The day between the elephants and tigers would be a day off to relax, enjoy the city, and spend time with the locals that make up the hostel staff who have become our friends. We were still catching up on energy after the past few days so we rolled out of bed late. First order is always to find food. We walked a few blocks over to where we heard there were some western restaurants. We can only eat so much rice and noodles. It’s become routine to mix it up with something a little more familiar occasionally. We found an American style saloon that had all the fixings for the kind of meal we were looking for. It was fajitas. And damn we’re they good. The joint was fitted with all sorts of old typical American junk: license plates, Coca Cola signs, Jack Daniels signs, sports memorabilia. It was also proper to grab a marker and make your mark on wherever you choose. I tagged “Derek and Jimmy Thai ’14” on the table. Underneath it I also left the name of our website for the curious. I jotted down the usual, “Let’s Go Phillies!” And I named my chair, “James’ Chair”. Lastly, on the chair next to mine I listed the names of our close friends back home so they could be there in spirit, “Jimmy, Derek, Big Kun, Foster, Bill, Jeff, Tom, Brandon”. As we were finishing our wonderful meal, we were tired of hearing a Frenchman complain about his food and giving the nice waitress a hard time again and again so we left something for her. A note in marker on a napkin and a 100 baht bill, “The guy at that table next to us sucks. Have a drink on us after work.”
Next, I found another gem. I love book stores. Especially old, disheveled used book stores. Anytime I find a new one it gets my heart racing thinking of the treasures hiding there. And the smell. There are few better in the world. A nice campfire takes the cake. But second I would put old books. I read a quote once that went something along the line that old books are the actual smell of time. I like that idea. And as we walked out, fate would have it that just across the street was a book store perfectly titled, “On The Road Books”. Not only was it a cool little shop but it is appropriately named after my favorite book. Perfection. I don’t really believe in that everything-happens-for-a-reason crap, but lately luck and coincidences have been pretty convenient. I’d like to believe that someone has a bigger plan for everything that happens down here but I’ve just seen too many things happen for reasons not understandable. Still, I look for the light. Either way, I popped in and checked the place out, fought the urge to buy a handful of books, told the owner I loved the name, and was on my way.
Before going back to the hostel, we took a walk down to the old city gate. In the open space outside the gate were children dancing to music and a few street musicians filling the air with their tunes. I love how as we walk around these places there are children running rampant through the streets. They play outside with the same vigor that I remember my younger self doing. Kids in America these days could learn a thing or two from these kids. Get out of the house. Run, run, run. Climb, climb, climb. Get dirty.
We circled back and met our friends Nick, TJ, Song, and a few others from the staff, Norwegian Bamboo Benny, a few Canadians, and a really sweet Scottish couple at the small hostel bar for a drink. The plan for the night was what had become the staple of most nights in Chiang Mai: Zoe’s Garden. But prior to going there, we followed Song back to his brother’s house which also doubles as a bar downstairs. Most everyone’s home doubles as a business in the front. Song made a phone call and told us he had a surprise for us later in the night. As we made it to Zoe’s and grabbed our first drink, the surprise showed up. Song is friends with a street performer who specializes in various stick and chain twirling fire shows. Normally he only performs Thursday through Saturday, but he came out just for us. It was a real treat and amazing to follow his every move as he went about his passion. We had so much fun that night, that Song ended up too many drinks in to find his way home so he crashed in our room. Which would have been fine except for the fact that he insisted the lights stay on all night. There wasn’t a day that went by where we weren’t graciously welcomed by Song’s huge smile and contagious laugh. We barely knew the guy, and he barely knew us, but all that didn’t matter. We enjoyed each other’s company.
It’s incredible how welcoming strangers can be. I don’t know for sure that it doesn’t exist in America, but I think it may be more rare. Perhaps when you are a friend of a friend, but here I am no one. I have been to many places and continue to cross these beautiful people in every country that just take me in as if I had known them for ages. The kindness of strangers prevails. This quote speaks to that feeling, “Personally I like going places where I don’t speak the language, don’t know anybody, don’t know my way around and don’t have any delusions that I’m in control. Disoriented, even frightened, I feel alive, awake in ways I never am at home.” So there it is, backs turned to the boring, on to another day in a new home.
As Ever, J. Hart