Friday, January 27, 2006

Down the Soi

A soi is a small laneway between two major roads. They are numbered, odd numbers on one side, even numbers on another. There are usually several soi between each road. As I walk around the old town of CM I take a different soi each time. This is a great way to see life as it really is for Thai people. Sometimes you get a big surprise, a lovely court-yard with fountains and flowers or a fantastic cafe run by a cooking school.

Often you see family life being enacted before your eyes. Tiny stores, selling very few items that seem to be open 24 hours a day. Micro-businesses, tailors, laundresses, shoe repair, hairdressers, massage and tiny cafes and stalls of street food.

After visiting the dentist here yet again, I took a small soi with lovely old teak houses and gardens which suddenly opened out into what I can only describe as the Yorkdale of Chiang Mai. In the middle of average commercial and residential mix were several small side streets of amazing small shops and galleries.

This was not at all in a tourist area but in an area outside the moat that surrounds the old town and close to the university. UCM. I spent a happy couple of hours browsing. A couple of the shops had wonderful old jewelry pieces from surrounding countries and ancient tribal beads. Most were very expensive but I did manage to find a piece of carved lapis set in silver with lapis beads. I was wearing it as I write this and have just broken the string and lapis beads are all around me. Guess I should have known better than to wear it but its so lovely. Now I will have to wait until I get home to safely re-string it.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Barbara in Prison

Today I went to prison!

It was only a minimum security prison and I went there to get a $1 pedicure. Most of the women there are in prison because of drug offences, often carrying for their boyfriend. Rehabilition includes learning a trade, beauty treatments, massage and sewing and embroidery. The prison has a fully equipped salon and a nice little store. Service is spotty, depending on how long the lady has been training but hey for $1 I got everything I would get for $30 in Canada.

Actually I had not really intended to go there but after visiting the the new Chaing Mai museum my feet were sore and the prison is right next door.

The museum is lovely with lots of inter-active videos in many languages. I learnt so much about the history of CM and I thought I knew quite a bit. There is also a nice cafe and a small gift shop and a substantial library.

After my pedicure I went to the grocery store. Just about everything you see in a major Canadian grocery store is there but everything is in small sizes. Local brands, about 1 tenth the price of mulit-national brands, sit side by side. I bought milk and sugar, lots of fruit and some wonderful smoked salmon and other snacks. I usually eat breakfast on my balcony and sometimes a drink and snacks with friends on the roof in the evening. The rest of the day I eat and snack out. A fresh fruit smoothie here for $1.00, a cup of great Arabica coffee for 60 cents somewhere else. A Thai dish of noodles or rice for about $1 does me nicely for lunch.

Walking back from the grocery store there were lots of cops. hmmm... hard to find out what was going on. Then all the traffic stopped coming down the main street but nothing happened. Noisy as usual, I stepped the the curb to look down the road and was suddenly dragged backwards by two pairs of strong cop hands! I thought I was being arrested! - back to prison - wow. A finger wagging and loud instructions to stay back quickly got me back in control. Then with a great woosh a stream of cars, followed by an ambulance trying desperately to keep up the pace - seems the princess was visiting. As the King (60 years of reign this year) was born and raised in CM, the palace in the hills outside of the city is his second home. Of course traffic was perfect chaos for hours after.

I was glad I was walking.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Great excitement at Grand Apt Hotel.

There was lots of excitement at the hotel this morning. The arrival of a new small monument to the Buddha. It is quite lovely and stands on a new pedestal by the entrance to the hotel.

Made of teak its in the form of a miniature temple with working wooden shutters and doors, sitting in a garden of flowers and little trees. There are china horses and dogs and people in the garden, Buddha sitting on a throne and other people around including dancing girls and dogs. There are places for tiny dishes of food, offerings to the gods. The whole thing is only about 5 feet x 6 feet. It is already garlanded with gardenias and roses and swags of ribbons. In all a delightful addition to the hotel.

It will bring good health and good fortune to all who enter the hotel and the restaurant/bar/kareoke centre.

