Tuesday, February 16, 2010

While the UK celebrates red hearts and roses, here the flame-red decorations are for the Chinese New Year. Still, Valentine's day is a good time for a tarot reading, so off we go to an unglamourous shop on the main road which clearly relies on word of mouth and had a queue of 9 by the time we left. Mam translates as Kae has no English and among other interesting insights I find my birthdate shows I'm a monkey. Monkey energy accounts for my constant impulse to travel, apparently.
This is strawberry harvest time too, and in the hill village of Samoeng there's a strawberry fair. Here's Steve and Mam's little girl Idea, already with enough grasp of English to take the piss charmingly out of my 'farang' muggleness.

Food... I can't leave Thailand without paying my respects.

Since the start of my trip the food's been fantastic and, for this daily 33 degC sunshine, a perfect regime for me: no heavy lunch and siesta, just light breakfast and early supper. Meals here are fairly fast events: forget lingering over wine-accompanied european-style courses: everything arrives together and is swiftly consumed. Steamed rice is served individually, immediately, usually with soup - always unthickened broth - not as a starter but to moisten the meal. Other dishes are shared: typically there'll be vegetables, an omelette probably with prawns, and a large deepfried fish. Every meal looks as delicious as it tastes, an artwork of vivid colours and graceful garnish. Here's us at MK in the Chiang Mai Plaza, busy with our interactive artwork meal which arrived in the form of a small market garden and a tower of platters of teeny bits of fish. Idea and Som Chai, supervised by Mam, dropped these into a cauldron of simmering water in the middle of our table and within minutes we were sipping a sensational DIY soup.
Snacks in the market, like cones of pineapple chunks, sweetcorn, and donuts, are only a few baht; at the other end of the scale you can pay 8x as much in the elegant coffee bar of the Mandarin Oriental for a raspberry & lychee macaroon.
It's the contrasts in this land that make it so fascinating, of course, and the way that the sacred and profane coexist so closely, some might say even overlapping.
I'm aware blognotes give only superficial snapshots, while my Thailand journey - like all life's journeys - is far more than the sum of these glimpses.
Take yesterday's nature-watch: a giant Grouper fish in the aquarium at the mall - and a foot-long venomous centipede in the grass. I'm not saying Thailand is a big placid-seeming fish secretly as dangerous as the scolopendra, of course, but I do know this country is more complex & fascinating than merely a Land of Smiles.

And finally: For readers who've never had a thai massage in a non-tourist area of Chiang Mai, it's like being kneaded by a cuddlesome tiger. When the claws make you whimper, the tiger gives an enigmatic smile and continues to press, prod, pull, and generally paddle in your muscles until you sizzle. My tiger growled at my keyboard-tense shoulders and wrists, and gave them a specially meticulous mauling. After 2 hours you pay 300 baht - that's 6 quid - and walk out feeling magical.

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