March 5, 2013

On being Canadian

Last weekend, I learned something about what it means to be Canadian. In that weekend, I travelled three hours north of Chiang Mai to a hippie mountain town called Pai. It’s a town where paddy fields are the backdrop, hammocks are your beds and sunrise the alarm. It’s where kids have dreads, the mall is the waterfall, and don’t even bother showering; it’s optional. In this town, love is good, and weed is queen. You get it now, right?

In Pai, I learned that to be Canadian is to be irrevocably awesome. Yup, this was the enlightening revelation of my trip. When we arrived at Darling Guesthouse, we were greeted by its owner, a petite (what else?) Thai women named Annie who had hair too grey for her girlish smile, but grey enough for her kooky disposition. She asked my three friends where they were from. America, America, Australia. Me, I said Canada. When I said this, Annie’s eyes popped and she shot both arms up in the air. “Yes!” she cried. And then she actually cried, the silent kind with the flared nostrils and the tears. Oh god, what did I do? I thought.

I waited for some kind of explanation for her incongruous reaction, but she was lost for words, so she passed me the hotel guestbook. Clipped on top was her story.

Seven years ago, disastrous floods from surrounding mountains swept her and her guesthouse into the Pai River. She was going down, going to die. But a man named Eric pulled her up from the murderous waters and saved her. The floods had completely wiped out Annie’s guesthouse. So Eric stuck around to help her rebuild her bungalows, and essentially her life. She was so indebted to him that she named one of the bungalows after his home: Quebec. You see, Eric was Canadian, and something of a legend around the Darling Guesthouse

Back to the present. Annie had stopped crying. She told me she would like to give us the VIP room, which had a private bathroom and a deck with a view, for a lower than priced cost. All because I, a non-hero, was Canadian.

I was elated, of course, but I was more moved than anything. I don’t know if she gave us the upgrade because she was just incredibly hospitable, or she was in a good mood, or whatever. But I’d like to believe it’s because seven years ago, a Canadian was being a Canadian. I mean, of course any person in that situation would have helped a drowning woman. But a Canadian sticks around afterwards. A Canadian helps rebuild a life that went awash. And, I found out later, a Canadian returns two times years after to check up.

No wonder Annie was enamoured by me. To her, Canadians were so fucking cool. They just do that sort of thing.

We all know Canadians enjoy a good reputation abroad, at least I still think so even for all the talks of the maple leaf’s fleeting significance to just about everyone else. I personally don’t carry a Canadian flag on my backpack. One, it’s dorky. Two, it’s an obnoxious display of nationalism. It means nothing. Because people will interpret Canadianness however they want. In this case, for Annie, a maple leaf meant the difference between life and death.

The next morning, my friend saw Annie crying, AGAIN, upon the arrival of some new guests. It turns out Annie had found out where they were all from. They were from..drumrolls please...Vancouver. I suspect these new guests enjoyed an upgraded room, courtesy of Canada.

Below are some visual slices of Pai:

Annie in the middle. Isn't she darling? 

Legendary Eric on the left

Hanging out at the Mor Phaeng Waterfalls

The Pai River, once swollen from the 2005 floods

The view from the Pai Canyon

Cruising through Pai on a motorbike