Jan 10th, 2015
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener
My new Australian friends had to check out pretty early, so we were in a hurry packing up everything while the reception lady knocked on the door and said loudly “Time to check out!”. In order to save troubles for my Australian friends and save money for myself, I stole away when nobody was noticing. They moved to another hostel while I came into the gate anew and checked in for the dorm in this hidden hostel. When I was led to the dorm, I realized that I was the only guest in this big room with about 40 beds, all clean and neat. Empty, very empty. Why?! Because normally when new guests came, to earn more money, they would only tell of their private rooms or rooms for two or three people, without mentioning the cheap dorm. One could only find the option of dorm online. I looked through the window. The rain stopped, but everything still looked wet. Chiangmai was as touristic as Bangkok, but it was colder, much colder.
How Was Chiangmai?
When I dropped my luggage and started exploring the city, it was already turning sunny. There was the fresh smell of trees and soil after the rain cleaned the city. At noon, it was totally hot again…… Compared to Bangkok, Chiangmai was more relaxed. There was hustle and bustle. After all, it was the second biggest city of this country but it gave you the feeling that everywhere was the suburb, including the quarter where all the beautiful temples were and thus most tourists went.
Yes, temples… Buddhist temples. They were the main things one could see inside Chiangmai. One could take colourful and amazing photos but I had seen so many Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia that I became already immune to the golden roof and the orange red columns. Most of them were too similar to stimulate any new excitement in me. The only special thing about this city which I did remember were the pieces of ancient city walls still standing beside the motorways, penetrating hundreds of years of ups and downs.
I wanted to do table diving again, but when I finally reached a complex where there were a lot of shopping malls and food joints, somehow no matter how hard I looked around, there was simply nobody leaving any food behind. God, people here had good habits of eating all they had ordered! 😉 A good thing actually I would say. I eventually did pay to eat some noodles. Perhaps because I had been living on Coca Cola and bananas too long when I was having the most annoying thing during travelling — diarrhea, I had such a great appetite that I believed I could eat twice more than normal and the taste of it seemed simply divine! I had the flashing feeling “God! I was having such a miserable life!” but this feeling only lasted only for seconds as I had lived and traveled long enough to know that although I could definitely have better meals and better beds if I found a job and settled down, I would then miss the thing I valued the most in the entire world — FREEDOM.
On my way back, I walked through the night market, which was so relaxed compared to the one in Bangkok. There was a band of disabled people, probably victims of some wars, playing in the middle of the street. Some of them were blind, some lacked limbs but they all looked so happy and the music was loud and joyful! attracting the attention of everybody passing by. Their expression and the rhythm of the music they were playing made you forget their sadness but only remember their happy smiles.
When I returned to the hostel, the ground had become so dry that nobody would even remember it had ever rained so hard just last night.
Meet the Couchsurfers
I headed out after a short break. I would walk about one hour to reach a place I did not exactly know the location of and then I would walk back, just for one purpose — to finally meet some Couchsurfers after such a long time.
There were three things that changed my life — Going to University (Tsinghua Uni.), going abroad and joining Couchsurfing. The first two things changed the track of my life but did not change my mentality. I was still the hard-working Chinese guy who wanted and only wanted to have a bright career, respectful job and a happy and settled life UNTIL I joined Couchsurfing — the only thing in my whole life that FUNDAMENTALLY changed my mentality. It simply opened a whole new world to me, a world of open-mindedness, a world of sharing and love, a world of ENORMOUS POSSIBILITIES OF LIFE! Life got REDEFINED. I myself became REDEFINED. It blew my mind with all the possible adventures and kindness of strangers. It was because of the existence of Couchsurfing that I started to really travel, not as pastime, but as a way of life. A life of traveling without CS would be miserable and loveless to me. In Southeast Asia Couchsurfing barely existed, especially in poor countries like Laos and Cambodia. Even in richer countries like Thailand its existence was still very limited. When I was combating the rebel in my cold stomach in Bangkok, although I tried my best, I simply could not make it to the Couchsurfing meeting that evening. That was a pity and guess what? In Chiangmai that evening there would be a Couchsurfing meeting — Werewolf Game Night. It was not a party but finally I got the chance to see some Couchsurfers! That was why I took all these troubles to walk there.
I arrived more or less on time when there were already about 10 people there, many enough to start playing. It was organized by a Dutch girl, with whom I could speak some Dutch. There were people from Russians, Scandinavia, the States, Thailand and some other countries. Later two German girls joined us. You might say:”Well, in hostels you can also meet many international people, not just with Couchsurfing!” Oh dear friends, there was a difference. Those people I met in hostels, to tell the truth, they were not always cool. It happened so often that when you tried to talk to them they would simply shrink like you were a serial killer. It sounded not nice but it’s true and I told the truth even if it stung. Those travellers or tourists in hostels were not necessarily interested in culture exchange, getting in contact with locals or accepting somebody else even if he or she is a total stranger. Couchsurfers, however, most of them were cool people who believed or agreed to one idea — getting in contact with locals, making friends with strangers and accepting them even if they were of different religion, nationality or culture! It’s not about getting drunk or getting laid, no, we (at least I do) believed in a world of sharing and love.
Before I left at about midnight, I shouted:”Anybody wants to join me for hitchhiking tomorrow?”
One of the owners of the bar where we played, a cool dude shrugged sorrily and smiled:”Well, I would surely join you if I did not have this business to take care of. If you asked one year ago, I would definitely say yes, but now I can’t.”
The German girls would like to try hitchhiking since I was praising htichhiking all the time. I knew that if their participation would make the journey much easier. 😉 However, they regretted that they had made other plans already for the next day.
No worries. I went back to the hostel and on the way I saw some ladyboy by the roadside, dressed very sexily, trying to attract some clients. He/she blew some kisses to me when I passed. His/Her life was actually not that easy. The night of Chiangmai was cold and he/she had to stand there all night for business. When I was just contemplating this, I arrived at the gate of the hostel and directly headed for bed before another day on the road would start again.