Joe Grant: This is ThailandTuesday, September 29, 2020
On a muggy late November evening, dazed from transcontinental travel, I ambled down the busy streets of Chiang Mai in search of dinner. I’d heard that one of the best Pad Thai places in town was not far from where I was staying. I found the yellow building matching my host’s description, with a window to an open kitchen revealing a half-dozen sizzling woks.
A woman appeared in the entrance and greeted me with a smile. Pad Thai? She queried. Within a few minutes, I was served an omelette filled with noodles, an unexpected variation of a common dish.
One peculiarity of Thai cuisine is to seek balance between sweet and salty, sour and spicy. This balance of flavors is subjective, especially when infused with regional nuance, but is also what gives the food personality.
Beyond the culinary arts, this search for equanimity appears to be rooted in a deeper cultural tenet that permeates Thai society. On the walk back from dinner, I crossed the street, guided more by an act of faith than traffic signals, when a motorcycle screeched to a halt within inches of the side of my knee. The driver shrugged nonchalantly and kept going.
After recounting my near impact with the bike to one of my Thai friends, she told me of the notion of Mai pen rai, which is loosely translated to English as “don’t worry about it.” The term is more expansive in its significance than its casual use suggests, reflective of a way of being, a go-with-the-flow attitude. There is a realization and acceptance that we actually control very little in life. Cultivating an even keel, carefree approach, is one way to confront the challenges of such uncertainty.
The purpose of my visit to Thailand was to share some of my expertise and experience as a runner with the burgeoning local trail running community. One of the essential elements to a long and happy running life is the search for balance, that tension between instant and deferred gratification, between pleasure and pain. While trail running is in its infancy in Thailand, they already have the right ingredients to be one step ahead.
--BD Athlete Joe Grant