A Chance Meeting, A New Friendship

On my Mum’s last day in Chiang Mai, we awoke to rain and an overcast sky. We wandered around the old city in search of the only sensible rainy day activity – a visit to the spa. Mum’s recent pedicure was in need of a re-do before her flight to Europe that afternoon, and I was always up for… something.

The only thing was, it was still quite early, and most of the spas weren’t yet open. Disappointed, we headed back towards our apartment. I spotted a tiny nail salon, almost on our doorstep, that I hadn’t taken much notice of before.

“We can give it a go, I guess,” I suggested, not all that confident in the quality of ‘care’ we would receive in the basic, cramped quarters of the local nail shop/hair-salon.

Two women greeted us with surprise (it was definitely a local joint) and we selected our treatments, a manicure/pedicure for Mum and a hair wash, head massage and blow-dry for me. I know, it’s a tough life…

Work began on Mum’s nails in the front room, consisting of two bamboo sofas with worn cushions and a couple of swivel chairs positioned in front of mirrors. I was led out the back to have my hair washed, and was surprise to be shown to a fully flat massage table that was butted up to a small sink.

Back in the old days (when I was employed), I used to pay ridiculous money to have my hair done, but here I was paying $3 for the most comfortable hair wash of my life! I’m used to my head being wrenched from my neck into one of those U-shaped, decapitating sinks. But not this one. I lay back and let the petite woman wash, rinse, repeat and massage my grateful cranium and didn’t once feel like I was going to need a visit to the chiropractor afterwards.

After having my hair expertly blow dried in the front room, I glanced at Mum’s reflection in the mirror, who was still getting her cuticles cut. Turns out this little hole-in-the-wall salon valued attention to detail more than most! Admiring my silky smooth hair that would no doubt be frazzled by the humidity in no time, I noticed two women walk in, one with a sleeping baby tied to her front.

They took their seats on the other bamboo sofa, and the young woman without the baby began to select her nail colour. Before long, I squeezed in next to Mum and began the wait for the obsesssive-compulsive nail technician to take her disorder out on Mum’s hands and feet. This was going to take a while…

We sat in peaceful silence for a while, and then the baby woke up. She raised her chubby face and opened her huge, dark eyes, studying the face of the woman who held her. Soon, an idea emerged in her baby brain that transformed her expression to one of horror. She let out a heartfelt wail.

With this, the woman next to her scooped the bub out of the arms of her companion, patting and coo-ing and smiling at the little girl like only a mother can.

‘Ah, so that’s the Mum,’ I thought to myself, thinking her pretty smart to bring a friend along to the salon so she could get her nails done.

Soon the little girl was settled. Blinking, she looked around at the five faces that smiled, ooh-ed and aah-ed at her. Her lips curled into a cheeky smile which spread to her large, dark eyes.

“Where are you from?” the mother inquired to Mum, and soon a conversation began, staring with the basics, but soon covering a variety of important topics – marriage, men, children and cooking.

The mother (I never know what to call women my age with children, I mean we’re still ‘girls’ aren’t we?!), introduced herself as Min, and the wide-eyed baby as Jasmine. Her friend was simply ‘the friend that helps with the baby’. Min was fluent in English and exceptionally friendly, asking Mum and I heaps of questions and filling the air with endless tales of her home-life, marriage to an Englishman, and of course her children, the elder of which was at school.

Soon the conversation turned to food, my favourite topic, and  Min joked that she was convinced her husband married her for her chicken curry. Admiring her flawless skin and elegant figure, I sincerely doubted that, but was nonetheless intrigued by this man-catcher of a curry. I mean, I have cooked curry before, but it’s usually at least partly out of a packet, and I’m always in awe of people who cook from scratch, following recipes passed down through the family.

My beloved Nana did a mean silverside and pickled onion sandwich, but I was interested in Min’s Burmese background and the culinary skills she had inherited from her Mother and her Mother’s Mother, who were apparently both alive and well in Burma.

This thought was interrupted by a  woman bounding through the glass doors of the salon. Bringing all conversation to a standstill, she began to rattle off in animated Thai, complete with dramatic hand gestures. She stood in the centre of the room and began what I can only describe as a monologue. When she paused, Min and the other women exploded into laughter, as did Mum and I, even though we had no clue what she was going on about.  I felt like I was on the set of a Thai soap-opera, a kind of slapstick ‘Days of our Lives’, complete with requisite over-acting.