I hope that will include me although I already consider myself very fortunate to be here and not plowing through the snow in Toronto.

Monday, January 23, 2006

weekend markets

Chiang Mai is a city of markets but none is more popular than the "walking market" which on Sunday afternoons and evenings takes over several of the main streets and the plaza square at Tai Pae Gate. I started at the square where many of the hill tribes display their wares and where sometimes I meet old friends from the hills. Yesterday I was lucky enough to meet with one of them. A spray old lady, brown and wrinked as a walnut with a mind like a steel trap. Hidden in her pocket - she just knew I would turn up - were three stone carvings, perfect for pendants. She also had some cream coloured horns carved with Salamanders and three more tigers. She then escorted me around some of the other tables, picking out treasures and bargaining to the teeth. In fact she bargained so hard with one poor lady that I went back and slipped her another 20 blaht.

After sitting at a table drinking freshly squeezed mandarin juice and eating sticky rice and mango I had to take a ride back to my apt., I was so laden down with heavy beads and stuff.

Still I could not stay in my apt. all evening when this great market was taking place, so after a cup of tea I shuffled off again looking for more treasures. My find of the night was a silver chain belt with 24 lapis lazuli and silver decorations hanging from it. Alas I did not have 4,500 blaht left and the only ATM I could find was out of cash so I am hoping that it will still be there when I go back in two weeks time.

The other thing I found was some wonderful silk tubes with tassled lids (wine bottle gift wrap)
I may try and import some into Canada. Need to check out the shipping costs first.

This morning I went to the far corner of the old town, an area I had not visited before, just to see what was there. Found the tribal gift shop run by the social services department. Lovely stuff but mostly weavings. Maybe I will go back before I leave.

Tomorrow I am thinking of going to the Monkey School - where they train monkeys to assist handicapped people. Should be interesting. Will report in due course Barbara

Sunday, January 22, 2006

only in Chiang Mai? pity.

Chiang Mai is the capital of northern Thailand and the second largest city in the country. There is lots of development going on here but some of the old things remain. Some lovely old traditions, some quirky stuff.

DOGS. The Thai love their dogs and the dogs seem as mellow as their owners. but why, in 80 degree weather, do the dogs wear coats and sweaters?

BEGGERS. I hardly see anyone begging, not like Toronto and no one seems to sleep in the streets unless they are young back-packers.

MOUNTAIN BIKING. Very popular and easily obtainable, but only down the mountain - never up=hill. They bus you and your bike to to top and you ride down!!!

SCOOTERS. Everywhere, some with two people and two children squished between them. Lots of school kids riding scooters, sort of like borrowing mums car. There is no minimum age for driving and no test to pass, yet there do not seem to be many accidents. Thai drivers are very polite and no one is in that much of a hurry.

SMILES. Everyone smiles at strangers and friends alike. If I went around TO smiling at everyone I would probably get arrested.

APPEASING THE GODS. Little shrines with a few flowers, a bit of food and maybe some inscence. Old ladies walking around carrying big trays with small triangle-shaped baskets containing tiny birds. You pay her one or two dollars to relase the birds and the golds will smile on you. Pillars topped miniture temples outside most buildings, on street corners and in parks.

MONKS. In their safferon robes monks are everywhere. It is very bad luck for the monk to be touched by anyone, even brushing past them is a no-no. Makes it a bit hard on crowded streets.

FOOD. Cooking is everywhere on the streets. Sometimes the cooking is on the road and the tables by the buildings and passers by walk between the two.

SIDEWALKS. Sidewalks belong to whoever gets there first. Parked cars and scooters, tuk-tuks, food vendors, craft vendors, signs for trekking and 120 B bus rides to Bangkok. I spend halfo f my time walking in the gutters.

INTERNET CAFES. Thousands of them and they are always busy, often with students playing games.

