It is 4pm and Mrs. Pa is setting up her smoothie cart at Chiang Mai gate. The light is beginning to change and the starlings are in the trees, waiting to swoop in wide circles around the moat at dusk. Mrs. Pasets up here daily after a morning visit to the markets to buy from her preferred fruit vendors.Muang Noi Market for most of the fresh produce,Samoeng for strawberries. She makes her own sugar water, claiming that the stuff you can buy is just not good enough for the loving care she requires. There are many reasons that Mrs. Pa is the best smoothie cart in Chiang Mai, but care and attention are certainly two of them.
When I came to live in Chiang Mai in 2011, friends and I would sit for hours at her stall, watching her work and listening to her unselfconscious laugh echoing like a bell. I pitched my then-editor at CNN Travel asking if could write about her, wanting to learn more about her life and story. He agreed, and in 2011 I wrote a piece about her smoothie cart for CNNGo (now CNN Travel). To write it, I shadowed her for several days, joining her at the morning market and learning more about her life. We talked about her former job in an office, before a friend gifted her the smoothie cart she now uses daily. I watched many of the samecustomers come back every night, drawn in by that infectious laugh and her bright smile.
By the time I left in 2011, I thought I would be back the next year. But I ended up finding a home in Saigon and spending my winters eating there instead. Late last fall I returned to Chiang Mai and surprised her at the stall after several years away. She was mid smoothie-blending when she looked up and saw me, yelled my name andran overwitha fierce and wondrous hug. It was a lovely reunion.
Reunited and it feels so good! Note picture: mango and strawberry smoothie that I gulped down after this hug.