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January 27th 2020
Published: January 30th 2020
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Chiang Mai airport seemed much more techy this year ...... and I was very soon through Immigration and waiting for my bag beside the carousel. It was late afternoon and the sun was still shining ...... the hazy mountains a great backdrop for the airport.( although I understand that hazy probably means that it's a bad day for air quality!) It seemed quiet and it took no time at all to get a taxi. But of course , then I realised it was Sunday and traffic was sparse. No weekday homeward bound workers.

The taxi driver dropped me off by the front steps of the condominium across the road and I trundled my bag down the familiar dusty alleyway towards Baan SongJum (translates as House of Memories) , where the purple bougainvillea spills over the top of the metal gate. A diminutive honey coloured dog with short bandy legs , standing inside the gate, had already spotted me and raised the alarm. Lanna was soon joined by the other dogs , Frankie and Bambam and then their humans, Nui and Kung. Big hugs all round - so lovely to see them again. I've been coming here for a part of the winter for 5 years now.

Lots of catch-up talk and a cup of tea and very soon it feels like I've never been away.The sisters introduce me to Marcus , a young German osteopath, who's been staying here for some time and has initiated lots of practical improvements to the house, for which Nui and Kung are very grateful. There's a new monster of a washing machine so they can do all their laundry on site , and even a new dishwasher, so we guests don't have to even wash up any more! He's also combatting the mosquito problem ( after being a victim of their predatory attacks himself) and new blue-light mosquito traps are hanging around the open area under the house like Chinese lanterns. I'm also introduced to two of the other single travellers, Claudia ( from Germany) and Rhonda ( from Texas). They are both working girls who combine travelling with working in this internet age. Claudia is a graphic designer and Rhona teaches Chinese students and both work solely on the internet.

Temperatures during the daytime are in the mid 30's, but at night it's quite cool and the lush vegetation around the house keeps it cool as well as providing a home for birds, squirrels and other wildlife.

The next day I took a slow walk up towards Tha Pae Gate , and went to the Burmese restaurant just outside the old city walls ,'The Swan', where I met friend Dorothy for lunch. Dorothy is the friend whose retirement has brought her to Chiang Mai. We caught up on family and friends news over a delicious lunch.

A slow walk back, an evening chatting with the young people and an early night. My body clock is still not quite right. I spent much of the night awake, listening to the insects outside and the 'throat clearing' noise made by the big lizards out there in the vegetation. Some yowling cats too. So as usual, I fell into a deep sleep troubled with strange dreams just as the sun rose. A slow start. Deciding I needed some exercise , I set off on the 15 minute walk to the Eco Lodge, where I used to go swimming last year. All was as before. The surface of the pool undisturbed by other swimmers and just a couple of people sitting around at one end. Time for my annual swim session! Just 10 lengths to start with today. Dry off in the sun with a bit of reading and then off to Rimping Supermarket to buy some snacks. I noted sadly that the foot spa and the hairdressers I'd used last year were both abandoned units - I'll have to find somewhere else! I bought some onigeri ( Japanese triangular sticky rice with salmon and wrapped in crispy seaweed) and went to sit down by the river to eat it and watch the fishermen. They didn't seem to be catching anything.

Another one of my favourite haunts , The Meeting Room Art Gallery and Cafe, has also closed. It used to be a 5 minute walk from Baan Song Jum but now apparently it's the other side of the old city , near Wat Pra Singh. So next day, after a breakfast of papaya, little sweet bananas an passionfruit, I set off to try and find it.I walked up and down the main street , and then tried some of the little Soi ( lanes) but had just about given up and was heading back home, when I heard a yell " SUE!!!" An apple green scooter was swerving to a stop on the other side of the road, and there was Jo, The owner of The Meeting Room, waving at me. I crossed the street, " I was looking for you , but can't find the gallery"...... to which he replied that I'd just walked past , and he was on the way to open up, having just had lunch ( It was about 12.30) So I retraced my footsteps and arrived just as he was rolling up the metal shutters. So here was the new Meeting Room Gallery : large panes of glass on two sides, white painted walls, white plinths for ceramics and a shiny white marble floor. I loved the dark wooden cosiness of the old place , but Jo told me this was a much better location for business and he was no longer making coffee and serving cakes and chatting to school children. Serious Gallery Stuff now. I walked back to Baan Songjum and had two hours of Thai massage with masseur Upin, who lives next door. She pummels and pulls you about and I hope that all that pinchy squeezy action will breakdown all the cellulite and fat. Two hours sounds like a long time but I close my eyes and drift off into daydream .... with the occasional "OW!" when it gets too painful! Nui and Kung ordered a pizza delivery and I shared with them. Too exhausted after the Thai massage to go out and find dinner. I made a list of things I ought to do in the next week , and then created reasons why I didn't need to do them.