I could go on and on. Its a facinating place to be and two months does not seem long enough.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Amethyst shopping

Although much of the Amethyst we see in Canada comes from Thunder Bay, here there is a much greater selection. The crystals of amethyst are the darkest at the tip and the palest, often light lavender or almost white, at the base, where they are the largest. I am always searching for the best pieces I can get from the tips and today I found a motherload of deep purple polished stones.

Buying beads and stones here is not like going into a supermarket for beads, except for silver.
I search store after store, garnering a bit here and bit there. I visit the night market where, if I am lucky I may find a string of this or that, I comb the antique shops too. Today I found a real treasure in a small dusty antique shop I not even noticed previously. It is 6 stands of deep pink oblongs interspersed with nice sized garnets and gathered in the centre with a large silver barrel. I mighty have a hard time parting with it.!

I have already met with some of the hill tribes artists who have promised some interesting carved pieces. One brought me two wonderful carved horn dragonflies and 3 amazing double-sided horn butterflies. They will make wonderful pendants when I get home.

Between shopping, going to the markets, eating and having massages I have had no time to actually make anything from the stash of beads and stones I have already collected-boy I am going to be busy when I get home!

Am thinking of going to Burma for a day or so to see what I can find there. That is when I have exhausted all the markets here.

Sunday is the big, big street market with hundreds and hundreds of stalls, massage places and food. Lots of food. More on food later.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

you never know what is going to happen next

So I am sauntering along, on my way back to my apt., when a very polite (and rather gay) young Thai man says "Excuse me but are you English" and when I rather reluctantly answer "yes" he produces a brochure from his bag. I am expecting a sales pitch but he says "please can you help me with the correct English wording on this brochure". So in the middle of the street, we start to re-write the wording on a brochure the purpose of which I have no idea. Turns out it is a very fancy club for Women called club Athena.

"Welcome to the club for ladies, you deserve to be loved at Club Athena, you will be treated like an angel." After we had sorted out the grammer and correct wording, he handed me a magazine with an ad for the club and a coupon for a free drink and politely left me. Will I go? mmmmmmmmm maybe I will tell you AFTER I have been - if I go!

Life in Chaing Mai

Thanks to everyone who has written to me about my blog. In answer to one question - how do I get around in Chaing Mai-well I mostly use Shanks Pony as it is such an interesting city and there is something to see and do at every corner. There are dozens of WATS which are temple complexes surrounded by a high wall. Inside the wall are statues, lots of gold ornamental work, the actual temple and living and working places for the monks. Dozens of places offering Thai massage, which is quite wonderful, shops, street stalls and literally hundreds of places to eat. Thai people seem to graze 6 or 7 times a day and I am getting into that habit too.

But-getting around. Top of the toem pole are the Air Cons. Luxoury air-conditioned buses with leather recliner seats, food service and TV. Then there are other buses, some Air Conditioned some not. Then there is the city bus which travels on a fixed route for 30c a trip. My favourite though is the songkow, a privately owned open sided, step in at the back two long seats and rails to hang on with. You just flag one down, tell the driver where you want to go and if he is going that way he says yes. If not you just wait until the next one comes along.
Anywhere, anytime 50c. The drivers usually speak some English although not as much as they pretend, which can lead to some pretty amazing long rides. I usually tell the driver then get into the bus and ask in anyone speaks English, which many do. I then tell them where I want to go and they confirm that the diriver is going to the right place. It all works rather well except that the other day I ended up at the airport instead of the dentist!!!

Below that is the Tuk-Tuk the bain of the tourist. These are two-seater carts with tops, driving by maniacs on motorbikes. The only advantage is that its a direct ride, unlike the Songkow which may have a number of people to deliver in different directions. Price for a Tuk-Tuk is $1.50 but a bit of negotiation has to take place to get to that price.

Below the Tuk-Tuk is the bike rickshaw - man pulling rickshaw is outlawed here.
actually its rather fun to take the rick-shaw if you are not in a hurry, you get to see a lot that way. So thats how to get around in Thailand. Tourists also rent bikes and scooters and of course cars although I am not sure I would be too happy driving a car over here.

