History, mostly

The moat. A wonderful place to fish, run, walk or just chill. 

Chiang Mai, our new home, is the second largest city in Thailand and it’s far north from Bangkok and the beaches. It was founded by the legendary King Mengrai in 1296 so it’s about to be 722 this year. For comparison, Quebec City was founded in 1608 and New York City in 1624.

Chiang Mai sits just east of the Doi Suthep mountain and is protected from rain run-offs by  multiple natural reservoirs creating a buffer. It’s surrounded by a respectable moat and the ruins of the city wall whose gates are still the ways in and out the inner city.

Chiang Mai map with the old city surrounded by the moat and the Ping River east of it. The old city is about 1 square mile and very walkable. 


Chiang Mai was the capital of the former Lanna kingdom and was subject to frequent and unkind Burmese incursions, until 1775 when the Lanna chiefs left the Burmese control to join Siam as a protectorate under King Taksin during the second Anglo-Burmese war.

The Lanna Kingdom became an integral part of Siam in 1920 when the 13 years old Princess Dara Rasmi, the heiress to the  Lanna throne got engaged to king Rama V.  She became his consort and joined his other 4 wives, 32 consorts, and 80 concubines. Ever since, both she and the Lanna Kingdom became irrevocably attached to the fate of Siam.

Princess Dara Rasmi . Her very long hair is a symbol of her Lanna heritage.  The photo was taken from one of her co-constorts. Taken from: Enter Concubines with Cameras: Royal Siamese Consorts Picturing Femininity and Ethnic Difference in Early 20th Century Siam

King Rama V, also known as King Chulalongkorn, became a king by accident, after being a buddhist monk, studying the teachings and bringing blessings to his family.  When his father and brother died unexpectedly, he became king and had to produce a heir. He married 3 wives in one ceremony, and eventually produced 33 sons and 44 daughters who continued the Rama dynasty until today’s king  Rama X.

Rama V ruled between 1868 and 1910. He was well beloved and to this day he is called Phra Piya Maharat (พระปิยมหาราช, the Great Beloved King). He started modernizing Siam, protected it from colonialization and reformed it, and he abolished slavery in Siam.

Antique store along the moat. 

Even if part of the kingdom, Lanna was still far from Bangkok to the point that it took weeks – and elephants – to make the 423 miles trip through the mountains. This made its cultural integration difficult. Train service which started in 1922 allowed for a closer intermingling, but even now the train trip takes 13 hrs. A new high speed train line is planned for 2022. A flight only takes about one hour.

Accordingly, Chiang Mai and northern Thailand is Lanna first and Thai second. The food is spicier , the language is similar but not quite the same, and the people are Shan, genetically closer related to the Burmese than that Thai. They are very proud of their Lanna heritage and there is a significant resurgence of Lanna everything – culture, architecture, food, art.

Nam Prik Noom, very spicy eggplant dip 

In case you wondered, “Lanna” means the kingdom of a million rice fields. You’ll understand why when you wander outside Chiang Mai into the greener than green rice fields. There are also coffee and tea plantation, producing some of the best tea and coffee in the world, but the opium which used to be the life’s blood of the region is gone now, even in the golden triangle between Thailand Burma and Laos, a couple of hours north.

Plaa Raad Prik, whole fried fish with chili sauce. 

Chiang Mai is too cool.  From the temperature – an average of 25C (77 F) throughout the year, cooler than the rest of Thailand, to the cool vibe of being one of the top 5 on the list of best cities for Digital Nomads, ahead of other cool places like Amsterdam, Barcelona and Montevideo, thanks to its excellent weather, food, safety and infrastructure, Chiang Mai is cool and full of cool people.

Check nomad list.com, and stay in touch will you?

The Joneses

The long journey

We made it. Barely. It was a long trip.

We started with driving the girls to Buffalo for their winter stay. Then Tim drove us to the Toronto airport. From there we flew back to Montreal – fancy that! – for the flight to Beijing. After the flight  – 15 hrs only – we missed the connection. We were offered a flight to Chiang Mai via Bangkok or else via Kunming six hours later. We settled for a night in an airport hotel then a direct flight the next day. Steve lost his passport. After he made a big fuss, I found it in his pocket. I lost my temper. I found it eventually but it was frayed.

