Day 37: Climbing buddy throws random rolls
Nora flies to Chiang Mai to climb with me and play some dice games. Photo: Nora Hugi
I FAIL to find the Thai Chi classes, which according to the Kung Fu Chiang Mai's website is located in the Pantip Plaza and starts at 8am, despite the mall not opening until 10am.
A man wearing a yellow uniform is sweeping outside the closed mall complex. I show him the website for Kung Fu Chiang Mai.
He confirms that the building doesn't open for two more hours.
A bit perplexed, I prowl around the perimeter of the mall; perhaps there is a back way that is used specifically for this class. Up a ramp and through a loading dock door, there are two foreigners signing a piece of paper attached to a clipboard. They disappear into the elevator as I approach.
According to the clipboard, anyone entering before 10am needs to sign in.
I sign in.
The elevator opens onto the third floor, an eerie stillness consumes the dark shopping center, which is about as light as the noon day sky during a thunder storm. A bit nervous about being caught, I search for the Thai Chi class.
The escalators at the heart of the mall stand still – just stairs. There is the sound of people's voices from somewhere above, but the third floor is deserted.
No 8am Thai Chi class for me, but at least I'm up and going.
As I return to the hostel, a Thai guy is examining a light scratch on the rear fender of his Scoopy motorbike. The small scratch, made by my sideboxes when I pulled out. Other scuffs on the back of the bike have nothing to do with me. I figured nobody would notice and couldn't be bothered to make a deal out of it, not even giving it a good wet rub to blend it in as I left this morning.
I say nothing, which tends not to be my policy about these things, but for whatever reason, I choose to remain silent about the matter as he looks at the scratch.
Feeding my yuppy side, I take the same seat I had yesterday at Blue Diamond and eat roughly the same breakfast, tapping away at my laptop as I munch on the mediocre bread they served with my omelet. Several seats down, a man is talking into his phone for a video recording.
He's making a health food video blog of some sort – and it's cheat day. He introduces the sweet, vegan food in front of him, in addition to vegan ice cream.
“Don't eat this fucking shit, eat this fucking shit,” he says into the camera. I can't see what he's talking about, so I figure I'll just stick to eating on what's on my plate.
Nora's arrival is quickly approaching. The beautiful, chain-smoking cancer survivor that I put on the front page of the Phuket Gazette to raise awareness about cervical cancer has an enthusiasm for life and an addictive silliness that flies in the face of public conformity – both wonderful and contagious ways of approaching life.
The night that I settled my sleeping problem by indulging in a half liter of whiskey, Nora and I had a great Facebook video chat. Given that the foundation of our friendship revolves around climbing, I urged her to join me at Crazy Horse. She, sober, checked the ticket prices and book them later that night.
It's going to be best to do Thai Chi, as required by the die, before she arrives.
The dumpy dorm room I'm staying in is empty. With everyone out, I strip down to a pair of shorts and put on the dated “Easy Thai Chi 9-minute Daily Practice” by Vibrant Health Happiness. This, of course, was not what I had in mind when I rolled the die.
It's been brilliant to see how when forced to follow through on a die's decision you can find alternative solutions, when you would have otherwise given up – some times, rightfully. Under normal circumstances, I would not be so determined to do Thai Chi today to the point that I would follow along with Don Fiore as he tells me to gently put my hands as if they are resting on a table. I would not be gathering balls of energy, rocking back and softly breaking them across my neck – I would have just waited for tomorrow.
Though surprisingly awkward and lacking flow, I make my way through the short practice, ending with my hands together and mumbling “namaste” back to Mr Fiore.
The Dutch girl, with her gold nose ring and fresh tattoo between her shoulder blades, knocks and comes it. She flops down on the floor next to me.
She's packed and ready to go. She settles her small debt of 400 baht.
It turns out that she needs to leave for the airport at about the same time I need to pick up Nora, I offer her a lift.
Happy to save a few more baht, she agrees.
We miss the turnoff for the airport, finding ourselves on the highway, flying the wrong direction on the bike. The visor of her helmet taps me in the back of the head again. The Dutch girl apologizes, again.
With her small backpacker pack laid across the tank, nestled between my forearms, it's not the most enjoyable drive, but she's gets a thrill out of it as we find a U-turn and open up the bike, racing back to the airport.
I drop her off at the domestic terminal. It's a quick goodbye: a hug and a wishing of safe travels.
I roll forward about 100 meters, picking up Nora at the domestic arrivals exit. Some one reviewing CCTV footage of the pick-up-drop-off maneuver would find it difficult not to suspect that I'm a player doing some very precise woman juggling.
Back at the hostel, Nora books a private room for 450 baht; I've paid in advance for one more night in the dorm, though agree that it's better for us to just share the downstairs room.
I'm eager to see the ruins of the ancient city of Wiang Kum Kam in order to get some more drone footage. However, Nora – like most people who've recently been introduced to Dice Travels – suggest we roll for it.
