Ho Hum

It’s Easy to Blame the Place

But chances are, you’re to blame if you’re not having fun. Enjoyment doesn’t come from outside. It’s a choice you make to let the outside in. More than a feeling, it’s an action. A decision.

Thailand has everything I need to enjoy myself, but sometimes I find that I’m not, because I’ve run out of ideas or energy. My fixed concepts have built a prison, and even though I’m holding the keys to my cell, I can’t find the energy to insert them in the lock and open the door. So I lie on my cot, moaning, waiting for something to change.

Real change will only happen if I extend myself and try something new, or decide to see the value in something I’ve already dismissed. Ho-hum, another massage. Another restaurant, big deal. Another beautiful, smiling person, another diligent tailor offering custom-made clothing. Where’s the nearest McDonalds?


There’s a cave and a hot springs outside of Chiang Mai

That are worth the drive. Plus, the last half of the drive, after you’ve left the sprawling urbanization, is quite lovely. It’s sort of like Northern California, only more so. It’s called San Kamphaeng and it’s actually well past the town with the same name. The cave is about three hundred feet deep. The water in the hot springs is too hot to touch when it comes out of the ground. You have to find a pool fifty yards away. Here’s a photo of yet another spirit globe deep inside the cave. Scoff you believers in flash artifacts. 

2 things you can’t easily find here

Coffee filters. Even in grocery stores, they sell instant coffee in bags that look like they hold ground coffee or beans, but it’s just instant coffee. The only stores that sell coffee filters are the ones that cater to foreigners. In those stores, a shaker of parmisian cheese costs $6. Same for a small bottle of balsalmic vinegar. I can live without parmisian cheese, but I can’t live without real coffee.

The Vastest of Wastelands

One Step Above Public Access

Thai TV is horrible. It’s meant for children or idiots, made as cheaply as possible, and is only one step above talk radio. Most shows feature two or three cute kids in their late teens or early twenties. They improvise all their lines, as nobody has bothered to write a script, and even if someone had, they surely wouldn’t have taken the time to memorize their lines or rehearse.

There are two types of shows, the one where a man in his forties reads the newspaper, and a woman in her twenties lends him moral support by saying “Ka (right!)” over and over as he comments on the news. Rarely does she venture an opinion, nor does she ever begin a story.

The other type of show is to have young people talk about just anything at all. Meanwhile the corners of the screen are covered with promotional images, the way we do with Home Shopping channels in the States. This is to send a strong message that the producers of the show realize there is nothing of value in the images they have chosen to present, but maybe you could find some value around the edges, a phone number to call, or a cute picture to focus on.

There are, of course, what the Latins call telenovelas, the type of show that only recently has disappeared from our sophisticated screens in the States. Soap operas here feature the problems of terminally cute teenagers whose only concession to acting is to pout. Neither the boy nor the girl ever smile, or say much, they just pout. All the emoting is done by scheming Mothers-in-Law, concerned friends, doting parents.

Cute is the operative word here. And Thai teenagers are nothing if not cute. In fact, you never see anyone who’s not cute in public. People over the age of fifty seem invisible. I sometimes venture to the local shopping mall in order to see a movie. Most imported movies are the dullest, least inspired, most CGI-filled action pictures that America can produce. Most Thai movies are comedies, involving a fat guy with glasses, a cute boy and girl, and their wacky relatives. The sound track is full of slide whistles and boings. I have never seen anyone even near my age at a movie in Thailand. Rarely have I seen one within twenty years of my age out and about. They’re all at home, taking care of their grandchildren.

I suppose all cultures grow through the same sorts of stages, as rising incomes offer new opportunities to the masses. Thirty years ago, most Thais were living an existence not much different than what their parents endured/enjoyed. They worked in the fields, wearing those conical straw hats. Now they wipe their faces with expensive lightening creams and troll Facebook.

Best Part of Thailand is the People

They are really sweet, mostly honest, helpful, meek, courteous, good-looking, hard-working. Recently, I accidentally  left my Amazon Kindle on a bus and it was in lost and found at the bus station three days later. That sort of thing rarely  happens in the States.

The food is great,  the massage is to die for, and everything here is about three times more affordable than in most of the rest of the world. What’s not to like?


Weird Torture Chamber at Nan Temple

for more on this, check out http://www.cnngo.com/bangkok/play/gallery-heaven-and-hell-nan-087414


There was a temple near our guesthouse in Nan. Ho hum, another temple. But a squat little building caught my eye, and I wondered if something spooky lay inside. I was right. More than spooky, a collection of little figures boiling each other in oil, cutting out tongues, being impaled with spears filled the circular room. Gee, you never know what awaits you in small towns in Thailand. 

