Snowstorm in Chiang Mai: The Claudia Garcia Story
Savouring the balmy pre-scorch of another Chiang Mai morning, I sat near Tha Pae Gate waiting to meet “the Snowflake” (I know, odd in a climate where sweaty skin sucks clothes to you faster than you can say “sticky rice”), also known as Peruvian filmmaker Claudia Garcia.
Prepared to be intimidated and maybe even belittled – in my mind, documentarians are all either 65-year-old British men with bifocals or rebellious 30-somethings who only speak in philosophical sarcasms – I was surprised (and a little startled) when a small, wide-eyed girl came flying at me on a pint-sized blue bike. I wondered if she even knew how to ride it judging by the stammering stop she came to, but then she pointed out the broken set of brakes hanging languidly from the handlebars.
After sharing a couple of laughs with the fellow 24-year-old and agreeing that one day we would both “make it” (her as a filmmaker, I as a journalist), Garcia launched into the tale of how she chose Thailand as the destination for her next documentary. Like all good stories (as Hemingway might argue, at least), Garcia’s adventure began late one night after too many drinks. The next morning, a bleary-eyed, dry-mouthed Garcia discovered that she had started a blog in her drunken state.
“I had all these comments from people saying, ‘Can’t believe you’re hitchhiking to Brazil, congratulations!’” Garcia said laughing. “Apparently, I blogged that I was hitchhiking (with no money) from Lima to Rio de Janeiro, and would work there for my filming equipment.”
For a burly boy or a well-seasoned traveller, such a journey might seem mild at best, but for a busty, four-foot-something girl…well…we’ve all seen nightly news horror stories. But consequences be damned; not wanting to let herself or her congratulatory blog followers down, Garcia decided to go for it. “If I ever want to be a real filmmaker, I have to dare myself to do things,” she said.
“At first, I got rides at gas stations with truck drivers and families and stuff,” Garcia nonchalantly explained (instead of nodding along attentively, I sat there slack-jawed; just the week before, a friend of mine travelling through South America had been forced to lay belly-down in the dirt with a machete over her head while a robber demanded her laptop and iPhone). “It was easy to get people to let me stay with them for free if I stuck to small towns. And food, I never really had to ask for it, people just offered it to me.”
Over 3,000 miles and 30 days later, Garcia made it to Brazil, and worked there long enough to buy her very first camera, something she had been waiting three years for. From there she tucked right in, documenting her ten-day journey back home.
Spurred by the success of her impulsive exploit, Garcia felt it was time to tackle an even larger dream – filming a documentary in Southeast Asia. After getting a little distracted (as most do
in Thailand) admiring Koh Phi Phi sunsets, avoiding prostitutes in Phuket and getting caught up in the stampede of drunken farang littering Thai beaches, Garcia decided to head up to Chiang Mai to teach English.
“I picked Chiang Mai because I heard it’s a great place to work and live, especially if you want to really connect with Thai people,” Garcia said. “I worked as a teacher for a couple months, but then realised I wasn’t doing what I came here to do.”
Calling it quits on the English teaching (“It’s not my first language anyways,” she laughed), Garcia decided Chiang Mai was the perfect spot to begin filming her documentary. Starting off small, she has already compiled video segments – which can be found on her YouTube channel entitled “Adventurous as F*ck!” – on exotic fruits, medical astrology and the art of wat fortune telling in Chiang Mai.
She is currently putting the finishing touches on her latest clip, detailing her experience at Chiang Mai’s Tiger Kingdom. At first she got some flak from followers for “supporting” a business that drugs tigers, but Garcia said she’s not so sure anymore about “tiger dope” after how very soberly a tiger behaved when she accidentally leaned too hard on its tail…
With much more of Asia to see, the “Paris Hilton of Chiang Mai” (as Garcia jokingly referred to herself) is off to film Bangkok, before bravely attempting to tackle the notorious Full Moon Party of Koh Phangan.
Although the one-woman show labeled “Snowflake Films” is starting to take off (“I’ve finally finished something I’ve started!” she said of filming in Chiang Mai) and reached almost 2,000 likes on Facebook, Garcia admitted the road ahead will be tenuous.
“I’m not lazy, but I’m always procrastinating,” Claudia said, rolling her eyes. “It’s not easy; we’re not all as lucky as being discovered by someone. I’m on an extreme budget, using donations people have been kind enough to give me. It’s not like I’m earning anything from this. But I’m really passionate about what I do, and right now, I don’t care. I just want to do it.”
A little inspired myself, we shook hands and said our goodbyes. Before parting ways, Claudia left me with a bit of advice from the young and inexperienced to the equally young and inexperienced: “If you don’t like something in your life, stand up and change it. It doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you start. Things will just go.”