Monday, March 3, 2008

Gates of Chiangmai, Thailand vs Avila, Spain - And My Friend Mario

I met Mario as he hopped at the back of my sangtheaw in Sukhothai, and the thing that struck me about this guy is how he intently listens to you. He lurches forward and almost stares while you talk, which kinda gets you self conscious. By the time he showed up at the bus station to join me on my way to Chiangmai, we’ve had become buddies. He had a huge backpack with him, and a duffel bag. After waiting for a few minutes at our platform, our bus arrived. We took a seat at the back, it was almost full by then. The seat was uncomfortable and we didn’t have a good backrest. It was alright though. Mario didn’t waste any dead time. He had lots to tell. In fact, an hour prior to reaching Chiangmai, he said, “I can’t believe I’ve been talking for non-stop 6 hours.” Two hours into the journey, I pulled him to the vacant seats at the center of the bus. THAT was more comfortable.

Mario is a Berlin urbanite who spoke with an American accent, which I pointed to him. His being a German seemed non-descript, except for some moments when he would grasp for terms, “
what do you call it?” An only child to a close-knit family, Mario lived in the US from 3 to 6 years old before coming back to Germany. In between college, he worked with Disney World in Orlando (Florida) for a year before deciding to finish his degree at a university in Berlin. Uncharacteristically warm (for a German, that is – hehe), Mario exudes confidence and sincerity. He has strong opinions which I find refreshing. In fact, while on the road, when I saw an altar-like grotto dedicated to their well revered Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX), and commented, “Beautiful!” – he quipped, “Hmmm, I actually thought it was all kitsch!” Then we discussed the subjective perceptions of what is beautiful among Europeans. He noted I dress up like a European (black jeans, black shirt and doc martens – “is it docs?” – then he stoops and inspects). I said, “after almost 3 weeks, I’ve run out of clean shirt.” He said that Asia, is partial to bright incandescent colors. I said, it wasn’t the bright colors per se that caught my attention. It was the play of colors… the combination. He stopped and reconsidered. This was how Mario is. He would offer his thought on a subject then seriously reconsider when an opposite point of view is presented.

He kept harping about how he can’t believe English is our second language or how very proficient I am with the Queen’s language, but college and a whole lifetime of Americal television and movies do that to people. That’s how we are
“indoctrinated”. Besides, English really is our language of commerce and instruction. He also extols Berlin as the most affordable and most open city in Germany today. My pick is actually Hamburg (friendly people, with a young population in general), and in terms of cosmopolitan chic, it would have to be Frankfurt. I remembered getting lost in some Hamburg train once, and someone actually went off the train to help (“Are you lost? Do you need help?”). Geez, I wouldn’t even do that to any other foreigner visiting Manila. In retrospect, Mario may be right. Berlin is a work in progress, thus new ideas are cropping up every time. I sure hope more Berliners speak English now.

Mario arrived in Bangkok 3 days ago then proceeded to Sukhothai. He will be travelling for 3 months and doesn’t have a rigid itinerary although he asked for a suggested itinerary in Vietnam and Cambodia. (He took out his German Lonely Planet and prodded me to mark down where he should be going in Vietnam.) His first month was set for a volunteer work up in Pai (3 hours north of Chiangmai), teaching English for Hill Tribe children. He won’t get paid, in fact he even donated money first before actually teaching. The organization’s name escapes me, but it
“requires” a certain donation for volunteers. Mario, in turn will be billeted to a modest accommodation, and nothing more. From Pai, he will cross Friendship Bridge right where the Golden Triangle is; cross the Laotian border, and so on. He is scrimping for now so that he could enjoy and splurge his last month (May) in some island near Ko Samui, diving, etc. He would have brought his gf with him (she works as an english subtitlist of German movies) if he didn't volunteer for a month-long teaching spiel with the Hill Tribe children.

Since he didn’t have any reservations in Chiangmai, and it would be close to 11 by the time we got there, I offered my room. I had a paid unoccupied extra bed so might as well share it with a friend. By the time we got there, I suggested we grab some sandwich at the nearby 7-11, which he paid for despite my refusal
(“Come on, it’s all symbolic”, he said, and I didn’t understand what that meant). We had a feast filling our chicken steak (30 baht) with lettuce and tomato, and we toasted over coke, joining a group of tourists buying supplements. After “dinner”, we took a walk towards the “gates of Chiangmai”. Kinda reminds me of the tower fortresses in Avila, Spain (only smaller). He asked if I knew of a dance place (a discoteque) and of course I didn’t – nor had I any intentions of dancing at this time. Turns out he is a mean Salsa dancer (“One misconception about Germans is that we can’t dance anything other than hiphop,” he would say). Then swigged a Tiger beer while playing 2 rounds of pool. I’ve never really played a full game so I don’t even know the rules, which he taught me. He won, of course, but then, I really didn’t care. It was nice to just relax with a new friend. It was around 2 PM by the time we got back to our room. After a quick shower, we were both dozing off to lala land. Thank heavens he did not snore.


The Chiangmai Gates are essentially relics, "leftovers" - as compared to Avila's well-preserved, functional fortresses surrounding the whole city (the highest elevated city all over Spain).

Chiangmai gates - these gates can be found surrounding the four corners of the central area of the city

Chiangmai towers at night

Avila towers - this Spanish fortresses are massive towers encircling the whole sleepy city of Avila in Spain

Avila towers at night

Enough to transport you back to the medieval ages.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

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