And no, I don’t mean Elvis.
This past weekend, three of my cousins drove up from Bangkok to visit us. Thais love any holiday to bai tieo (which kind of means: to go around having fun), and a three-day weekend to celebrate the King’s birthday is just such an occasion.
Now, in the U.S., for a three-day weekend, my friends and I would be expected to take off right after work (if you couldn’t sneak off work early) and maximize the three days. We’d jam pack it full of things to do and see, barely taking a break, and then return home at the last possible minute. Because we’re a maximizing culture. Even if we spend the weekend relaxing, we would maximize every minute of relaxation.
The Lonely Planet warns that Thai holidays are a little bit different: to expect more time spent eating than visiting the intended destination, making lots of pit stops along the way, picking up friends and running unrelated errands. “But the waiting and detours are part of the excursion and go unnoticed by chatting friends.”
Even having read this, I still found myself surprised at how the weekend turned out. Instead of coming up Friday night, they left Bangkok at noon on Saturday. Driving from Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes about 8 hours: roughly like driving from LA to San Francisco. So they arrived on our doorstep around 8 p.m. We went to dinner, had a lovely long, chat-filled dinner…then instead of going out to bars or the night markets, we all went to bed.
Sunday was the King’s birthday and Thais do love their King. The plan was to go to the foothills of one of our nearby mountains, Doi Suthep, to a small shrine dedicated to an old monk who helped build the city. We would go there to pray and give offerings. Then by noon on Sunday (rather than hanging around until Monday) they wanted to head back to Bangkok.
We awoke around 7 a.m. and had breakfast together, then we took them to see our new house, which still didn’t have much in the way of dishes and other household items. Toby and I were planning to wrangle a taxi to help carry our goods. But since we wanted to head up to Doi Suthep and I knew they needed to leave by noon, I expected that they would want to get on the road quickly. But they looked at our home and remarked on its beauty and how they plan to visit much more, now that they know we don’t live in a shack…and then they got worried. “Don’t you need stuff for the house?” We explained we would get it ourselves, that they didn’t need to worry. Then began the slow, inexorable brow-beating by kindness until we capitulated and we all went shopping at the Thai equivalent of a Wal-mart and Home Depot. Two hours later, we hit the road straight from the stores to get up to the mountain.
Traffic was thick for the holiday, so it took some time to get there. I think we were there for about 20 minutes – at most – before everyone declared they were hungry. Done praying, we went back down the mountain and spent the next hour or so eating lunch. Then picked up more snacks, just in time for them to drop us off, wave good-bye and commence the drive back down to Bangkok.
I would have felt so guilty wasting their time shopping for our stuff instead of exploring Chiang Mai, except that they seemed thoroughly at ease with spending their time that way. Supplied with good food and fun half-English, half-Thai conversation, they seemed quite satisfied with their trip. So instead, I just felt supremely grateful that moving in was made far easier by loving cousins.
Toby and I spent the rest of the day maximizing the holiday. We put away everything and settled into our home, like two little spring birds making a nest. When evening came, we trundled back into town and wandered around the Sunday market, watching all the festivities for the King’s birthday.
They shot off fireworks, straight above our heads, scattering bats with every boom.
Save for Burning Man, this is the closest I’ve been to fireworks since the U.S. tends to frown upon explosions occurring directly above head. (Sometimes, we remark on how surprisingly similar some things are between Thailand and Burning Man.) I was traumatized at first because I saw the bats scatter and then little greyish-brown things flopping down to earth. I thought the fireworks had hit and killed the bats! But upon closer inspection, we saw the things falling from the sky were not bats, but shells from the fireworks. Whew!
We found some street food. I had pad see ew (a fried noodle dish). Toby even got sushi! I was rather skeptical of raw fish sold on the street, but he said it tasted good and he didn’t get sick. Thus it appeared to meet my two criteria for judging food here: 1) it tastes good, and 2) it doesn’t make you sick. Then we both enjoyed a fresh squeezed orange and passion fruit juice ($1 each). Total for both our meals: $5.
Mostly we wonder why we didn’t move here sooner.