Patrick came to hang out with us at the hostel for dinner since it was his last night there before heading south. That was also the night Angie, Nick, and Aiden made it back to Chiang Mai and made a convincing case to go out clubbing despite exhaustion from ten total hours on a bike and a sore ass to boot. It also happened to be Jan’s birthday!
Once again I found myself at “Zoe in Yellow,” a mixed club where both locals and expats go to dance until 1AM or so. The drinks are incredibly overpriced so we loaded up on cheap whiskey and vodka at a 7/11 beforehand and were ready for anything (regardless of how terrible the next day would be). My second experience here was not terrible like the first time (when I had a bad bathroom experience and became too drunkenly contemplative and saw too many terrible things on the walk home) and I actually had an awesome time.
I can’t say that about the next morning.
Note to everyone: do not drink the cheap whiskey in Thailand unless you really, really hate yourself. It tastes like rubbing alcohol that’s been filtered through mud and the hangover you get might as well be Ebola and hepatitis and is probably the only quantifiable incarnation of bad karma.
Despite feeling terrible right up until 5pm (that seems to be the magic hour for hangover cure in my life), I made it to something I’d be excited about for the whole trip: the monk chats. Several temples in Chiang Mai host what are known as Monk Chats on different days of the week. During certain hours, depending on the temple, you can sit down at a table with Thai monks who wish to practice speaking English, and in return, you get to learn about their lives and culture. After walking around Wat Chedi Luang’s impressive old stone pagoda, I sat down at a bench on the side of the Mahamakut Buddhist University.
Across from us, there was a huge building from which the sound of a hundred monks chanting in unison was droning out. I sat in a group of six monks, and sadly I don’t remember their names at all…
Only one of them was confident enough to speak openly. The rest were still in the process of learning the basics, so I often had to repeat what I was saying or do some charades so they would understand me. But here’s what I learned:
Every boy in Thailand must become a ‘novice’ monk at some point in their lives, anywhere from a week to multiple years. They can become a full fledged monk as early as 21 years of age.
Every morning, starting at dawn, the monks collect alms from other followers. These include anything from cleaning supplies to fruit, meat on a stick, or snack foods. They in turn perform blessings and prayers, and this earns them “merits” which are little pieces of good karma that help them on their journey to enlightenment.
They do a lot of meditating and chanting throughout the day. As a way of memorizing ‘dharma,’ or Buddha’s teachings. Roughly equivalent to a parable in Christianity, if I had to come up with a easy way to explain it. They do indeed eat meat, and cannot eat after 12PM.
They are sworn to nonviolence and are not allowed to touch women, which means no martial arts and no wives.
“Do you find following some of the rules very difficult?” Everyone laughed at this question and they looked at each other to see who would answer. The monk to my right spoke up.
“At first is was hard. But every day, you follow a rule, and it is more easy.”
“So why did you all decide to be monks? To stay monks a long time?” Every one of them was 20, except the one to my right, who was 22, and had been training to become monks since the age of 12.
“The Buddha. I like the Buddha,” they all repeated, except the one who could speak well.
“I want to have no desire. I like the idea of losing all desire. It’s very difficult, it cannot happen in one day, of course. I want to build my karma.”
“Do the merits help your karma?” I asked.
“Everything changes your karma. Every action is either good or bad karma.”
“And you don’t want bad karma, right? No bad karma.” They laughed again at the stupid question, but I was running out of things to ask about.
“No, bad karma is bad.”
“What do you think your karma is like now? Pretty good?” Oh man, it was time for me to get out of there.
“I hope it’s good,” he said, the others laughing at him and at me. “I try every day to make merits and help people.”
I asked if they had traveled anywhere else, because they were all from the Chiang Mai area.
“No, but we are not allowed to travel for fun. On official business, to spread Buddhism, we can travel. But no, we cannot do travel just for fun.”
A little piece of my soul died in that moment.
“What do you do for fun? Are your days planned out for you or do you get to do your own thing? Hobby?”
One of them who hadn’t said anything yet spoke up. “I… Love… Animation.”
“Kung Fu Panda,” he exclaimed, like a kid who just opened his first Christmas present.
Alright, now I was in over my head. At this point most of the were getting up to leave because it was six o’clock, which meant time to study for them.
On my way home, I stopped for coconut ice cream for the first time, which was amazing. I think I actually found a decent alternative to milk ice cream finally, thank the heavens! And it comes with sticky rice. Hell yeah.
I’m not ashamed to admit I ate it twice more in the following two hours after dragging Jan out for the food market at dinner.
The hostel owner, “V,” suggested we go to the ladyboy cabaret show that night. There’s one every night in Chiang Mai, entrance is 200 baht, and includes a free drink, just to the side of the big night market.
New to the team were: Stephanie, a tall blonde from New Zealand with short hair and a totally positive aura about her; Michael, a partier and former frat guy from the states who was more gay-friendly than Ellen Degeneres; and Grace, a dark-haired girl from Bristol in whose company I never stopped laughing. It was a good group.
We ended up at the cabaret around 10 and managed to get the shittiest seats possible, but the show was amazing anyway. Coming from small town Missouri, it’s not every day I get to see a full scale, professional drag show.
At one point, one of the performers brought Jan up to the stage for the duration of a song and he came back with lipstick all over his face.
One of the girls and I needed to pee so we went earthing for the bathroom, which charged 30 baht in coin only.
“That’s a terrible, terrible thing,” I said.
“Someone said there’s a dumpster over somewhere,” she said.
I used to think I had dignity and that dignity was important. It’s not. We both ended up peeing behind that dumpster and I could not. Stop. Laughing.
“Oh my God, I think some of it got on my legs!” she cried.
“You’re like a superhero right now. I didn’t even know you could do that.”
“We’re PISS BUDDIES!”
“Yessssss, piss buddies!” *high five*
I seriously hope future employers don’t read this post.
After the show we went for more drinks at a rock music bar where there was a live band playing, complete with 80s rock hair and a shirtless, angry-looking lead singer, dancing crazy with locals and tourists alike until heading back to the hostel.
Normally, this is where my night would end. But because everyone I was with was so cool, we played Disney music playlists off YouTube for another hour, likely keeping everyone else up in the hostel and singing all our cares away to the tune of Hakuna Matata and Under the Sea. I tried to go to bed once and got down to my underwear, but I heard “Colors of the Wind” come on and had to join the party again.
I’ve grown to really like Chiang Mai as a city, and I think I’ll visit again for a few weeks if I have the chance. Then again, maybe I won’t like it without the Sons of Chiang Mai around (who have now gone their separate ways and I’m really upset about it) or the other amazing people I’ve met.
Coming up next: Loei!