I spent the weekend in an airy bungalow on a river in Northern Thailand. It sort of felt like taking a vacation from a vacation. My normal life here is like a vacation in the sense that I’m living in a hotel and eating every meal in restaurants of all kinds. Not in the sense that I spent my time lounging around. This trip involves far too little lounging. I corrected that to some degree this weekend during my visit to a tiny village where foreigners come to drop of the face of the earth. There are still a few hippies camped out in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. The rest of them live in Pai, Thailand.
Here’s the beauty of a high concentration of foreigners: foreign food. I have eaten some form of vegetables and rice/ vegetables and noodles for every lunch and dinner since I arrived in Thailand. Not this weekend. This weekend I had pancakes. Well, sort of, they don’t have syrup, and they are quite biscuit-like in consistency. Still, pancakes. And french toast (again, sort of). And pizza. And pita with hummus. And bread. And coffee, really good coffee. Even the local grocery store filled me with joy. I know this is shocking, but they had boxes of cereal. Not just the miniature ones that make me laugh. A four dollar baby box of cornflakes? I wonder how long that’s been sitting on the shelf. But this grocery store’s cereal aisle could almost pass for a few shelves at Trader Joe’s. I mean, Gorilla Munch and Nature’s Path. Ten different kinds of granola (I told you, hippie town). If I had any sort of reliable access to normal milk, I would have bought in bulk. Instead I settled on instant oatmeal, peanut butter and jelly, and bread with seeds in it (Thais usually eat Wonder bread when they venture into baked goods).
Pai did not treat everyone in our group so kindly. Any trip where local hospital workers recognize you by sight cannot be counted a 100% success. Have you ever been to a hospital in a small village? They are kind of fun, quaint almost, if you’re not the one using their services that is. I won’t go into the details since I’m not the star of those events. On an unrelated note, please be sure to wear long pants and close-toed shoes if you are ever on a motorcycle. Also, don’t drink the moat water. Back to the story, hospitals can be kind of fun. I accidentally wandered through the maternity ward, which was tastefully decorated with the kind of cardboard cutouts you might find in the baby shower section of a 99 cent only store. It was less of a ward, and more of a large, open collection of randomly shaped rooms. A woman lay on a “bed” looking less than excited about giving birth in 90 degree weather. Perhaps I’m in the wrong room, I thought. Outside, two men sat smoking cigars waiting to hear if it was a boy or a girl. Just kidding. One was entertaining a small boy. The other was stony faced, looking like he might need some Hong Tong (Thai Whisky).
Once I found the patients I was looking for, I settled right in, messing with the IV bag and mocking the hospital “food.” If I am ever in the hospital, I will never complain about the food. This stuff had fur. Don’t you want me to visit when you are sick? I will fiddle with the fluids that are nursing you back to health and ask why the food you’re supposed to be eating looks like dried out cat vomit. Hey, at least I brought flowers.
Beyond the hospital, there were massive caves to be explored, and a canyon laced with narrow paths that seem to hang in mid-air. There was also a bus ride that solidified my belief in miracles. I know that there didn’t end up being a car on the other side of the road when we made that sharp turn, but if there had been, they might not have appreciated a bus driving in their lane. The road felt like a series of jerky u-turns up a steep hill. It’s a wonder that there was only one motion sickness related “incident.”
Those were the exciting things, but I liked the not-exciting things better. Restaurants that serve cheese. Books that deserve to be read in one sitting. And hospitals were the nurses and patients in the waiting area laugh at you. “Why are they laughing at me?” you think, a little bewildered. But when you can’t figure it out, you just laugh too.