Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Sawasdee Pee Mai 2007!

First things first:

Last night there were 8 bombs in Bangkok. They were small but 3 people were killed and 37 injured. The current government was quick to point out that it could be the work of the ousted politicians and military men, but most people here seem to think it’s the work of the southern insurgents. Both are plausible I suppose: the government claims the work was too co-ordinated to be done by the insurgents but then again the style is similar to the types of activity they’ve engaged in in the southern provinces (small bombs placed in many different areas intending to cause harm and not death). On the other hand it has been suggested that the current government is responsible in order to make the ousted PM and his supporters look bad. Perhaps we’ll know more in time.
I was on the phone with a friend and he told me there had been a bomb in Chiang Mai. I was shocked and proceeded to trawl the internet and television (I was at Lou’s) for more information. I am certain it was just a rumour as nobody is carrying the story and another friend went down to the area where it was supposed to have happened and it was as busy as ever. If something had happened we’d know about it with the increased military presence.

Sawasdee pee mai! Happy New Year! This is my newest Thai phrase that will come in handy at least twice more this year for Thai and Chinese new years.
I had a great evening that started early and went late. I set out with no real plans and ended up having a wonderful time.

Sunday night I went out for some noodles before heading to a party at an Aussie girl's house. I met her through Lou when I told him that I missed hanging out with other women. The group at the party were mostly NGO folk (Non-governmental Organizations) and it was quiet but full of interesting new expats to talk to. We drank some whiskey, ate hummus, and talked about all kinds of things. It was here that we learned about the bombings, but didn't know the extent. The news came in the form of a text message.

Around 10pm Heith, Noah and I decided we wanted to head downtown for some more populated New Year's fun. We heard the celebrations might be cancelled due to the bombings but weren't really concerned that anything would happen in Chiang Mai. We got downtown to find that the Sunday night market was closed. This is a huge market that happens every Sunday (and Saturday right now during high season) on a street right near Tha Pae Gate. They close it to traffic and it is so packed you can barely walk down the few km stretch. At this point we didn't know the extent of the bombings so I assumed the market was closed because it was New Year's.

This was the scene at Tha Pae Gate, still set up from the birthday celebrations but with added messages of Happy New Year and television screens.

Tha Pae Gate was bustling as usual, but it seemed less crowded than I had anticipated, especially for being the center of goings on in downtown Chiang Mai. The stage and tv screens that had been set up the day before were empty and blank, but people were still everywhere and there were floodlights lighting up the area. We wandered a bit and decided to let off a lantern. These are the same lanterns that were let off during the King's birthday (and are for most special occasions) but there were many more this evening. For 100 baht we procured a white paper lantern and set it off into the sky, much like these people.

From there we sort of wandered around and ran into some of our mates from the TEFL course- Ant and Jack from Manchester. These guys are hilarious and lots of fun to party with. We had actually been out with them the night before and their buddy who is a volunteer with the Tourist Police. He was on duty that night and informed us a bit more on the bombings. We were all going to head up to the rooftop bar, a place we've been a few times that is- you guessed it- on top of a roof of one of the buildings across from Tha Pae Gate. Except as we looked up we noticed that the power was out in a whole block of buildings due to a lantern that got caught in the power lines, somethings I'm surprised doesn't happen more often. You can pretty much let them off wherever and there are lots of random power lines running through the city. Here's an example from later in the night. This lantern got caught but freed itself before it did any damage:

Another lantern fiasco happened when two hit each other and landed on top of a building where they proceeded to start a fire. It went on for quite a bit before someone managed to douse it with water. I didn't see any damage but I'm sure there was some. The crowd loved it though.

We walked up to the rooftop bar despite the lack of power and it was packed. There was barely room to stand, which was to be expected given the proximity to the fire works and an open roof for prime viewing. It was getting close to midnight at this point so we walked back down to the gate area and bought beers (25baht) and noisemakers (60 baht). Because there was no formal countdown the first moments of 2007 were met with mass ambguity about whether or now we should cheer and celebrate. It was one of those funny crowd behaviours where you know everyone is looking at their watches thinking 'I'm pretty sure it's time to celebrate...' but no one speaks up. Eventually we all caught on and the fireworks started. I got some pictures, but everyone knows what fireworks look like, and I posted some from the King's birthday.

From here Heith and I split with the straight boys (the night before was fun but we figured they'd be on the same path so we decided to stick to the downtown bars) and headed down Loi Kroh Road to look for a friend from work who said he'd be at a bar around there. Loi Kroh is known for its bars full of Thai bar girls and farang men looking to spend money on them. It serves a particular economic purpose among other things... we found ourselves walking down the street shortly after midnight and it was mad. There were people everywhere, men dancing on tuk-tuks, women dancing and enticing people to come join them in bars like this one:

All in all everyone was having a great time. Heith and I found my friend's bar where there were free drinks. We stuck around for an hour or so before moving on to find food and more libations. While wandering back past the rooftop bar we headed up to see if it had cleared out at all. It had, but mostly because the floor had collapsed. This is one of those places with the flimsy bamboo floors covered by mats and cushions. You have to take your shoes off before going in and everyone sits around low tables drinking whiskey buckets (a concoction of whiskey, red bull, coke, and many straws) but it seemed that people were a little too excited about the fireworks and all piled into one corner to watch. The bamboo gave way but there is a platform beneath that prevented the people from falling too far. We talked to a guy who was there and he said it was actually hilarious.

We moved onto a few more places, drank more, and danced before meeting back up with Noah and looking for noodles (or any food) around 5:30. This proved impossible, despite Noah's promise that he knew of a place 'just around the corner' that never actually materialized. We tuk-tuked back to my place where the boys were parked and called it a night. Here is a picture of them pulling their best GQ pose right around midnight.

The next morning we made breakfast at Lou's (he was out at the lake with friends) and it was deeelicious. Scrambled eggs topped with tomatoes and basil, home fries, fruit salad, toast, and OJ. This doesn't sound like a big deal but it was amazing for us to make a huge and satisfying brunch. Over breakfast Heith proposed that we climb Doi Suthep, the mountain that sits in the horizon west of the city. This was around 4pm, mind you, and the sun sets in Chiang Mai around 5:30 or 6. Nevertheless we started up, didn't make it too far, and drove to a lookout point just in time to see the sun set on the first day of 2007.

Tomorrow I begin teaching and I vacillate between feeling terrified and very prepared. I've been told by a few people that their first day of teaching was awful and they felt like they would never be able to do it. Others have had the opposite reaction. I'm going to try to go in with very few expectations and keep telling myself that it's for 2 months (for better or worse) and I can totally handle it. Yep.

So Happy New Year, all. I hope you all found some way of ringing in the year that suited your fancy. I have always felt like the whole New Year's Eve party is overrated and an exaggerated way of marking the passage of time. Regardless it was a fun night and I met some great people. I will surely be back to report on my first day of teaching.

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