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The Man Who Came To Dinner




For the entire weekend I kept apologizing profusely for the seeming lack of “The most beautiful girls in Northern Thailand”. Perhaps it was because it was a Buddhist holiday. Perhaps they knew he was coming to town and were playing an elaborate game of hide and seek. Most likely though it was simply because it was a long weekend and the girls had all headed up to Chiang Mai to party. In any case the streets of Lampang were not only devoid of pretty girls, but young girls in general. Oh well, there was nothing else to do but put a brave face on as I squired Stick around my adopted hometown.

This little adventure started early of Friday morning with me attempting to make my way to Stick’s condo. It should have been a perfectly straightforward taxi ride. After all, Stick had sent me his address, which I had printed out. Not only that but I had asked the desk clerk at Livingstone’s to write the name of the condo and the address in Thai on my paper as well. He at least knew exactly where it was located. Being a nice guy he actually came out to speak to the taxi driver and tell him where I wanted to go. No problems right? Of course this being Bangkok, no taxi driver will ever admit that he hasn’t the faintest idea where he is going. That is how I wound up getting dropped off in front of a rather seedy looking apartment building, God knows where in a part of the city where I found it hard to believe Stick would actually reside. I did trying calling him from my taxi, but not being as early a riser as I am, he hadn’t turned on his cell phone yet. I asked a scruffy looking maintenance man in front of the building if this was indeed the place written on my paper. He assured me it was. Oh well, there was nothing to do but hunker down and wait until I could call up to Stick. About 45 minutes later he finally picked up the blessed phone. It only took a few seconds to realize that I was definitely not at his building but a place with a similar name! Eventually after flagging down a taxi and having the driver get the directions “straight from the horse’s mouth”, I arrived at a really nice condo building with an indoor swimming pool, fitness room etc. Stick came down to meet me and we went up to his place for a few minutes, but we weren’t there long. In a few minutes we were on the road!

The road to the North is pretty smooth sailing, so aside from a few brief pit stops we flew along at a nice clip. Along the way we had some great conversations. Many people who are regular Stickman readers might not know what a “regular” down to earth guy he really is. We share many points of view about life in general and of course life in Thailand. Due to excellent weather, light traffic and good road conditions we arrived at my home mid afternoon.

I don’t think Stick was quite prepared for how nicely my modest little domicile turned out. He honestly thought that it cost 2-3 times as much as I paid to have it built. It of course helped to have a few good design ideas and even more importantly some of the best builders that you’ll find anywhere it Thailand. And yes, I will confidently bet good money on that claim! I had “suggested” to my tee-rak that she spruce the place up a little before our arrival and she did quite a nice job at cleaning and straightening. After a well deserved rest, I took Stick on a little stroll around my neighborhood. He was amazed that such a peaceful place could exist only a few minutes from the bustling city center.

I hadn’t had time to due any grocery shopping, so we decided to go out for dinner. Stick is quite right that Lampang is most definitely lacking in good restaurants. (Aside for a quick bowl of noodles here and there, I never go out to eat, which is a shame because I do enjoy a good restaurant.) We went to an attractive place along the Wang River, with nice views but decidedly mediocre food.

We got up early the next morning and after some home made pancakes and maple syrup went for a quiet walk along a riverside park. Quiet is a word that I often use to describe my adopted hometown. It is perhaps too quiet for many hardcore urban dwellers, but it suits me and my family just fine. That is actually one of the points I would like to make in supplementing Stick’s recent column about his visit here. There are interesting things to see and do here.

I’ll talk about some of the places we visited shortly, but I just wanted to contrast a good place to raise a family with a “Major Tourist Destination”. I grew up in a town of 50,000. Lampang (the city) is about 200,000. The province is over 700,000. Thanks to one of Stick’s readers I was finally able to pin down the population! There are very few farangs living here. There are a fair number of tourists, both foreign and Thai, but not vast throngs. There is of course agricultural activity in the rural regions of the province, but the main industry here is the production of ceramics. There are dozens of large and small ceramic factories, producing for domestic consumption and export sales.

Most people here are simply hard working folks supporting their families as best they can. All in all they do a pretty good job of it. Is there poverty? Yes of course. But most people here have a roof over their heads, enough to eat, adequate clothing, access to medical care etc. You will NOT find any beggars on the street, except of course for the inevitable blind musicians.

On the whole people here are actually affluent. I don’t mean in the Siam Paragon / Emporium kind of way. Many people do live in attractive houses, drive upscale cars, and have the latest electronic gear. Virtually every kid I’ve seen here sports a better mobile phone than I carry, and has lots of pocket money for snacks, video games etc. The teens are all decked out in the latest fashions. There are even quite a few stores with pet supplies. Hey, if you’ve got money to feed your dogs and cats packaged pet food, you must be doing okay! And of course let’s not forget the dozens of gold shops which seem to be doing a brisk trade!

This place is just big enough for me and my family. There are NOT working girls hanging out everywhere. (Well of course they are in some places, as I will talk about later.) There aren’t drunken and obnoxious farangs strolling the streets. If I want to go to the “Big City”, Chiang Mai is an easy hour’s drive up the road. Okay enough ranting. Let’s return to the story where we left off.

