Some Days Are More Delightful Than Others


Which is another way of saying “some days are downright boring.” Nothing delights me. After four months of drought, heat and smoke from burning vegetation, a rain storm came by. You’d think I’d be ecstatic. Instead, I complained that it was false advertising, all promise, no delivery. They sky grew dark, a few drops fell, and that was it.

I’ll admit it, I’m miffed. Disgruntled. Is this all there is? Life’s not fair. Why do some people get to have it all while the rest of us grovel around only inches from despair? Poor me. If God were listening, I’d try to get Him to feel guilty. But he’s not. He’s listening to the money problems of sexy celebrities.

 

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Who Do I Have to Blow to Get a Cup of Coffee Around Here?


Our plan for today was simple. We would find an air-conditioned train down the coast, ride for a few hours and then rest at an interesting small city. But all the trains were full because it’s the day after the coronation of the new king. So we bought the only ticket we could, on a third-class train that was full to the breaking point. People were standing in the aisles. It was very hot and humid. We rode for two hours and then when we stopped at a fair-sized town, we bailed. Our tickets had only cost a dollar for the two of us.

I really needed a cup of coffee. They hadn’t had a coffee shop at the new Bangkok train station, which is under construction and due to be completed in a couple of years if they’re lucky. Well, there was one but it was closed. Thai coffee shops are often closed early in the morning. They think of coffee as something you drink later in the day, when you take a break from shopping. This city we got off in, Nakornpatom has only one coffee shop, butt it too was closed. There are ample opportunities to drink instant coffee, but I would rather drink sewage than that swill.

I don’t know if it’s the heat or the caffeine withdrawal but I’m not feeling well. We got a cheap hotel room next to the train station and I slept for two hours. I went outside to find a cup of coffee and walked for half an hour in incredible heat. Finally, I found a coffee cart with a real espresso machine.

In everywhere but here, there are too many coffee shops. Ten years ago, when I first arrived in Thailand, there were almost none. The coffee changed my mood. I began to look on the bright side. There is an amazing temple right downtown, that looks like something out of the set for the movie The Wizard of Oz, and a lot of 1960’s futuristic architecture that promises to make for interesting photography once the sun gets much lower in the sky.

Clay Garden in Lamphun, the stand-in for Angkor Wat


It’s a hobby for a Thai man who loves making things out of terra cotta, the lightly fired clay that we are most familiar with as bricks. They’ve got clay by the ton down there, and in a park near the river that’s at least forty acres, maybe more, he’s built all sorts of things. Houses, temples, statues…and the best part is, he likes chaos. He likes leaving broken clay pieces lying on the ground, covered sometimes in leaves, plants growing through the piles, mold growing on everything. It gives it that romantic “abandoned temple in the jungle” look that is so evocative.

 

 

Bored in Thailand?


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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.

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES


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…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?


 

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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.