Elbow Grease

Back in Chiang Mai, sick as a dog, I planned to spend my evening doing very little but seeing the new Jurassic Park movie, and that’s exactly what I did. Sometimes people can be fickle, so a group of six people that were going to see it with me dwindled to just myself in a matter of 30 minutes, the last person canceling on me as I was on my way by Tuk Tuk to the SFX cinema.
It didn’t matter though, because it was awesome. It was an hour and a half of sexy shots of Chris Pratt and killer dinosaurs and shit biology. What’s not to like?
Jan, Rose, and I became quite close after meeting back up in Chiang Mai.

   
  A lot of time was spent talking about possible things to do after already having spent nearly a week in Chiang Mai. On a whim, since I was the only one that had been to the summit so far and it was on my bucket list to be there for sunset, we searched out a place to rent bikes. We’d spent most of the day literally doing nothing, so it was 6pm by the time we found a good deal for a couple motorbikes and we raced nonstop to the top of the mountain to catch the orange afterglow of the day.
And wouldn’t you know, we went to see Jurassic World again with some people from the hostel! I wasn’t complaining.

   
   

  
Jan had this wonderful idea to go to Chiang Rai (five hours hours north of Chiang Mai) using the bikes we’d rented with the intention of getting back to Chiang Mai by 6 pm to drop the bikes off. In order to pull that off, we’d need to leave exceedingly early (for me) by 7am. Rose stayed behind, and Patrick, who was in Chiang Rai since the previous day, had asked that we pick him up on our way back because he hated it there. We had our work cut out for us.
Sunscreen here has skin whitening chemicals in it (not to mention it’s more expensive than accommodation here), the only feasible way of keeping myself from burning to cinders was to wear long pants and a long shirt, which is disastrous in 100 + degree weather.

  

Still, the drive was mostly peaceful and during the morning there was enough cloud cover that it wasn’t hot. Four hours into our journey, though, Jan’s bike started to wobble from the back. We rolled slowly into a gas station and brought over an attendant to look at the bike. Neither of us speak Thai, so there a lot of pointing and gibberish exchanged before we figured out there was a mechanic just a few meters down the road on the other side.

  

    
   
We parked our bikes at a small, open-faced home where it seemed the mechanic had simply turned his living room into a garage. His wife ran a food cart under home-made pavilion where she was serving a couple of people already and chatting happily with them.

  

Jan was far more stressed out than I was. Things like this happen to me all the time and it’s become second nature at this point the be close to a state of zen when confronting obstacles while traveling. Unless you’re dead, everything works itself out with a little elbow grease.
The mechanic showed us that the tire tube had broken but the tire was still in good shape, so he went to work replacing the tube.
“I don’t have so many baht left,” Jan said. “Maybe this will be expensive. It’s so frustrating.” We were only 20km from our destination, so I understood.
“I’m going to get something to eat,” I said, changing the subject. Food always makes things better. “Do you want anything?”
“No, I’m okay.”
I walked over to the pavilion and greeted then with a “wai” (pronounced ‘way;’ it’s when you put your hands together like you’re praying) and motioned toward a seat across from one of the woman.
“May I sit here?”
She smiled and nodded.
“Brandon,” I said, pointing to myself. “You?” I made sure not to point (because it’s considered rude in Thai culture), instead using my whole hand, palm down.
“La.”
“La?”
“La.”
After that, it was all just smiling and nodding. The woman serving the food didn’t know what I meant by ‘soup’ so I had to point at the food I wanted and it was in front of my in 2 minutes flat. Trying to have a conversation through charades and slurping up noodle soup was a nice break from the road, but served as a reminder of how much I’m missing when I can’t speak the local language. I can’t be expected to learn conversational (insert language here) in every country I visit, but it’s still a source of disappointment in myself.
The bike was fixed just as I was finishing my soup. Jan was concerned about how much it was going to cost.
“150 baht,” the mechanic said, which included the price of labor and a new tube. 150 baht is just shy of $5. After leaving we had to go back to get a loose screw tightened (and I left him another 20 baht), but we had reached our destination just 20 minutes later.
The white temple, or Wat Rong Khun, is being constructed and funded by a local artist that hopes it will function as a gift to the Buddha, granting him eternal life.

   
   

The symbolism of the temple is pretty cool. There’s a “lake” at the beginning of the temple that I thought was something like the ‘lake of fire,’ but is actually there to represent unbridled human desire. It’s just a pit with a lot of gross looking hands reaching up and outward and grasping at air.
Past the lake is a bridge that represents ones path through life, and then you can enter the main temple room which is covered in a mural with terrifying images of people with gaping mouths sucking out the last drops of gasoline from the earth, engulfed in flames, and peppered with images of portraits of President Obama, Superman, the Terminator, and Hello Kitty (and a ton of other recognizable characters).

  

Apart from seeing it, there wasn’t much to do. Patrick met up with us near the temple and we were forced to leave if we wanted to make it back in time.
Jan was getting badly sunburned and Patrick happened to have sunscreen, so we started covering up (finally, and it’s a good thing we did, because the sun was now out in full force).
As usual the drive was superb. Most of the cities in northern Thailand seem to be hidden in the valley between mountain peaks, and the roads between them twist and turn endlessly like the naga snakes that decorate every temple in the country. And the country is incredibly green for the number of people living here. It’s impossible to escape the thick mess of jungle unless you’re in the middle of a city, and even then you might find a patch or two of unkempt foliage a block wide.
Jan and Patrick were terribly, terribly burnt when we got back in the city and after about an hour of incredibly stressful searching for the bike rental place (we forgot to write down where we got them from), we made it back with no gas left in our tanks and with only ten minutes to spare.

 

Stopping for a bite to eat after taking some damage to the skin

  
 Everything works itself out with a bit of elbow grease. And maybe some tears.

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