Chiang Mai’s night market: site of my further emasculation


We’re currently staying in a Chiang Mai hotel called the Riverview. The charm of any locale that calls itself “Riverview” is directly proportional, of course, to the charm of the river it views, and this one—a Liquid-Plumr backup called the Ping—is so green it makes the Chicago River look like the Caribbean. A quibble, though. We’re well positioned to take in Chiang Mai, the second-largest city in Thailand, and enjoying the quieter pace, particularly after the nonstop lunacy of Bangkok. Besides, the Riverview owner took a liking to Hannah, who was thrilled to find that her approval rating is as high in Northern Thailand as it was further south.

No wonder we keep ending up in places like Chuck E. Cheese.

After a roadside lunch of unnecessarily spicy soup, we hopped in a tuk-tuk, an onomatopoetic auto rickshaw that carries unsuspecting tourists around town. Tuk-tuks look harmless enough, but I can’t make this clear enough: They are a menace. While they can’t go fast enough to do much damage, tuk-tuk drivers tend not to take their operation too seriously, often simultaneously occupying themselves with such activities as phone calls or shaving. And I’ve got our baby precariously on my lap the whole time, which makes the draconian precautions we take at home with car seats seem pretty self-indulgent. Or smart.

Our destination, Chiang Mai’s “Old City,” is a 700-year-old walled-and-moated district. Within the Old City, you will find ancient temples, charming lanes, small shops, and more white faces than a Jimmy Buffett concert. It turns out we traveled 8,500 miles to sit in a café with other Americans. The competition for tourist money in Chiang Mai is fierce; even the orange-robed monks had slick sales pitches. One of them had a cell phone. My favorite moment was when a wizened Thai lady approached us on the street, clutching two cages with cute little birds inside, and asked us for money to “set them free.” Confused, I gave it to her, and she opened the cages. The birds didn’t budge. She shrugged and walked on, in search of other tourists. Needless to say, she didn’t have to look far. Sarah was disgusted at my gullibility.

That evening we wandered through Chiang Mai’s night market in search of dinner, where the pushy sales pitches increased in their brutality. One teenage girl, who wanted us to eat at her mother’s stand, pulled out three chairs at a rickety table. “You sit down!” she barked.

I outweighed her by at least 100 pounds, and I still did as she ordered. Sarah, holding Hannah on her hip, didn’t move. “Can we see a menu first please?” she asked.

“No, you sit down first,” the girl said. “Then menu.”

This has nothing to do with anything. I just like how smug the rooster looks. Cocky, even.

“How do we know if we want to sit down if we don’t know what’s on the menu?” Sarah asked.

“You sit down now,” the girl said, growing impatient. “We take care. The food is good.”

“Let’s just eat here,” I said to Sarah. “The menus are the same everywhere.” I was hungry and I was tired and I was afraid of the little girl.

“No,” Sarah said. “Let’s find somewhere else. I’m not going to be bullied into eating here.”

I looked at the girl, and looked at Sarah, neither of whom budged. Then I looked at Hannah, who found the whole conflict hilarious, and seemed to understand the symbolism: Her mother was standing up and her father was sitting down. We ended up eating some kind of spicy beef at another stand down the road, which Sarah and Hannah loved. I couldn’t enjoy my meal because I kept watching for the jilted girl to come over and pour hot grease on my head.