Did I mention that all this happened in crutches/wheelchair?


Alcohol helped. So did the food, the most memorable being a lunch like no other at a Hot Pot Japanese restaurant in Beijing.

The hot pot, also known as Shabu Shabu is a setting in which you get your own personal pot of broth boiling over a fire – spicy or not – as desired, as well as a ton of meats, fish, shrimp, vegetables and the abomination that is Tofu.  You cook it by yourself using only chopsticks. It’s lots of fun, especially when you lose the objects of your efforts in the boiling broth and can’t fish them out again. The shrimps especially, slippery little buggers. It’s delicious and reasonably healthy. Really low carb too if you forgo the noodles that you’re supposed to add  – and eat – at the end.

Hot pot lunch for two. Came with tea and OJ. We helped it with hot sake.

As a very special treat Steve also got a raw egg that he didn’t know what to do with. Maybe because of the crutches? He wanted to drop it in the broth but I recommended against it. He eventually asked the waitress who signaled that he should beat it with the chopsticks. He did. Now what? Eat it, she signaled. He did.

Steve enjoying his raw egg.

We eventually made it to Chiang Mai and to the condo, which was basically new to me.

I had bought it in September and had it painted after I left. Steve went there in November and fixed it with the musts of modern living: Internet, AC, TV, fridge, induction hot plate, and even a funky microwave/toaster combo with Thai instructions only. Oh, and floor lamps and a mop and a drawer organizer to organize our 2 spoons 2 forks and the chopsticks. Why? Because he’s an engineer, that’s why.

Be prepared to be cold here, our friends told us. Down to the 70s at night. They even had to wear socks! We had left Plattsburgh at minus 12.

Baby it’s cold outside!

Eventually, after about 5 days of travels we walked in by midnight to find a soft breeze coming through the open windows, fresh flowers and bananas on the table, passion fruit and eggs in the fridge thanks to our friends here, and of course rum, gin and Thai spicy sausage in the freezer thanks to Steve.

New Vietnamese liquor. Smooth. Coincidence you think?

When daylight came I finally got to see the paint job I commissioned. It’s not for the faint of heart. Walking into my studio is like jumping in a pool of Mango sorbet, just warmer. Peachy.

The resurrected guitar in the mango room.

The journey wasn’t short and it wasn’t easy, but boy, was it worth it! Let’s talk again after the jet lag settles, shall we?

Stay in touch.

The Joneses.

My last shift

It’s getting close. Steve was packed – until I unpacked his disemboweled guitar to take a picture of it. Serves him right, overachiever! I haven’t exactly started, but I’ve been piling stuff around the self packing cat, quietly seething. Which books? How many shoes? Mosquito repellant or sun screen or both? Amish skirt, the gray or the khaki? And if I pack 2 pairs of sneakers and the kickboxing DVDs does that count as working out or do I still have to do the work?

Freezing sun on Lake Champlain

The cold is sharp. -5F, getting colder, predicted down to -40F with the wind chill. It’s so cold you don’t want to breathe it in. It’s so cold that the clothes don’t matter, colder than it should be legal anywhere but the poles. I wish we could package those minuses and Fed Ex them to the Polar Bears.

Iced North Country

Steve made arrangements to forward the mail. Our neighbors asked how often to water our plants – once a week is good? Hah! I do it every blue moon, no wonder they keep dying! Today’s the last garbage day. In two days we’re driving to Buffalo, 7 hrs away, with the cat and the dog. Just let that sink in!

My last shift is tonight.

That’s bittersweet. Medicine has been good to me, when it didn’t tear me to pieces.  I learned about people and diseases while I almost lost my native tongue. I’m wiser, tougher, and more confident than when I started but I lost my youth and my stamina, and my future is running short. I acquired a new identity – I am now a doctor at work or at home, in the ED or on a plane – but I lost my reverence for the magic of medicine. I’ve become independent but I lost my sleep and my strength. Thanks to medicine I’ve travelled the world from Eastern Island to The Komodo Island, from the North Cape to Patagonia and everywhere in between.

