Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Chang Mai 3

Friends: Day four in Chang Mai and the fourth day of rain, and not just showers but torrential drenchings. When the heavens open here, they open but good. We're not the only ones concerned. The rainy season was supposed to have ended days ago. The locals have had a nearly daily dose of precipitation since April. They have had enough. These haven't been day long rains, so they haven't prevented me from going off on my bike. I've had two nice 60 mile circuits of the environs the past two days on my unloaded bike. Its been a pleasure to power into the wind on my unburdened bike and to feel the bike respond when I really start punching the pedals.

Laurie has had an equally satisfying time, shopping up a storm and indulging in two-hour massages. Esther took her to an institute with blind masseurs. Laurie could tell her navel ring, as well as her unorthodox bra straps, startled her masseur's fingers when he discovered them. Esther taught her the word for pain, though a grunted "ouch" conveyed the same message.

Our vocabulary has been increasing by leaps and bounds under Esther's tutelage. When we arrived we didn't know much beyond ice and thank you. We'd been bicycling nearly a week before we finally learned the word for toilet. If we got up from a restaurant and started looking around, we were generally led to the bathroom, but not everyone understood what it was we were looking for and we hadn't figured out a subtle form of pantomime for toilet, so on occasion we just had to wait until we got down the road.

A friendly guy at a service station, who was sitting out by the pumps at a desk taking money, was one of the rare people we've met with any fluency in English. He had sons studying in North Carolina and Germany and had been to the U.S. once himself. He rarely has the opportunity to speak English, so he was happy to practice on us, though he hardly needed any. Its rare for him to even hear English, as only occasionally do the Thai TV stations show American movies or television shows. He wanted us to explain the expression "between a rock and a hard place." After telling him we had a few questions for him. "What is the word for toilet?," we asked. He responded asking, "Do you know Hank Williams and his song 'Honky-Tonk Woman'? The first syllable for toilet is 'hong' like honky-tonk and the second syllable is 'nam' like in Vietnam. It is hongnam."

There was a lengthy letter-to-the-editor in yesterday's weekly English paper decrying the aggressive behavior of Thai drivers. And this just after I had written how cordial I found them to be, at least comparatively. The letter-writer complained how recklessly drivers change lanes and everything else drivers the world over complain about. Their aggressiveness and hostility are still quite moderate compared to drivers I have encountered in Greece and Brazil and Manhattan and just about anywhere else. Not once have we been startled, and only a couple of times have we commented that a driver was a little less than cordial. But motorists can't help but fume when they are grid-locked or bumper-to-bumper, as, all too often, is the case here.

At many of the stoplights each of the four lanes of stopped traffic is given their own green to accommodate the many right hand turning vehicles (as opposed to left in the US). This makes the wait at stop lights twice as long as normal with each lane getting every fourth green light, rather than every other. About a quarter of the traffic is motor bikes. At the red lights they all move to the head of the line between the stopped vehicles, as we too can do on our bikes, and speed out in front of the cars when the light changes.

Looking forward to getting on down the road. We'll be able to cope with rain if need be the next few days, but once we reach the unpaved roads of Laos, rain could stifle us. The weather seems to be very localized, so Laos could be plenty dry. We haven't had a drop when we've been pedaling yet, at least out in the country. And what rain I've been caught in the past two days on my own hasn't been unpleasant. And not a flat yet. Laurie is a good luck charm, as we didn't have any in Mexico either.

Later, George

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