Sunday, February 12, 2012

Getting Around and Getting Away in Chiang Mai

We settled into our apartment finally. Housing in Thailand is a bit different from the US. What I consider to be normally included is more of an option here. Our place comes with a kitchen which consists of a counter and sink, refrigerator and microwave but no stove, no utensils, pots, pans, bowls, sheets for the bed, garbage can, and so on. Basically, the room was empty and we spent our first few days filling it up to some minimum level. We hadn't found the street markets yet, so we were dependent on the local department store which is a bit like Macy's and Target combined.  I got to get a frequent buyer card to give us the posted discount.  Nee couldn't get it because she is Thai.  I had to show my passport to get the discount.  When was the last time you had to show your passport at Target?  Never, most likely and can you imagine the fuss if Walmart only gave discounts to foreign tourists?

As we are staying in one place for a couple of months, we both dreaded the idea of eating out three meals a day. I prefer to make my own breakfast and Nee likes to make dinner. If you don't mind eating out every meal, food is certainly available. Eating at the Thai street carts, a meal of noodles, pork and vegetables might run you 40 baht, a little over a dollar. My hamburger the other day was 165 baht, or over three times the cost. Keeping it local keeps the cost down.

Shopping for groceries is the same way. The local grocer is part of a chain here that caters to the foreigners. I can find things there I can't find anywhere else, if I am willing to pay the price. A dozen eggs costs 60 to 80 baht there. 30 baht equals a dollar, so do the math. On the other hand, we walked to something Nee refers to as a fresh market, similar to a farmers market, and bought the same eggs for 30 baht. If I wasn't on a budget, I probably wouldn't care. On the other hand, I do always like a bargain and the markets are a wonderful picture of the Thai diet and culture in microcosm. Along with the various greens and roots, there were oranges, dragon fruit, apples, pineapples, and things of various colors I have no idea what they were. There were ladies chopping up pork that was probably oinking only minutes before, all parts of chickens, fish flapping in trays and various critters in shells. We are inland so seafood is scarcer so you just go for whatever else can be raised. Nee also pointed out some ant eggs, but I chose to ignore them.

If I am lonely for American voices, I go to the grocery. But if I want to live like a Thai, I need to go to the fresh market. Arriving there this morning, I saw that it was behind the street vendors we had dinner from a couple of nights ago. Nee pointed out a sign I couldn't read telling me there was a market inside. I couldn't see it from the street. When I entered, I quickly realized that I was the only non-Thai there. As I wandered around, I also felt pleasantly at home as my mother used to take me to the farmers markets in Santa Clara back when it was the fruit basket of America rather than Silicon Valley. Nee did most of the buying but I wanted to try on my own. I know how to ask, "How much?" Unfortunately I don't always understand the answer.
"Tao rai?" I asked holding up a bottle of hot sauce.
He said something very fast and I looked blankly. He gave me the same look, said it again and then looked over at his lady partner. She said it again and finally I said, "Poo chacha" speak more slowly.
First he said, slowly, "Sao song." I knew song is two but didn't know sao.
The lady said, slowly, "Sip song," or 12. She also showed me in baht. I felt silly and laughed at my misunderstanding. The fellow patted me on the tummy, took my cash and handed me my sauce. Try getting that kind of service at Safeway. Apparently the northern dialect uses a few different words for their numbers.

We have also been figuring out how to get around Chiang Mai. The city is really more of a small state, with multiple districts, or Mueangs. I guess it is like the boroughs of New York City.  We are in the central district, Amphur Mueang, with the oldest parts of the city. Back with the Burmese were attacking, the king built a moat around the city in a square. The moat is still here and is a great landmark when you can't figure out where the songtauw has taken you. There is no bus system and very few taxis. If you don't own a motorcycle or car or truck, you have to take the songtauws, called Red buses, though some are white and others yellow, and tuk tuks. The buses have a general direction they run for 20 baht. If you have a specific place you want to go that isn't on their line, they will take you, however the price is negotiable. Fortunately the mornings are cool so walking is also quite pleasant, provided you keep your eyes open for any vehicles coming at you from all directions.  Tuk tuks are even more negotiable and always more expensive.  Again, if you are not a budget, you don’t care.  For the moment, I do care.

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