Taking Care of Business

Here’s how you get a visa extension in Chiang Mai:

Step 1: Get up very early in the morning and go to the immigration office to pick your number for the queue.

Kind of like the DMV

Kind of like the DMV

Step 2: Wait

Waiting

Waiting

Step 3: Wait some more

Toy cars help pass the time

Toy cars help pass the time

Step 4: Wait even more

Somehow, cars are still fun

Somehow, cars are still fun

Step 5: What? Was that my number?

Step 6: Enjoy extended stay in Thailand!

Advertisements

Lost in Thailand

Lost in Thailand is a Chinese comedy film that came out in 2011.

Lost in Thailand Movie Poster (from IMDB)

Lost in Thailand Movie Poster (from IMDB)

From Rotten Tomatoes:

Lost in Thailand is the story of two rival business managers, Xu (Xu Zheng) and Bo (Huang Bo), who are fighting over a revolutionary new in-house technology for control of their company. If Xu wins, his future will be secured. The critical task is to secure control over the shares of the chairman, who is at a retreat in Thailand. Xu catches the first plane to Bangkok, where he meets the happy-go-lucky Wang (Wang Baoqiang), an unexpected travel companion who will open his eyes to life’s true priorities.

Dubbed the “Chinese answer to The Hangover,” it became the highest grossing Chinese film in history, and is dwarfed only by Avatar in Chinese domestic ticket sales.

It has inspired a massive wave of Chinese tourism into Chiang Mai where the film takes place. Shops have Chinese language signs, restaurants have Chinese language menus, taxis have signs noting whether or not the driver speaks Chinese.

One of the most interesting aspects of this huge influx of tourists is that it’s largely families and independent travelers, instead of the usual large tour groups that came before. It’s kind of sweet to see 50-something Chinese couples riding in a songthaew instead of a giant tour bus.

If you really want, you can sign up for a Lost in Thailand tour of the city, where you will be shown all the sights from the movie. They even provide costumes so you can dress as the characters and pose for photos.

We watched the movie last night, and it does show off many of the charming and scenic aspects of the city. It’s sort of a screwball comedy that relies on physical humor and the stupidity of one character for a lot of its laughs. It’s fairly entertaining, and worth watching if you’re interested in Chinese cinema.

There’s a positive review of it on RogerEbert.com if you’re interested in reading more.

 

Wat U Mong

Without a lot of free open space for Hugo to run around, I once again found myself at a temple for a bit of sightseeing/small child energy burn.

Wat U Mong is very close to Chiang Mai University, but feels very secluded on its heavily wooded hill.

The road leading to Wat U Mong

The road leading to Wat U Mong

It was originally built in 1297.

Stairs leading to the main courtyard

Stairs leading to the main courtyard

Once you get to the courtyard you will see the entrance to the most unusual feature of Wat U Mong: a series of tunnels built in 1380 for clairvoyant monk Thera Jan.

Brave Hugo faces the dark tunnel alone

Brave Hugo faces the dark tunnel alone

It’s a series of interconnected passageways full of little niches and larger shrines.

Exploring the Wat U Mong tunnels

Exploring the Wat U Mong tunnels

Don’t worry, it’s not dark and scary. There is lighting along the floor, and some areas with damage to the ceiling have “skylights” to protect the structure. There are also some original paintings still visible on the walls, but they didn’t photograph well, so you’ll have to use your imagination until you have a chance to come visit yourself. Hugo will be happy to play tour guide.

Of course, no trip to a temple is complete without a small lake to feed fish/get pooped on by pigeons.

Playing in the gravel

Playing in the gravel

Confession time: I really did get pooped on by a pigeon. It was completely disgusting. My Chinese students once told me that it was good luck to get pooped on by a bird, but that sounds like the kind of thing you say to make someone feel better, not something that’s actually true.

But, I’ve decided to take the advice of this sign to heart:

Buddhism: telling us to let it go long before Elsa

Buddhism: telling us to let it go long before Elsa

 

Being a Toddler in Thailand

It’s a pretty good gig.

