Hello again! I believe I left off with us in Chiang Mai, on the night before heading off to Nan. Well, right after e-mailing we wandered down to the river for some “stall noodles”, as I’ve come to know and love them. They are a perfect fit since they taste great and only cost about a third as much as restaurant food. From there we were movie-bound, and we finally managed to catch Castaway following several failed attempts, both at theatres and VCD-showing guesthouses. Since it was our second time in a Thai movie theatre we were already aware of the need to choose your seat at the ticket window before going in, which seems like a pretty good idea, all in all. However, we were later forced to buck the system by changing seats (gasp!) mid-movie in order to get as far away as possible from this dipshit that kept making comments like:
“Where’s he going?”
“What’s in that box?”
And my personal favourite,
“Ha Ha. He’s got a crab. Ha Ha.”
Before that unfortunate incident, we had a chance act knowledgeable by standing up as soon as the national anthem came on. You see, before every movie, right after the previews, the Thai national anthem is played, accompanied by a video tribute to the King. The tourists in front of us were, not surprisingly, caught completely off-guard, their minds, I’m sure, running the same gamut of thoughts as ours did the first time:
1) Seated Obliviousness (What’s this? I hope this thing starts pretty soon.)
2) Frantic Confusion (What are they doing? Is everybody leaving? Shawn! What are they doing?)
3) Mindless Compliance (How the hell should I know, Jen! C’mon, just stand up, everybody else is!)
4) Enlightenment (Oh, you know, I think that’s the King…….or maybe the President……yeah……I get it. Or…….no, I know! I bet that’s the guy who owns the theatre!)
The next morning we were on our way to Nan on what I would describe as a pretty cushy bus. You know it’s a pretty good ride when you’re reading (always a good start, some roads are too rough for that) and then you realize that you’ve arrived and your first reaction is, “What? Damn, already? I was just in the middle of a good part.” Fortunately, though, the trip wasn’t entirely without its oddities. The guy who got on late and had to sit in the aisle next to us, for example. He was reading a Thai music magazine that had articles on everyone from Pink Floyd to the Eagles to Mr. Big (yeah, I couldn’t figure that one either). At first glance, he seemed fairly clean-cut; no piercings or tattoos, fairly short hair. Then I noticed that his face was powdered (or creamed, not sure which, and I wasn’t about to ask), which is usually something done only by Asian women who want to make themselves “whiter”. His sleeveless jean jacket had a crest on the back loudly proclaiming that profoundest of mottos that somehow manages to stand the test of time (and tackiness): “Kill ‘Em All, Let God Sort ‘Em Out”. The final touch, the part that really brought the whole look together, in my mind, were his fingernails, which had been meticulously filed to sharp points. Very 13th-Century Mongolia. It’s not really my sort of thing but, who knows, maybe he’s just ahead of his time.
Nan itself turned out to be a clean, prosperous-looking city, and extremely friendly. Everyone seemed genuinely pleased to see us (they can be excused for that, they didn’t know us yet) and anxious to help in any way possible. There are lots of things to see and do in the surrounding area, and I’m sure it won’t be long before the foreigners start pouring in. Until then, I would have to say that this is the place to go if you want to get a feel for a real Thai city. Then again, how would I know?
We rented a motorbike for a couple days (I think I’m slowly winning Layne over) and checked out some beautiful mountain trails on the first day (Doi Phuka National Park) before driving all the way up to the nearest Immigration Office where we told that foreigners are still not allowed to cross into Laos at this border point. We were hoping to save a few days on the bus after leaving Nan by using this shortcut. No dice. The second day we went south to see what amounted to a miniature version of the Badlands. It was a couple hundred square metres of small mud/clay pillars, cliffs and fissures apparently created by erosion. It was sort of like an Oriental Utah. How’s that for a dead-end marketing slogan?
During one of the brief moments when we weren’t cruising the countryside, I (we) decided that it was probably past time that I took care of some personal hygiene issues. No, no, it’s not what you’re thinking, we (I) have learned to ignore those, but I (we) did decide I should finally get a haircut. It had been over five months since my last one encounter with the clippers and, although my N-Sync look was coming along quite nicely, I (we) still felt it was time for a change. My “do” had followed a natural, yet highly noticeable, progression:
September – even shorter than usual in preparation for the trip; sadly, a bit Archie Andrews-ish
October – my usual office look; that’s the one that would allow me to emerge virtually unscathed from any police line-up consisting of recent U of S grads gathered at Earl’s Friday after a tough week at their brand new jobs
November – bushy; slightly resembling a dirty-blonde halo (the kind you might see on an angel that got caught masturbating)
December – frizzy; one in two people refuse to believe I don’t back-comb
January – thick, salty, and dirty; who decided the ocean was glamorous?
February – blondish, hanging in my eyes, very stringy
March – blondish, hanging in my eyes, very feathered
It was definitely time for action. My options weren’t outstanding, but then my hair never has been, either. The goal: my best look possible under a zero-maintenance regimen (gel usage was completely abandoned sometime in October, and shampoo has touched my hair with less and less regularity ever since). After much contemplation, I decided to go with “frizzy”, circa late December, Lake Toba. Just an inch or so off across the board, maybe a touch more. Sounded pretty simple to me. Laynni had some doubts. Whaddya mean? How hard can it be to explain that? We spotted a barbershop and sauntered in. A serious-looking guy in army fatigues was getting a trim in the first seat so the little, old guy lazily reclining on a bench quickly jumped up and motioned me to the second chair.
Hey, what’s this? A couple tourists, how about that? Where’s their camera, ha ha. Yeah, c’mon, sit over here. It’s about time he got a shave, he looks like some kind of monkey. These people grow hair everywhere. Well, I’ll clean him up, or at least make him look semi-human. That girl he’s with is pretty, though, maybe it’s his sister. Oh, so he wants a haircut, too. Yeah, yeah, that’s a really clever scissoring signal there, kid. I get it. Well, it looks like I’ll be needing the clippers for this mop, he’s long overdue. What? Now what’s he doing? Oh yeah, all right, a haircut, I got you the first time. OK, let’s get these clippers going, I think I’ll start with the back. Hey, lady, what do you think you’re doing? Cut the back, too? Of course, why wouldn’t I? I know what I’m doing. I’ve given this same haircut at least a thousand times. That’s right, honey, you just sit back down and leave the barbering to me. Oh, for -……now what’s he look so worried about? Sszchwink, sszchwink, sszchwink. There, that’s it for the back. Why the hell are his eyes so big? He’s probably never gotten his hair cut by a professional before. Or maybe it’s just the heat. Now for the top………..
I’m typing this in Chiang Khong, a small, one-street town on the Thai side of the Mekong River. From Nan we bussed it to Chiang Rai where we spent one night. Pretty uneventful: a little food, a little shopping. Our overall impression: shithole. First thing in the morning we left and came here.
Tomorrow we’re going to cross over into Laos, and then, Monday morning, we’re planning to embark on a two-day boat ride down the Mekong to the northern Lao capital, Luang Prabang. We’ll have exactly fourteen days to spend in Laos (as per our visa) after which we’ll be meandering down to Bangkok to meet Mike and Jamie on the 21st. We’ve heard that the internet in Laos can be a bit sketchy (along with transport, food, banks, etc) so I’m not positive that we’ll be able to send anything from there. If it’s there, though, you can be sure I’ll sniff it out. As you may have noticed, my old dependence seems to be back with a vengeance. Till then, in feverish anticipation.