Sunday, February 13, 2011

You won’t find geysers in the Doi Inthanon National Park itinerary unless you travel with me.

“I swims in the Tagus all across at once, and I rides on an ass or a mule, and swears Portuguese, and have got diarrhea and bites from the mosquitoes. But what of that? Comfort must not be expected by folks that go a pleasuring.”

-Lord Byron

You won’t find geysers in the Doi Inthanon National Park itinerary unless you travel with me.

So here's what is billed as the fish massage. The booths can be found throughout commercial areas in Chang Mai, Thailand. The customer puts his or her feet into an aquarium, which happens to be home to hundreds of minnows. It’s claimed these fish eat dead skin and detoxify the feet. You can’t really feel the fish nibbling away, only the water vibrations from their movement. Yet when you look down it appears as though your lower legs are being devoured. As far as being effective, I can’t say. My feet are hideous things. If there was improvement it was unnoticeable to my untrained eye; does one notice when ten thousand barrels of oil are rinsed from the gulf when the spill totals over one million? I felt sorry for the fish.

I felt absolutely pathetic after passing by a sixty pound beggar on my walk to dinner. Take note ladies, nothing is more slimming than losing a limb. With her one arm and one and a half legs the beggar’s weight matched her apparent age. Maybe a victim of an American landmine from long ago and here’s me, an American swine walking right past her, nose up, telling myself, “Don’t look down, don’t look down,” then proceeding to a restaurant and ordering not one but three entrees. Eating like the King of Thailand with overflowing plates of chicken fried rice and pad thai and steamed vegetables. A marathon of food to the point I have to pace myself. All for a mere 100 baht (about $3 USD). Feeling guilty with each bite, shame with each swallow. I resolve to put 20 baht in the beggar’s can--about sixty cents, I’m incredibly generous--as I make my way back, but alas, she’s left. Maybe limped off to more profitable streets. By now I’m so full of food there’s no room for disgrace.

But wait, I’m in the land of Karma. A place where actions, or inactions in my case, have consequences. So it came as no surprise that within a matter of hours after dinner my stool had the consistency of a Circle K slurpee. This was followed by a day of stomach gurgling as I trekked through Doi Inthanon National Park, hoping the geyser wouldn’t burst. As I stood at the highest point in Thailand (only about 2,500 meters above sea level) I was more concerned with what was going on below.

Don’t let me mislead you. Thai people may be poor, but there are far less homeless here than back home. In fact, aside from a limbless beggar here and there--they’re always missing at least one limb--I haven’t seen any people of the street. From what I’ve read, Thai people take care of their family to the point where if one member is beset with physical disability, mental infirmity, old age, financial hardship or all of the above, then the rest of the family, extended included, supports and cares for the needy member. It’s Social Security and Medicare Thai style.

A day or two prior to my stingy don’t-look-down debacle I found myself walking back to the guest house around midnight. Turning down a soi (side street), I nearly run over a small woman who’s wearing what could pass for a prom dress. It’s black and frilly and beautiful. Tight in all the places of interest to men. I then mispronounce the Thai word for ‘sorry’ in seven different variations. Her response, “Oooh, where you going?” Which is when I realize what I almost ran into was a tiny transvestite prostitute. Appealingly petite at first glance but as he/she moves towards the streetlight the halogen illuminates an obviously masculine jaw line and STDs oozing out of his/her pores. That’s not me being judgmental. That’s me taking note of the red bumps surrounding the corners of the mouth and a sickly, pallid tint to the eyes. “Me? I’m going to find the nearest food stall and cram-jam whatever the hell they’re hawking--dried fish, goat intestine, frog legs--down my throat to stave off the bile presently rising up it.”

Okay, that is me being judgmental. Remember that drifting, or traveling without prejudice, is an ideal. Mindful perfection that my farang mind is light years away from. See below.

In the past, some have described me as relatively patient. Emphasis on relative. Here, I’m just another hasty, needy farang. It took three attempts to get to Doi Inthanon National Park, only 60 kilometers outside of Chang Mai. The first time I went by bus and didn’t get off at the right stop. In the need for entertainment, that need to be preoccupied, my head was in a book. I overshot my destination by 100 kilometers. The second attempt I made it to Chom Thong, the nearest city outside the park, but was unwilling to wait for a guided taxi into the park, who wouldn’t leave until his sawngthaew (pickup truck converted into a taxi) was full. Instead of milling around for who knows how long I chose to walk. After two hours I realized that while the guidebook was correct in that the park entrance was only 8 kilometers from Chom Thong, the actual hiking trails would be another 30. I needn’t have relied on perseverance to get to the park if my mind were tuned to that of a Thai. Have you ever ridden a bus that stopped for a half hour at a food stall, mid-route, as the driver munched away drinking a Singha (Thai beer)?

This is me, a hasty, needy farang, grinding my teeth, chomping at the bit for a third try at Doi Inthanon as the bus driver chomps away on fried grasshoppers, whistling his favorite song. Hit Me Bay One More Time, by Britney Spears.

I currently find myself in Phitsanulok, Thailand just having returned from the open market. A three block affair of hogs’ heads, fried roaches the size of my hand, fish so fresh that they’re slaughtered on the spot, and everything in between. It’s an Andrew Zimmerman (host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods) wet dream. Perhaps tomorrow my small intestine will be more adventurous, although come to think of it he’s really at his most daring later in the week. Say around Thursday when I should be a couple provinces removed. Dang.

Keep drifting.

The Great Holy Relics Pagaoda of Nabhamethanidol - Nabhapolbhumisiri, built to commemorate the King’s and Queen’s sixtieth birthdays.


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