Morning hours at the Tha Pae Gate in Chiang Mai.

“Can I Walk With You?

“Hello, good morning. Where are you going? ”The Thai senior lady looked at me with curious eyes, her whole face beamed. “Not sure yet,” I replied to her. “I’m just walking through the streets.” “May I come with you?” she asked, and had long since hung by my side.

I got up early this morning in Chaing Mai and left the hostel in the dark to photograph the monks as they collected their alms in the morning. It was already around eight o’clock when I met Tim on a street corner (the T is pronounced like a mixture of T and D). “Friendly lady,” her name means, she said when she introduced herself. We walked together along the yet quiet street. Where I come from, she wanted to know, how long I‘d stay in Chaing Mai and how I liked it. I admit that I answered a little reluctantly. I have read too much about scams, and sometimes experienced it myself, when very friendly people suddenly want to be paid for unasked information about the area.

But Tim started chatting cheerfully. She worked as a nurse, but is now retired. And she has a boyfriend, she said with a sly smile and a wink. He comes from Poland, is younger than her – “quite a bit” –and works at the local university. But, “well,” she said, shrugging. She also doesn’t know exactly.

“So nice to meet you”
Tim’s English is very good. She is trying, she said, laughing again, and shaking her shoulder-length gray hair. She pointed to my camera. Her cousin, she said, is a photographer and lives in Bangkok. There she photographed the king. And she has already photographed celebrities from Germany. Tim is obviously proud. Then she told me about the Chinese New Year, which started the following Saturday. And about the flower festival in a few weeks. I would definitely have to see that, she emphasized.

A man prays in Wat Tung Yu. In the morning, the sun bathes the temple in a particularly beautiful light.
A man prays in Wat Tung Yu. In the morning, the sun bathes the temple in a particularly beautiful light.

She was so warm, the little Thai woman, that I almost felt guilty to say goodbye to her after a short time. The sun bathed the temple across the street in golden morning light. I wanted to photograph it. “So nice to meet you,” she said, laughing, putting her hands in front of her chest. “Sawadii kah,” she said, walking her way.

“There you are again,” Tim said, beaming when we met again at Tha Pae Gate shortly afterwards. I showed her the photo I had just taken. It shows the sun over the gate and a flock of pigeons that made the departure at just the right moment. “Aaaah,” she said, pulling out her smartphone and digging through the bag for her glasses. She has two sons, reported Tim, 40 and 37 years old. The elder and his family lived with her, the senior explained, as she adjusted her glasses and looked for her son’s photos on facebook. The younger one lives with his wife in a house. “They have twins,” said Tim, laughing her beaming laugh again. She showed me videos of the two children cycling and nicely dressed in bright yellow blouses. “It was Children’s Day.” She was visibly proud. “But,” said Tim, and winked at me again, “I can’t tell them apart.” We both laughed.

“Maybe we’ll see each other again”
Then she turned and pointed to the city wall and the heavy wooden gate. Chiang Mai built it to defend itself against Myanmar. That was many, many years ago. She turned again, pointing to the street on which moped and car drivers were getting dangerously close during the morning rush hour. “This was the first main street.” Tim giggled suddenly. She can always talk and love talking to other people, she said. The elderly woman stowed her smartphone in her pocket and put her glasses in the case. “It was really nice to meet you. Maybe we’ll see each other again, ”she said, putting her hands in front of her chest in greeting and slowly walked across the square towards the main street.

I’m a little ashamed of my initial skepticism about her – and I want to bite my butt because I didn’t ask her for a photo to portrait her sly smile. I will keep my eyes open for Tim when I walk the streets of Chiang Mai in the next few days. Not just because of the photo, but mostly because I want to hear more of her stories.

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