I keep marveling at how, in a lot of ways, Hugo seems to have a lot more freedom here than he does at home.

I feel like in the US there is a constant pressure that your child behave in an adult-like fashion. People give you side-eye when you bring your child onto an airplane or into a restaurant, or if your child makes loud noises in the supermarket.

Here, it’s perfectly acceptable for children to behave as children do, and no one seems bothered by it. If your wiggly toddler gets impatient waiting for food in a restaurant, no one has a problem with just letting  your child wander around a bit. Restaurants don’t mind if you let your child peek into the kitchen, either.

Playing in the restaurant

Playing in the restaurant

At a restaurant we went to a few days ago, they gave Hugo a bag of balloons and a little pump to inflate them. We taught him the trick of making the balloons stick to his hair with static. This has been the scene in our living room lately:

First you rub your hair

First you rub your hair

Followed by:

It sticks!

It sticks!

It’s refreshing to not have to worry so much, and just let him enjoy exploring.

Running In Chiang Mai: Muang Chiang Mai Stadium

If you know me, you know I love to run! So I’m hoping to make a few posts about great places to run at each of our stops on the trip.

Chiang Mai has very mild weather year round, and I have seen a lot of runners out and about. Sidewalks tend to be crowded with motorbikes and food carts, so most people run in the parks instead of on the streets.

This morning I hopped a tuk tuk to Muang Chiang Mai Stadium, which is just north of the Old City. It is an area fairly popular with runners and walkers, although not at all crowded when I was there.

The main running path is a paved, two lane loop that goes around the stadium complex:

Stay on the left!

Stay on the left!

All of the runners I saw were in the left (inside) lane, running counterclockwise, just like you would on a track. There were frequently motorbikes going by on the outside lane, so for safety it’s probably best to just stick to the inside lane.

There are no distance markers going around, but I’m guessing it’s about 500 meters. As you can see in the photo, there are trees on the inside of the path, so it’s mostly shaded the whole way around.

The track area is also open to the public, and I saw people running up and down the stadium steps, too.

Happy Running!

The Down Side

I don’t really have any exciting stories or photos for you today. Hugo has been sick for the last day and a half, so we’ve cocooned ourselves in the apartment. Don’t worry, it’s nothing serious, just a touch of food poisoning. Plus, there’s an RN on the staff so we get house calls.

Mostly it means a couple of days of enforced down time, full of reading books and  watching movies and doing laundry. And then some more laundry. It’s amazing how much a small person can throw up.

But then we run out of sheets and towels and blankets because they’re all still hanging on the line because it’s been raining and nothing is drying fast enough.

If you read blogs about international travel with young children, there is a relentless focus on the positives: the children learn so much, they grow and adapt, they become more flexible, they are adventurous eaters.

But sometimes they get food poisoning. Or they don’t sleep. Or they get mosquito bites.

So the parents learn and adapt and become more flexible. And maybe we won’t be such adventurous eaters for the next few days.

Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders

Since we have a lot of time in Chiang Mai, we have a chance to take in some of the more quirky sights in the area. The Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders definitely qualifies as such.

The museum is located in a private residence, so you must ring the bell at the gate and someone will come let you in.

There is a dizzying array of things to see right from the start. The first floor is full of unusual specimens from around the world: wood beautifully carved by termites, unusual rocks, and an interesting array of dangerous insects and butterflies artfully arranged in dioramas with colorful flowers.

How many museums welcome you with a hug?

How many museums welcome you with a hug?

The second floor is row after row of perfectly mounted specimens from around the world: beetles, butterflies, moths, stick insects, sea shells, fossils. There is even an assortment of Thai antiquities and unusual rocks.

I think they have one of everything

I think they have one of everything

But when you get to the side room on the first floor, you find the real meat of this museum:

Are you wearing your DEET?

Are you wearing your DEET?

