Stockholm - Arlanda Airport - quiet, grey sky, preponderence of English, lingua franca? Small, small smoking area... man battles ashtray. Running man icon... evacuation? Exit. Vegetable masala dinner, quite nice for institutional. Spicy. Quite a lot of glass, Arlanda. New to me. Have you seen this before? Transit pass. Out, in, security efficient, slightly irritated at everything I remove from my pockets it seems, they don't hold it against me too long. Very yellow the gate attendants' parkas. Wearing optional. The frozen lakes were a sight to see. Is Sweden melting? Much green, yes. Abnormal? I've no idea. But I don't discount the science so I imagine... probably. 777. Good sized. Nowhere near capacity from Newark. Same to KL? One can only hope. Plenty of room for an economy seat. Was that Greenland? Iceland? Small and quickly passed. Luck to open the shade at that moment. Little electric scooter. Four wheels, green base. Is the right handle accelerator, left brake? The Stockholm (LVF) airport is really remarkable for this deep quiet. Is the wireless connection real? Not exactly... And another. Kuala Lumpur. Wireless everywhere. Free nowhere. Glass and steel. Tower with trees inside. Smoking lounge. Lingua franca in full effect. Malay too of course. Chinese as well. Mandarin or cantonese? I need to cross-reference she she. Keluar. The running man. Exit. Huis? I failed to get the Stockholm running man words. On my return perhaps. Gong Xi Fa Cai anyway. Also quietish. Not like the American airport boom in anyway. The pre-announcement chime rather serious though. Bangkok. Sweaty. Scamaminute. Who's da ho's, whoda johns, whadooIget widdat taxi? Where wud I go? Piss poor planning on my part. Here's the sound of fingers crossing... They had something like a ticket for me. Printed out something more closely resembling a grocery receipt. Got me past security anyway. Here I sit. Air conditioning excellent, albeit highly distributed... that is to say not central. Pipes all along the causeway from international to domestic. Chilly water? No sweat. Unlike the misters on the plane in Kuala Lumpur. AC pumping raw condensation. Humid there too. But not this warm. I think I am tropical now, yo! Kids running the gate desk. Pity I don't speak Thai. They suss me fairly well though. Can always expect a better grasp of english from others than I have of theirs. Ugly merkin. Anything about this strike you as absurd? Sit. Stand. Abandon chair. 20 minutes late. 30 minutes later. What next? Indecipherable seat number? Indubitably. Fix yourself, damned clock. What, have you no understanding of the time that daylight can save? Missed a picture in Stockholm. Again in KL. Flew next to a gent with a very nice Breitling though. Adjusted once in twenty years. Sounds about right. He's going to the CM area to. Excellent Thai. Sounds Brit. Bussing while I fly though. Visa painless. Slightly lost, wonder wander, still rather far up the line. Almost painless... forgetting flight number agent has to ask -749? Check boarding pass, of course not. Stamped and exit papers sorted barge through the sweat to grab a smoke before finding Thai Air. Which, in fact, turns out not to be correct. Glad I try Asia Air because they do have the reservation Steve made me. Pure luck? Plane hour late from Bangkok arrives half-hour late in Chiang Mai. Interesting thronging. New York style in BKK. Not called by seat numbers the human stampede gently pushes around me onto a bus to cross the tarmac to the stairs to the plane. Evidently the seat number on my boarding pass is optional. So I'll take a window towards the back, thank you. Might be my row anyway. Solartron jet. Must look them up. Red apparently leather seats. Steve and Navin are waiting. Mazda pickup sardines. Pull into the Mazda dealership, S needs a brake rebuilt. They'll get the part, come back tomorrow. Stop for groceries. Hit an ATM. Why am I allowed so few baht? Must ask Commerce. Freaking convenient if I may say so though. Cheap, these groceries. Thousands of baht not so much money. Grapes, papaya, meat, chips, toothpaste squeezer. Yeah, you heard me right. Wanna make something of it? And that's not all we got, o no, beer, onion, cashews... the list goes on but I digress. Back to squeeze into the truck I find my rollies get just the same attention here as the US. Slightly friendlier perhaps with a evidently greater disappointment when they prove to be tobacco. So not the same then, similar. Nothing is the same. Driving on the left. Passionate driving without aggression. Moto swarm. Architecture varied but definitely Asian overall. Funny thing about that? Patina of dirt, man, entropy, can't live without it. Steve and Navin have negotiated a stick shift solution. I could have sat twinky. Gorgeous house S has. Wonderful paintings of statues of Shakyamuni. Sleeping on a plush purple sofa. Outlets are all hybrid so no worries over juice. Now I just need to figure out how to get here. Dinner in town, green chicken curry over rice, fantastic. Pool at Night Plaza, absurd. Prowl NP, parallels to Chinatown have very little to do with ethnicity. Bartering for bartering's sake. Knock-off merchandise is not underground here, though. Have spare bag, will fill it. Home, sleep like the dead until animal symphony begins. 