8 April 2012
Etihad proved itself worthy of the title “World’s Leading Airway.” I slept undisturbed, donning the face mask they gave me. And this considering the Ralph Fiennes lookalike whose head spent much of the flight over India grazing my shoulder. I awoke to a musty, rose-colored sky.
“Did I miss breakfast?” I wondered, glancing at the empty plastic cups and the Nature Valley bars peeking out of seat pockets.
“Happy Easter!” Susannah exclaimed, and I remembered that with the time change, it was Easter indeed. I settled back into my seat. This was probably the closest I’d come to celebrating Easter this year, and I couldn’t help but feel guilty. I’d pawn it off on Catholic guilt, but I’m not Catholic.
Regardless, this is the first time in my life I haven’t celebrated Easter Sunday at church with the family. There will be no buffet brunch with Aunt Lynne, Uncle Billy, Kyle, Janet, or the girls.
In fact, Easter is already half over for me and it hasn’t even begun for them. For an extra dose of irony, the tradition of coloring eggs originated in Egypt. But I’m not even there, so I can’t play that card.
So where am I?
Tired and half deaf from my one hour flight – in first class on Air Asia, which is basically the first row at the bulkhead but hey, I’m not complaining – I arrived in Chiang Mai with two objectives: first, promptly locate the Puripunn (little sleep, hectic travel = the possibility of collapse near the baggage claim alone, unable to be identified), second, stay awake long enough to sort out elephants.
I secured a cab from the airport and was driven through a slummy snare of back alleys and decrepit apartments by a man who laughed at me when I told him I taught in Egypt. He dropped me at the Puripunn, a quaint little oasis in the middle of a torrent of unchecked city sprawling haphazardly in no particular direction. If the Centro in Abu Dhabi is the quintessential progressive executive suite in the new Middle East, then the Puripunn is a throwback to the old days of the far east.
The hospitality reminded me of India and struck me at once for being so thoroughly un-Egypt. A tiny Thai woman rushed out and grabbed my luggage, leading me through a garden and into a rich lobby that looked more like a tea house. There, I was given a fresh towel, a gently perspiring glass of iced tea, and a slew of coupons for food and drinks.
“And you e-mailed about the elephant tours? Shall I call and arrange something?”
Oh, yes. (More on my elephant enthusiasm next time!)
And so, I was shown to my room – tub, balcony, silk robe, and slippers – and told that I’d be picked up for the elephant excursion tomorrow at 8:30am.
Today’s plans are simple: rest, especially because they’re conducting a “pest control service” at two, where “there will be mosquitoes killing chemical smoke at around the lobby” and “will takes approximately two hours.”
I napped for almost three hours. When I awoke, I decided to get a massage. It was cheap, I had coupons, and I feel that my biscuit rationing in Mykonos was a kind of penance that earns me free spending rights on this trip. Crossing out of the lobby – which is still home to a few lingering mosquitoes but now smells faintly of Pinesol – I headed off to an hour long aromatherapy massage.
I’ve had more massages in the past three months than I’ve had in a lifetime. And while I still feel notoriously uncomfortable going into it, it becomes quite relaxing. Halfway through, it began to rain outside.
It was a foreign sound – having not heard or seen the rain in months renders it almost unfamiliar, out of place. It sounded like a monsoon and continued even as I sipped my green tea in an adjoining room. When I left, the woman handed me an umbrella, but I ventured out unprotected.
Rain, warm and fat and friendly, dripping down in an uncoordinated disarray, the steady pattern disrupted by fat waxy palm leaves, ferns, and creeping vines overtaking the path – super serene. It seemed plausible that a Velociraptor might emerge at any given moment.
I liked it.
Time to fix the hair and go try my hand at acquiring goods at this Night Market.
I’ve been so tired and jet lagged, but now I feel like I could stay awake all night. The night market was a refreshing break from the bustling markets of Egypt, rife with catcalls and hassle. Almost no one spoke to me, unless I was browsing, and even then it was with a smile and patience. I was practically invisible, and I loved it. I had dinner at a little pub called the Red Lion before heading back to the Puripunn.
It is almost ten, and it is quiet. I can say that the silence is almost confusing.
There are no horns.
No stray animals are engaged in battles to the death. No cats are screaming or giving birth in an alleyway.
There are crickets.
Give me a sleeping bag and I’ll sleep at the pool. This is La Senda Verde-type serenity. I haven’t felt this since that night in October at Hacienda Bay, when we dragged our bedsheets outside and watched the stars. More importantly, there is life everywhere. Everything is alive, singing, rustling, and wet.
There is life in Cairo, sure, but that is the dried up, desperate-to-survive life. Dirty. Done in. Exhausted.
Here in Chiang Mai, the rain is replenishing. The air is gloriously wet. The vegetation, the roads – though slightly trafficked – smell like forest, wet, wet wood, wet branches, wet flowers. Life is vibrant and vocal here. ‘Peaceful’ doesn’t do it justice. Majestic. Bright. Spontaneous. Vivid.
On second thought, this is a fitting environment for Easter. In fact, this is the most straightforward Easter I’ve had. The only thing it’s lacking is family.