I’ve been busy this weekend moving house and didn’t realise that the protests had turned bloody in Bangkok until I got emails from home informing me. What a tragedy – I hope those clashes were the worst of it. Up here in Chiang Mai things seem pretty calm. I am a little nervous about the Songkran (New Year) celebrations starting on Tuesday, given the large crowds that are involved – but hopefully it will be safe and people will still have fun.
This is the place to be in Thailand for Songkran and the hoards have started to descend. I’m getting ready for an absolute soakin’ – water pistols are on sale everywhere and yesterday I bought myself a big pump-action pistol attached to – you’ll never guess – a big pink plastic elephant water container which I’ll wear on my back. I’ll write more about Songkran and post some pictures up on Tuesday if I can manage to sneak in a shot without my camera being destroyed by ice cold water!
Anyway, I’ve been busy this weekend because yes, I’ve moved into my new home! It’s mine till October because the man I’m renting off, David, will be back from Europe then.
As of Friday I’ve been living on a very posh street, one of the nicest in this area, and my neighbours include boutiques, galleries and other chi-chi shops. Pictured is a streetscape not far from where I am. And somehow I’m not paying much to live here given the location and a lot less than what ex-pats pay for luxury condos here – though having said all that, my Thai teacher gave me a massive reality check yesterday saying that what I’m paying is A LOT for most Thais. So I should learn to be discreet, which is a challenge for me at the best of times. Since that conversation I have become quite self-conscious about what I’m earning, which is not that high for an ex-pat salary – but the amount I earn in one month is what working-class Thais might earn in a whole year. Of course, I’m working for a successful Thai company whose many clients include UN agencies and international organisations based in Geneva so there’s a good reason why I’m on the salary that I’m on. But it’s really beginning to sink in that the disparity in wealth here between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is little short of incredible. Although Thailand is considered a middle-income country, it is obviously still developing in many respects. I will have to think about how I can give to Thai society while I’m living here, as well as contribute positively to the local economy.
The first place I was in – a studio with a small balcony and small bathroom – was fine for the first three weeks, but I couldn’t live like that in the long term, particularly as my other half will be joining me. This new place is at least 3 times the size; I’m positively luxuriating in the sheer space. It’s extremely modern and tastefully decorated. On the ground floor is a cavernous living room with comfy sofas, a big flat screen tv and dvd player, a dining table; a large kitchen with a brand new oven and gas-top stoves; and just off that, a small bathroom. On the top floor is a huge bedroom; a large bathroom with a very deep bath tub and a large shower cubicle; and in between those two rooms is a corridor with more closets and cupboards than I could possibly fill.
I did a big shop in the weekend for essentials and enough food for me to survive the three day New Year celebrations when a lot of businesses are closed. I spent hours cleaning out the kitchen and fridge – which looked like it’s NEVER been clean before by the way – so now I’m all settled in. Yay!
As for David, he’s gone back to Ibiza for six months, which has been his home for more than 30 years. He currently spends 6 months a year in Chiang Mai and 6 months a year in Ibiza. I find it hard to believe that there are people like him that exist in the world. As I said in a previous post, he’s like a character from the pages of a novel. David is in his early 80s but looks younger – but given that he’s been ‘retired’ for almost 50 years, that’s not so surprising. He originally came from New York, and after a stint as a paratrooper in Japan after the end of the war, he went west to San Francisco in the ’50s to make his fortune – which he did. He owned a factory which manufactured explosive organic peroxides which are used in industry as a catalyst to produce plastics. At the time it was a dangerous business and people had died in factory explosions. But he made his fortune and decided to leave the rat race for good. So not long after Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, he sold his business and quit America in early 1964 – and has barely been back since. The way he tells it, he’s spent the last 50 years hanging out for long stretches in places like Ibiza and Thailand and India and other “pleasure capitals” (drugs, sex and all the rest) and travelling around the world and having a grand ol’ time. He also seems to have grown up children and two ex-wives he doesn’t have much contact with so it doesn’t sound like he’s been greatly encumbered by any of the usual responsibilities us mere mortals are subjected to. Talking to him makes me realise that I actually really like working and being busy. But given his lifestyle and his diverse life experiences, he’s very easygoing and we’ve been getting along well.
In the meantime, I’ve made plans to have dinner tomorrow night with the actual owner of this property – an Australian woman who has been living in Chiang Mai for more than 20 years. I’m sure she’ll have an interesting story too – after all, the business she is involved with is listed in all the guidebooks.