8 count bird leads off. Dipndipndip 3 - 4 dwiiipdip 7 - 8... rooster commences arhythmic accompaniment... dog can't keep the beat any better. More roosters and dogs try to help. Effective for dynamics but not so for rhythm. Beautiful music but I challenge you to dance to it. Unless you concentrate on 8 count bird. And he goes off sometimes, improvisation is life's privilege. Banana, coffee, cereal. Steve's headed to Myanmar to reup his visa. Navin takes him to the bus. I perform morning ablutions. Head into CM clutching the back of N's moto. First stop, SIM card. Yes, the Ericsson really is triband. Save N's number. 2d stop moto shop. I am now the proud rider of a 125cc Honda Jaguar manual shift scooterish bike. Manual shift means putt putt under shifting or launching like a rocket. I try to balance these usages. I fear the traffic though it's mostly kind to me. 3d stop the phone shop again, I realized I didna pay her for the 300 minutes she showed me how to activate. She calls me a nice guy. I may just have to go to the phone shop again. 4th stop Navin's ÒMa'sÓ place. I don't understand the relationship. He may explain better eventually. Not birth mother. Something about adoption but he's no longer of adoptable age. But I do know she's renting him his bike. And she's kind and has a mutant pekingese sort of critter. We avail ourselves of her facilities. No flushing tanks on the majority of CM toilets. Big bucket full of water and little bucket for scooping into the bowl. Works fine. 5th stop her sister's outdoor restaurant. Park the motos inside. Parking lot right front, kitchen left front, prep left rear, seating everywhere else. Fantastic noodles with chicken. Home made chili paste too. Yo with a capital Y. 5th stop N's girlfriend's salon. Not gf, sort of gf, once again maybe I'll understand eventually. Don't sweat it. Surreal scene though, two foreign guys hanging in a salon on an alley in old city CM. 6th stop airport mall. Steve has told Navin to take it easy on me speed-wise. The bike is capable of a lot more but we aren't the slowest thing on the road. Just almost. But I'm glad the pace keeps me from losing him when the inevitable traffic intervenes. Don't need a thing at the mall, just looking. Different world. I have to force myself to start carrying Cher's Sony, missing so many photo-ops. Motorcycle parking lot. Gate guards just giving and receiving passes. No money changes hands. Just so they know capacity? On the way out I'm all wrapped up in the clutch and the pass... the guard is kind enough to reach and extricate. This might be a moment moms don't wanna hear about. Skip a couple of sentences if you like. Back in downtown CM red truck/bus thing stops short right in front of me. I don't want a call this close again. Brakes locked, tires squealing, I'm fine if a lil shaken. Nobody gives me a 2d look. 7th stop shoes. I'm tired of my lace-ups in a culture where it's rude to wear shoes into a house. 8th stop, back to auntie's. Fried rice this time. The chili paste is running low, the mix changing as it sinks. Navin eats two. Notes he's full after one but that doesn't stop him. Owed him 20 baht from brunch so pay him back at late lunch. 8th stop, back to the salon. Even weirder as it is now full of clientele. N demonstrates asian chivalry by squeezing into the couch Ôtil a girl pops out. What can I say? I'm getting to see something from the inside. Is it representative? No idea. I think a crush is involved but I can't decipher the behavior. Nor the language, both literally when it's in Thai, and because I think circumlocution is goin on even when English is used. Some of it prolly not even conscious. Anyway. We're invited to a party. We head downtown for a drink while we await S's pickup time. The seediness is hard to describe. What is honesty, what is corruption, what is cultural breakdown, what is karma for gender inequity, who's fleecing whom? Is a bar-girl a hooker? In CM prolly. New paddy comes in. She had eyes on us, now on him. He'll play pool. What else? One mustn't assume. Everyone is motivation, habits, perceptions. What is real, what's an act? And to what end? The girl-boy is an end to hirself. Not getting attention from anyone but on standby for something. That must happen fairly regularly since s/he is welcome behind the bar. A friend of hir's comes by, same voice, similar figure, same adam's apple. They hang for a bit but what is the business? Cruising? Nothing going