Canals and windmills – The Netherlands, of course

I was awed by its beauty, torn by it’s sorrows, and shared in it’s hopes. I made friends everywhere. Many friends.

I loved sharing in the lives of my patients and knowing them and their families. I loved feeling useful and appreciated and sometimes even loved.

Most of all I loved belonging to the ER community, my own MASH, in the war against death, suffering and destruction, all of us together against The Others. I love many and I like most and I respect every one’s courage, grit and ruthlessness against evil.

They had my back. They were the best family I’ve ever had and I will miss them dearly. I already do. They are my friends and their lives and their stories will be fodder for my writing. We laughed and we cried together. We saved lives together and we failed together. We were a team.

It’s wonderful to have been through this, and it’s even better to move on to a new chapter, to another adventure, to my next life. Every tomorrow means yesterday is dead. The memories remain. My ER team is a part of me. I’ll take them with me to the Far East and I’ll drink a Chang in their honor and I’ll see their faces on my pages. I’ll keep up with them on the Net and who knows? Some day we’ll meet again.

Summer midnight in Norway.

Carol, Sheila and the bird (and how on earth did we ever get there in the first place)

None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Carol. Or for Sheila. And especially  for the bird.

Carol and Rada. Steve found the label.


Sheila was the Lead Nurse – Canadian, Eh? on my working cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore. I had tagged on to it a 2 weeks vacation in Chiang Mai, 3 hours away,  to find the bird.

I had fallen in love with a carved bird in Ayutthaya – former Thai capital, now mostly ruins and tourists. It was a shabby, heavy and worn embodiment of flight. It spoke to my heart. I tried to buy it. It wasn’t for sale. That’s how Thais are: If it’s not for sale, it’s not for sale. It was too big to steal. “Go to Chiang Mai, that’s where they make them.” the owner said. So, after searching “Thai carved bird” on Ebay for a year – no luck – we decided to go to Chiang Mai to find it.

Sheila – a woman used to making decisions for everybody around her – did I mention she’s an ER nurse? decided that Steve and I were going to meet her old friend Carol  – another ER nurse living in Chiang Mai.

We didn’t want to bother Carol. In fact we didn’t even want to meet Carol, we had better things to do. Like looking for birds. Carol wanted nothing to do with us either. We were tourists. To expats, that’s a four letter word. Like rat.

Everybody uses scooters. Everybody.

Sheila couldn’t have cared less about what any of us wanted. She had made up her mind. We struggled. We pleaded. No go. We were going to meet Carol and that was that.

Carol kindly invited us to visit her condo before going out for lunch. She was going to ditch us if we were obnoxious. We were good with that, it gave us an out if she was a bore.

After many soothing Changs, balm to our throats scorched by the Thai Spicy (Hot, Hot, Hot!) lunch, we ambled home. We had a new friend.

Chang (Elephant) beer, 21 oz, 6.4% alcohol. Soothes the burn.

Thanks to Carol, Sheila and the bird, our lives changed that day. I’d been in love with Thailand for years, but I couldn’t fathom leaving our life to move to the end of the earth, no more than I could see a tree relocating. Carol showed us that people, unlike trees, can grow new roots. She had left her job, her home, her family, her life in Canada and she was happier for it. She had built her new life and made new friends. She was eating Thai food every day and getting foot massages and never ever shoveled snow. She was learning Thai, doing yoga and having fun. I envied her. I wanted to be her.

Restored Teak loungers looking over the mountains. Welcome, morning coffee! 

December 2017, three years later we are heading to our condo, 3 doors away from Carol’s. It has a dining table with place for many friends, a TV with mostly Thai channels, and a refrigerator full of drinks, thanks to Steve. It has my new old rosewood rocking chair and views to the mountains. We’re short on forks (only 2) – but our friends gave us plenty of glasses.

And the bird, you ask? Well the bird… the elusive bird…It stays in Plattsburgh on the bedroom wall for when we come back. While in Thailand we’ll just look at it’s twin, the one I got for Carol.

The Bird.