My Two Chiang Mai NeighborhoodsJanuary 19, 2020 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C
On December 27 I moved from my seventh-story two-room apartment in Jade Tower in the Chang Klan District to a fourth-story large one-room apartment in the Night Bazaar Condotel—still in Chang Klan, but one and a half kilometers to the north. I moved because Jade Tower’s absent Chinese owner (a man? a woman?) decided to raise the rent by $300 a month to squeeze the high season’s potential earnings. I had other things to do with that $300.
Jade Tower was probably the first moderately tall building to ruin the pleasant suburb-in-the-fields atmosphere of Chang Klan. As explained to me by my friend “Aw” (Thais do have interesting nicknames) the clutch of generous three-story upper middle class houses to which she moved as a child were considered out in the country. But not for long. A half a century later, all hell broke loose, enormous twelve-to-twenty story hotels were built in the district, tourists poured in, as did fat street-food-fed brown rats, and there went the neighborhood.
Still, any neighborhood in Chiang Mai is OK by me, because all I want to do is practice Thai with my street friends and study Thai in my apartment and in coffee shops. In Jade Tower, at 5:30 each morning, I climbed the ten flights of stairs four times—taking the elevator down to protect my knees—and then walked fast, and eventually jogged, three big loops in the traffic-free lane in back of the building. I usually studied Thai until after lunch in the apartment, and then headed out in an eleven to fifteen kilometer perambulation to my favorite coffee shops. I am a restless student, and can’t bear coupling intense concentration with the monotonous sameness of my dwelling. As I walked, I made chains of street friends along the way. “Where is the cat? How’s business? You look so pretty today! Where are the kittens? Why didn’t anyone take that dead rat away? A bag of boiled peanuts, please. That smells good!” Some of my conversation starters.
I chose the Airbnb property in Night Bazaar Condotel mainly because it was newly-renovated and cheap—$544 per month. It is set on a narrow soi parallel to Chang Klan Road, and the famous Night Bazaar, which is a huge and busy market of sleazy-to-acceptable goods in small stalls, street food-type eateries, a few cabarets and a small Thai kick-boxing arena. The bazaar effectively blocks the smooth flow of traffic from 4 pm to midnight, so motorists in a hurry use my little soi as their detour. Hence its new moniker, “the filthy little soi,” I have bestowed upon it.
Instead of taking lungfuls of polluted air, traversing a surprising variety of uneven pavements begging for a fall, and facing the ever-present danger of alpha street dogs, I decided to exercise healthfully by joining a gym. Across from the filthy little soi is a branch of the famous Dusit Hotel chain, and on the tenth floor is a beautiful gym. Anti-gym Huneven joined with a New Year promotion, and I have been going at 6 am every morning since.
It is now mid-January, and the “cold season” is becoming the “pollution season.” A town once placed in a bucolic valley, the city of Chiang Mai is now strangling on the exhaust of thousands of unregulated vehicles, coagulating in an inversion layer of tamped-down poisonous air. I am crazy to stay here. But I had to send off for a new passport—having used up all of my old passport’s pages in only three years—so I can’t go anywhere without my new document.
Well, never mind. The thing about Thai people is that their charm, easy-going politeness, sense of humor and eagerness to engage in conversation blinds me to the fault of a seemingly conscience-less approach to civic duty. However, having an attendant ram an emissions detector up the exhaust pipe of any thúk-thúk in Chiang Mai at a Department of Motor Vehicles Inspection Station—and then promptly removing the stinker from the road—is my most elaborately-developed fantasy.
No wonder I start longing for beautiful countryside! I’m off on March 6th.
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