Travel Journal

Judy's visit - Chiang Mai, Thailand, 3/23-3/27

(Monday 4 April 2011) by Joanne Chang
Everything is impermanent, and in Chiang Mai I get a lesson in adaptability and change. One night I'm sleeping in a dorm for $3/night, playing Jenga and drinking beer, and the next night I'm sleeping in a spotless air-conditioned hotel room with all the amenities -- fridge, minibar, real shower (!), bed linens, swimming pool. My old creature comforts. It's funny, when I first met Lisa in Vientiane and started adapting to guesthouses (some of them questionable), I told myself it would only be a few weeks. I said it was a good experience, I could do anything for a few weeks, and soon I'd be with Judy, back to the comforts. What's funny is that my comforts changed. I became comfortable spending a few bucks a night to sleep in a simple place -- sometimes clean, sometimes not so much; sometimes cozy, sometimes with bug infestations and a good slathering of mosquito repellent before bedtime. But it was fine, cheap, and all I needed. Suddenly having constant air-con and daily room service (!) seems extravagant; paying 2x to eat at restaurants with real interiors, unnecessary; handing over thousands of bhat to play tourist, crazy. It's a real shift in the other direction, and I struggle to let go. But I'm aware of this struggle, and once the bhat leave my pocket, I need to get over it. It's not so easy though. Judy can't believe it, she thinks I'm hilarious. The girl who used to stay at the Four Seasons and eat at fancy restaurants is at odds with paying a few bucks more for a meal, that still costs less than what she used to pay for a cocktail. I am also makeup, blow-dryer, and accessory-free...see what Southeast Asia has done to me!

On Day 2, Judy gets a job offer from Google. We've been discussing this for weeks so it comes as no surprise; she completely deserves it, and I'm really excited and happy for her. Pretty cool that she'll be working with people that I used to work with, and it's a long road to getting an offer from this company so that alone is an accomplishment. However, this unexpectedly sends me into a bit of a tailspin about what I'm going to do next. Will I go back to Google? Should I? The opportunities at that company are great, the benefits incredible, the people smart and let's face it, it's a hell of a good living. But is it the living I want? Of all the companies and roles I ever had in my 12-year career, Google was the best. But still, I left it. Feeling like I had something more to contribute to the world, something more direct and personal. But what is that thing? There are many ways to give back to the world, maybe my place is just where I left it. Traveling in Southeast Asia shows me that I am of the lucky few who can generate more income than I need, so perhaps I should do that, and give the rest away. In the first few days of Judy's arrival, I move through feelings of pride, happiness, envy, anxiety, and desire. It makes me a little crazy and I see myself getting sucked into the vortex, then recognize the spinning and step back and observe. It's crazy to get crazy about this. I don't have the answers yet and I don't need to. It's not my time. I am extremely happy that my sister landed a great job at a great company, I am still traveling for several more months, and my possibilities are endless. This one noted, now moving on

Onto being a tourist! We only have 10 days to cover 3 cities and 2 countries (we decide to skip Koh Samet, bad weather and not enough time), so every day is an adventure. In Chiang Mai we shop. Shop shop shop shop shop. Mostly Judy shops and I shop vicariously through her, but I do buy a few things which I've done very little of during my travels. The night market is one of the best markets I've been to, where we find an artist to reproduce two paintings for her in three days (they are excellent, and cost a fraction of what you'd imagine); we go hunting for jewelry (orchid place is cool), silk, thai pants (that's me), gifts for the kids, handbags, housewares; we eat street squid, go to a day spa, walk walk walk on sketchy busy roads and eat surprisingly incredible food at touristy Good View restaurant on the river (green curry! squid with salted egg!). Our big excursions in Chiang Mai are a full-day cooking class where we each prepare and chow down on 7 dishes including fresh curry paste and seriously yummy chicken cashew; then a day trip to the Elephant Conservation Park complete with private taxi, elephant ride, and a visit to the village of the Karen (aka "long neck") tribe. The village is a complete rip-off, we basically pay a lot of money to shop (it takes me a couple days to get over this, silently in my own head), and our visit afterwards to Wat Phra That (my pick, the "jewel of Chiang Mai" on Doi Suthep mountain) is a disappointment -- a huge tourist production, tons of people, hawkers, stalls, kids performing for money, and lots of temple bling. Oh well. When traveling like this you'll love some things more than others. Wat Chedi Luang in Old Town is beautiful, as are the many other temples scattered casually about. Chiang Mai is a great intro to Southeast Asia for Jude, she thinks it's a very manageable and easy city to navigate. Funny, I actually think it's big and intense but probably because I'm arriving from the villages of Laos! As far as cities go, I like it. By the time we leave our suitcases are stuffed. Bellies too.


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