There but for the grace of God go I


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This evening I was getting a foot massage on the promenade that runs along the beach here in Prachuap Khiri Khan, a small city in the South of Thailand. I was amicably chatting with the ladies who intermittently called out to prospective customers who walked or cycled by. Then a Caucasian man who looked to be my age cycled up and stopped directly across the street. I expected them to call out to him but they didn’t. I noted that he was probably exactly my age. They said “he’s a bad drunk. He has no friends and no girlfriend and he’s always alone. Nobody wants him around.”

I kept watching him, and from this distance couldn’t tell if he was inebriated. He certainly wasn’t being overtly obnoxious. But he was alone, smoking cigarette after cigarette and looking like he was just about to come to a decision about something. He sat there for the duration of my massage, and when I left he was still there, staring at the middle of the road, as dusk gathered around us.

It was one of those “there but for the grace of God go I,” moments.

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What if…?


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What if the world we already inhabit were a thousand times more amazing than we can appreciate? Could be that we’re surrounded by good luck, magic, unimaginable opportunity, and fantastic wealth, but we can’t see it.  Not yet. If we could adjust out thinking all this opportunity and wealth would come into view.

 

Maybe the solution to our temporary blindness is to give up. Stop trying to figure things out, make things happen, control outcomes. get people to like us or think we’re important. Just stop it. Wait a few days and see what happens.

 

Something will happen. Things will change, maybe for the better, perhaps quickly.

 

It’s worth a try. We can always go back to our old ways. Struggling to manage our lives as best we can, to squeeze the last drop of advantage out of every situation. The reason such actions haven’t brought pleasure or satisfaction so far might lie in the fact that contentment doesn’t arise from having advantage. Getting ahead is not getting happy.

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.

Way Too Much


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Too much already so nothing matters
 
I keep thinking I should start a project that would take me months to finish, write and photograph a long piece, and then find somewhere to publish it. But then I look at the steady stream of detritus that flows through my laptop every day and realize that nobody needs any more writing or pictures. Nobody needs any more of anything.
 
I could delude myself into thinking that my diligent and purposeful activity would eventually make some sort of difference to somebody, but I think it would at best amount to self-deception.
 
There are too many choices for my limited attention. I subscribe to Netflix and there’s a lot out there for which pay a paltry sum. Last night we watched one of  the worst movies I’ve ever seen on Netflix. Last month we watched one of the best TV series I’ve ever seen, three seasons worth, thirty-nine, one-hour episodes.
 
I saw a movie in a cinema last month, but it was the first time I’ve been out to see a movie since we started up with Netflix.
 
I no longer “read” anything. I skim. I’m always browsing, hoping that something substantial and evocative will grab my attention for longer than a few seconds. That rarely, if ever happens.

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.