Do keep writing to me, I love to hear from you all and yes, I am buying beads and stones - more on that later after I have met with my friends from thenorther hill tribes. Barbara

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Singapore is like a teenager

Singapore is like a teenager, struggling to find its own way. After 40 years of independence from the British, it's still trying decide what to be. A small island, surrounded by over 50 small islands, it struggles under draconian rules. If you try and import chewing gum for re-sale, the fine is $50,000. Drop litter, jay-walk and dozens of other petty laws carry heavy fines or forced labour jobs cleaning the streets wearing "convict" clothes. 4 million people need more space so land-reclamation, using rocks and soil imported from Indonesia, is on-going. They have even narrowed the Singapore river to create more roads. No wonder the Singaporeans drive over the bridge to Malaysia for "sin and shopping". It is also a city of contrasts, Chinatown, Little India, Arab Street, and then Orchard Road, Mecca for designer clothes at designer prices, housing prices of over $800.000 for a small condo, cars at $100.000, street markets with knock-off label goods, shop houses, two story buildings with stores below and accommodations above, edge to edge with over 150 high-rise buildings housing the head offices of international banks.

During my four day stay, I hardly could get a feel of what Singapore is all about.

I did get to go to Raffles and have a Singapore Sling at the long bar, mostly unchanged since the days of Noel Coward and Earnest Hemmingway. although I could not reconcile it with the reggae band playing Bob Marley songs and the floor covered in peanut shells, it was an interesting experience!

Now I am back in Chaing Mai and it feels like coming home. More on that later. Barbara

Thursday, January 12, 2006

starting off on another adventure

Airline Limo companies offer free wake-up call. One would assume that this is so that you are awake and ready to jump into the Limo when it arrives. The company I had left me a voice-mail message! Duh. At least they said they left a voice mail message after I complained to the driver that I did not get my wake-up call and I carried my cordless phone everywhere I went.

Interesting twist when I boarded the aircraft, saw a Lady pilot and she was very young - of course thesedays everyone is young to me.

I hate the new ecconomy Air Canada - no meal service, the gals go down the isle flogging a variety of products from well known chain fast-food joints. Even a pillow and blanket is up for grabs at $2 a pop.

Was glad to get onto Singapore Airlines where all the lady assistants (what do they call them these days - hostesses - ?) all look like beauty pagent winners and are so courtious and polite.
The meals on the flight were more than ample - in fact I refused the last meal of the flight I was so full.

Arrived in Singapore at 2.00 a.m. to pouring rain - and its still raining. Hotel is great, wonderful free buffet breakfast-american and chinese style and great fruit of course.

Did a couple of group tours. I HATE group tours but its the only way to get to see a lot in a short time. Anyway thats for another day. Am off to Thailand tomorrow and will post in a couple of days and tell you about being lost by the tour guide!!

Barbara

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Am off to Thailand again in 3 days time!

Its time to eacape the Toronto winter for warmer climes and an opportunity to replenish my stock of semi-precious stones and silver beads so I am off to Thailand on the 9th January for a couple of months. I will be stopping in Singapore for a couple of days en route. Singapore is a place I have not yet visited and I am looking forward to it immensely.

I will be taking a direct flight from Singapore to Chaing Mai, no stops in Bangkok yet.

After a few weeks in Chaing Mai and probably a number of side trips, I will have a weeks beach vacation in Phuket, then 5 days in Bangkok for some serious shopping. Then its home to WORK and create some more wonderful one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry for your shoppping pleasure!

If there is something special you would like to me to look at while I am away, please email me barbara@barbaraelias.com I go to the internet cafe almost everyday to catch up with the news and in particular the activities of my two newly minted grandchildren Emily and Liam.

I will also be working in the silver studio and also expect to spend some time at the Batilk studio plus I never knowwhat the wonderful artists from the northern hill tribes will have and of course the antique shops!!!!

Check in again soon, I will be up-dating this frequently.

Barbara
exquisitedreams.com

 

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