Electronically Serving Monterey Park, Alhambra, San Gabriel, & Rosemead


This is the fourteenth in a series of articles about a visit to the fascinating country of Thailand


By Charles N. Stevens

After the experiences with the elephants, we board bamboo rafts for a float trip down a portion of the Mae Ping River. The rafts are thick bamboo poles lashed together with rope. Five of us board each one, sitting in low, leg-cramping seats. A man stands at each end of the raft with a long bamboo pole for guidance. They give us Chinese hats to ward off the sun. It’s wonderful floating down the river, gazing at the thick jungle flourishing to the water’s edge, bright yellow flowers festooned on vines. Birdsong pours out of the trees, blending with the rippling of the river and the soft sound of the drivers’ poles sloshing and digging into the sand beneath the shallow water. I love the primitive quietness of the river, but the other four people on my raft seem unimpressed with the idyllic scene, preferring instead to talk to each other about nothing, trading stories about what videos to see. It is incomprehensible to me that they have no feeling for what they are experiencing, turning their minds instead to the past and to another place. They seem jaded and empty to me.

After the raft trip, the bus takes us to the Sainamphung Orchid and Butterfly Farm. Before having lunch at their restaurant, we wander around the orchid gardens, surrounded by vivid color—magenta, orange, deep maroon, flaming pink and every shade in between. The farm also raises butterflies from cocoons, many of their wings being used to create “paintings” of famous Asian warriors. I did not like this insensitive idea. We also look at their collection of Siamese cats and exotic birds fashioned from butterfly wings.

We eat lunch outdoors under the shade of the trees. We’re served a strange soup made of lemon grass, unusual mushrooms and shrimp still in their shells. We’re have rice, a whole barbequed fish sliced diagonally to make it crispy, sweet and sour pork on rice, a plate of vegetables—broccoli, peapods and cabbage. Dessert is watermelon and fresh pineapple.

The most interesting and beautiful sight I observe on the way back to Chiang Mai is a woman standing by the side of the road wearing a wrap-around dress, holding a bright turquoise blue umbrella, a child at her side. Cumulus clouds build all around us, especially over the mountains. Soon we are mired in the horrendous traffic of Chiang Mai, slowing down our ride back to the hotel.

At about four in the afternoon Dolores and I explore the streets of Chiang Mai, the late sun burning into us. We walk into a large department store near the hotel, a store that reminds me of a high-class Pic-n-Save. The goods are without much class and are arranged inartistically. Items are just sitting on shelves. All the mannequins, in the Asian tradition, are blue-eyed Caucasians, always a mystery to me. Far too many salesgirls run the store, most of them having nothing to do but talk to each other. Some stand around looking bored. We catch one napping on a chair. At least it helps the employment situation. If we show the slightest interest or curiosity about any item, a salesgirl suddenly appears beside us like a shadowy spirit.

Outside, the smoke rises from the stands of many food vendors along the sidewalks. Chicken sizzles on the barbeques, and satays just begin to brown. Other barbeque stands sell golden brown chicken legs, brown eggs, and chicken wings. A young woman removes circular cakes from a grill of half-spheres as the batter thickens in others. Little white sausages circle around the barbeque in a spiral of links, the inner part of the spiral where the heat is the hottest turning the brownest. A woman works with tongs to turn the chain of sausages.

I take another walk along the street. I pass the stands again with their tantalizing smells and billows of barbeque smoke. I walk by glass cases full of whole cooked chickens, another full of Chinese cabbage leaves. One stand features food on a stick such as meatballs and other tidbits that I cannot identify. The sausage seller pierces the links with a stick, dips them in red chili then slops it all into plastic sacks.

Beyond the savory smells of the food stands the air is filled with other smells, a pervading sewer odor and the acrid exhaust from cars and motorbikes. I pass vacant areas where the sidewalk is nearly blocked by piles of rubbish and garbage. I pass nice shops, poor ones and empty ones. At the end of my walk, I come upon a woman barbecuing whole frogs, their legs spread out for even cooking.

At dinner I take dabs of salads, pumpkin soup, spaghetti sauce on rice, roasted potatoes and what I think is shrimp Newburg. Instead of dessert I have pepper steak. It had been a long day.

MONTEREY PARK AUTHOR PUBLISHES 4th BOOK – Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s:

Charles “Norm” Stevens, a 43 year resident of Monterey Park has recently published his 4th book: Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s. This is the story of a young boy growing up in Inglewood, California in the l930’s. This was a time during the depression when unemployment was affecting many and the banks were closed, while the clouds of war were gathering in Europe. But he was lucky enough to be raised in a loving family, the power of that love reflected throughout his stories.

Stevens is the author of three previous books about his experiences during WWII:

An Innocent at Polebrook: A Memoir of an 8th Air Force Bombardier (Story of his 34 bombing missions from his base at Polebrook, England over Germany and France)

The Innocent Cadet: Becoming A World War II Bombardier (A prequel to the first, telling of his training in the U.S. before going overseas into combat.)

Back from Combat: A WWII Bombardier Faces His Military Future from Combat: (This book details the time from when he returned from combat in England until the end of the war.)

He is known to the readers of The Citizen’s Voice as the author of Travel Log Articles including “Cruising the Rhine and Mosel”,” Best of the West”, “In Search of Snow” ,  “From Paris to Normandy on the Seine”, and “Exploring New York”.  He is retired, having taught for 32 years, primarily in the Montebello Unified School District.

Those interested in purchasing an autographed copy of any of his books, may contact the author at 323-721-8230 or  Normstevens24@gmail.com.

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