TALES OF CHIANG MAI
or 'Wind Mushrooms from the North'
เชียงใหม่ เห็ด ลม - Chiang Mai het lom
Now these tales, stories, and glimpses of life in Thailand originate from my vantage point living in the southern suburbs of the city of Chiang Mai. Many are based on history or myth, some are no more than anecdotes told to me by others, both Thai and foreign residents. Their veracity, like that of many het lom [‘wind mushrooms’, the delightful northernThai phrase for gossip or idle chatter], is always questionable. Most are everyday glimpses into the daily life of quite ordinary people and my personal observations of this bizarre and wonderful country.
An immediate word of warning. The transcription of the occasional word or phrase into English may be unlike the transliteration of anyone else. Every author of a dictionary or phrase book in Thailand immediately presents their own personal key as to how the language is presented in their book. Few are in agreement.
After all, this is the land of the ‘free’, the word ‘thai’ signifying free, and so it is only natural that each should exercise that right. And of course since I live in the far north of the country, some of my transcriptions will reflect the regional speech of this area. Thailand is broadly divided into four areas, central, with the capital Bangkok as the hub, the north, the south, and the east. Although the speech of the central area is recognized as ‘standard Thai’, each of the other areas is justly proud of its own regional speech.
I recall that on my second visit to Thailand I was visiting Chiang Mai with a friend who lives in Bangkok. I had asked him to inquire of the elderly lady at a roadside food stand if she knew of the location of any local plant nurseries, since I wanted to take some photos to show a nursery owner friend in Mexico. The lady rolled her eyes heaven-ward, thought for a few moments, pointed north and launched into a long speech. As she finally paused, I asked Tong if he could tell me what she said. He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “I have no idea ! She was speaking northern dialect and I really can’t follow it at all. Unfortunately she doesn’t appear to speak real Thai.”
Tanachai, my adopted Thai son, though raised in the north, has also spent considerable time in both Isaan [east] and Bangkok [central] and hence is conversant in all three dialects. He has been of immeasurable help in helping me to collect this material of these Thai tales, stories of a country that I love with a passion, and yet which I may never understand completely.
Then too Justin, my Thai neighbor, and a wanna-be American, has been of great assistance in collection of these ‘Tales of Chiang Mai’. In fact the first story in this collection will be about how Justin [whose more Thai name is Pae] becomes a monk – well for a month.