Secret Beauty

Nan, a province of Northern Thailand, is visually stunning yet almost nobody talks about it. It’s hilly, lush, full of friendly people, and largely untraveled. Oh yeah, and it’s cheap. Costs about a dollar and a half to ride an hour from Nan city to anywhere in the province.  As far as I can see, every place is at least photogenic.

Travel as a Drug

In light of all my travel and resultant spotty resume, I sometimes wonder if I need more stimulation than most people just to feel alive. I’m terrified of routine, or boredom, of having to endure what other people gladly do just to stay solvent. For some reason, I don’t feel like I should have to play by those rules. I don’t do boring or tedious.
But who does? The trick, of course, is to find everything interesting. That’s the ticket out of this false dilemma. The easily bored are the most boring of all.
Status, income, the attention or approval of others, don’t have the power to transform me for the better. They are fickle friends anyway, and can’t strike at the source of the problem because that’s not where they live, either. Try telling an anorexic woman that she’s not fat. See how far you get with that. You can’t modify a mental mechanism without knowing what it’s doing for you to begin with. Every thought pattern or habitual response is ultimately a coping mechanism, and you can’t expect to turn one off unless you have a substitute ready to insert in its place.
If I want to feel at home anywhere on this planet, I have to become a regular Joe. It finally occurs to me that imagining myself to be a savior or a genius or a uniquely qualified anything is delusion. Delusion is ultimately the most boring state of all!
So these realizations have brought me to Thailand, of all places, because I have the hunch that in some weird way I might be able to fit in. It’s not too much to imagine that people here might want to learn what I know and teach me what they know. From what I’ve experienced with Thai massage and Thai food, that’s a lot.
Most Thais I meet smile a lot, laugh easily, and don’t seem to need anti-depressants, while the Thai kids I’ve met have probably not yet been diagnosed with ADD. An absurd number of American adults are on an anti-depressant, and an even more shocking number of school children are either on Ritalin or Adderall. By the way, isn’t an adder a poisonous snake? Does that make Adderall the mother of all vipers?
Thais have their problems, sure, but one of them doesn’t seem to involve a conspiracy between the medical and pharmaceutical industries to ensnare them in a chemical straight jacket. Just that fact makes me optimistic that I might be able to find a place to fit in here.
On my last trip, I visited an orphanage and the neighboring Father Ray Foundation in Pattaya, the Las Vegas of Thailand. Pattaya has more than its share of street kids, runaways, unwanted babies, and these two organizations are doing something about it. I watched a video about the Father Ray Foundation’s programs (it’s on Youtube) and I have to admit it brought tears to my eyes. When I was there, I got to meet a six-year-old boy whose drunken parents had tossed him on a bonfire. Rescued by passers-by and brought to the Foundation, he was understandably freaked out. In shock. Big-time traumatized.
Instead of loading him up with therapy appointments and Paxil, they quickly put him into a new makeshift family with a surrogate mother and other orphans as brothers and sisters.

Of course in our country, we have been conditioned by our belief in popular psychology and the movies that promulgate those beliefs to cluck our tongues and say, “Maybe he seems OK now, but wait until he’s 18 and becomes a serial killer.” Then again, maybe not. I got the impression he had simply put it behind him, the way the Southeast Asian tsunami survivors had who explained to the flood of grief counselors we sent them that they saw no need to rehash a bad experience. Let it go. Move on. Thank you for coming all this way, but no, we don’t want to talk about it!
You can see the boy I’m talking about in the last shot of their video. He’s the one in the Superman T shirt, on the left, in the front row. The other kids are all hamming it up, and he hasn’t quite joined in yet, but you can see he’s thinking about smiling.
As it stands, my 401K could buy me a badly used mobile home, or a slightly better used RV. Those choices look grim to this aging boomer. So if I can open my horizons to health, pleasure, sanity, and free myself from the economic lash of poverty that would condemn me to spend my twilight years living in a van down by the river, it behooves me to jump at the chances offered by Thailand, Nicaragua, Argentina or Ecuador. Like the kid in the Superman shirt, I’m thinking about smiling, too.


Hello, Kitty!

What’s the deal with Asian female infantile styles?Here, lots of grown women wear little girl clothes. I live near Chiang Mai University, and daily I see women in what look like little girl dresses from the 1940’s, riding on Scoopi Scooters that are detailed with cartoon bears, kittens. I don’t get it. It makes western men nervous.  Most of us have been strongly conditioned not to find children sexually attractive. Maybe the women aren’t trying to be attractive to men. Maybe the opposite. I dunno.