Checking in from Chiang Mai


I am sitting in Chiang Mai, Thailand where it is very hot and humid.

Not in this (75 cent per hour) internet cafe of course, (where we are nicely air-conditioned and running on a fast connection) but outside in the street where it is quite steamy and most certainly raining. The weather has been pretty good overall though, despite being the rainy season and all.

So far, the rain hasn’t hindered my progress a bit.

Not that I’ve had much progress, I have been fighting jet lag.

Jet lag has decidedly been winning. It always wins. I counted on that; jetlag and a week of Chiang Mai were built into the schedule.

In between occasional plates of cheap street food, I have been taking afternoon naps and then going out for a beer or three after dark. I return to my room and sleep a little, then I wake up at about 0400 listening to the geckos barking and an unseen rooster crowing next door.

Once again, I am staying in a guesthouse that caters to a Dutch clientele. My spacious, $5.00 a night “fan room” includes a clean, newly tiled bathroom and geckos that bark for no apparent reason. I wake up, read a bit, and then collect mosquito bites on my ankles as dawn breaks over the Mae Ping River.

Saturday night I was dragged along to an event staged for the benefit of the numerous Dutch expats that reside here: a herring festival.

The Rydges Hotel, a four-star luxury hotel, promoted the first Chiang Mai herring festival. All the Dutch folk in town dutifully assembled to celebrate all things Dutch. There was plenty of cold Heineken beer, an open buffet (with much more European food than should be allowed), shots of Jenever (a dreadful Dutch moonshine) Dutch flags every which way and, for decoration, several enormous ice scultures of a illuminated herring wearing a top hat.

For authenticity, there was a Thai woman dressed up in a ‘little Dutch girl’ outfit. The poor thing looked rediculous, but tried not to show her embarrassment.

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As a show of respect, I covered my mouth when I giggled.

As I suspected, the hotel manager and assistant manager are Dutch. Nobody else would have dreamed up such an absurd event. The hotel staff seemed amused, at least they were working, this Australian-owned hotel had, at best, five rooms rented out of hundreds.

Business is quite slow here. My guesthouse owner (Another Dutch guy) said that this was not the slow season, this was the “slow-slow” season. There are
various theories as to why business sucks right now: SARS, Iraq, the Bali Bombings, the world economy, Australian jitters about terrorists, the rainy season, Jayson Blair, etc.

The herring event was held around the pool. I suppose that was so that the herring would feel at home. At some signal, numerous short and thin Thai staff dumped buckets of dry ice into the pool which was apparently the cue for an entire uniformed high-school all-girl marching band to appear and march around the pool playing “When the Saints Go Marching In”.

At the edge of the pool, from behind a curtain, a paddle boat appeared and two Dutch managers ceremoniously paddled the traditional platter of raw
herring fillets to the other side of the pool, now enveloped in dry ice fog.

The marching band marched off, still playing, and (taking care not to fall into the pool) went to a nearby bandstand where they furthered the festivities by playing the traditional folk melody from Holland: “Feliz Navidad”.

I worked the crowd, or rather, the crowd worked me.

Since I had been brought along by some Dutch people and was hanging with them, various Dutch people would come up to me and speak to me in Dutch. When I seemed flustered with even the simplest Dutch question, they would immediately switch to perfect, unaccented English and chat for awhile, hoping that I was a new expat in town.

One guy overheard me and exclaimed “THAT’S not a Dutch accent”.

He was a short, smarmy man, who, it turns out, is a retired movie guy from LA. I immediately dubbed him “Sid”, but that was not his real name. ‘Sid’ is pushing 70 and has nothing but good things to say about Chiang Mai.

Good things, as it turns out, that the Tourist Board would rather he not repeat.

“As soon as the plane landed, a women grabbed my dick and I knew that this was the place for me” he told me within the first minute of knowing me, “You can get anything you want here!” he said. “ANYTHING!” he boomed, in case I hadn’t caught the drift.

He told me about the excellent lox, cream cheese and bagels sold in Chiang Mai, then went back into dicussing the finer points of being a typical male
whore-dog. “I have three girlfriends!” he said, while a Thai woman at his arm pretended not to hear him, “And you can have twelve if you want”.

I told Sid that I might consider moving to Chiang Mai after 2004. “Why 2004?” he asked. “That’s when Bush will be re-elected” I said. He grinned and slapped me on the shoulder. I hate that.

I ditched ‘Sid’ and went off to get a plate of traditional Dutch dessert: papaya and pineapple.