Bored in Thailand?


15391383_10154742707900409_7054384705631981325_o

 

I’m retired and living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, a metro area about as big as Des Moines, Iowa. Every once in a while I worry that my life is too tame, too predictable, and that I’ve bitten off too little to successfully chew. Thai women are lovely and even young women will smile (sometimes suggestively) at this sixty-eight-year-old walking fossil, it never snows, it’s never cold, and I can ride my motorcycle into the hills on a moment’s notice.

 

But then I see a Facebook post from Iowa and am reminded that any ennui I feel here would only be amplified there. In the Northern Midwest it’s cold over half the year. The state is mostly flat corn fields. I recently saw a photo of Storm Spotter training session at a local church. The students were old people who want to become trained and certified Storm Spotters for their local television station. The church was full. I am reminded of the omnipresence of churches and community colleges, of dreary training and certification meetings. White bread and jello. Creamed corn.

 

Now that Wal-Mart has done away with greeters, I don’t think there would be any jobs available, and prices for most things in the States are five to ten times higher than they are here. I see the stick, but where’s the carrot?

 

I paid into Medicare for forty years, which I can’t access it over here, but luckily most medical costs here are ten to twenty times less than they would be in America. I’m still in good health, and so I’m reasonably confident I could pay for anything less than catastrophic surgery out-of-pocket.

 

All of a sudden, occasional bouts of  boredom don’t seem so bad.

Advertisements

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES


thumbnail_36440212_1970129379874356_838996542441390080_n

…and lungs, and blood. Rather than show a picture of smoke, I thought I’d share this diversion.

I’m back after five days on the road, driving five to six hours per day on a Honda 500cc motorcycle. We went to visit her mother who lives about 300 miles away. Thai roads are far better than the roads of their neighbors, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, but you can’t just expect to travel an average speed of sixty miles per hour. I’m surprised at my age I could still pull a thing like this off. What a grind for a geezer!

It was smokey and not terribly scenic, as the hills were hidden in smog. It hasn’t rained for months, and everything looks burned up, because a lot of it is. The way farmers clear land here is by burning the old crop residue. No amount of official threats or sanctions are ever going to change that. As I sit at home writing this, I have two air purifiers at work in my bedroom.

Thailand has lots of problems that don’t get talked about much because discourse is discouraged by libel laws. Even if you’re proved correct in your statement about someone’s behavior, you can be sued for damages to reputation. Face means a lot here,

The minister of tourism doesn’t like to talk about air pollution, or piles of trash dumped along the sides of roads, and so if you want to bring it up, be warned, there may be consequences. The largest corporation in Thailand is also the parent company of the 7-11 chain, the largest telecommunications company, and the largest agribusiness. They probably have the leverage to do something profound about the seasonal burning, but lack the incentive to do so. Being Thailand’s largest corporation, they’re probably well connected inside government.

That’s as much as I’ll venture to say, but it was quite a drag to see the most of northern part of the country draped in smoke. Or maybe I should say, “not see.” The haze makes me dizzy, mildly nauseous, and short of breath. In a couple of weeks we’ll head to the seashore for a respite, but that will cost money that I’d rather not spend if I had the choice. I don’t feel I have that choice.

Catholic or Buddhist?


 

51161408_10213869777247368_8877549005416955904_n

 

I grew up Catholic, baptized shortly after birth, educated in Catholic schools until I was eighteen, first by nuns, then by Jesuits. Our neighborhood revolved around the parish church and school. In St. Louis, people would judge your social class by your parish. “She’s from Our Lady of Lourdes.” Oh, that speaks volumes.

 

Now I live in Thailand, and here in Chiang Mai, Buddhist temples are even more omnipresent and important to the community than were Catholic churches when I was a boy. All directions are given regarding the nearest temple. Fundraising parties that last five full days abound. There’s literally a  temple every half mile in all directions. The first morning sounds I hear through our perpetually open windows are the gentle gongs of  monks walking down lanes, seeking alms.

 

There are school classrooms attached to many temples, but most education is done in public schools. Uniforms are compulsory here, up through University level. Thais love uniforms. Even employees of companies wear uniforms. Nurses wear nurse uniforms like we used to have in America before about 1960. Boy and girl scout uniforms abound.

 

Conformity is not frowned upon in Southeast Asia. There’s an Asian expression, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” I chafed under the regulations that demanded I wear a uniform for the first eight years of schooling, but here I take comfort seeing students in uniforms.. It reminds me of home. I remember having the same feeling when I went to Ireland in 1971. I saw Dublin school girls waiting for a bus who were wearing the same color skirt and blouse the girls wore back at our Lady of Lourdes, in St. Louis.

Found A New Setting On My Camera


photos are much better! Don’t have to process them in any way. Yippee. Cameras are better and cheaper than they’ve ever been.

 

img_6291img_6295img_6296

img_6258

img_6088

img_6145img_6144

 

I live in Northern Thailand, and even though I’ve lived here for seven years, I haven’t grown tired of the photographic possibilities. I don’t work and I ride around on my motorcycle, which gives me plenty of opportunity to see various vistas.