We both needed a jolt of caffeine. I took Stick to one of my favorite java joints, which is right across from the bus station. It is also a cute little place. These folks know how to make a really fine espresso beverage! Now fortified we started out in earnest! Stick wanted to see some temples, and there are quite a few interesting ones to see here. Many are of Burmese design, and are quite lovely. One of our stops was at Wat Chedi Sao, which as its name implies has 20 Chedis. While walking around the grounds we came across a display of Buddhist amulets. Since Stick's Thai is light years better than my own, I had him ask one of the monks to find me something to mount on my bicycle for warding off malicious drivers. An appropriate medallion was found, blessed, and now hopefully is “protecting me” on my way around the city.

In between temple tours I took Stick to visit Indra Ceramics, not to shop, but to see the grounds. In addition to a lovely water garden, there are some incredible miniature ceramic “dioramas” of some of Lampang’s major attractions. Even Stick will admit these were pretty impressive.

Back to more temples and a nice lunch of Northern style noodles and chicken in a yellow curry. I had actually never had this dish before, but will definitely do so again!

It was then that I decided to take a road that I had never taken before in search of the Mae Tan Arts and Craft Center. Someday I swear I will go back to that sign and white wash the damned thing so as not to lure any unsuspecting tourists down the road to “The Land That Time Forgot!” Actually the scenery was pretty amazing, with lots of windy mountain roads that pass though narrow valleys. People out here live much the same way as their ancestors did centuries ago. I mean I’m talking about real isolation! Every bit of arable land is under cultivation. Where rice can’t be grown, corn and other crops are planted up steep hill sides. If it was early in the morning, I might have been tempted to see where the damn road led to, but sensibly we decided to turn around. On the way back we met some hill tribe folk and some other country folk that Stick photographed. His technique for asking permission to take their picture was marvelous. He feigned not knowing where we were and asked for directions to Lampang. After a minute or two of friendly conversation they happily agreed to pose for him.

We spent most of that evening at home. While Stick worked on the website. I prepared dinner. Nothing fancy: Humus, salad, fresh flat bread and some homemade ice cream. Apparently no one suffered any gastric problems, so I guess dinner was a success. While Stick doesn’t have any children, I have to say that he was quite warm with our little boy Sam. Before long Sam was calling him Lung (uncle)! We then headed out to see what nightlife we could find. Things were VERY quiet for a Saturday night. Again I think many of the locals were partying up in Chiang Mai that weekend. Stick mentioned our brief foray into Jena Karaoke. That place was just plain scary! I did see some pretty, scantily dressed girls in the adjoining room. Unfortunately between us and them stood Jabba the Hut, so we made a quick dash for the door! We ended up at the High Light which was nice a little local drinking establishment. Lots of attractive girls showing plenty of legs were waiting on tables, but none were inclined to come over to chat. A decent band or two was playing. Even I have to admit that if you are looking for “action” you should keep heading up the road to Chiang Mai.

The next morning the whole lot of us, including my wife, son, and niece went to visit the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. I always enjoy going there. It’s fun to watch elephant bath time. The show demonstrating how the elephants were once trained to work in the teak forest was interesting.

After dropping off my family, Stick and I both felt a craving for roast duck, specifically for the succulent kind prepared by MK. If you’ve never been to one, it is primarily a “cook your own” at the table restaurant. But their roast duck is to die for! We shared a large platter of that crispy delicacy and were back on the road.

More coffee was in order, so I brought Stick to my favorite coffee house in Lampang. I Love Coffee is run by what even Stick admitted was a beautiful young woman. The coffee there was first rate as well.

The next destination was the Lampang Herbal Conservation Center, where we both enjoyed a great Thai massage. Stick actually said that it was one of the best he had ever had. The whole center is permeated with the scent of herbs which adds a nice relaxing touch.

You simply cannot come to Lampang without going for a horse carriage ride. It was time to pick up the family again and head downtown where hundreds of horse carriages are scattered around. It would have been tight for all of us to squeeze into one carriage. So we hired two at 300 baht per hour. We visited one last temple, which was the former home of the Emerald Buddha. The clip clopping pace of the horses is not the fastest way to get around, but it is nice to experience once in a while.

We made a brief walk through of a local market to pick up some things for dinner, and then it was home to unwind. Stick worked on his weekly column while I did domestic chores. I will have to take the blame for that column going up late, since we were on the go all that weekend. After dinner I showed Stick all the recent DVDs I’d burned with my bit torrent files. (I am addicted to bit torrent these days!) We sat down to watch Sleuth, a 70’s classic mystery starring Michael Caine and Lawrence Olivier. I then retired to bed since I had to get up early for school. Stick stayed up to play on the computer.

Stick was not quite awake when I tapped on his door tin the morning. But I thanked him for the great weekend and let him know that I was always ready for another road trip in the future.

It’s now Tuesday afternoon, and I’m writing this on my lunch break. Miraculously hundreds and I do mean hundreds of beautiful college girls are everywhere to be seen…really. The Most Beautiful Girls in Thailand, the ones that had been hiding all damned weekend long are back!

Stickman's thoughts:

It was a great weekend! My version of events is the opener for the column of 20/7/2007.