“Like a Local” (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

I told my hostel worker I was really hungry and she recommended a local place. She scribbled some pictorial characters onto a slip of paper and said “this is what you want!” The waitress grinned ear to ear when I handed her the paper. Every table has extra fixings so they can flavor their soups however they like, crushed peanuts, fish sauce, vinegar, brown cane sugar, dried chilis, pickled chilis, chili fire-oil. It’s very interesting to watch them eat noodle bowls as they use both chopsticks in one hand and a big-cupped spoon in the other hand. They pick up the noodles with the chopsticks in their right hand, coil them around into the spoon, and eat the noodles from the spoon in their left hand. It’s almost an art-form as they fashion the perfect bite of noodle-soup with both hands.

I went to a stand for some fresh coconut juice. The woman scraped the baby coconut into a cup with a little toothed metal comb before handing it to me. I passed her my bills and she immediately took the money and began swatting it on all her produce and kitchen equipment. I think it was some sort of “good luck” ritual as I may have been her first sale of the day. I went to use the toilet in the market and had my first run-in with stand-up/squatter toilets that are so famous to Asia. Basically you hover over a little hole in the ground and they have a hose to wash yourself with rather than using toilet paper. There was no flushing mechanism so I went and got the attendant for help. He rolled his eyes at me as he used a bucket full of water to rinse the bowl down. Who would have guessed adding more to the bowl would be the way to make things go down?! First stand-up pee, CHECK!!

After bumping into a man that’s given me directions three different times over the last three days, I set off to find myself the Thai massage he recommended. I wandered into the sleepy temple complex where women were giving massages on thin mattresses lined up along the floor. Two men beside me were being hammered with wooden mallets that click-clacked together for their special type of massage. I changed into some loose-fitting elephant pants they gave me and placed my belongings into a wicker basket beside my bed. The woman pulled me in different directions, pressed onto me with her feet, twisted me around her legs, and cracked me from side to side as her toddler daughter ran back and forth squealing and disrupting the session. I like Thai massage because it’s a lot about using pressure on certain points and stretching deeply with the help of the masseuse.

With a plumeria flower behind my ear, I began walking around in search of another hostel to stay in. An older Thai man motioned for me to come inside the outdoor bar that he and his friends gathered around. It was a car-mechanic shop in the day, and turned into a hole-in-the-wall local bar with soft glowing lights and calm tropical music and after 4pm. The man that brought me in spoke English almost perfectly and told me that I looked like their princess because her symbol is the plumeria. He poured me a drink of his rice liquor and added large round ice cubes and soda water. The bartender passed me a small green fruit dipped in salt to try. They told me they eat these special fruits because it makes their drinks taste sweeter, and they have more vitamin C than five oranges while they are only the size of a grape! We went in on a bottle of rice liquor together and I watched as the bartender funneled it into our purchased “bottle” from out of a huge cistern.

A little girl sat with her father, the owner, behind the bar. When I walked in, she had two braids down the sides of her head. She ran over to her dad, pointed at me, and then asked him to change her hairstyle to be a ponytail just like mine! So cute! I gave her my plumeria to wear as well, and she was so appreciative of the gift. The family took pictures of us “twinning” together at the bar. After, she brought her play dough over to me and I started making her a set of fake purple nails. She motioned for two rings, two bracelets, a necklace and a crown, so I made them for her too, but never managed to get the necklace on because she was too ticklish and squirmy. I played my “groove” playlist (lots of C2C) from back home and the locals were dancing and beat-boxing along. They thanked me with prayer hands after every song concluded as we sipped the rice drinks in the back of the garage. When the little girl was tired, she climbed to a padded area behind the bar, tucked herself into her little nest and went to sleep. It reminded me of some of the funny little places I’d slept in as a kid while my parents were working.


Alena Horowitz | Miss Potato

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