Boring Blogs


 

 

 

I just discovered an old American who also lives in Thailand who writes a blog. So do I. He’s an even better writer than me, his output is voluminous, and he illustrates it with many good photographs, just as I do. He’s nine years older than I am and has had a varied and interesting life, just like me. I tried to read his blog and became overwhelmed by the sheer mass of it. His entries are thousands of words long. He’s been writing this blog for twelve years! It’s as thick and dense as War and Peace!

No, even I who have so much in common with my blogster elder brother couldn’t scratch the surface of his retirement output. I’m afraid I too have become a tiresome old fart. I’m the garrulous grandpa you meet at a family barbecue or social event and eventually make an excuse to distance yourself from because he won’t stop talking.

Most blogs I try to read are written by young people, twenty and thirtysomethings who are usually drifting around the planet on their parents’ dime, writing about their travels. I can’t read their blogs, either. The points they make are obvious and sophomoric.

Young people also write a lot of “lifestyle” blogs where they opine about the rules of success or building good “relationships.” When I read that last word, I know it’s time to move on.

When I hear the word “relationship” I brace myself for “couples counseling,” and “intimacy.”

What have we become? Tiresome boors who can’t even enjoy the leisure and privilege we grew into, surrounded by billions of people who have to defecate outside and carry water and firewood back to their hovel.

We peck away at our laptops with great purpose and then divert ourselves by watching Netflix.

Vegetarian Rip Off


IMG_4221 (2)

 

The street outside is swarming with people, locals, backpackers, privileged youth who are drifting around the world on their parents’ dime, and none of them realize at this moment that I’m the most important person out here. Sure, they think they are, but that’s merely delusion. It’s me.

This is Khao San road, the Haight Street of Southeast Asia. I thought I had seen a dense population of massage and tattoo parlors in other cities, but nothing comes close to this. Within a kilometer of my hotel there may be two hundred of each. They’re open twelve to fourteen hours a day. Probably two thousand people, mostly women, make their living here in this way.

I stopped into the first vegetarian restaurant I found as I left the small alley that connects my hotel to the main street. We have plenty of vegetarian restaurants in my home city of Chiang Mai, and they’re always very inexpensive. I didn’t even bother to look at the prices when I sat down and ordered.

Fortunately, I had enough cash in my wallet to cover a Thai iced tea and a quesadilla. Almost nine dollars. This is about nine times more expensive than it would have been in Chiang Mai. Looking around the room at the other diners, mostly European young people, I could tell I was the only one who noticed.

Everything in Bangkok is a little bit more expensive than in other cities, but this won the extortion prize.

Fresh Eyes


Rainy season is winding down here, so we took advantage of that fact to ride the 500cc motorcycle to Pai. It’s a 3.5 hour drive that takes me 5 hours, because I have to stop and rest three times for half an hour. Very difficult riding, hairpin turns galore. Spectacular scenery. It’s sort of like being on the set of a King Kong movie, but the dramatic drop-offs are as real as the danger.

Pai is a little town that has been promoted into a hippy mecca. Twenty-five year-olds abound. There are other towns closer to Chiang Mai, namely Mae Chaem which probably resemble what Pai was thirty years ago, before the rush to play hippy and all the money that could be made satisfying that impulse took over. But we went to Mae Chaem and Mae Sariang last week. This week we finish the northern part of the four day ride from Chiang Mai known as the Mae Song Hong Loop. This being retired and tempted by scenic motorcycle rides is not a bad life.

After Pai, the road really gets spectacular. Usually we ride another four hours onward to Mae Hong Son, but this time I decided to make our life easier and simply to to Lod Cave, which is located where the dramatic forested hills seem to reach their peak. It’s like driving through a Dr. Seuss painting.

With this shorter day, we could relax more and return to our already-booked room in Pai. We would also be closer to our Chiang Mai home, instead of eight or nine hours away the next morning.

Wipa had never been in a cave before! Lod Cave is very large and historically significant, for they found the teak log coffins of neolithic era people inside it. As this is rainy season (witness the recent near-fatal expedition of fourteen boys in a wet cave in Chiang Rai) we had to enter the cave on bamboo rafts. They hire mountain people from a nearby village to act as guides. Older women are in charge of holding kerosene lanterns and men from the village pole the rafts.

I had never before been in a cave that hadn’t been adulterated with electric lighting! It was a much better experience than the usual colored lights and signs warning you not to touch anything. This being Thailand, they usually place Buddha statues in caves. None here!

And the lady with the lantern had two jobs, to help me walk on an uneven surface and dodge stalactites, as well as administering the typical cave guides speech, “and there is the formation many people think resembles a giant frog” Wipa laughed and took pictures with her cell phone. She had absolutely no cynicism about this at all. I had a lot more fun seeing this with fresh eyes.

As I age, I’m going to remember that I have more fun when I try to do less. We got back to our room in Pai by mid-afternoon in time for my customary nap.

 

IMG_4221 (2)IMG_4217 (2)IMG_420040932409_2177145549241454_330070684828958720_n41126672_2177145219241487_2321076390629212160_n