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Blogging from 30 Thousand Feet Over the Arabian Desert

If you ever asked me in my younger days what would be an exciting week I may well have said something like “fly 5000 miles, have currencies from 4 countries in my wallet, and wake up wondering where I am.”

In my adult life I have had quite a few weeks like that. I am in the middle of another one.

The day before yesterday I was in Chiang Mai. A 90 minute flight on Air Asia took me to Bangkok for one night. At five a.m. I was on my way to the airport to catch a 7 hour flight to Doha on a Qatar Air Triple 7. After a three hour layover in the Doha airport, an hour on an A320 to Dubai, and hour in a cab to our townhouse, I spent one night in “my own” bed and got up with the call to prayer for my ride to the Sharjah airport.

As I write this I am in an Air Arabia A320 on my way from Sharjah to Beirut. Yes Beirut. They say it is the Paris of the Middle East.  (I have heard that honorific compared to winning the NIT.)

I have a relationship with the back of the seat in front of me that the second dog in a dogsled team must have with the lead dog.

But I love it.

Let us start this episode of The Other side of the Coconut in Chiang Mai. I had planned to be there a month. My plans were for nothing more exotic than oral surgery and subsequent recovery. The surgery went extremely well and the recovery was like finding a $20 bill in an old pair of jeans, pleasant and quickly gone.

I was able to change my flight home very inexpensively.

So my month was now a week. I was very familiar with Chiang Mai. I had done just about every dumb tourist thing to do that exists there. I had timed this trip to the dentist to attend Loy Kathrong, which if you are a faithful reader you already know I enjoyed immensely.

There was one thing in the Lonely Planet book that I missed last time, and was determined to see this trip. There is a village in the mountains north of CM, near the border with Myanmar (or Burma if you prefer). The name of the village is Mai Salong.

Mai Salong did not exist before a regiment of the Kuongmintang Army escaped from China after the revolution, complete with their families, horses and traditions.  Horses are rare in Thailand and the Thai word for these people translates to “The Galloping Chinese”.  For the first 35 or so years of their existence, the villagers survived, and thrived, on the opium trade. The village was inaccessible except on foot or hooves. Eventually, the King of Thailand told the people that they would be accepted in Thailand, but they had to quit running opium, and let the government build them a road to civilization. The King also sponsored a new industry, that being the cultivation, processing and sale of tea.

Lonely planet described Mai Salong as a mini Hong Kong, steeped in Chinese culture and architecture. Poppycock. The only thing it is steeped in is tea. Lots and lots of tea.

Bags of locally grown tea of different types. I tasted about a half dozen before I had to run and find a bathroom.

The Chinese lady who made me tea, then sold me a bunch of it.

Picking tea.

At the tea plantation I found this sign. If you can tell me what it means, I will buy you a cup of tea.

The only thing remotely Chinese about Mai Salong was this. It is the Chinese Martyrs Museum. The museum is dedicated to the Kuongmintang of the area that fought the Chinese communists in a nasty war in Northern Thailand in the late 1970's. We did not hear about it of course because we were in our own nasty war a bit east.

It was interesting to find four Christian churches and two mosques in Mai Salong. I do not remember seeing a single wat.

The following day I was up before the poppies bloomed to go see an amazing, yearly, but amazing event. The entire Monastic community of Northern Thailand, 12,500 strong, gathers in Chiang Mai in a ceremony to receive alms. The monks arrived in the dark and filled about five city blocks on one side of a raised platform.  The platform had a statue of Buddha and the venerated elders of the monastic community. The four blocks on the other side were filled with civil and military authorities. The point of the gathering, after much praying and chanting, was the thousands of monks walking thru the government/military people who put offerings in their big bowls. Normal civilians could also give alms. You bought them from an alms dealer nearby. The alms were mostly rice, noodles, bottled water and fruit juices. The bowls filled up quickly and people walked behind the monks and transferred the lot to large plastic bags. I would estimate that they collected at least a few tons of subsistence for the monasteries.    I will let the following photos give you a better picture of the event.

Monks gathered before dawn.

When the sun came up, it was like orange water color in the rain. Orange everywhere. My orange receptors went on overload.

There were old monks...

… tattooed monks

..and baby monks!

My alms dealer

This is also a custom. You pay a bit for a bird in a cage and set it free.

My bird going free. For all I know they fly back to the "Bird man" and he sells them to someone else. But thats cool.

The entire point of the morning is to watch the politicians and military people pay homage and give alms to the monastic community. Thailand ROCKS!

 

OK, the plane is now coming into Beirut. I am looking forward to seeing this city that is so full of history and conflict.

Thanks for reading this post. Tell a friend, make a comment, and stay tuned for the story of our visit to the land of Danny Thomas.

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One Response so far.

  1. Stewart Copeland, best known as the drummer for The Police, was born in Alexandria, Virginia, the youngest of four children of CIA officer Miles Copeland, Jr. and Scottish archaeologist Lorraine Adie. The family moved to Cairo, Egypt a few months after his birth, and Copeland spent his formative years in the Middle East. In 1957, the family moved to Beirut, Lebanon and Copeland attended the American Community School (as did Osama bin Laden) there. I’ve read interviews in the past where Copeland spoke fondly of growing up in Beirut, including playing Little League.

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