I draw up a list: 1) ruins 2) go for a scenic drive 3) Huay Tung Thai artificial lake 4) waterfall 5) cave 6) hot spring.
Nora drops the die on the floor. It tumbles until only three pips are facing the ceiling.
Hmmm.... the lake was at the bottom of my range on this roll.
I suit up, grab some swim trucks and we're off.
Nora is loving being back on the bike. She's dated a number of good to very talented riders, from a guy who can get his knee down on the curves while driving a BMW GS1200 to a stunt driver capable of controlling a endo (front wheelie) for more than 100 meters – with a passenger on the back.
Though I'm not competing in this talent pool, it's hard not to be intimidated by the wealth of experience she's witnessed. Up front, I down play my skill level, though she already knows where I'm as a rider. Nonetheless, re-establishing exactly where that bar is is helpful for me, reining in the temptation of pushing myself too far outside of my comfort zone.
Nora rummages through her dry bag, and then pays the entrance fee of 50 baht per person to the lake.
We park the bike in a dirt-gravel parking lot. The hill slops quickly down to the muddy lake water below.
Dozens of thatch and bamboo salas fringe the water, low-lying tables at the center of each, with the blue mountains stretching up in front of us.
“This is exactly why Dice Travels is awesome,” I tell Nora. We agree that neither of us would have selected the lake as a destination to visit while in Chiang Mai if we hadn't been sent her by the dice. But we are thrilled to be surrounded by such beauty.
It was fantastic, unusual excursion. Photos: Isaac / Nora
Next to the parking lot is a barren shop house with a woman sitting behind a desk. We riffle through the menu, ordering bla dok foo, fluffy catfish, and the die ordering us a whole fish with veggies in a chili sauce. Nora can't handle spicy. However, the die has chosen.
Down at the lake, at Nora's suggestion, we let the die choose which sala we take up. It chooses number 17.
Conversation comes easy, bouncing between blatant sexual innuendos to talking about serious relationships.
Sprawled out on the thin strips of bamboo flooring, I am momentarily, awkwardly aware of just how short Nora's shorts are. Diverting my eyes back to the lake, I take in the way the fringe of the thatch absorbs the warm sun, glowing gold above the water line.
A Thai couple two salas down are fishing. They hold thin sticks with line tied to the tip, their hooks sitting in about 30cm of water.
Lunch is served, with some difficulty, as the man struggles to light the candles that are supposed to keep the whole fish warm as we pick at it.
Still a bit hungry, I wonder back up to the shop, chasing down a couple fishing poles in addition to ordering a pork dish.
Nora crawls across the the sala, squatting down in an attempt to catch a fly for bait. Bemused, I watch for a bit before making my way back up the hill to ask for bait.
A man fishes out a few net fulls of tiny, translucent shrimp from a large cement water bowl on the side of the building.
Massive, clouds form in the sky, very so slowly changing shape, their contours adjusting to the weather. The sunlight makes Nora's skin glow as she wades out into the water, casting her line a bit further out.
“I think of it as taking my shrimp for a walk,” she says, dragging her line back and forth in the water, most likely scaring any fish that would even consider approaching.
It's decided. If it's an even, she gets to try and throw one of the little shrimp into my mouth; odds I get a shot at hers. I push for her to swallow if it's successful, but she shuts the idea down, which moments later I'm grateful for – there for a moment I forgot that I was allergic to shrimp. Being forced to eat a shrimp by the die and then feeling the itching in my throat and eventually chumming the waters around our sala with a good helping of whatever is in my stomach is not my idea of a good time.
We roll and fire, roll and fire, until Nora finally pops one into my mouth.
The little fella bounces into the back of my throat, I cough it out immediately. Then, dutifully, put the squirming shrimp back into my mouth washing it around a bit, hoping that he doesn't end up making me sick.
It's nearly five by the time we wrap up at the lake. Back on the bike, we head for up Doi Suthep to catch the sunset. With company this time, I'm hoping to manage to stick around until the sun actually goes down.
“Breath in deeply through your nose,” I say as we pass grove of Angle's Trumpets.
“It smells like an Italian kitchen,” she says. My olfactory memory had not been jogged in that way. However, when she eventually pins the smell down to thyme, it's hard to deny it. It's the same herbal sweetness.
Up the peak, the air begins to cool again. At the branch in the road, Nora starts recording a video message for her boyfriend, whose also a mate of mine. She's tells him that there is plenty of room on the bike.
I deny it, but offer to kick her off to make room for him, if only he'd bring is water baby ass back from the Caribbean.
The crowd at the viewpoint is similar to yesterday, a few foreigners that have braved the hill on rental scooters and a number of Thais – including the couple with the fuzzy ears that were up here yesterday.
As a pair of shutter bugs, we manage to keep busy until the sun sets. Photos: Isaac / Nora
Having a second person around who is a proper shutterbug is a blast. Nora was completely consumed with trying to take a picture of a dragonfly back at the lake, and is now wandering around looking for more photos to snap.
