I will have learned Thai for two years by this coming March, yet I hadn't seriously visited Thailand. Seeing my classmates head for the country one after another, I was tempted. At one point, I finally booked the plane ticket to Chiangmai, and after my granny's funeral, I felt it was the right choice. Instead of traveling to Bangkok, I somehow am more interested in the northern part of the country.
The weather is rather pleasant in Chiangmai in February. A typical day starts with a cool morning, but the temperature climbs up to 30 degrees celsius by the afternoon. I am quite confused about the change of seasons when I first arrive. Despite the hot sunshine, Chiangmai is filled with westerners. Most Thai people we run into, including vendors, can speak some English words. It's definitely a challenge to stick to Teacher Helen's suggestion of speaking only Thai.
In fact, Chiangmai is very international, more so than many other Asian cities I've been to. As I sit in Wawee Coffee, my right ear picks up the Thai words I can recognize while on my left is a table of Americans fervent about Thailand. Outside right in front of me are two Korean ladies. Though looking back on the trip, I realize I haven't been to many important tourist sites, but at least I have the excuse that I "live" in the Chiangmai way.
I think one of the reasons that attract so many tourists to the city is its classical architecture. The gilded temples nestle in the labyrinth of roads in the old part of the city. In the beginning, I do have the ambition to learn, but later the roti vendor at the roadside captures my attention and wins me over.
However, if we do have an opportunity to spend a few hours in the temple waiting for the heat to fade, it's one of the best things with the company of ringing bells and monks' recitations of mantras.
The architectural style of bed & breakfast in North Thailand is fascinating and relaxing with much use of wood and bonsai. Thus, it presents a strong vacation feel even inside the city. I can't help asking myself during my stay: Why don't I have time to draw a tree?
As a matter of fact, it's the westerners here that enlighten me. Apart from those who travel for more than a month around Thailand, there are also many who have settled down in North Thailand. Some of them speak Thai very fluently. I decide to spend a morning observing their daily lives. Well, they while away the hours doing nothing in cafes. They remind me to slow down, and while I am drawing, an old man gives me a beautiful smile upon seeing the picture.
Westerners are worth studying whereas Thai people show me things beyond what the textbook has taught. I accidentally end up in the food court in Kad Luang in Waroros. Based on my observation, it's mostly the locals that eat here. Another reason why westerners love Thailand is that food doesn't cost much, and it can be found everywhere. While I am sketching, the background music is a song sung by a famous Taiwanese singer who lived in Chiangmai before she passed away. Again, I feel that I am not in a land completely different from my culture.
I stay in a bed & breakfast next to the morning market in Sukhothai, which gives me a valid reason to give up early for drawing a sketch. The locals eat barbecues for breakfast too!
The following day I buy a bowl of rice to make an offering to a monk. Then I stand and sketch for one and half an hour. The market in the early morning opens up my five senses, which enables me to fully experience the moment in various ways.
I can't write Thai. Actually, trying to imitate the characters feels like painful eye tests. Sometimes there isn't enough space, so I will stop abruptly. It's a really a mess, so don't read my writing at all.
I love looking at the monks. Their orange robes, rather than marking their seclusion, resemble warm sunshine that encourages me to live every day to the fullest.
That's what the Buddha statues in Sukhothai mean for me too. I sit under the bodhi trees to sketch, feeling the falling leaves landing in graceful manners. How lucky I am to be in the embrace of 850-year-old architecture.
I experience the same tranquility during the bamboo-raft ride. Time seems to stand still, and I have the sunny day and green scenery all to myself.
I also love the elephants and their superb paintings!
What amazes me the most on this trip is songtaew and tuk tuk, two major local transports in Chiangmai. I came across many sorts of drivers who teach me about the region and the Thai language.
最後一天一個人旅行時在瓦洛洛花市遇見超high的嘟嘟車司機，一邊指導我畫圖，一邊熱情地唱著：I love meung thai!
On the last day when I travel alone, a hyper tuk tuk driver in Waroros flower market gives me instructions on how to draw the tuk tuk. Meanwhile, he sings out loud, "I love Thailand!"
On my way to the airport, I encounter a bus driver named Tree, who must be sent by Teacher Helen and Teacher Der to review the lessons for me. Strangely, at that instant, I no longer worry if I'll make any mistake. After a string of questions, Tree asks, "Will you come back to Chiangmai again?" "Of course!" I am ashamed to say that I haven't even visited the major tourist attractions such as Inthanon National Park and Doi Suthep because of my need to sketch.
I really want to thank the teachers. Thanks to the Thai lessons, I've go to see North Thailand differently. My horizons have been broadened, and more importantly, I feel free and brand-new.