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.

 

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An Abandoned Well at the Leper Colony


 

 

I recently found a secret entrance to McKean Rehabilitation Center, a former leper colony near my home. At this rarely used section of the colony there is a water well, which although no longer in use still has some water at the bottom. I thought “hmm, maybe there’s money to be made if I drop a bucket into the well and bring up some of this water.” That’s the kind of guy I am. Always full of good ideas.

 

So if anybody else thinks this is a good idea, or would like to sample the water, let me know. I could videotape the whole process. insuring that I wasn’t just bottling tap water but real, McKean Leper Colony Abandoned Well Water! Accept no substitutes.

 

The leper colony was established in the early 20th century on land given to the Church of Christ by the King of Lanna.  The buildings are 1920’s tropical, the cabins are awfully small by modern standards.  There are only a few lepers in residence, mostly poor refugees from nearby Burma.

Getting Better As Well As Older


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OK, so last month I celebrated my sixty-eight birthday. I admit, I never thought I’d last this long. I figured by now I’d be drooling in a nursing home or dead. Instead I’m swimming regularly and tooling around on a big motorcycle.

I feel younger and more vital than I did thirty years ago. Go figure. But I still have to do something with myself, and in order to feel like I’m not just a drain on society, sucking air, I have to get better at something. I have to apply myself.

When I was a kid, we lived in St. Louis, the home of Monsanto. Along with Dow Chemical they are reviled for their work in toxic chemistry. In New York, General Electric was once a major employer, but now they occupy a shell of their former glory. Their slogan was “Progress is our most important product.”

Kodak was once a powerhouse and today they barely exist.

Now thanks to their ham-fisted marketing of Roundup Ready GMO seeds, Monsanto has fallen into such bad repute that the brand name no longer exists. They’ve been swallowed by Bayer, a German company best known for aspirin.

No one can accuse me of having progress as my most important product.

So I’m doing two things: I’m learning baroque piano pieces and I’m learning Thai. That’s not much compared to working for a living, but it’s something. I”m not sitting in a recliner watching television. Even though the blogs and books I write are seen by only a few people and generate no income, I write anyway.

What’s the alternative? If I were to completely retire from the world I’ve known, I guess I could become a Buddhist monk. There are hundreds of temples all around me, and the biggest ones accept foreigners into meditation retreats. That might not be fun, but it would be different.

I’ve given up a lot already. I’ve stopped recreational shopping, I no longer apply for jobs I don’t want, and I’m comfortable hanging out at home for far longer periods than I was for most of my adult life. Heck, I can sometimes concentrate on an activity for a full hour!

No bells ring to mark the beginning or end of my activities, I take no cigarette breaks, at the end of the day I have no visible gain or result to account for my time. I piddle. That’s it. I’m a piddler.

 

retirecheaply

OK, so last month I celebrated my sixty-eight birthday. I admit, I never thought I’d last this long. I figured by now I’d be drooling a nursing home or dead. Instead I’m swimming regularly and tooling around on a big motorcycle.

I feel younger and more vital than I did thirty years ago. Go figure. But I still have to do something with myself, and in order to feel like I’m not just a drain on society, sucking air, I have to get better at something. I have to apply myself.

When I was a kid, we lived in St. Louis, the home of Monsanto. Along with Dow Chemical they are reviled for their work in toxic chemistry. In New York, General Electric was once a major employer, but now they occupy a shell of their former glory. Their slogan was “Progress is our most important product.”

Kodak was once…

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RUNNING FROM SMOKE


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For the past three days I have been literally racing up and down haze-choked hills in Northern Thailand, looking for some fresh air. I’m driving my new/used motorcycle, a Honda CB500, which in these parts is considered a big bike. I’m driving in the mountains, on two lane blacktop roads which at the right time of year would have offered luscious landscapes, but because this is the end of dry season, and because the air is full of gray smog from burning crops, it’s not much fun.

I left Chiang Mai when the particle levels were at the danger level, and after looking online for a possible refuge, noticed that the levels in Phayao and Phrae were in the normal, safe zone. But as we drove the three and four hour rides, I noticed that the air here looks every bit as bad as it does around Chiang Mai.

That’s because it is. Turns out that the monitoring stations in Phayao and Phrae are using old equipment that doesn’t measure the smallest, most dangerous smoke particles, the ones that work their way deep into your lungs and stay there. Emergency cardiac admissions at local hospitals soar this time of year. Having your lungs poison your blood with microscopic smoke is no picnic.

The only solution is to admit defeat and fly south to the beaches. There the smoke isn’t a problem. 

 

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Playing Hippie Fifty Years Later


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Yesterday I attended the Shambala Festival in Chiang Dao, Thailand. It’s a small city in northern Thailand that is dominated by a tall mountain that abruptly rises from the rice fields. It’s a lovely, dramatic setting for what is essentially a “Rainbow Gathering.” The participants were mostly young people, a mix of Thais, Europeans, Americans and Japanese. Anyone who wanted to walk around barefoot and smell of patchouli oil.

 

At age 67, I am the age of most of their grandparents. A chorus I’m a member of was performing at a small venue near the kitchen. We were by far the most professional and rehearsed of the small stage acts, but yet the audience sprawled in front of us was half-asleep. They were here for the long haul, days of hanging out. It was a bit unnerving to perform for such a laid-back crowd. On the other hand, I’m sure things liven up at night at the evening stage, now baking in the sun during the day but which would come alive after dark and would host amplified bands which would inspire hippie dancing. Shake your dreadlocks, baby.

 

There were many beautiful young people there but there is a new sort of odd, non-sexual thing happening now. No nudity. No coupling in public. Lots of hugging and flamboyant physical displays of yoga inspired gymnastics, but the obvious sexual attention-seeking is a thing of the past. They’ve moved beyond that.  As someone who was their age at about the time of Woodstock, I am pleased that there is still a demand and audience for this sort of thing, and glad to see that I am no longer the least bit tempted to partake of it. It never even occurred to me to sleep on the ground. I went into town and rented a hotel room, something you can do in Thailand with pocket change.

 

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