It’s surprisingly cool at night here. I found myself unfolding the mustard-coloured blanket at my feet during the first night to wrap it around myself.
The four hour time difference with Sydney means it will take me a few weeks to properly adjust and not get up when the cock crows – and, in fact, there are actually a few of them close by. That’s Asia for you – chooks in built up areas in the centre of cities. So I’m writing this entry at the ungodly hour of 5am. If I’m up again this early on the weekend I’m going to hike up the mountain, Doi Suthep, with my camera to take a picture of the city as the sun rises. (I realised yesterday that in Vietnamese we also use a similar word to ‘doi’ to mean peak – I wonder if there’s a historical connection or whether it’s just a funny coincidence.)
The air is a little thick here, and there are fires raging on the city’s perimeter because I could smell smoke the moment I stepped off the plane. When I arrived the evening sun was a brilliant fluoro pink colour, probably a result of particle matter and other pollutants in the atmosphere. But it’s actually kind of nice to be in a place where the air teems with smells. I forget how sterile and clean Western cities are until I leave them for other places.
On my first night I went for a short walk in the area close to my apartment. Nimmanhemin Road and its surrounds is a really trendy area, even more than I thought it would be. But it’s not so surprising given its proximity to Chiang Mai University. There are so many cafes, bars, boutiques and non-Thai restaurants – including a surprising amount of Japanese eateries which is great, because I occasionally get cravings for Japanese food. But on my first night I wanted local homestyle food so I went to one of those open air food courts which co-exist alongside the flashier eateries and bought a bowl of rice noodles with pork and shredded cabbage for the princely sum of 30 baht ($1AUD). It’s the kind of food I could easily eat every day of the year and never tire of. I adore the food in this part of Thailand, and it’s obviously going to be a big part of my love affair with this city. I was also so excited last night because I know that my other half will love it here too, so it’s great that he’ll be joining me here in two months.
It’s so surreal to finally be here, living on the fifth floor of an apartment block in Chiang Mai. I actually feel pretty at home already and living here will be very easy. I fully unpacked everything on my first night given I’ll be in this studio apartment for 3-4 weeks until I find something more suitable. It was worth bringing everything that I did though. I had to unload a bunch of things at the airport, mostly books I’ll have to live without for now. It’s actually very exciting to have a lot of time to read and listen to music; I haven’t had this much free time in years. And I’m going to start learning Thai very shortly. I’ve caught the bug – and I remember I felt this way when I was last in Thailand, chatting to my friends’ apartment cleaner in rudimentary Thai, greatly cheered by the ease at which I seem to be able to pronounce things. On the plane over I spent an hour playing a Berlitz Thai language learning game and I can just about count up to 100 now, though I need to keep practising and working on my pronunication. It’s a very logical system, similar to Vietnamese. For once in my life I wholeheartedly appreciate knowing a tonal language like Vietnamese, because here I have the distinct advantage of being able to hear and mimic Thai tones pretty well and can pronounce a lot of the consonants that trip up English speakers. But anyway, there’s still a very long way for me to go.
I was picked up at the airport when I arrived by my new director and one of my colleagues. I was a little jittery by the time I went down to the carousel to pick up my luggage, excited to have survived two plane journeys and excited about meeting people who will become a big part of my life while I’m here. I easily recognised them both from where I was standing and waved like mad – only to wait another 20 minutes for my baggage to come through.
When we finally met I liked them immediately, just as I knew I would. They are also somehow exactly like I thought they would be, in terms of first impressions, which is perhaps not surprising since I have spoken to them a fair bit over the past few months and also Googled to find out more about all of them. I was reading The Year in 2010, the special annual edition of The Economist on the plane, and there was an article written by the CEO of Yahoo! who talked about how the new generation of employees would’ve Googled the hell out of you before they even set foot in your office and that the fortysomething managers of this world had better get used to the idea and embrace that. I felt reassured that I am completely typical of my generation, and that Googling wasn’t a weird thing for me to do after all. I mean, I’ve moved to another country for this job – I just wanted to know exactly what I was getting myself in for.