I feel a little low suddenly. My time in Thailand has flown by and now my year of travelling is almost up. What to do? Aside from the fact that I have no return ticket to the UK – I refuse to go back and just get a job with another company. I intend to work for myself – and Asia is nice and cheap while I work out how to do that... But suddenly the reality of being far from home and in a new city where I don't know anyone sets in. Nico – the Argentinian guy I met in B.A has been a constant (albeit online) companion since I left South American in May – we had always made tentative plans to see each other again when my travelling was over – but I can't commit to when exactly that will be yet and so he tells me he has “lost the energy for waiting.” It's all so depressingly inevitable but i'm a hopeless romantic so...well...I hadn't lost the energy. It doesn't help my sad case of the blues.
I decide the best thing for it is to get out there and meet some people! An Aussie
girl my age called Deb who did the yoga at Agama in January with me is just finishing a teacher training course in Chiang Mai, so we meet for lunch at Blue Diamond – a lovely healthy veggie place in the Old town. Deb and some friends of hers from her course are going to a little music festival at the weekend so I join them on friday night.
It has been organised by a short, dumpy, American guy with a pony tail and baseball cap who suprises the crowd later by taking to the mic and letting rip with a song in a gravelly, soulful voice reminiscent of Van Morrison. He's organised the whole thing impeccably. There are rows of tents serving Thai food – everything from deep fried crabs and mango and sticky rice to huge cauldrons of tom yum and lashings of Pad Thai. The programme over the weekend is mainly world music but tonight its focus on traditional Thai music and dancing. Although later in the evening there is a rather random belly dancer who thrusts some moves to some heavy metal. The Thai crowd are an impassive lot. They sit and eat dinner in companionable silence politely clapping at the end of each act – cleaners and bar maids regularly swoop the tables attentively. There is not a spot of rubbish to be seen and no one is drunk – even sharing the enormous giraffes of beer that they have. Glastonbury it ain't – its incredibly peaceful and civilised. The final act are The Gumbo brothers – a jazz/soul funk fusion band frm New Orleans. They try and whir the crowd into a frenzy but I wonder what they think of performing to such a polite and quiet group of people.
Alice – a bright, bubbly Mancunian who looks like her namesake Alice in Wonderland with billows of long blonde hair and porcealin skin says:
“We are going to Zoe's... its really horrible but you are welcome to join us!”
I really feel like a G&T so Deb and I agree to join her, and the other two guys – on their course. Eli is a Jewish American frat boy with wide friendly smile and curly dark hair and Larry is a wry thirty year old New Yorker, with gray eyes, dry humour and a smile that seems to happen through clenched teeth.
“That is NOT attractive” says Larry at the belly dancer up on stage. Its become his catchphrase – something he trots out when he's trawling the bars and clubs late night on the prowl and ends up with a woman he feels doesn't quite make the grade. The belly dancer has a belly (shock...horror.)
Eli shrugs complacently:
“I like her... oh and hey you know what they say – more cushion for the pushing..."
“Do all men talk like that about women – or is it something they grow out of??” I interrogate Deb.
I've dated some sleaze in my time and i'm always surprised and disappointed by the casual and vicious misogyny that is supposedly acceptable under the guise of “a laugh” But there are some men out there that don't find it a hilarious national pastime to bad mouth a woman for her appearance or size? Aren't there?????????
Zoe's is backpacker central. A little courtyard with picnic tables and fairy lights and a selection of bars and dodgy night clubs set around it in a square. The place is rammed and heaving with young backpackers, young Thai girls and not so young at all Western man. Yup this place is catnip for the Sexpat.
We join a table and one older gentleman takes great lengths to explain to Alice and I how he enjoys the fact that there are no layers or boundaries in Asian society. These are my friends – he says gesturing to two nubile young Thai twenty somethings next to him, my daughter back home would never be seen dead with her Dad dancing in a club, but here no one cares. I'm torn. On the one hand i'm 37 and enjoying being out and dancing with Alice – a 20 year old, am I being hypocritical for begrudging him the same thing. What about when i'm in my fifties if I still feel like dancing the night away?
Then again as I say to Alice under my breath “Do you think he's justifying being a sexpat to us?”
“Er yeah – I should say so” says Alice matter of factly.
Deb bows out so its left to me, Larry and Alice to down the G&Ts and throw a few shapes on the dance floor.
The next evening i meet up with a friend I made in Hanoi, Vietnam. Yoanne is a Parisian photographer. I go out for a BBQ with him and his Spanish friends - one of whom is celebrating a birthday and then we take to the moat for a drink. We prop ourselves up by the old wall next to the water where we are able to hear the strains of jazz funk from the bar opposite. Someone gets out a bottle of vodka and some ice so then we drink that...neat...
My hang overs seem to be getting more common again in Chiang Mai! To take it easy i've found a lovely little guesthouse run by a Thai woman called Orr and a South African man. They have a huge TV that shows cable British and American shows and films (i don't watch a lot of TV but i have missed the odd night in in front of the box on my travels) and large comfy sofas. I go and join them and several other travellers who aren't even staying there, but like me, want to hang out. Orr's friend has brought some fresh oysters up from Koh Samui. They are large and plump and deliciously sweet - unlike any i've tasted before.
Suddenly i'm not feeling so alone any more.
I've found two yoga studios in Chiang Mai – Wild Rose studio is a lovely little hidden oasis near Chiang Mai Gate and The Yoga Tree Studio is another little place close by that is holding “The Small Dance Festival” over two days for an entry fee of just 400 baht.
Deb takes a break from her studying to join me. The studio is set back off the main roads in a quiet enclave filled with trees. On the first morning we get a warm up yoga session followed by a Dance Mandala class. Dance Mandala is a moving meditation that the teacher – a long, willowy Thai woman with impeccable English – has invented herself. It often focuses on one element such as the physical body, the heart, emotions etc. and is done alone.
Bio danza is another type of dance class that is done without speaking and consists of exercises done alone; in pairs or in groups. We are looking to experience “vivencia” - a feeling of aliveness in the present moment that supercedes the rational mind. When people go regularly to classes, a supportive tribe of the same people form that harks back to a time in our evolution where there was a community of people that we could go to for love and support – rather than the isolated individuals we've become today.
The next day starts with Laughing Meditation. We are asked to squeeze imaginary "laughter cream" all over ourselves then flap around the room pretending to be birds who brush our wings against each other and burst into “bird laughter” By the end of the session we are lying in a circle with our heads touching, creating a “laughter waterfall” It sounds ridiculous and its supposed to be on the theory that life is supposed to be light and fun! Most of the room are genuinely cracking up and can't stop giggling away. Except me that is. I'm faking it the whole way through. I just assumed the whole “contagious effect” would work on me too but....alas no. Maybe i'm just too stuck in my blues this week.
To change up the energy in the room again before the next series of classes the teacher says:
“OK I'm going to put a track on now and I want you to just dance your heart out.... The music should help.”
The opening chords come on and everyone squeals with delight and starts prancing manically.
And so it is that I find myself; at 11am in the morning; stone cold sober; in a room full of women – hip wiggling, stag leaping and whirling to the theme tune from Flashdance.
And that really does put a smile on my face.