Then she plonked down in a swivel chair and flicked through a magazine nonchalantly like nothing had happened. Mum and I looked at each other in amused, confused disbelief.

The conversation began to flow again, with Min generously inviting us to her home for chicken curry that night. Regretfully, we had to decline, as Mum had a plane to catch a few hours later. Min offered me her number so that I could visit another time. She was such a likeable, chatty girl that I definitely wanted to take her up on her offer.


Later that afternoon, I farewelled Mum in a flurry of silky hair, flashy nails and tears. Afterwards, I rang the number Min gave me and we made a tentative date for the following day.

When it arrived, I rang again to let Min know I had an appointment at 1pm, but would visit her later if it suited her.

“But what will you have for lunch?” she asked, concerned.

“Umm, I don’t know, I’ll pick something up, I guess,” I replied.

“I’ve just made a curry. I’ll bring some over. Ten minutes!”

“Oookaaay… I mean, I can come later, I don’t want to put you out, if it’s not too much trouble, no it’s too much trouble…” I rambled, uncomfortable with her level of generosity.

But something told me to accept her kindness, as out of my comfort zone as it made me feel. A meal together, yes, home delivered curry express to my door? Surely not…

But sure enough, ten minutes later Min pulled up on her shining motorcycle and presented me with a plastic container of curry and a bag of fluffy white rice.

I think I was still mumbling thank you’s and marinating in my discomfort when she shot off again, but I did manage to arrange another meeting. That night. For dinner. At her place. Somehow I’d managed to extort both lunch AND dinner out of my new friend.

As I made my way up in the lift, the fragrant curry filled the small space with spicy aromas and my mind swam with disbelief at the unexpected gifts of an impromptu visit to the local nail salon.






A Chance Meeting, A New Friendship — 16 Comments

  1. Beautiful story. You never know who you’ll meet and often travel pushes us out of our comfort zones.
    It is interesting how what is uncomfortable or perceived as going really out of your way in one culture is really something other folks enjoy/create connections.
    For example, When anyone offers me food, I always want to accept but I always feel uncomfortable as if they’ll be put out, yet when I offer food, I’m always disappointed when people don’t accept. Funny how that is, isn’t it?

    Looking forward to reading more.

  2. I hate those sinks! That sounds pretty fantastic. I can only imagine what my hair will do in that kind of humidity.

    There’s a weird cultural thing in Spain where you’re supposed to refuse someone’s kindness 3 times and then on the 4th (or something like that), you can accept. I don’t know how often it’s really practiced, but we heard about it when we were studying abroad. You never know…maybe you were doing the culturally acceptable thing by refusing!

    I love these kinds of stories. It’s what makes traveling so exciting!

  3. What an amazing experience! It’s those chance encounters with locals that I think really help you appreciate a country and make travel worthwhile. Who would have guessed what lay ahead when you chose to pop into that little nail salon? And I bet that chicken curry was to die for!

  4. You are such a fabulous storytelling. I can’t wait to read the next chapter and find out where this friendship leads.

  5. Hi Sarah – I found you through your comment on Torre’s blog. I’m like you – all about travel adventure, following your dreams … but I’m at the other end of the spectrum as I’m 67 and a grandmother of six. Last year my husband and I spent 4 months living in the south of France and part of my current WIP takes place there. Experiences like yours with Min are such a fabulous part of travel. All it takes is an ability to be open to such opportunities and to be ready to give as good as you get. I’m looking forward to following your adventures!

    • Hi Paticia, lovely to ‘meet’ you! Torre’s a talented gal hey? And by the looks of it you are too! I’m honoured you stopped by, I’m really looking forward to reading your book, sounds fascinating! Your WIP sounds wonderful too, is it a memoir or fiction again? Yes, travel is inspirational in so many ways, and I’m really having the time of my life living it and writing about it. I can’t believe I’m actually doing it sometimes! Like you say, all I had to do was be open, to the possibility of living the life I dreamt of, and the rest… Just happened from there. All the best with your new book :)

  6. A lovely serendipitous meeting and write-up, Sarah! It’s heartfelt tales like this that make me want to get back out on the road again. Keep sharing!

  7. What a fantastic story! I’m amazed by your ease at connecting with locals and with telling the story so well!