on here. Friend moves on. I am fascinated. By them, by the dirtiest strip-club looking place across the alley, by what people do. There are more than six Wat's in CM. I see over a dozen monks a day. Do we need this soil to fertilize our spirits? Once again, I may keep you posted if you like. It's time to pick up S from his post-bus meeting. Bar-girl says -hey, I wanna show you something; that one black, that one yellow. She's right you know. I get to use the accelerator a little more this time. Make it all the way to 4th gear. Zippy. Still no idea where I am or where I'm going. Forget street planning by cows, CM seems to predate even that much logic. Street planning by dinosaurs. Pteradactyls prolly, not bothered by such mundane concerns as connectivity on the ground. Somehow we get there even though I'm pretty sure that's impossible. I think I have an advantage on speed bumps. Either I'm the only one who knows how to post or my suspension's harder. Have to try not to get ahead. Here we are, moments early. Have a smoke, shoot le merde. The decision is negotiated that Steve will take the Yamaha home and Navin and I will take the Honda to the party. N is not quite as facile with a clutch and avoiding neutral, but he improves quickly. And I am not considering chancing anyone else on my driving. Yet? I dunno about that... This party is for a girl named B's birthday. Everyone needs to get presents. Night Plaza again. I don't know her, should I? Eh, I'm awkward either way, volunteer to chip in with anyone who needs. So I grab some Pall Mall's from a 7-eleven. Doesn't sound like the other side of the world to you? Well let me add a few details. The 7-eleven is squeezed in like every other shop. The smokes are under lock and key in an invisible drawer. The Pall Mall's have some sort of art painted on them. I haven't figured it out yet, but I think it has something to do with death and a parent and child and how it could all be avoided if you would just not smoke these goddamn cigarettes. The lighter I buy is shrink-wrapped. This whole vignette is occuring as a result of our earlier negotiations. Steve convinced me that going home to get a rolly wasn't worth missing the party. Navin was ambivalent but kindly cooperative. Showed me the 7-eleven. N now has a giant white stuffed dog. I recommended the frog but we cuddna afford it. Small fun when An (the oject de crush) convinces N to carry his own damned dog. Which means, of course, that I carry it. There's also some interesting helmet swapping going on here. Legally N has to wear it. The girls' aren't wearing. So he doesn't want to wear. Fine with me, I like my skull the way it is. Now N manages a sort of reverse piracy, pulling up alongside the girls and forcing them to take the dog. Is this the 11th stop, her apartment? Or the 12th? Do Night Bazaar and 7-eleven count as two? Three? Only parked once so... he calls it her condo. I try to determine if anyone owns it. Evidently not. Suss that. The laundry machines are out in the front porch. There is no security to speak of. Try that in NY. I'm so wrapped up in admiring the architecture and the apparent lack of elevator in a ten story building that I don't notice the kittens for several minutes. It seems that CM is full of semi-feral/semi-tame animals of both feline and canine persuasions. Is all of Thailand? All of Asia? I'll let you know as soon as I do. Two of these kittens look fine. Mom's gotta be around somewhere. One does not. Will never see a vet I fear. I hope our arrival hasn't scared off mom. Probably not, likely hunting, as I say they're semi-tame. Would like attention. I hesitate to be too affectionate, don't know when my next hand washing will be and they look... erm... semi-feral. Light pats and earblows all around. Hope they'll be OK. The girls come back down. I can't communicate any concern over Ma meow. Or my concern is incomprehensible. Sawrat. There're more cats. Their relationship with people is less dependent, more of a truly voluntary association. Every lining has its cloud. On the road again. Next to last stop, the party. Twenty and thirtysomethings I think. Of course I'm too illiterate to even ask. But they're nice enough to this big ignoramus. Ply me with excellent food and a whiskey that is not as strong as its reputation. One of the older guys makes a very noble effort at English. We discuss a little buddhism, a little money, a little fighting. He's a fledgling promoter. Invites us to a fight the next night. The girls don't understand why I like chili paste. No one understands why I'm not drunk. Navin is repeatedly creaming his head on the overhang under which we sit. And he's not drinking. I can't open the freakin clams. Not really a case of coordination or strength I think, I just can't get my fingers in there. The toilet is CM standard issue. Bucket and pan. A good time is had by all