Saturday, February 27, 2010


Four weeks ago I was writing a last post here before leaving for three weeks in Burma. The moon was full. We're back again to a full fat moon, ripening in the sky each night. How wonderful.

I headed out this morning to the large wholesale market, the biggest market in Chiang Mai, called Muang Mai. It’s an easy ten or fifteen minute walk from here, right across the road from the American consulate, which is a kind of wild juxtaposition. (We took the immersethrough people there the first day. It took us about two hours to get our small bit of shopping done, so distracting and engaging was the market, and so full of questions and curiosity generally were our lovely people.)

This morning at Muang Mai, in the course of helping a guy pick up a fallen crate of young coconuts (they roll far, of course), I dropped my cash purse without noticing. Five minutes later, in another part of the market, I hear a woman call to me: she’s rushing up with my wallet in her hand to return it to me. The kindness of strangers is always a gift; I felt so grateful to her.

Markets aren’t always that forgiving to the careless, nor is daily life in general for that matter. And I was extra lucky to not have realised my loss, so that I never had a moment’s worry, just a flooding feeling of gratitude that warmed me for the rest of the morning.

Anyway, because I am leaving soon, I’ve already started that subtle process, both conscious and unconscious, of saying farewell to places and people and patterns of thinking and seeing. Muang Mai and Wararot Market, the old big downtown market are both important Chiang Mai anchors for me. I can only imagine how much a part of life and personal landscape they are for people who work there or who shop at the market every day.

As I was walking from Muang Mai across the river to get to Wat Kate, another place that goes back a long way in my Chiang Mai history, I had one of those kaleidescoping-memories moments, where flashes and glimpses of places and people from different times come bursting into the mind’s eye. And all that made me think about the tension or balance between the pleasures of the familiar and the urge to seek out the new.

We all live with these opposite pushes and pulls. And we respond to them differently, each of us, and our response changes over time. For example I sometimes think that turning points in our lives are connected to a need or yearning to move ourselves to some other point on the spectrum between the extremes of, at the one end, seeking the all-new, and at the other, staying securely in the all-familiar.

And at different points in the day, even, we have more energy for the new, or on the other hand, a sense of vulnerability or a longing for comfort that makes us seek out the familiar. That need for the familiar is probably why, after Muang Mai and Wat Kate, I found myself in the basement of Wararot Market having a bowl of kanom jiin, fine white rice noodles topped with broth. I chose a coconut-milk-rich fish ball-laden broth today. On the table were the usual generous plates of fresh herbs and raw vegetables, as well as pickled greens and lightly pickled beansprouts with chopped green onion. The familiar process of adding flavourings and turning and stirring them in is a ritual, a reassuring and calming way to start a meal.

Kanom jiin is the Thai equivalent or close cousin of the family of Burmese dishes called mohinga. Like kanom jiin, mohinga can be a morning start to the day, or an evening bowl of comfort, or a meal in between (though lunch, for most people in Burma who have the choice, is usually a main meal of rice with many “curries” and delicious side dishes of many kinds).

Speaking of morning foods, yesterday at the wonderful Haw market (only on Friday mornings, opposite the mosque just off Thapae Road here in Chiang Mai) I had a farewell bowl of the Shan specialty, which is often called “tofu” by the Shan and Burmans, and is a thick delicious chickpea-based soup, pale yellow, that goes over kanom jiin/mohinga noodles. The soup is then topped with flavourings: a little palm sugar water, ground peanuts, coriander leaves, fried garlic oil, dried chiles if you wish, and there’s no limit or rule about what else you might like to include. Yum. It’s one of the recipes I’d like to figure out in the next few months...

I was with Fern and Melissa, having a coffee to recover from our soups (Fern had had mohinga with lots of chiles on top) when Robyn and Dave turned up. They live in Malaysia and are here for ten days or so working on several Chiang Mai-related articles. Robyn (Robyn Ekhardt) has a wonderful blog you will want to explore called Eating Asia, and Dave (David Hagerman) takes the photos. They’re people you’re happy to take anywhere, but they’re of course especially fun to eat with...

And that’s my plan for my remaining time here, to enjoy each moment: savour the present and not worry about the future.

No comments: