Five Chiang Mai Vignettes

 | Mon 26 May 2014 11:05 ICT


At Grandma’s house, the frogs chirp in harmony.

The bright red cherry tomatoes hang from the happy plants like apples in the Garden of Eden.

When Pam and I arrive we find Grandma Peng, who has the flexibility of a twenty-year-old yoga instructor, bending straight down in order to gather petals of saffron.  She cracks a toothless grin, cackles and reaches out a wrinkly, muscular little hand to me as I approach her.

She wais to me and immediately asks if we want some tomatoes. She ferociously reserves them for her family, which now includes me.

This is the same woman who a couple months before I saw ruthlessly rip the spiny fin from a young catfish while it still flapped wildly in the bottom of the black plastic bucket. She explained she did it so I wouldn’t get hurt when picking it up. It’s this bountiful love which shocks me and at the same time totally disarms me with its innocence and genuineness. It is a mother’s love, which would do anything to protect its young. Even though she is eighty-six, I’m sure it would never even cross her mind to use that as an excuse to not do something for her family.

And thus, when last week she crouched behind me as we sat in her shady rice hut, and reached those same bony arms around my chest to squeeze my flabby pecs while exclaiming with glee, “Pen gon ook pook! Bouncy like little girls’breasts!” I was not insulted but only humbled.

I have since started jogging and doing push-ups every morning.


The rain has stopped and the way the birds sing and the sky is opening up to clean blue makes me want to cry.  I feel so happy right now. Damn. I actually feel happy. As if a crack had appeared on my dry, crusty mask and my soul were breaking loose through those cracks. And just as the sun leaves for a moment, so does this happiness which lasted two sentences. And my face is again into its habitual expression. But at least I captured it in those two lines. Oh! But here it goes again! As if the breeze carried it over to me, widening those cracks again through which my soul bares its shy head to the never-judgmental blue skies, from which it drinks nourishment. All at the same time I feel at the top of the Ixtaccihuatl, surrounded by clouds and at the same time, in the jungles of Veracruz where I rejoiced in the hard labor of lithography making. The birds speak to me in voices of joy, joy that the heavy rains that lasted a whole night have finally ceased.


How strange: The ants that constantly rummage through my trash have succeeded in robbing me of this moment of happiness by constantly climbing madly across my feet, and have forced me back into the dark reaches of my room from where I again feel merely a spectator of the beauty of the world.

This may be going a little far, but it is strange to notice this. And why, suddenly, when for the last two hours they had not climbed over my feet, why do they suddenly begin, and why at this precise moment and why so frantically? And why did I let them run me inside and claim that they, in their tiny ant brains, plotted their revenge on me for occasionally stepping on them by waiting for the first time in a while when I felt genuine happiness (which is always accompanied by a feeling of absolute freedom) to crush me?


Steamy. It encloses me
in a cocoon
Of savory, safety, comfort.
Japanese style.

The meat is quite fatty but I eat it anyway
And it’s delicious!

Thank you pig…

Thank you, Japanese, for respecting all that the animal has to offer and not throwing it away the way Americans do.

It’s just me and my gyoza and ramen.

And cold green tea. (There was only a choice between hot and cold. And this is good too.)

Complete. Close enought to perfect that it’s perfect.

And I can’t help but crack my lips and eyes into a smile of contentment.

Maybe ALL is not wrong with the world…

I put a piece of mostly fat into my mouth and, before swallowing, force myself to stop for a moment and be brave enough to really taste the fat. Savor it.

And I do and I’m surprised by the way it melts in my mouth—I am accepting the pig and the dish
Just the way they were made. I didn’t try to change anything. I surrendered to the way things really were/are.

My happiness is augmented.


Eating a solitary dinner at Central Airport Plaza, I munch on my Caesar salad wrap and sip my B-Berry smoothie and watch the people pass by outside, and the ladies, yes, there are only ladies here today, with the exception of another farang and myself.

There is jazz playing, new versions of classics, and then a middle-aged lady’s phone rings. It’s Abba. And my mind is immediately pulled back to memories of my middle-aged Mexican uncles and aunts. I don’t think this Thai lady put the ringtone on her phone. Her savvy son or daughter probably did, and then lovingly gave it to their parents; a little piece of their past or at least the past that is relatively easy to get as a ringtone and which the son or daughter thinks will inspire good memories in their parents.

But is that ringtone really representative of so many of our parents’ past? Our parents are almost always appreciative and I can visualize the moment perfectly: son gives phone to mom. Says wait, calls it and eagerly waits for mom to burst into tears of melancholy…and then the parents must fake it or hurt their son’s feelings…but something tells me there is more. There must be.

Kierkegaard said that most people live lives of quiet desperation.

As I slowly climb in years I sure hope my son or daughter doesn’t give me an Abba ringtone. At least I hope I will have been a close enough father to them for them to know that I’m not a huge fan of Abba.