Chiang Mai

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“You know, another thing you can do is eat it,” said Tariq, after watching me take three pictures of my first bowl of Khao Soi. At exactly $1 USD (35 Thai Baht), I got a bowl of thick, spicy broth with chunks of chicken and egg noodles. I topped it off with chopped shallots, pickled cabbage, and squirted lime all over it. My favorite meals usually include both a spoon and chopsticks. I sat back in repose, sweaty, and wished for it again on the next rainy day.

I noticed a pattern: we prefer smaller, provincial cities over large metropolises. Chiang Mai is Thailand's cultural epicenter: temples, yogi’s, cooking gardens, elephant sanctuaries, forested hills, painters, baristas, abstract haircuts, and a place for new ideas to grow.

We stayed at our last hostel for this trip in Chiang Mai. Everytime we came and went, someone at the front desk would ask either:

   Where are you going?

   Where did you come from?

Everytime. It was endearing and excessive. We found their inquisition to be a helpful validator to wherever we were eating or getting a massage. It reminded me of when one of my aunts first moved from Bangladesh to America, she stayed with us for a few weeks. Every time I headed out or came from somewhere she would ask:

   Where are you going?

   Where did you come from?

I answered the first few days but the seventh time I erupted, “MY MOM DOESN'T EVEN ASK ME THESE THINGS, WHY DO YOU CARE?” I said it while laughing but it was still confusing. My whereabouts add no value to her life. She just likes to know. There was no other explanation for it. I wouldn’t say it's snooping - people get used to knowing things in parts of Asia.

I have my own inquisitions. I ask the same question to everyone I meet in Asia who can speak the local language: How does your humor translate? Because often, languages can mold your personality. For Japan’s example, a level of politeness is embedded into your vernacular. I'm fascinated by the varying extent of sarcasm, idiosyncrasies, pop culture references, and idioms in every language's humor. For the most part, friends described a slight change in personality when speaking a different language but their humor remains intact. I can speak conversational Bengali (though, it’s worse now without practice) but I regret not being able to translate wit. My extended family doesn’t know a critical part of who I am. It’s strange but I’m grateful that at least they can still bring me to tears laughing.

Across the globe, humor in storytelling includes ironic details or connections to previous jokes. Slapstick comedy and sexual innuendos are universal. During a cooking class, the instructor brought up how the Thai word for “pumpkin” sounds like the F-word in English. We spent the rest of the hour talking a lot about pumpkins (none used to cook our meals).

PHOTOS: Thai food is beautiful. Learning to make red curry paste from scratch appeased a longing curiosity. Ziplining through remote mountains have forever ruined roller coasters. We are templed-out but the one we did go to brought views revealing the greater size of the city. Our friends and I took a path through the hills that felt wrong: with signs pointing both left and right to the “meditation room”. It was worth the retreat once we did find it. I’m wearing a yellow dress in one of these pictures. I bought the dress because I liked it but I wear it as often as someone would walk their dog.