The sun is again battling its inevitable bedtime, like a child asking for one more story before lights out.
Nora makes a lackluster attempt at juggling the racquetballs I've been carry around.
The sun starts its final descent. A narrow band of oranges appears above the mountains: horizontal strips that seem compressed by the sky above, like a thin cross section of well-layered sandstone.
Back down the mountain, we toss the die for what's for dinner, with donuts as a sixth option just to keep things fun.
Mad Burgers, right along the inner mote of the city, it is. The burger joint serves up a tall burger that I'm very skeptical of.
There is something about a burger patty that is closer to spherical than circular that bothers me. Nonetheless, the first bite erases any of my hesitations. The dice also voted for booze, so I'm having a caprioska, while Nora orders a latte with a shot of Irish Cream and Kahlua to dump inside.
We watch a man on the other side of the small soi get a tattoo. A group of young girls, probably just out of high school wander in and appear to be getting the same thing drawn on the back of their necks.
It's hard not to be a bit anxious about them getting such ridiculous, matching tattoos, despite knowing them only via a number of broad assumptions. Nora and I ponder which of the girls is the hottest as we finish up our burgers.
We step out onto the patio so Nora can have a cigarette and finish her coffee. I also order a coffee to pass the time.
The conversation turns toward infidelity, as Nora probes my experience looking for more insight into why men cheat. Between Nora and Lindy, I've never spent so much time dissecting the motivation that leads to cheating or talked about it so extensively.
As one would expect on the second round of the conversation, I find myself to be more articulate and precise in my explanation. Nora gets it, though is interested in the way that my thoughts on the matter seem to differ from others she's talked to who have seem to be simply lacking the balls to throw in the towel on a relationship that should already be over.
Nora, like Lindy, isn't especially good at listening. At least, that's what she keeps claiming, and though she does most of the talking, I feel like she does let me get a word in edgewise from time to time, which is more than enough for me. It's the massive amount of energy from bullshit banter to thoughtfulness that makes listening to her so engaging, so though she apologizes for the constant chatter, I don't mind at all.
Back at the hostel, Nora isn't about ready to call it a day, despite it getting late.
We embark on a random walk. As we hit a crossroads, I pull the die from it's case on my necklace and toss it to the street. The night becomes a meandering punctuated with lefts, rights and straight aheads. Neither die nor us care where we're headed, as long as we avoid the main roads.
“Do you ever think of how to climb everything without getting caught,” Nora asks, starring longingly up at a nearby building.
“Like do you think we could climb that?” she asks, pointing to a multi-story guesthouse.
“Yeah, you could dyno up to the ledge and then heel hook and mount the next ledge,” I say, somehow managing to ignore the fact that neither of us could actually make the jump.
“Or you could use those pipes,” Nora point out.
Our wandering continues with us pausing in the deserted back alleys to scope out potential urban climbs.
Temples appear out of nowhere, their stupas rising way above the outer walls, which are in themselves a temptation for climbers. However, neither of us is about to cross that cultural line just for a bit of a laugh, though that doesn't stop us from pondering how to scale the walls should we want to.
We poke around an unstable construction site with large wooden poles stabilizing the second and third floor of a dark building, but decided it's best not to get involved. Further along, halfway down an abandoned plot of land stands a wall.
It's the sort of wall the seems to exist simply because it refuses to cease to exist. It's only a few meters long and a few meters high but has been tagged with graffiti. It's attached to nothing, standing out of sheer willpower, which seems near its end.
I time Nora as she scrambles up the little brick wall. Perched on top, Nora's big, childish grin beams down at me. Their is always a hint of impish delight in her smile.
Nora scrambles down and starts the timer for me.
With a running start, I hit the wall, which seems to give a little, considering flopping over under my weight. In seconds I'm perched at the top. After failing at a balancing in a crouching Batman pose, I come down and we return to our meandering.
The die continues to send us down small sois. We pause to practice our cartwheels, which I've not attempted in years, but still manage to pull off.
Only a few blocks from the Nature's Way Hostel, we find an exceptionally narrow ally with white washed walls decorated with a splattering of graffiti art.
“Do you think we could climb this?” Nora asks, voicing the question that seems to be incessantly bouncing around in her head.
The soi is narrow enough that two motorcycles couldn't pass, but still far enough apart to make it difficult to keep hands and feet on opposite walls as I chimney my way up.
Locking off my arms, I hover above the ground for a moment, my feet dangling below me before crashing to the ground.
My heart is thumping from the effort.
Nora, who was taking pictures, zooms in on my wide-eyed, distorted face.
She loses it. Crumpled into a laughing mess in the middle of the street, it takes her several minutes to compose herself.
Back at the hostel, Nora bursts into laughter again as she reviews the photos.
Though she's running strong, I'm simply moving forward on fumes at this point.
I layout on my side of the king-size bed, hard spring coils pressing against my face. With the aircon on and a blanket pulled up over me, Nora steps out for another cigarette and to make a phone call.