Water, Two Wats, Critters

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

Yesterday started like any day: breakfast at home, then a trip to a cemetery. But in this graveyard the plots weren’t for Thais. The Chiang Mai Foreign Cemetery is southeast of town, on a road that parallels the Ping River. Most patrons were dead missionaries, but many had no claim to fame other than dying in a foreign land. A few of the graves were from last year, with the oldest being over a hundred years old.

Grave.

Dappled light on a small stream behind the cemetery.

The day was bright and sunny thanks to harsh storms that passed through the night before. J. and I decided to hang out by the river near the cemetery. We situated ourselves at some benches. Some of the sloped dirt bank had been repaired, but it all looked on the verge of slipping into the river’s bend. It was a heavy flow day because of the rain. Lots of floating debris headed downstream, including floating plants. Some of them had bunched up along the bank and were swarming with dragonflies. I went to get a closer look.

The river.

Floating flowering plant.

Dragonfly courtesy of zoom lens.

Somehow I was able to photograph this red dragonfly in midair, as it hovered over the water.

As I was walking back along the bank, I noticed two baby turtles. One leapt into the water; the other didn’t give a damn. I think these will grow up to be big snapping turtles, but they are currently cookie size.

Rivers make a couple thirsty. We hopped back on the motordeathbike and weaved our way through narrow city alleys until my memory got us to an Indian restaurant. Spicy, cheap, served with hairy arms.

After lunch, we swapped out motordeathbike for another motordeathbike that had a newer front tire. This, our third bike, should be the charm. With new wheels, we sped with sunny vigor along the canal road towards the outskirts of the southern edge of town. This flat, half developed area is bordered by the foothills to the west. It’s a wild, weird place. The jungle is getting turned into the Thai version of suburban track homes. But not all of the developments have succeeded and it’s common to see huge abandoned buildings getting swallowed by jungle. There are roads to nowhere, cows wandering around, chickens getting chased by street dogs, luxurious houses along cracked and vine overgrown roads. And the new development continues. There are vast shanty towns built in vacant lots to house the migratory construction workers, skeletons of new buildings block old resident’s views of the mountains. Every new building seems so questionable, both in construction and its future. I wonder if a new condo is reminded of condo mortality when it sees the skeletons of failed optimism lurking around it.

The open country road. To the left are houses and cows. To the right are rice paddies.

Cattle grazing outside a temple.

More rice being planted.

The ghost condo. Somewhere in those plants is what’s left of a paved road.

Town houses getting swallowed by country.

On the way home, storm clouds started moving in. We had enough time to stop at a reservoir near the hills and look out over the city.

J. looking at the reservoir.

Me looking at the reservoir with Chiang Mai behind me.

We stopped to eat dinner right as it started pouring rain. It let up a little by the time we finished eating, so we tried to ride with J. holding an umbrella. I was still getting soaked, so we sought shelter under a bus stop until the rain became a drizzle. By the time we got home, it had stopped completely.

Today, we woke up and didn’t go to a cemetery. But we did make coffee using the traditional “sock” method. Directions: Boil water, pour water into sock that’s filled with coffee grounds, brew into metal bowl, pour hot coffee into mugs, spilling much of it.

The “sock” method in action.

Most of the morning I spent rescuing two years of guestbook messages I accidentally deleted off my server. Thankfully, MSN had cached a copy of all of the posts. It took three hours to strip and reformat the pages into a tab-separated text file for the PHP script to parse. The guestbook is still down, however.

For lunch, we met my old friend E. at a vegetarian restaurant called Pun Pun inside Wat Suan Dok. Pun Pun is also the name of the farm a few hours outside Chiang Mai that some of the ingredients come from. The rest are purchased through an organic cartel. E. frequents the place and was on friendly terms with the animated waitress. The food was great, and very healthy feeling.

Wat Suan Dok has a large golden chedi surrounded by white reliquaries for the body parts of Chiang Mai royalty.

Most of the structures are about 10-20 feet hight.

Green curry fried rice with veggies and egg.

Colorful salad with veggies and fried flowers.

After lunch it was coffee, it was coffee time. Coffee from a van time. We had honey lattes for 40bht($1.25), from a van.

Coffee van.

E. at the van.

The girls hot hearts on top of their van coffee from a van. I got a leaf, what gives?

After van coffee, J. and I had a confusing visit to Thai immigration. We’re still a little unsure of how our visa extension works and why it seems to cost $60. Coming soon will be lots of calendar planning for a visas and other trips. It won’t be easy.

To balance the confusion of bureaucracy, we headed into the hills to the jungle temples of Wat U Mong. The complex is quiet and beautiful, all under the canopy of trees. It was built in 1296. The highlights for me are a large pond where people release fish and the crazy brick tunnels under the chedi. The pond is stocked with a bajillion catfish, goldfish, turtles, eels, and other things that were hidden but still making bubbles. There were at least two enormous snapping turtles that would pop their heads out. These turtles were frightening, as they were about three feet long and donning snorting snouts and intense crocodile eyes. They also had the tendency to surface right under you and stare until you looked at them. When spotted, they’d go under. I think they were plotting to pull me in.

The island in the middle of the pond.

You can only reach it via this narrow concrete bridge. When we arrived, people were feeding bread to catfish from it.

The big snapping turtle. I call him “Big Billy”.

His brother was nearby and reaching its yam-sized head out of the water to grab a piece of bread.

Cool flowers.

Old stairs up to the chedi.

The walls of the platform are brick and covered with plants. This base has three tunnel entrances that lead to shrine alcoves.

Inside one of the tunnels.

To add to tunnel quality of it, there were bats flying around. Here’s a picture I took of one before it flew away. It’s a little unnerving having bats flying around you in a dark, cramped tunnel. But it’s also very cool. I will go back to U Mong solely for more bat encounters.

The colossus says goodbye.

Any day where I see animals is a good day. Any day where I see bats is a great day. Now it’s time to fix my guestbook.

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