First full day of exploring Chiang Mai. And after a long sleep - almost 12 hours. Amazing how a little sleep deprivation can make the world look a bit less bright.

Today David and Maew took me up to Doi Suthep to see the Buddhist temple on the mountain. The story is that several hundred years ago, the King of Chiang Mai sent a white elephant up the mountain with some bones from the Buddha. The elephant got to the top, dropped the bones, and fell over dead. So they figured it was a sign from god and built a temple on the spot. And it's a beautiful spot. Many images of the Buddha, many statues. Also some from Hindu theology. It's a real monastery so many of the people there were praying, lighting incense, and chanting. There was a monk reading to some of the pilgrims. I sat and listened for a little bit. Of course, it was Thai language so I didn't understand a word. The sing-song quality was quite mesmerizing though.

After walking around for a bit, we headed down the 306 steps that lead up to the temple. Before going to the car, we decided to visit the Jade Shop. It so happened that the owner was there. She knows David because of his work with a choral group that she sponsored. (She's fairly wealthy.) Anyway, she tooks us under her wing and we got a tour of the work room where they work on pieces before they go into the store. (David liked one of the pieces so much that he ended up buying it.) So we learned a bit about the jade trade. Turns out all real jade comes from Burma. There are two kinds and jade can come in several colors. It's a fabulous shop.

A Thai moment: As we were getting ready to leave, David's friend asked if we wanted to stay for lunch. She said that she prepares lunch for 90 every day. Actually she feeds all of them 3 meals a day. Nice employer, eh? Anyway we stayed and had a very pleasant lunch on her patio.

Another Thai moment: Yesterday when the taxi took me to David's store, I didn't know where it was and he didn't read English, or at least not my handwritten version of English. So we got to the general vicinity. And he got out of the cab, went into an open store and asked if anyone knew where the shop was. Turns out the owner is good friends with David and Maew and she took me down the street into their shop. Not too many taxi drivers in New York who'd do that.

Most incongruous moment: A rat running down a nearly deserted hallway as I trudged from the International terminal at the Bangkok airport to the domestic terminal.

The Chiang Mai night bazaar is a great experience. Want to see "The Fantastic Four" or "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" or "War of the Worlds"? Just let me know. They're all out on DVD here. At one stall, the propieter assured me that her discs were multiregion and would work on American players. Most of the discs I saw cost around $4 or $5. Of course, US customs may not look keenly on me bringing in such blatantly pirated movies. Spoil sports.

Also great deals on clothes, some of which look like fairly shoddy quality but some not, brand-name luggage at a price 75 or 80 percent less than the US. Looks like everything they say about Asian piracy is true.

This must be a very slow tourist time. The night bazaar was not very busy and many of the vendors looked bored and sleepy. Many of the others though were working hard to get me to buy something. Little did they know that my wallet comes with a time-controlled padlock that won't let me buy anything without 24 hours notice.

Tomorrow I'm off to explore a wat or two. See how the Buddhist half lives.


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