Tum Thai Type of Life

As the days start to slide by, my body and mind are adjusting more and more to the lifestyle I’ll be inhabiting for the next several months. My internal list of necessities is greatly simplified (Drink water. Eat food. Write. Wander. Sleep at night.) as is my imaginary ‘to do’ list. Something about the wanderlust traveling really strips away my usual conceptions of what I require to be happy or successful between when the sun comes up and when the sun goes down. Being a slave to my philosophical, over thinking Virgo (and Virgo rising…yikes) brain, I of course take much time out of the day to ponder these things. Where do my perceptions of what constitutes a ‘successful life’ come from? Is any one life ‘better’ than another, and who decides anything like that? It may sound like an embarrassingly obvious fact to everyone else, but the thing that strikes me more and more as I get older and as I travel is just how many people live on this earth, and how many infinite variations of life exist at the same time, all the time. I am damn lucky to not have to limit myself to one type of life and to be able to witness these different types of living.
There you have my pee-pee brain pseudo-philosophical pandering for the day, complete with a startling conclusion: there’s life on earth. Lots of it. Good job, me! Onto the food…

The open-air food markets have been a daily (or twice daily) stop for the past week here in Chiang Mai, and every time I wander through the open-air aisles, ogling big bowls of curries, bamboo shoot and papaya salads, coconut and tapioca puddings and piles of fresh vegetables, I think about the people sitting behind their stalls. Many of them are preparing food, bagging curries, swatting stubborn flies off the food and chatting to each other in Thai. But mostly what they’re doing is sitting. Fanning themselves in the relentless heat, thinking about something, or maybe about nothing. I wonder what occupies their minds. Maybe they’re thinking about what to make for dinner, or what time to get their kids from school, or how they should really call the landlord about that roof soon…whatever it is, I wonder. And it honestly seems like they are totally ok with doing nothing in a way that I am still trying to practice. They slow down, they let the day slide by, they don’t seem to feel an urgency to get everything done in a few hours and then stress about what hasn’t been taken care of. This is something I am taking as a lesson on my trip. Instead of the usual pressure I put myself under to see everything I’m ‘supposed’ to see while traveling, I am taking my cue from the locals and just pausing. Making space for the day, letting things come and go, listening to my body’s needs. Some days I don’t wanna go out and explore all day. Last night I bought a fresh coconut off the street, watched Juno in my hotel room (cried like a baby, good god that movie is great) and crashed at 9pm. Yep. In Thailand. Traveling. Livin the life.

Also in my quest to take cues from the local community (always a good idea), I have not eaten at a single indoor sit-down restaurant since I’ve been here. It’s all been street stalls, markets, open-air eateries and fruit (or ice cream…ahem) carts. This guarantees super authentic and delicious food, freshness, sweet people and unbelievably cheap prices.

My latest favorite discovery is tum thai, or green papaya salad. While I’ve had it in the US, I had no idea how many varieties of this salad exist. There is an entire category of thai cuisine that is green papaya salads, and they range from the unbearably spicy to salty sweet, from adding whole small crabs to just a sprinkle of dried shrimp. Our first night in Chiang Mai we ordered the ‘spicy’ crab version and after gulping down sticky rice and iced beer in a futile effort to extinguish the flames moving from my tongue onto to my entire face, I have become a devotee to the ‘sweet’ shrimpy version. Just know, when the Thais say ‘spicy’ they really mean ‘chilies likely to kill pink people, or at least make them shit their pants tomorrow’. Those chilies are not fucking around.

The fantastic thing about tum thai is that at almost any street stand or market stall, when you order it they make it up fresh on the spot. For food voyeurs like me, that’s a dream come true. I love to watch! A pile of peeled, green papayas sit to the side next to bowls of toasted peanuts, dried shrimp, sliced chilies, green beans and palm sugar. Upon ordering, the green papaya is shredded into strips and tossed into a huge mortar with chilies (ah, tasty devil babies), fish sauce, sugar, peanuts, green beans, dried shrimp and probably other magical things, mixed together and bagged up to go. Absolutely amazing. Add a couple lemongrass pork sausages and a bag of fresh cucumber and I am pleased as punch, nowhere I’d rather be.

It’s not uncommon for people to comment on just how much food I can put away in one sitting (I never have liked that saying – ‘put away’ food. As if your planning to ‘get it out’ later? Isn’t that weird? Maybe it’s just me). But I do sometimes marvel at my ability to eat many meals a day without being the size of a large calf. That may have to do with eating mostly Paleo, but truly this is where CrossFit comes into play! For those who don’t know what CrossFit is, Google it. It is amazing, and keeps my ass in shape so I can enjoy bountiful, heaping, fatty, delectable plates full of food all over the world, while also meeting other cross fitters! It may seem masochistic to some (yes, workouts are intense, but they are also empowering, challenging, barrier-breaking, adrenaline-pumping tiny packets of joy covered in sweat and tears), but it has been a fantastic discovery for me. I actually found CrossFit through Paleo food blogs, as the Paleo diet is a important piece of the CrossFit world. This means there exists a large community of people interested in both alternative, delicious, holistic nutrition and masochistic strength-building exercise programs! There is a place for everyone in this world. Maybe I’ve found mine?

The Chiang Mai CrossFit is badass (ok, CrossFit is badass everywhere, but these guys are extra cool), and makes me want to hang around this city for a while. But my visa expires next week, so it looks like I’ll hop on a slow boat and head to Laos for a couple weeks. Something about that place is drawing me back, and I’ve gotta investigate and find out what it is. But then I think I’ll come back to Chiang Mai, as I fear separation anxiety from the fried kaffir lime leaves and shallots I’ve taken up as my daily snack. What will I do without them?!
Also this morning I met a woman at CrossFit who tells me she would love to teach me to cook real Thai food. We talked cooking classes, videos for the blog and hosting a collaborative dinner. It’s still just a conversation, but that’s definitely worth coming back for!


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