wander process


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What Songkran Is All About

While I did get drenched on April 12, the day of my trip to Phuping Palace and Wat Doi Duthep, there was no comparison to what was about to go down in Chiang Mai.

I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, and I never will again. It makes me want to go to every great cultural festival in the place where it’s most famous.

I think a video can show you more than more words would ever be able to, so I made one of the Songkran experience in Chiang Mai (available in HD for your viewing pleasure). Enjoy & comment if you like it!

Here are some highlights (and lows) of Songkran in Chiang Mai, not shown in the video:

– Continuing to get splashed after showering, resting, and heading out for what was supposed to be a dry supper.

– Realizing why the water from Chiang Mai’s moat never seemed depleted, despite everyone and their mom taking water from it for splashing: the water from the street goes back into the moat. Ick. (Adam, to me: “Jordan, don’t you just want to go swimming in there?” Me: “Uh, no. Not really.” And then I turned my head and the next thing I knew, Adam had gone into the moat.)

– Having a lot of that moat water end up in my mouth.

-Making friends with strangers. I thought I might have a hard time throwing buckets of water on complete strangers, but it’s far easier and as much fun as you could ever possibly think it would be.

– Adam falling into a hole and banging his knee up after trying to throw water on children.

– Eating so much khao soi (post to come soon).

– Getting smeared with white paste. It’s almost like a Songkran badge of pride:

– Enjoying quiet night walks without too much interruption from the nighttime splashers.

– Speaking of night walks, check out this insanely beautiful Lanna-style temple architecture. It haunted my dreams that night:

– Of course, because it’s Chiang Mai (and Chiang Mai is, in my opinion, the best city for shopping in Thailand), we hit hit up the night bazaars and walking streets.

little bits of graffiti, little windows into commensality

The city of Chiang Mai is so, so great and offers something completely different from Bangkok and Isaan, where I have spent my time living in Thailand. I had a wonderful time celebrating Songkran there. We spent a lot of time talking about how such a festival would be impossible back home. People are too afraid of interacting with strangers and American people are far too litigious to be able to fully enjoy something that includes drinking polluted moat water and assaulting strangers. And that’s why I’m glad I decided to spend time learning lessons from another culture.

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Phuphing Palace

As with most blog entries, I have to backtrack a little with this one to explain how I got to be where I was at the time.

The Songkran holidays were nearing and I was looking forward to spending some quality time with friends in Chiang Mai. Due to my recent surge in traveling, I only had two days in Buriram between returning from Kanchanaburi and departing for Chiang Mai on an overnight bus leaving from Khorat. Unfortunately, in those two days, I was legally obliged to procure my visa extension for living in Thailand for the rest of the year.

This was the plan: go to Buriram the day I left for Chiang Mai. Pick up a document from Buriram city. Drive to Khorat from there. Procure visa. Get dropped off at the bus station in Khorat. Leave on my bus for Chiang Mai at 8:30pm.

This is what really happened: I went to Buriram and retrieved the document (this went as planned, phew). I rode along to Khorat, and went to the immigration department, took a number, and waited in line. Maybe I’ve had bad luck in the past when I’ve had to draw numbers, because drawing numbers and waiting in lines makes me pretty anxious and like I will meet some awful fate upon coming face to face with a bureaucratic, government drone. Guess what? That’s what happened! After patiently waiting among all of the dirty, STD-infested European riffraff, it was finally my turn to talk to the government officials. All of my documents were fine. Except one. One document. And it was addressed improperly. That was the only problem separating me from living legally in Thailand. The government official asked her boss and my visa application was denied.

My initial reaction was to start crying, mostly because I am very skilled and experienced with crying. Also, I was incredibly frustrated. My process to become a legal resident of Thailand has been long and drawn out and I’ve logged many hours between waiting in line at government buildings and on public transportation to get to these government buildings. I never really mentioned it while blogging, but it’s been a mentally and emotionally taxing part of my life since January. I wanted everything to be over with and end with a happy ending.

I tried to explain that I had a bus ticket to go to Chiang Mai that night. After that, government offices would be closed for almost a week for Songkran. After Songkran, I had one more possible day to try for my visa again. My margin of opportunity was scarily thin. Khru Shell, a teacher at the school and my helper for the day, decided that we would drive as fast as we could back to the school, pick up a new letter, and drive back to Khorat to get the visa. Unfortunately, Khorat’s about 2 hours from Lamplaimat, even if you’re driving quickly. We realized that we wouldn’t be able to make it back.

At this point, I had to make a decision – either I lose my bus ticket and lose the money I had spent on a hotel reservation in Chiang Mai, or I make sure that I obtain my visa and stay in Buriram one day longer.

I think we can all agree that the most practical, grown-up answer would have been for me to make sure I procured the visa. I, however, decided that I didn’t want to lost all of that money I spent. Plus, there would be no way that I would be able to get a bus ticket to Chiang Mai for the next day – transportation into and out of Chiang Mai was impossible to get so close to the Songkran holiday.

With all of my documents in hand, I hopped on the local bus bound for Khorat (my second trip for the day). I thought I would try my luck at the immigration office in Chiang Mai. And it is with this half hopeful, half terrified attitude that I started my vacation that I had been looking forward to for weeks.

To shorten what could be another long rant on waiting in government offices: I went to the immigration offices in Chiang Mai, waited for hours, only to be told that I couldn’t get a visa there. At this point, I was determined to put it at the back of my mind and enjoy the time I had with friends in Chiang Mai.

I hopped back into thesongthaew I had hired and went to my hotel. I had not been involved in booking accommodation for this trip. If I had, we all would have probably stayed in a fleapit without air conditioning or a flushing toilet. Since I wasn’t involved, we stayed in an extremely nice hotel with both air conditioning and a flushing toilet (and hot water! and a rooftop pool!). It was a welcome relief to come back to such a nice place after so much time in government offices and rest stops and public buses.

I freshened up, and we set off for Doi Suthep and Phuping Palace (getting splashed along the way, even though Songkran had not officially started).

We had to purchase plastic bags to keep all of our essential belongings dry.

P'Nutt, where we can always find her.

My friend and old co-teacher at DSIL, Nutt, wanted to see the flowers at Phuping Palace. I had seen a few signs for it around Chiang Mai and got pretty immature by pointing it out and laughing (Phuping is pronounced kind of like “Pooping” and what would I love more than a Pooping Palace? NOTHING.)

Phuping Palace is place for the royal family to stay when they are in northern Thailand, and it’s beautiful! Perched atop a mountain and covered in greenery and flowers, I had no problem imagining my life if I had a chance to live there.

Adam kindly holding Nutt's hand to protect her from her fear of heights.

fern love.

3/4 of the Songkran crew: Joy, Adam, and me (I still have bus ride induced cankles! oooh, sexy)

Someone carved this with a toothpick. Daaaaang. (no, not really)

If I need to find Adam, I often need to locate the dogs first.

An actual chedi and Wat Doi Suthep. I'm in the practice of calling everything Buddhist and unknown to me a "chedi." This includes all creatures and architectural features. But this is an actual chedi. I looked it up.

More to come from my wild, northern trip soon!