I must confess I feel more in harmony with Chiang Mai and its people. Even though I still have a lot to discover I now move around knowing where to head and which is the best way to get there. I avoid certain times to go out and prefer mornings because they belong to the locals. During this time the passing visitors are either still sleeping or on excursion. That is why walking in the hidden alleys before noon conveys a sense of belonging. Despite the fact that I have not moved to Chiang Mai for good I’ve been living here for some months and at the moment my life is here. That means for example following more or less a routine, commit to some activities and building relationships.
About the latter I noticed locals start to treat you differently after they see you around for a while so I started to go back to the same places trying to build bonds. My first friend in the neighbourhood is a Thai woman who has a small place for eating. She works by herself and cooks simply but deliciously. Even if I don’t eat always at her place we talk everyday in a special language: the women-Thai-English. She’s very into fancy clothes, she tells me about her doctor appointments, makes me little presents and cuddles me. These spontaneous relationships are what I’m looking for to get to know Thai people.
I stopped looking for something that thrills or infuriates me and reminded to myself that it’s by acting, taking risks and getting lost that I will encounter joy, compassion or anger. And why not enjoy the tranquility? Maybe through it I’ll discover something that I would miss if I were blinded by strong feelings.Thanks to it I’m getting to know a beautiful Chiang Mai, very dynamic in terms of cultural activities, surrounded by natural wonders, cosy and handy.
I don’t know if I’ll find clear answers to all my initial questions. As regards the foreigners living here the answer may also lay in the middle. I was asking myself if this folks were choosing a laid back life forgetting the urgent problems this world is facing. Retired people, actually, may have moved to Thailand because nowadays living in their own country with such low pensions is a struggle while here they can afford a decent life. It may also be a benefit for Thailand since these people are spending their homeland pensions in the country.
With respect to the tourism industry I came to believe that the foreign-owned businesses are overwhelming the local companies. I was talking to a native lady working in this field and she told me that the foreign marketing has a higher visibility than the domestic one, as a result the local businesses struggle to get tourists.
I may have stumbled across some answers, but what I’m really glad about is that my uncomfortable first impressions have now turned into small joys, active interests and aware choices. I still feel distant from the core of this nation since the culture and the traditions are so different from those I’ve known so far.
However, sometimes I also find familiarity and ways to get closer to this society.
The other night the fact of just sitting in a bar, having a drink and listening to some live jazz made me feel homelike.
On the other hand I felt great when I happened to listen to some public speeches in Thai about political issues and cultural topics. Even if I didn’t understand I could grasp part of the talkings thanks to the contest and to the tone of the voices and the speaker’s gestures. I got involved and I felt I could tell what they were saying.
I’ve also discovered that temples are awe-inspiring places. These highly decorated and vast buildings are incredibly peaceful. There’s one right in front of my guesthouse, Wat Lam Chang: when the wind blows the bells ring, when the sun shines it reflects the gold, when the monks sweep the leaves off they smile and the cats, the dogs and the squirrels run freely. These special places are encompassed by an exceptional aura that invites you to enter. Whatever your purpose is, when you’re inside, you cannot help but feel this cosmic peacefulness.
Eventually I started to appreciate the calmness of these places and their people. It’s something I knew it existed but I had never really experienced. Now that I’m aware of it I’ll try to absorb it and see how it may affect my life.