From the jungle-like coffee shops in the back streets of Old Town to the 21st century way of celebrating the Thai New Year with super soakers and buckets of dirty moat water, I am experiencing a world I never dreamed of being a part of. Chiang Mai is a city rich in history with a modern hippie backpacker vibe. On the same street you can find a family run Thai restaurant, a hostile and a Seven Eleven. On one corner there is a market place with Thai herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables, and at another corner is an American style cafe humorously named Fat Elvis. The city is beautiful. The shades of green are vibrant and the flowers are bursting with color. Many times I feel as though I could stand in the middle of any given street and write a book simply by describing the environment surrounding me. Then again, I take that back. The average temperature has been about 100 degrees. Today has been the hottest, estimating around 107 degrees. Needless to say, the cafes hidden under trees with leaves half the size of our bodies are favorites of mine.
Thanks to awesome friends and the women at the Sunshine House, I have experienced quite a bit in my short time being here. I’ve tasted some of the best food I ever ate and met some pretty unique individuals who differ from me drastically. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Chiang Mai. In my opinion, everyone should travel to South East Asia at least once in their lives, and I’ll give you three reasons why. Here are a few of my favorite things..
1. To no surprise, the food is definitely one of my favorites. In fact, sometimes I think about having to eat food in America again and I actually get angry. The food in Chiang Mai is bursting of various flavors and has an incredible savoring tastes. I have yet to eat something my tastebuds were upset about. Vegetables consume almost every meal and the fruit is ripe and fresh. The sauces are spiced to perfection and the added peanuts in just about every dish make for the perfect flavor combination.
2. I am a Messiah College alumni and am proud of it. However, attending a Christian school certainly has it goods and bads. For anyone who attended Messiah for any amount of time, the word “community” probably makes you cringe a little bit. “Community” is a major buzzword. It wasn’t until studying in Uganda I finally found value in community. It was more than just an overused word because in Uganda I lived communally. I experienced a beautiful cultured community first hand. While Chiang Mai is vastly different than Mukono, Uganda, I am yet again experiencing a beautiful cultured community. Chiang Mai is highly populated with backpackers and expats, so it’s not uncommon to walk away from eating lunch having made friends with people from Portugal, Canada or even Norristown (just an hour south of my hometown). It’s not uncommon to have a conversations about culture or religion. It’s definitely not uncommon to have conversations about eating habits and American politics. I found many people who, though different than I, have many things in common. I also had more debated conversations with people who drastically oppose my beliefs within the past week than I had within the lat few years back at home. Maybe that is partially my own doing, confining myself to certain crowds and boxes back home, but it’s been both uncomfortable and exciting to experience such a vast community here in Chiang Mai.
3. Before leaving home, my grandparents gave me great advice. They said, “One step at a time. Trust in the Lord to guide you one step at a time.” I’ve always been a big picture kind of girl. I’m a visionary. I love to dream on a large scale. Frankly, I don’t think I’ll ever stop dreaming because it’s part of my make-up, but I am learning to pay closer attention to small pictures. I am learning to appreciate the smallness of life and enjoy detail. I am learning the value of a moment as I recognize each moment is a seed being planted in my large scale destiny. My days in Chiang Mai are composed of tiny moments. They’re made up of conversations and walks around town or taxi rides here and there. They’re made up of people, so many different people. They’re made up of new adventures and new risks. My days in Chiang Mai are made up moment by moment. Some things are set in schedule, like being at the Sunshine House or community movie night, but even within “set” times, there is such openness and little expectation. My host family in Uganda would often say, “You are here. You are welcome. Be free!” I would always chuckle a bit when they would joyously say those things, but I often hear those words repeating in my mind as I find myself walking step by step in Chiang Mai. I am here, wherever here may be at any given time. I am welcome. I feel so so welcome here. I am free. I am spiritually free and I am physically free. I have permission to smile and be vulnerable. I am free to be me and free from the burden of worrying about the next step. At times it feels uncomfortable, but it has become one of my favorite things about Chiang Mai. It’s the little things. It’s the detail. It’s being present and embracing hospitality and soaking in the smallness of life.
Food. Community. Step by step living. Those are a few of my favorite things.
I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world, present and in awe. – Anne Lamott