Thursday, January 23, 2014

I Don't Know This Place!

There’s something that has been on my mind a lot lately that I have been rather reluctant to broach. Not for any benefit to myself, because the truth is I want to talk about it, a lot. I mean a lot. However, whenever I bring it up in conversation others just don't seem as keen to talk about it. It makes sense, as it’s something personal and rather exclusive. Like the guy who is constantly making inside jokes, even if no one who gets them is present [you know the type].

It is tempting to use this platform to completely indulge myself on a topic others just don’t find interesting, which I think everyone would advise against, but being a rebel at heart I am going to do it anyhow! [Hopefully in a way that is not purely self-indulgent.]

So here’s the thing:

The city I moved to eleven years ago is completely gone.

Before you start googling for catastrophic events, allow me to clarify. The city still stands, but it has transformed so drastically that it is a completely different place now than it was ten years ago.

I grew up in a very small village town in Colorado. For the twelve years I lived there, there were two drastic changes in the town. The first was that they added a pizzeria to the small grocery, and secondly, they installed a single stop light. These seemed like such huge monumental changes, altering the entire dynamic of the town.

So to now look back on the Chiang Mai I moved to all those years ago and see how much has changed and developed, it is rather astounding. Perhaps it is simply a sign I am getting old because I just want to talk about “back in my day when there were no pizzerias and this was just a dirt road...”

Perhaps it is because this city actually is growing and changing at an alarming rate. I cannot think of a single store or city block that has remained untouched. Or maybe it is simply the amount of Westernization that has taken hold.

When I first moved to Chiang Mai in 2002 there was a single Starbucks and two McDonald's. Now there’s at least seven Starbucks and almost too many McDonald’s to count. Pizza was available from only one company then. Now, just counting one mile from my house, I can count at least six pizza restaurants.
Eating at "Burito House" in the newly opened section of Airport Plaza in 2003.

The imported items available in 2002 were so expensive it was too impractical to buy. You could feed your whole family Thai food for $4, so it was difficult to justify spending $10 on a tiny personal pan pizza. Now, with inflation and the exchange rate in favor of the Thai Baht, that difference is narrowing. It isn’t so unreasonable to buy a block of cheese or a box of cereal. A box of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese is only $1 more than a cup of fried rice.

By no means am I complaining. It makes it easier to have some of the comforts of home easily available. It saves room in our suitcases not having to buy so many cake mixes or chocolate chips.

However. the last few months in particular have hit me heavy with the change. Huge, gigantic, face-lifting sort of change. Three giant malls opened bringing with them new stores and chains, ice skating rinks and even an IMAX theater. We now have Cold Stone and Toys R Us.

I walk through these new stores or sit down at a new restaurant and it feels surreal. I think of the restaurants and shops that have come and gone, places that were once so familiar and so much a part of my everyday life that have now faded into the background or are now something entirely different.

Just this week there was a fire at the oldest mall in the city. The mall that I practically lived at during my first few years here.
Posing with Ronald at the McDonald's at Airport Plaza

So, even though I still live in this city, it is not the same city that it was when I first experienced. Not even a little bit, and for someone who hates change, that is a scary feeling. So I mourn that time of my life that can never be revisited, that exists only in my memory. And I eat Cold Stone and Mrs. Field’s. I don’t think twice about having Starbucks and Subway just down the road. I no longer horde cake mixes or covet pizza. So really, its not all so bad...