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At Home with the Unfamiliar

Hanging Out in Chiang Mai, ThailandA curious phenomenon happens when we stay in one place for a month: We begin to like it! And so it is with Chiang Mai, here in northern Thailand. We've discovered a few aspects about ourselves in our 207 days of travel. One is that without some significant stopping time like our month here, we become frazzled and tired. You might think it would be from packing and unpacking but that's the easy part. When we are packed, go to the airport, and get on the plane, we've covered territory we already know. Even if only for a few days, we know our way around and are going back to the airport we arrived in (although we're hoping to board some trains soon).

No, the fatigue sets in when the plane lands. It's a new airport, typically in a new country, with a new set of obstacles: New money to get used to; new modes of transport from the airport to where we're staying; a new place to stay; and because it's all new, a completely different place in which to get oriented. Where and when is breakfast? How far are we from a decent restaurant? Can we eat uncooked food here without getting a bug? What is there to do? What does 100 or 1000 of this currency translate into so we know what we're paying?

Aside from all those questions that remind us we're in Yet Another Place, there's the weirdness of how familiar things are, which is nice and annoying at the same time. In Manila, if it weren't for a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf a few blocks away, I'm not sure what we would have eaten for breakfast. The restaurant for the hotel served food that we couldn't identify and didn't want to eat. Seven Elevens are everywhere we go and our earlier resolve not to use American chain stores has broken down many times when we've needed bottled water or cough syrup. We actually don't like thick, overly sweetened coffee they serve in several Asian countries so that left us going to Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts (which is even more ironic because DD often advertised on TV in California but there were none to be found…apparently they're too busy with openings in Yogyakarta and Chiang Mai).

So we're learning that we're not the greatest of travelers. We meet people who are getting up everyday to do some kind of touristy thing that makes us feel guilty but then we have to remind ourselves: Most of what people are going to see is pathetic. In Chiang Mai we went to the Elephant Preserve because supposedly they don't mistreat the animals but they still forced them to put on a show. Speaking of shows, we went to the Playhouse here for Shirl's birthday and that was in fact a show as we expected, it was all American broadway tunes and dances. Nothing except an introductory number was unique to Thailand. That's just what you have to do: Get the tourists in to see the stuff they like so you can survive. We had fun and as mentioned in the entry for January 10th, loved the birthday celebration. But it's all westernized including being in English.

The sameness of the western culture combined with the disorienting aspects of coming into a new place again and again is why we have discovered we need a month off from traveling so we can get into a place and stop moving. And that's the essence of our journey so far: Go out and explore for five to six weeks until we have connected with that edge of travel, then settle back into a nice month of doing as little as possible to recharge for the next round of going into the unfamiliar again…or at least to see how far it is to the nearest Apple store to get buy an iPod case. And I hear there's an awesome Thai restaurant everyone says we must try. As soon as we're back in Santa Monica we're so there!

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