Saturday, March 15th, 2019
Every weekend I’m in town, I almost always make a couple visits to Old City in Chiang Mai. Old City is in the center of the city, and it’s a huge square surrounded by a mote. There are a gazillion restaurants, cafes, and shops – but I’m always drawn to a particular corner of Old City because I love the vibe. Cobblestone streets, cafes with people sitting outside, and so many trees and florals. I’ve been walking by a place since I first moved here that’s been slowly built, painted, decorated and now – finally serving coffee. It’s weird to think that I’ve been here long enough to see a cafe start from nothing to sitting inside and drinking a delicious latte. Just now, a truck delivered what seems to be the final furnishings – a couple wooden tables to go with the many chairs waiting to be sat in.
Chiang Mai has what’s known as “Smoky Season” or “Burning Season.” We’ve seen the smoke rolling in for the past month and it’s been fairly dreadful. AQI means Air Quality Index. The past few weeks, the AQI has been consistently above 150 (anything above 100 is considered dangerous), so everything at school has been done indoors. Cabin Fever is happening for sure.
But this week, it has taken a nasty turn. I can literally see smoke in front of me when I ride my motorbike. It’s hard to breathe, I sound like a man, and I have the worst cough. Yesterday, I stepped out of my classroom and the hallway looked hazy. My classroom is literally the safest place for me because of the air purifier. These days, instead of picking out which necklace to accessorize with, I’m picking out which face mask to wear…
Normally when I look out my window, I see palm trees and blue skies. This was this morning. AQI was above 300, even before 7am. The sun has been a vibrant red every day.
Every day in class, we talk about the weather and for a long time I was laughing because every day was “sunny.” Felt like Groundhog Day. But the past few weeks, we look out the window and I ask what color the sky is and the replies are always, “Yellow!” “Gray!” Or “Brown!” Yuck. Every year, the farmers burn their crops to make way for their next growing season; and Northern Thailand has just gotten used to this kind of weather. When I flew to Laos, it was unreal flying over the smoke. The entire flight, I never saw the ground, and the clouds were being swallowed by the smoke. Yes, that’s smoke.
I remember about a year ago when I was talking with my friends who had taught English in Vietnam. They said what they missed most was fresh air. My mind didn’t really comprehend that because I was thinking, “It can’t be that bad! Rain and snow are way worse!” Well….now I understand what they meant. My energy is low, the city is quiet because everyone is staying indoors, and everywhere you look, people are wearing masks. It’s a little surreal…and it’s surprising that the burning isn’t regulated more or stopped. It’s technically illegal for farmers to burn their crops, but it’s one of those things that still happens every year, regardless of the law. No one stops them.
So, all my friends back home, please breathe in that fresh air for me. The snow and rain may be falling, but that just means your air is clean. Don’t take that fresh air for granted!
It’s a Saturday and I’m in my favorite corner of Old City, drinking one of their first lattes served at this fresh cafe and watching people stroll by in their fancy masks. I’m about to have lunch with a woman I met last week at another favorite cafe of mine. Last Friday, there was live music with a sitar, didgeridoo, and hand drums. I was basically in a trance until Eiko sat next to me and said hello. We started chatting and she happens to be from Japan – a country I am dying to travel to. She also happens to be a retired teacher. Meant to be… So I asked her, “As a veteran teacher, what is your biggest piece of advice you have for a brand new teacher?”
She said, “Just make sure each student feels like they belong.”
Challenge accepted. 🙂
TD ate part of his snack and said, “Teacher look! The moon!” Ahhh!
Despite the smoke, it isn’t all that bad. I just remember that the smoke won’t be long…
My LQI (Life Quality Index) is far above 400.
For now, I belong here.