On Thursday morning I walked to a local bakery and cafe called 'Bake and Bite'. It's in a quiet leafy side street. I sat in the shady garden and enjoyed a coffee ..... my first in a few days.I bought a spinach quiche to take to Dorothy's .... my offering towards the pot luck lunch for her 'Crafting Group'. I toyed with the idea of taking a 40 minute walk to Dorothy's new place, which is near the old city. But by midday it's pretty hot , and I'd never been there before , so I rang for a 'Grab' car , and was deposited at the gate. I knew most of the faces from previous visits to Chiangmai , but today there was no crafting in sight.... just several bottles of bubbly. It was a leaving party for Kirsten, who is returning to Germany to live after 14 years in Chiangmai. The table was loaded with everyone's contribution to the pot-luck lunch .... and there were two other spinach quiches! During the afternoon more and more people dropped by.

Back at Baan Songjum I chatted to Nui ,Kung and Claudia and to the recently arrived Claudine from Lake Geneva before bed.

Next morning I took a slow breakfast. The Mandarin oranges are in season ready for Chinese New Year and are succulent and sweet. There's also a new arrival at the guest-house - Madu, a young single female traveller from Bangalore. When I ask her if this is unusual , she says yes, but she has taken the holiday with the support and encouragement of her family.

I walked across the old city to TTCM, the traditional medicine wing of one of the hospitals. I came here 2 years ago and found the acupuncture treatments very relaxing.I booked for a first session later in the afternoon. And as the centre is near the Meng Rai Pottery I walked along to see if there were any of those little blue flower vases I have on the tables in Blue-Ginger. None. I took a route home to pass one of my favourite outdoor cafes from previous visits. It was in a terracotta walled garden with terracotta ceramics strewn amongst the overgrown vegetation. It was like sitting in the midst of an undiscovered Angkor Wat. And the coffee was good too! I was so disappointed to find that this year it was closed and under redevelopment ..... being cleaned up and tidied. I'll have to find some new places this year.

The Acupuncture Centre was just the same, but this year I was given a pair of blue cotton baggy trousers and a hospital gown-type top. This felt a bit serious. They took my blood pressure and weighed me (ouch!) but this year didn't ask me many questions. I'm here because I have intermittent back pains that haven't been diagnosed at home. So this session involved lying on my tummy with the needles in my back, and this year with a mild electric current vibrating the needles. I felt a bit like Frankenstein! But I've signed up for six sessions.

I walked back via the Burmese restaurant and bought some of the fermented green tea salad 'lar pat loke', for dinner .I love it. I shared with Nui and Kung. Marcus cooked my brain cells with talk of futuristic reactors which would produce helium instead of radio active waste and one small plant would provide enough energy for a whole country. The only side effect would be that humans may speak in a higher pitch than now. Haha.

On Saturday I went for a swim at the Eco Lodge, but it was soon too hot to sit by the pool so I went in search of lunch. I was delighted to find that the little restaurant which looks as if it's in somebody's garden, was still functioning. The lady who owns it greeted me and I had Pad Thai noodles for lunch.

Later I went to the Supermarket with Nui, Kung and Marcus and bought a box of South African red wine to share and some Vietnamese spring rolls for my dinner. New guests , a returning German doctor, Jurgen, his Chinese girlfriend and her maid.

Next day was Sunday, and Aunty Nancy's birthday back home. This year I'd taken advantage of Bloom & Wild Flower delivery and was pleased to hear that my little planter of mini roses had arrived and fits perfectly on her bedroom windowsill.

Kung reminded me that there's a Farmer's Market. So I walked there with Madu. It was only about a 30 minute walk .... but the sun is hot! JJ Market is set in the middle of several flower nurseries. There are lots of organic vegetables and fresh fruit juices, and vintage clothing and crafted goods. I just bought two little egg-shaped ceramic pots .... these may replace the pots I've previously been able to get in Meng Rai Pottery, and the lady on the stall assured me they were made by her friend's son. I'm not sure.....

I'm trying to read the book for Dorothy's book group which meets on Monday evening. It's The Dinner by Dutch writer Herman Koch. It was made into a film starring Richard Here and Steve Coogan. It's a dark novel and there are no likeable characters, but it's certainly a page turner. When it got too hot at the garden restaurant I transferred to a coffee shop and helped the coffee along with a slice of refreshing mandarin orange cake.

I came back to Baan SongJum and had a one hour Thai massage from Upin, followed by a one hour coconut oil massage. It was very funny because Marcus was there with a Thai electrician and they were totally rewiring the place and replacing all the dodgy wiring and sockets. Just that the Thai electrician had to pop in and test the power box in my room a few times while Upin was pummelling and bending me. Anyway - the chaos went on into the late evening and they sent out for food from Burger King to keep the electrician going. Anyway.... it all looks very safe and ordered now. Well done Marcus!

And so ended my first week in Chiang Mai.

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