A big "Grazie Mille" to Antonio from Sicily for what turned out to be a very simple solution. And I'm not going to tell you what it was because some of you still think I have half a brain!
Where do I start? I've been hanging out in ChiangMai since December 1....the first couple of weeks in a hotel and since then in a small condo as the guest of my friend Connie, who is a most gracious hostess indeed. She and her husband moved to a much larger condo, and they are letting me stay in this smaller condo for a few weeks. It's in a great location...several restaurants with two blocks and walking distance to two malls.
Even though Thais are Buddists, they displayed the Christian holiday spirit with decorations almost everywhere, especially in the malls, which are hubs of Thai life. Mickey Mouse and family are very popular here.
In most Thai malls, you'll find a major grocery store on the ground floor, a major department store and various shops on the second and third floors, electronics on the fourth floor, restaurants on the fifth, capped off by a movie theater on the top floor.
I spent Christmas Eve and Day with my friend Connie and her husband. We went to a wonderful Christmas Eve buffet at a 5 star hotel, and Connie and Nat hosted a Christmas barbeque at their new condo on Christmas Day. I made some very interesting new friends there who happen to live in my condo building. They came with Santa Arnie from Brooklyn, who may be the first Jewish Santa I've ever encountered.
Kevin and Simone are on either side of Santa Arnie, with Connie and Nat on the outside. Kevin is a Californian and Simone is from Brazil. They are researchers/educators in a field that is difficult to explain (will try later), but it has taken them from Brazil to China for 12 years, Bali for 2, and very recently to ChiangMai.
My friend Dolly from Bangkok came to visit me for a few days around the New Year. I took her to Doi Sutep and the King's Summer Palace (where I have been before and posted a blog). We also visited the ChiangMai Zoo, the first "drive-through zoo" I've ever seen. A paved road winds up and down and around the hilly terrain where there are several distinct areas to visit....not the least bit pedestrian-friendly, much like the rest of Thailand. We walked to the first three areas, but I could feel the beginning of a blister, so we took a shuttle to the remaining areas. You could get really close to some of the animals, like these giraffes and ostriches.
And this elephant who somehow managed to keep his tusks.
This hippo was begging for food treats.
The highlight for me were the pandas. This is the famous Lin Ping, born at the zoo in 2009.
We also went to the 3D Museum, Art in Paradise, where there are many opportunities to become part of or an extension of the art. A few fun examples....
On New Year's Eve, I cooked dinner for six--Nat, Connie, Kevin, Simone, Dolly and me--in Connie's magnificent new kitchen.
Mostly I've just been hanging out with friends, shopping, reading, and lounging. This weekend, however, I took a train trip with Kevin, Simone, and Connie to Lampang, a city of about 60,000, about 100 kilometers southeast of ChiangMai. It was National Children's Day and the cars were filled with families taking this free promotional train ride to Lampang. We were the only "farangs" (foreigners) on the train and attracted a lot of attention wherever we went.
The train made a few stops along the way....at two of the stops, we were entertained by a wonderful band, The Banjo Cowboys. Kevin and Connie, both professional singers in prior lifetimes, joined the band at the lunch stop.
At another stop, where we saw this famous white bridge, there was some colorful entertainment and prizes for the kids.
Thai children are extremely well behaved and cute as buttons!
One of the bigger kids with his balloon.
The band entertained us on board the train after the lunch stop. Because of our enthusiasm for their music (not to mention active participation), they invited us to join them as they moved from car to car. I was the tambourine player for a bit.
We stayed overnight in Lampang, and what a surprise it was when I met a lovely Thai woman at our hotel who spoke Italian! Tick is her Thai nickname....wish I had remembered to take her picture. We roamed around a huge night market that evening, ate some delicious Chinese dumplings from a street vendor, and had dinner at a favorite restaurant of the locals. The next morning, we took a long walk in search of breakfast and visited ChiangRai Temple.
We took a bus back to ChiangMai, an hour and a half versus four by train. It was a really wonderful trip with really fun friends...one I won't forget.
Okay, this was a really long blog entry, but I'm back on track now. I'll be staying in ChiangMai until mid-February because I need to have a surgery done to remove a basal cancer cell on my nose, discovered just a few days before I left the States. It only took me five weeks to get a surgery date scheduled....things move at a different pace here, but Thailand has excellent doctors, worth the wait. Wish me luck.