Thursday, February 25, 2010

Northern Thailand- Breaking Bread, Breaking Boundaries

**Sorry, it looks like I may have disappeared from the face of the earth, without new postings for several weeks. I was traveling. There was no internet where I was. So here, I am finally sharing some thoughts from my trip to Thailand. 
February 6- On assignment up in the mountains of Northern Thailand, I arrive before the actual project commences.  I find myself in an empty resort. It is just the resort staff, lovely people from the Lisu tribe, in the extremely peaceful mountainside property.  Awake at 5am for my early flight to Chiang Mai, I was ravenous for lunch by 1pm.  Then, a young Caucasian couple arrived.  I was happy to dig into the food. Dining alone no longer bothers me.  Bite after bite in silence, I am happily in the company of my food. The young corn was freshest I’ve ever tasted. Every crunch echoed in my mouth.  Perhaps, the silence in this mountainside retreat heightened the experience or maybe it was really just freshly picked this morning. There was no way to find out for the lodge staff had very limited English skills. The beautiful young women clad in a rich fabric of vibrant pinks, purples and blacks would repeatedly say, “So-li.” They would shake their heads to say they can’t understand me.

here comes my lunch

the lunch all freshly grown from Northern Thailand

From a distance, sitting on the floor, the young couple ate.  The blonde lady spoke in English with a noticeable American twang, the man a European, German I thought.  We smiled later in the afternoon, introducing ourselves to each other. It appeared we were the only guests in the Lodge.

Dinner scheduled was scheduled at 7pm. All three of us dined together now.  All anonymity quickly vanished. Landis and Christophe turned out to be in their honeymoon. Landis is an American, who grew up in Boston.  She quickly warmed up when I told her I studied in Smith, sealing our New England connection. Her husband Christophe was not German. He is a French man of Greek ancestry.  I commented how the food was not as spicy as most Thai food. Landis said she had requested for less spicy food. Perhaps, that explains my mildly flavored lunch. Reeling from a bum stomach, Christophe barely ate. We started with clear soup with Tofu.  Then they served vegetable spring rolls, minced chicken with more young corn, and boiled eggs with soy dressing.

After dinner and a dance, we're no longer strangers! 

The Lisu children and two adults staged a show, dancing to their tribal instruments.We danced in a circle, stomping our feet.  Landis commented that this is probably the most exercise she’s had in her honeymoon thus far.  Then, we ate banana and papaya drizzled with chocolate syrup, as we shriveled in the cold evening.

Before the staff called it a night, they asked us what we wanted for breakfast.  A wooden menu of five options was presented to us.  There was a mix of choices from Cornflakes to bacon and eggs or even boiled rice and meat. Bacon does wonders to my spirit. Serve me crisp bacon anytime (even at midnight), and I’m a happy camper.   Christophe was repulsed by the thought of something salty for breakfast.  So it was their usual morning fare, cornflakes.  Landis explained that his usual fare was cornflakes, or a baguette, or a croissant or Pain au chocolat (Chocolate Bread).  She lamented how France has limited cereal options compared to the dizzying variety in American groceries. In the US, the cereal aisle ranged from fruity, to healthy, to chocolate cereals. In Paris, she only had a few varieties of cornflakes and the chocolate based cereals French loved.

She didn’t really care for chocolate but her husband loved his Nutella. He would spread it on his bread, on a banana, or simply spoon it from the jar.  I shared his love for the hazelnut spread so I could totally relate. Landis on the other hand, only recently discovered Nutella. It was always in the grocery she explains to me. But it was much more expensive than peanut butter. Now in living in Europe, it is in reverse. Her American staple of peanut butter is much more expensive.  Love has bridged the gap. Landis has taught Christophe to eat oreos, with a layer of peanut butter, washing it all down with milk. She on the other hand, has taken a bit of liking to Nutella. But she has definitely embraced every French man’s love for cheese.

Landis, a French major, was finishing her Junior Year abroad in Paris. A friend turned 21 and invited her to an evening of Karaoke.  She initially declined, with a trip to Dublin early the next day, but she figured it could be fun.  Along with her American friends they laughed at the crowd singing American songs with a thick French accent. But one French man held the microphone. This time she stopped laughing for he sounded really good, plus the fact that he was cute. Her group stayed till 1am, so did his group. By the end of the evening, they caught each other’s eyes.  He walked up to her to give his number and to get hers. Landis nudges him to tell his side of the story. Christophe tells me he doesn’t like football. His work buddies kept pestering him to play the sport. He said yes, only if they joined him at Karaoke one night. He was in a band, and loved to sing. So that night, he searched for a Karaoke bar online, headed to this one with his colleagues. 
The young American was in the airport the next day, when he called. She promised to keep in touch when she returned to Paris.  Dublin was fun, and she did almost forget him. But he didn’t forget her, sending her a text message upon her return to ask her out for a date.  With only three weeks left till her return to the US, it took them less than to fall in love. Soon after she had completed university, she returned to Paris to be with him. Last July they got married in Boston.  He describes her as a “typical WASP,” with her family living in a suburban home with a Labrador, the country club, and the New England summer home in Maine.  He admits, it was a bit intimidating meeting the family at Thanksgiving. She gushes that he is the romantic Parisian. Unlike American men she has dated, this French man surprises her with bouquets of flowers for no reason at all, buys her favorite food, or whips up a meal for her.

Food is magical. Sharing a meal with strangers naturally breaks down the boundaries.  After eating dinner together, we were bonded. The conversation flowed deep into the night.  I looked at my watch it told me it was midnight in Singapore.  Then we all got up. We all headed to our rooms excited by the shared experience of the exotic setting.  What awaited us in our rooms was the romance of slumber draped under a canopy of white mosquito nets. 



  1. Maida, ang galing! So like you! Your best comes out when you travel!...mommy

  2. what a wonderful experience you had, maida! great article -- fun to read and extra points for the bacon commentary. love your native headgear! copyright

  3. Thanks Mom, indeed, I am fully alive and happiest when I am traveling.

  4. Mr. Copyright,
    Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed reading this post and the ornate headgear. Will post more in the next few days on Thailand... and maybe tribal tattoos in the future. who knows?

    Cheers, Maida


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