and I have to appreciate that my inability to communicate is not for a lack of trying for once. I offer to drive myself home but realistically since I have no idea where that is no one's buying. N drops me off and heads back out. Up early again. Steve warned me that would happen for some time. I'm not so sure it has as much to do with time zone change as it has to do with 8 beat bird. Wash the grapes, eat all the ones that fall from the stem. Prep the coffee. Steve arises. I intercept his effort to put water in the coffee maker. Coffee happiness commences. He keeps his bread frozen. Another habit I may emulate. I like my PBJs toasted anyway. We joke about the freshly finished PB and whether it's worth crying over. I work with Cher on getting the Brooklyn Ônet link to let me in from here. Navin gets up. He got in around five this morning. Today's plan is hitting the CM computer stores. If we make it just the Mairs boys hopefully N will get a nap. Shave, shower et al. Work with Cher some more while Steve does the same. What ensues is a whirlwind of hot software and overpriced hardware. Three story mall, all tech. Steve wants a mini-laptop. I'm considering a still camera since I'm not getting any pictures for you with the video. We find nothing. Maybe a little software but I'm not admitting anything. For some reason there's a tailor on the third floor. I talk raw silk shirts. Her prices are outrageous and she's not negotiating. The SEV needs a little work, shorten the sleeves and tighten the lining where I've stretched it carrying my U3. But she isn't the jacket person, I must come back. I might. Will the jacket job give me leverage on the shirts? Maybe. We move on. When we parked we were restricted in how far we could get out of traffic by a piece of pink line across the sidewalk. The line is gone now and our bikes are buried in a pile of compatriots. Off to lunch, the same place we ate my first night here. So good, so cheap. Thai omelette this time. S laughs that this is my third breakfast of the day. Sort of an egg pancake wrapped around the other ingredients rather than scrambled around. And rockin lemon shakes. Crushed ice contraption, nothing to do with milk. And wonderfully tart. On to further computer malls. It's a surreal phenomenon. The competition is ridiculous. Same and similar items stall after stall. Free enterprise has already pushed their prices so low there's no haggle room. I can't find a camera lower than the one at the first mall. Sorry folks. Turns out the Sony won't talk to this PB over USB so yer gonna hafta wait for pics Ôtil I buy one. Nothing new in this one. We stay parked and walk to the next one over. Steve gets a webcam. Still nothing I need. Might buy a CD wallet for 32 baht (80 cents). But it's not urgent and I imagine I'll be back before I go. Thought that one was surreal? Well the next one is beyond belief. Tech is a side effect. Over priced Panasonic camera. Steering wheel covers. Replacement rice cooker control panels. High torque electric motors. Giant feet car floor carpets. I'm not even going to try to complete the inventory, but here's a little more: lightweight fixture-free ceiling fans. Teeny tiny hanging fans, no cage. I have to joke when Steve says -hang it over the crib, -that'll teach baby to sit up! Phone components... we buy a DSL line conditioner. Later we find it doesn't help with the link instability here but we tried. I get an Ericsson compatible headset. Just Ôcuz I'm in Thailand and need triband doesn't mean I have to irradiate my head. Hope it works better than the one I bought and disposed of in NY. S wants to relax before his Thai lesson. We head home. Navin cooks while Steve learns and I write. I'm getting microscopic amounts of Thai by osmosis but I'm not trying all that hard since I think I also need Sanskrit, Japanese, Khmer, Laotian, more Cantonese and Mandarin, and who knows what else. So until I can say hello, thank you and sorry in all of the above I'm not going to try to conjugate a verb. When that's even possible. Lesson over. I've learned -see you later, and -good luck. N has made a pork and vegetable soup. The primary vegetable does not exist in the west, has no name N knows other than drola't (Khmer). It's very good. And very healthy, says N. We all settle into geeking, taking turns to power cycle the router when the link fails. Finally I hack the web interface and find how to reboot it remotely. Not much more convenient. N has given up and is just using his computer to play a selection of asian pop. S will need a little training on the web interface so I take over rebooting duties until either the pork or drola't attacks and I pass out. Wake briefly when S turns in but not enough to complete the effort of disrobing. Rise to my grapes. Must finish them before I leave CM for wherever it is I go next. Set up the coffee. Write. Steve gets up, I start the coffee. We discuss my plans to ride up Doi Suthep, see the Golden Pagoda and Winter Palace. Well, I can't actually see the winter palace since I'm neither thai royalty nor military, but might admire the gates. S convinced Navin to go with me last night, so he gets up early. I still haven't finished my muesli, coffee nor shower so he's ready well before me. We grab food and water then head out. We're almost to the highway when I realize if I feel a light chill now I may be downright cold on a mountain, so we turn around so I can pick up the SEV. Pack everything under my seat and we're really off this time. I'm not afraid of traffic anymore. Almost everybody really is looking out for everybody else and if one wants to go slow or fast, well that's just fine. Just be attentive because lanes are not even suggestions, especially to motos. Doi Suthep is easy to find. I don't regret turning down S's map. We're glad we brought both motos. People who are sharing are not moving at a great clip. Navin lets me stop a couple of times to wander and get some footage. Don't you wish you could see it? I'm reluctant to shoot holy things, don't really know the protocol. But I get some views. We pass Winter Palace and a waterfall. N says -we can stop on the way back, I say -ok. We pass a sort of plaza, we explore a little but don't really get the attraction. Pressing on we arrive at Golden Pagoda almost immediately. I shoot alot. The stairs aren't that holy, and the dragons they say -shoot us! So I do. We also buy some candles, incense and flowers for the Buddhas. I fail to count the steps. I'll excuse myself by asking, where do they really begin? The road? The first landing? The truth may be closer to: Matt had too much fun with the dragons, but my body counted them. And how. Over a quarter of a mile anyway. Navin actually asked for a pause, and I'm the smoker. But I'm also the New Yorker currently and I must walk nearly a quarter of a mile of subway steps a day. I get more pics, but the higher we get the less I want to be standing there with a camera. We get to the temple, remove our shoes and head in. I really don't know what to make of this state religion. King as deity. Other Buddhas smaller or to the side. I must read more about it, it has something to do with the kindness of the people; separation of church and state is probably really only critical when the religion encourages murder and intolerance. But it also has something to do with the seediness and corruption; spirit is subservient to the state. Worth educating myself about, I might be able to live with the latter to get the former. This travelogue will not dwell on the absolute horror I feel at unthinking followers of Abraham, Jesus or Mohammed but I know you've all heard me hold forth before. And let me stress UNTHINKING because I know there is beauty in Judaism, Christianity and even Islam. But this is very much on my mind and heart. Some spiritual traditions need a _lot_ of weeding to be fruitful. So seeing a living king as buddha gives me pause. I give my smoke, fire and flowers to Shakyamuni on the side and we walk to the bells. They're getting a fine ringing so I feel no call. Navin doesn't seem to either. He does want pictures of himself at the wall overlooking the mountainside though. I'm happy to oblige. We seperate a little bit as he moves ahead and I take in the monks teaching children, the Hindu temple, and the bookstore. I'll read. And send/give postcards on my return. The bells on this side are quiet, so I set a few singing. Navin is sitting right around the corner as I come back to the front so we retrieve our shoes and head down. A few more pics. Early lunch at a restaurant on the first landing. Decent enough soba, but a bit salty. Maybe because I order veg? I'll have to ask N. No, he concurs and he had chicken. We get back to the motos and head for the peak. He gets a bit ahead so I'm left wondering at a fork in the road. The police are kind enough to direct me. We can't quite get to the peak, there's another palace or military outpost up there. So we park at a plaza across the way and wander a bit. We ask if there's anyway to the top and receive pointed direction. N's Thai is much better than mine, but he's not a native speaker either. So we follow the point and I get the distinct impression we're going down, not up. N heads off to the left. I tell him I'll try the right and we'll meet up the way. I lose him, so I retrace my steps, then what I imagine his were, then he finds me. We head back to the motos. I was getting just a wee bit concerned about petrol as my gauge went under half, but I'm happy now that we're on the downhill. Motos downhill is fun. Maybe a little more for Navin since I lent him the Honda and the Yamaha's an automatic, but it's still a blast. No power required to go as fast as you can stand. Neither of