Why anyone would want to visit tropical Thailand during the hottest and driest time of year will forever remain a mystery to me. Even guidebooks warn of the intolerable heat in March, April and May. It is a time when the hill tribes practice ancient swidden methods of agriculture, forest fires reign supreme. This is the season when the fierce sun reduces life to a stupor, the buildings sweat black mould, the air, heat and smoke smother. Every day you remain exhausted, slain by the heat.
Chiang Mai, Thailand, March 2007
For the last month, a beige gauzy haze has obliterated the view of the ruffled mountains that hug Chiang Mai, the toxic haze choking its inhabitants. Fires in Burma, Laos compounded with forest fires, the worst ever, are to blame. Politicians, environmentalists embroiled in shadowy rhetoric that has little depth and little action, fingers pointing at each other, no declaration of an emergency, hush hush, tourist dollars at stake.
The Thai military, farmers, neighbors burn huge swaithes of fields, adding to the toxic soup as they say, ai pen rai, it doesn't matter! My husband and I stand on our balcony daily, stare into the smog and watch the trees in the distance turn into silhouette, then drown completely in the haze. It feels like we are living in a living nightmare, swallowed by smog. We leave the gloom of Chiang Mai.
China – Year of the Pig
It's our third foray into this land of heart stopping landscapes, extravagant, mysterious antiquity and toilets that haven't been cleaned since the Qing Dynasty. My senses are always heightened when traveling. I find myself tingling with enthusiasm and no matter what I stumble upon, it is not a life where time has a mind numbing sameness.
Travel in China
Travel in China will charm you with its grandeur, the diversity of people, you will find them irresistably fascinating, their cuisine will frighten you, "ew…they eat THAT", their blatant staring will aggravate you, their inconsiderateness will astound you, but it's their harking out of their entire respiratory system onto sidewalks that will ultimately drive you mad; at least it does me, the traveler with the heightened senses. So, I have taken on the arduous task of trying to transform 1.3 billion gob spitting Chinese by learning the only phrase in Chinese which slides out of my mouth easily, Ching poo yaw too tan, Please don't spit.
Please don't spit
Feeling protected with my Asian husband holding my hand, knowing in my heart that his black belt in Judo would come in handy, I bellow out daily to the harking, gob spitting Chinese – PLEASE DON'T SPIT. My protector cringes, saying "some day you will get a face full of knuckles!" Their spitting awakens a crazed beast inside my gut. Holding on tightly to my Asian spouse, I yell out again and again, then get glared at as if I'm the one to blame for their indecency.
The Chinese are one humungous fraternity united in spit and snot. They slurp their snot, piling more and more into their nasal cavities until they cannot contain anymore, then with the loudest of harking, as if a drum roll , they spit out a canon sized gob of slimy greenish frothy white sputum for unwary travelers to slip upon. PLEASE DON'T SPIT.
Then it happens
My protector, my saviour, my Asian husband has had enough of my yelling and releases my hand. He melts into a crowd of Asian faces – one single monster sucking in snot, expelling monstrous gobs of spit. I'm alone. I grow limp with fear. I swear quietly and am filled with shame. Then it happens, new thunderous harking – ghrrrrrroouu, assaults my ears, it will be an eruption of volcanic proportions. Alone, and not wanting a face full of knuckles, I remain silent.
The China Syndrome
It is real and it is known as the China Syndrome. All travellers, sooner or later will be afflicted with it. It's the common cold or URTI, Upper Respiratory Tract Infection. Transmission rates are high in China, no surprise.
I suppose it would be prudent of me to include for you, the reader, the signs and symptoms of URTI, but I ask you to pardon the exclusion for I feel somewhat feverish and have a sore throat. I must return to my room and dig into my backpack to find my medical kit and throat lozenges. If that fails, the heat of Thailand is just a flight away.