Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Routine, No Routine

Yes, it's true... I've been neglecting the blog thing for almost 2 weeks! Sincere apologies to anyone who actually reads this stuff (I love you, Mom). Luckily, I have a great excuse: I've spent the last 10 days helping to design and execute CMRCA's first corporate team building program! It was no practice run, either: on two weeks' notice, we put together a day of epic education and adventure for the 56 global senior members of Standard Chartered bank. That's a HUGE Asian/African/Middle Eastern/British bank which actually made 5 billion USD last year. As they say in Thailand, wooOAAOW!

Our program had them joining forces with 5-12-year-old orphan kids on a "Fantasy Expedition" in the morning -- lots of team bonding, Thai storytelling, and general mayhem. Then, after lunch, we drove the execs to a nearby park/lake/mountain/forest area for a miniature adventure race, complete with biking, kayaking, GPS navigation, culture shock, and tricky team initiatives. It went fantastically well and I promise to write more about it later. However, I'd like this blog to tell something close to the whole story, so I still have some catching up to do.

Certain beloved folks have asked after my Thai address. Here it is, though it might not do much good:

Denali Barron
Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures
55/3 Ratchapkhinai Rd
T. Phra Singh
A. Muang Chiang Mai, 50200

It really is remarkable that any letters get to where they're going here. To put it mildly: Thai people and street names do not get along. This was made profoundly clear to me on my first day of attempting to find the CMRCA office. Even when I was only one or two blocks away, but didn't know it, people scrutinized the Thai business card as if it was written in pa sa Norwegian. It might as well have been. If someone asks me where I work and I tell them "Ratchapkhinai Street," they will be just as lost as I am. But if I tell them it's "near that temple and this gate into the Old City, between the donut shop and that famous hotel," they will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Even that method is full of traps, however. I recently learned that glaai with a rising tone means "close to," while glaai with a mid-tone means "far away." DAMN IT. (Actually, the postal service does work somehow. I've received two letters so far and I love, love, love them both. Thanks Jess and Julie!)

Now, out of the experimental chaos of those first few days, a pattern is beginning to emerge. Of course it is chameleon, changing every day... I stay late at the office, not wanting to leave the familial joking atmosphere for an hour of breathing fumes in the Songthaews (color-code pickup trucks, the choice form of public transportation in Chiang Mai), or I discover that if I walk 15 minutes to the highway from Payap University, the red truck will charge me 40 baht instead of 100. Even so, things are starting to solidify. It's a good feeling. Riding in a Songthaew is especially unnerving when you have no idea where you're supposed to get off.

I wake up every morning at exactly 6:03, when the Doi Saket Rooster Choir holds rehearsal immediately outside my window. Awesome. I like to laze around for a little while before trying to persuade Mae Noi to cook something for breakfast that does not involve whole fish or gummy worms. We've reached a sort of agreement about fried eggs and garlicky sauteed vegetables with steamed rice. This is quite a wonderful breakfast, though she still throws me the occasional curve ball. Such as curried snake.

Mae Noi drives me out to the Super Highway on her motorbike, where I catch a yellow Songthaew towards Chiang Mai. After about 20 minutes, I disembark on a fairly random street corner and wait for one of my friends from language class to drive the additional 5 minutes to Payap University. Sometimes I walk, which takes half an hour. From 9 to 12 I rian pa sa Thai with my fellow nak seuk sa -- a very colorful crew including two Japanese exchange students, an older British couple, two Frenchmen who are working as tutors, a Chinese graduate student, two guys named Tom who are both from Vancouver, a girl from Alaska, two Hawaiians, a nurse from LA who is volunteering at an AIDS clinic, and me. We spend a lot of time asking each other very simple questions, grumbling about tones and word order, and slowly (but surely) learning.

At noon, class is over, and I get to have lunch with Lauren and Elena -- fellow PiAers who are teaching English at Payap. Familiar faces are like fresh air. The open-air cafeteria has a wonderful smoothie bar, and I can now place my order entirely in Thai. Woohooo! At around 1 PM I depart on my walking/red truck journey to CMRCA, which is a lot simpler now that I know the name of the Old City Gate and the stupid donut shop. Then I hang out at the office until 5 or 6 -- my favorite part of the day.

Every afternoon, my supremely awesome coworkers ask me two questions: (1) what I have eaten today (2) what I learned at school. When I haltingly tell them about the day's language lesson, they take great joy in rejecting my classroom Thai and telling me how people actually talk, which tends to be completely different. I also get to clean things, boulder, tinker with the website, practice Thai tongue twisters, spontaneously write articles for Singapore climbing magazines, and create adventure races for some of the most influential bankers in the world. Ha. Tough life, right?

Just as the rest of the Chiang Mai climbing community starts to arrive for evening bouldering, I leave to take red and yellow Songthaews back to Doi Saket. This is a bummer, but I just have to remind myself that I have only 2 weeks left in the home stay, and loads of time after that to get to know these people. All is well once I get back to bahn Mae Noi, where there is inevitably a lot of beer, rice, relatives, basic conversation, and an early bedtime. Weekends are a very different story, and I'll have to start route-finding once again when I move into the city. But the most amazing thing is that my new/no routine in Thailand is thoroughly populated by family and friends. Every day presents a challenge, yet I am starting to feel comfortable -- even though I could hardly be farther away from home.


  1. As soon as I figure out where the post office here is (or rather, if there's a post office here...) I am sending you a postcard. Think of the adventures that postcard will have! Miss you tons!

  2. All I want to know is klai mai? (or glaai) It's really funny to read the transliterations that you've seen; I don't get them until I read them out loud (without tones, obviously!).
    I'm glad to hear that life is still so dynamic and colorful.
    Good luck settling into the next routine of pulling on plastic and enjoying probably more Beer Chiang or Leo. Just stay away from the Sangsom and M150. Yikes!
    Enjoy phasaa thai khun!