us is crazy, but we get to the bottom pretty quickly. Then I remember the waterfall. I could have sworn it was on the right on the ascent but we didn't see it on the left as we came down. There was one on the right however, so I convince Navin to retrace to it. We walk to a plaza there together and I sit on a rock while he gets some chicken. Onward and upward... I hear the falls but don't see it yet. I explore the lowest pool while he heads to the left. I've found the waterfall and I chase him down to tell him I want to climb it and I'll meet him back down here. This turns out to be much more of an adventure than I'd thought. The first falls are easy enough, switching between shoes and barefoot as the water and rock require, but that's not the end. An older Japanese man is disheartened as we approach the top and I suggest he try another path. He does and thanks me. Then a gang of younger folks need to get down past me. I hang onto a tree and swing out of their way. Crossing this falls is slightly nerve-wracking for a man who was a boy afraid of heights, but it's a solid enough concrete and rock path over the water. If one ignores the absence of rails, the large hose running down the middle of it and the puddles. This is one picture I very much look forward to sharing. That conquered I am at the second pool. No one is here. The Japanese man is moving much faster than I or took a different path. I rest a bit, get pics of CM and the lower pool. Up again, rock, grass, small trees, the third pool is much easier to get near. Getting to it is impossible given the way I've gone up. Too dangerous for my taste anyway. Keep moving, I can see the longest falls of this area now. Getting past it will be a rather more brutal pipe adventure. Stop for a smoke. Consider. Why not? Surrounded by people I'm not in any real danger for my life. Grievous injury remotely possible, but not at all likely. Using the pipe for balance I walk the edge of a cliff. Ten steps and I'm fine. Into the woods. Some crouching required, intermittent views of beautiful cascades. I've lost track of pools and falls, the system is complex. Try to get as much footage as possible. Nothing worthy of the least adrenalin the rest of the way up. The top is crowded too. There's a nice ramada with a great view I enjoy. Leaving I notice the wooden tiger by the fireplace. He has a bowl of rice and some twigs so I want to give him something. All I have is the toothpick from lunch, but he has a fireplace so... I head to the cliff and wait my turn for a quick sit. Unbelievable view. To noisy to meditate, but worth the effort. There's another tiger but I have nothing to offer other than publicity. I promise to share the pic when I can. I'm now tired enough from the Pagoda and this hike that I don't think it's a good idea to try it in reverse. I've always found hiking downhill more dangerous than up so I'll just take the road. Not many worries, good shoulder most of the way when the traffic can't avoid me, and the going is blessedly flat. Slow downhill of course, I'm going towards the base, but it's a cooldown after all that. Pass Winter Palace. I jump in a little culvert occasionally that has moved in on the shoulder when traffic threatens. From there I see what seems to be a path. It isn't really, but passable with a little creativity and flexibility. I'm cutting off a huge switchback of the road so I persist. Then I'm on top of a tiny temple in the woods. Spend a little time there and it's back to the culvert. Pass Wat Doi Suthep and wonder if I need to go to Bangkok to find an amenable monastery. I've begun preliminary arrangements so perhaps I should, but I so love mountains! I have to at least call and ask. I shoot their dragons, hope they don't mind. Stop back at the motos to retrieve my water. I'm retracing my steps to where we said we'd meet when I run into Navin. Don't mind he saved me steps at this point. Back to the motos and there's a down and out gentleman sitting by them. I need to clean my shoes, socks and feet from the detritus of the climb so I sit with him. He has questions and I try to give meaningful answers. He doesn't smell like alcohol so I'm afraid it's opium, but he's not that bad, just incredibly apologetic. I try to explain he has nothing to apologize to me for. I want to say something about taking care of himself, but he is here; he must be thinking about it. I'm slow getting my moto situated, and N continues conversing. He's so quick between Thai and English I don't understand any of it, but its tone is friendly. We head down and into CM. Stop for petrol. All petrol is full-serve in Thailand as far as I can tell. Is it excessive to say thanks? N doesn't. We have to, they have to, it's not really a voluntary transaction. I say thanks anyway and we roll. I almost know the way now. By the time I leave I expect I will.
Part The second.