang Mai time was equivalent to midnight West coast time and our biological clocks had not adjusted yet.) We spent the rest of the day recuperating from our flight - napping and swimming - (Forgot to mention that our hotel also had a large swimming pool, which we took full advantage of to find relief from the heat which was not too bad only in the mid-80s.)

Stumbling into the Night Bazaar

That night we went strolling again to find the Night Bazaar, which Scott had recommended to us. There was supposedly entertainment and food. After strolling through a profusion of street vendors, with lots of traffic - not really knowing where we were going still in the midst of jet lag - we happened upon a large area with no motorized traffic - What a relief! - we sat down, picked up a beer at one of the local vendors, and proceeded to relax. After fifteen minutes or so - there were musicians warming up - very quietly to the extent that it seemed to be almost noise or some kind of piped in music - we weren't sure if they were just jamming because they were not facing any audience, and seemed almost to be playing just for themselves. The oriental dissonances were refreshing after the noise of the traffic and street vendors that we had just wandered through. "Let's just stay and listen."

Then over the load speaker a voice spoke first in Thai and then in English, announcing: "In a few minutes there will be a performance of authentic Thai dancing with Thai music performed on traditional instruments to introduce you to Thai culture. The performance is free. This is our present to you, our foreign visitors."

This was all to happen on the stage in front of us. We hadn't even been aware that there was any stage at all. There had just been a enormous Carlsberg beer sign and a huge tree growing out of the middle of a platform, with the musicians off to the right, on a platform set a few feet below the stage. The stage lights went on. The musicians began playing a more set piece. Suddenly out strolled the dancers, four in all, from behind the curtain at the back of the huge Carlsberg beer stage.

They were dressed in beautiful costumes, with exceptionally long fingernails. They were dancing slowly with incredibly graceful movements. The movements seemed to be totally choreographed with lots of inner body movement even though it manifested through the tips of their fingers. The gestures were careful and subtle rather than quick or rapid with abandon. Everything about the dance was relaxed and refined rather than frantic or rushed.

After the anxiety of travel without really knowing where we were going, after the jet lag from traveling half way around the world, after wandering around searching for this spot, after giving up to take a rest, we happened to sit at the spot that we were searching for. This is a mechanism to pay attention to.

Rushing around, searching for nothing.

Once again another ecstatic moment. Delicious food all around us. Having searched, we found accidentally sensing with our subliminal senses - transcending left brain map logic - we discovered this gracious entertainment stimulating all of our senses. And the generosity of the Thai people filled the heart with joy.

Serena: "It's just to draw us to the Night Bazaar so that we will spend money."

Laurie: "But what a nice way to do it,"

Little girls are the same everywhere

Miranda: "Look at those little girls watching the performance!"

To the side of the stage there were three tiny Thai girls watching the performance with rapt attention. They were probably between 3 and 6 years old. They didn't move except when the dances ended.

Serena: "Little girls are the same everywhere. Entranced by the pretty dresses, beautiful dancing and music, hoping to grow up to be the next generation of dancers."

Miranda: "Remember how we would get dressed up and dance to the waltzes for what seemed to be hours."

Serena: "Ah the carefree days of youth."

Serena was all of 20 years old, but had just finished her second year of college at Berkeley, a high pressure college with lots of demands. On some levels this trip was to de-stress her - Take her out of her Mind - her Left Brain dictator - to give her Right Brain some support in the Battle against the Dolts who ruled the world.

Miranda: "We were not really thinking about the future then, We were so wrapped in the pretty rustling dresses of the now.

Serena: "Just one more dance, Daddy."

The Return of Angkor

The Moment also overwhelmed Don's Mind, loosening the grip of his powerful Left Brain. Angkor popped up again and again. Not quite adjusted to Thai time, he woke up in the middle of the night, midday in Santa Barbara.

"Angkor, you shouldn't miss it. Now is the time." Kept emerging from the emptiness.

The Left Brain would object: "Too expensive. $2000 more than expected."

But his objections were quite weak, the Right Brain had achieved ascendancy by this time, strengthened by this exotic environment with all of its sensual delights.

"Too many universal messages at too many weird times. How are you going to feel when your friends ask why you didn't go to Angkor Wat and you say that it was too expensive. You will regret it the rest of your life. It is never going to be any cheaper than this." His Right Brain responded, feeling strengthened by what she had already experienced.

Left Brain, getting weaker: "But the trip won't be as relaxing. Besides Cambodia is dangerous. It just finished a war."

Right Brain: "Many people have gone recently and haven't been hurt."

Left Brain, getting more pathetic: "What about retirement?"

Right: "Retirement? What about Now? You're with your 'Three Women'[i]. Two beautiful daughters and a caring and loving wife. Retirement is at least 15 to 20 years down the road. Who knows what could happen between now and then."

Left, very meekly now: "But what about old age?"

Right: "What about it? What if something happens to any of you before retirement, then all of your plans are washed away. Talk about regrets for not living when you had the opportunity."

Left: "But I'm afraid."

Right: "Afraid of what?"

Left: "The future."

Right: "All an illusion that you created."

Left: "It is a useful construct. It helps me visualize and solve my problems."

Right: "Problems that you have created for yourself. Realize that you have created a Game for your Person with Rules. If your Person wins this Game that you have created then you are happy. If he loses you are sad and depressed."

Left: "It makes Life more exciting.”

Right: "Wrong. It gets in the way of Living. What is so exciting about worrying about retirement when you could get some real excitement by going to Angkor Wat in Cambodia."

Left: "Yes. The excitement of having no money."

Right: "Remember what Gary said about freedom."

Left: "What was that?"

Right: "When we told him we were going to Thailand,

       Gary said: "Wow! That's real freedom."

       Don: "What do you mean?"

       Gary: "To spend money on an exotic experience, rather than holding onto it

into the grave."

       Don: "Freedom is letting go of Financial security for a broader experience?"

       Gary: "Right. People with life insurance, health insurance, car insurance, home insurance, car payments, house payments, retirement accounts, stock options and mutual funds, are wrapped in security but know little about true freedom. Security puts you to sleep. Freedom is exhilarating, energizing."

Don: "True Freedom is the freedom to be me without fear of consequence.

Gary: "The Universe will provide and has provided."

A Song-Poem about True Freedom

The need for security is based upon fear of the future.

As long as we base our life on security we have accepted fear as a way of life.

As long as fear is incorporated into out behavior, we are not truly free.

True freedom is when one is free of this fear,

When one embraces the insecurities of the future wholeheartedly

Instead of running away like a scared little rabbit.

If you are not truly free, the vitality is blocked.

When the vitality is blocked, one has not yet realized

Still having a long way to go.

Left: "True Freedom?"

Right "Yes. This is a way to practice 'True Freedom'. Detach from your fears of the future and go to Cambodia. If you base your decision upon security then you are not even close to enlightenment, no matter how much you seem to know."

Left: "But …"

Right: "Left Brain do your work to serve the Group. But don't get in our way."

[i]Don, my Person, is an amateur painter of unknown talent. (He is both unknown and we're not sure he has any talent.) Regardless of real or imagined talent, the topics of his oil paintings tend to center on his family, wife and children. His last painting is called “Three Women" and has his wife and two daughters sitting in front of a garden.


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