The museum houses the private collection of a woman named Rampa Rattanarithikul who, at age 20 in 1959, got a job as a lab technician, collecting and mounting mosquito specimens for the United States Operations Mission malaria control program. She had no higher education at that time, but her work sparked a lifetime of interest in mosquitos and mosquito-borne illnesses. Her decades of painstaking research led to the identification of more than 400 species of mosquito, including dozens of previously undescribed varieties. She eventually went on to get a doctorate in medical entomology in 1996.

After retirement, she her husband put their private collection on display in this museum. Dr. Rattanarithikul made some major contributions to public health through her detailed research of mosquito taxonomy. You can read more about her work on the museum website (linked above), or check out this article from the New York Times.

If you’re interested in entomology or public health, or you just want to get a glimpse of the vastness of the insect world, you will not be disappointed.

I’ll also add that this is a great place to bring curious children. Everything that is out is okay to touch, and the things you’re not supposed to touch are safely behind glass. There are also lots of things displayed at a low level, so even the smallest future scientists can get a good look.

Do you like piña coladas? And getting….argh I hate that song

It’s raining. It has been raining for a day and a half. Fat, tropical rain. Get soaked in an instant rain.

At least it’s cooled off a bit. I was getting ready to have a Rant About How Hot It Is blog post, but, dear reader(s?), be happy to know that I have postponed that for another day.

So, what do you do in Chiang Mai in the rain, trapped in your tiny apartment? You invent a super fun game!

We call this “Hammer The Baht.”

Step 1: Get your pet or small child to gather all the stray Baht coins lying around the house and put them on the sofa. This will keep them busy for a few minutes while you play a quick round of Trivia Crack with your spouse or complete stranger.

Step 2: Hammer!

Step 3: Repeat until all Baht lost hopelessly under the sofa

Step 4: Invent new game titled “Find Some Treasure Under The Sofa”

Wat Chedi Luang

This morning we stopped by Wat Chedi Luang, one of the largest temples in Chiang Mai. It is most known for the central crumbling brick chedi built in 1441, which apparently used to be the tallest structure in the whole city. It was damaged in earthquakes, and has had some restoration work done, but is still generally in disrepair. However, it does strike a haunting silhouette in front of this morning’s cloudy skies:

Overcast skies and crumbling bricks

Overcast skies and crumbling bricks

This structure sits in a central courtyard and is surrounded by various other temples.

Paper hangings inside the temple

Paper hangings inside the temple

I’m not sure what these paper hangings are for. They have pictures of zodiac animals on them and I’ve seen them in all of the temples I’ve visited here. Can anyone tell me?

Even if you’re not very interested in or knowledgeable about Buddhism, it is nice to get away from the noise of city traffic and be in a bit of open space in the courtyards around a temple.

Exploring the chedi

Exploring the chedi

Plus, little ones can run around and explore to their heart’s content.

Exploring the shrines

Exploring the shrines

 

A Day at the Farm

Today we took a field trip to a farm to see the rice growing process up close.

Hugo was not willing to get up close and personal with a water buffalo

Hugo was not willing to get up close and personal with a water buffalo

We watched the water buffalo pull a plow through the mud, and saw rice growing at various stages. The most interesting part was the rice threshing process, where first the dried stalks are put in a giant basket and beaten to separate the grain from the shaft.

Stirring the rice

Next, the rice is scooped out with the giant spoon and spread out on a tarp on the ground. Then fans are used to blow away all the extra straw, leaving behind only the rice grains.

Hugo's rice fanning talents are apparent at an early age

Hugo’s rice fanning talents are apparent at an early age

The final step is to grind away the outside husk, leaving behind only the edible grains. Every step is manual and time consuming. A lot of work from a lot of people’s hands goes into each grain of rice in your dinner bowl.

Sifting through the final product

Sifting through the final product

I always feel a little strange about this kind of ecotourism. It’s an educational experience where you literally get your hands dirty and learn about the farming process, but it takes the backbreaking labor of rice farming performed year in and year out by our hosts, and reduces it to something we experience for our own amusement, something we wash off at the end of the day and never give a second thought. It was kind of like an elementary school field trip to the supermarket — just a tiny glimpse into the complex process that brings food to our tables around the world.