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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We Owe These People Something


 

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We weren’t at war with Laos. Heck, we weren’t even officially at war with Vietnam, but poor Laos didn’t even have much of an army to fight back, and they were certainly no match for our constant aerial bombardment. For eight years we dropped an average of a B-52 load of bombs on that country every eight minutes. Because we weren’t officially even there, there was no strategy. When pilots asked what was the target, they were told “anything that moves.”

 

When I was in Laos, I saw huts in the countryside with fish ponds in front of them. I assumed these were enterprising people who had dug fish ponds to harvest a food source. Then I realized these ponds were all around. Then I realized they weren’t fish ponds, but bomb craters filled with rainwater.

 

The side of Laos that borders on Vietnam we dubbed the “Ho Chi Minh Trail.” At one point, we even considered dropping nuclear weapons on it.  North of  Vietnam’s DMZ, Laos is about thirty miles wide, and Vietnam is about twenty miles wide. The ground along the border is often mountainous, which means that the unexploded ordnance isn’t routinely uncovered by farmers planting rice. But it’s still there. Maybe we might offer to help clean it up? Of course, we have some pressing business to take care of back home. Building the wall between us and Mexico should strain the budget for a while.

 

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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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Confabulation Confounds Me


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My mind swims with words and images. I’m half asleep. Everything seems like a movie I might have seen once a few years ago, but one can’t remember much about it except that certain incidents, characters and settings are familiar. The story itself eludes me.

This is either a shot across the bow by the evil forces of dementia or a warning sign that I’ve bitten off too little of what life has to offer and am merely deeply and seriously bored. Stuck. Just waiting for the end.

On my best days I can delude myself that I’m making progress, but on my worst I’m just bumbling along on auto-pilot. Repeating the same few activities out of habit is not the same as being fully engaged.

Of course, I know the solution is to volunteer my time for some good cause. Join Rotary. Visit orphans and comfort the downtrodden. Embrace some new challenge. Really dive into learning a difficult skill. 

I am tempted to delve deeply into Flapdoodle for its own sake. To become the Irwin Corey of meaningless discourse. To ramble to the point of exhaustion.

 

 

 

 

Go Lean


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Nobody Brings All Their Crap Here

A great opportunity inherent in retiring on the other side of the world is that you’re strongly persuaded to get rid of most of the crap you’ve been dutifully hauling around for the last thirty years. That dining room table with eight chairs, the sideboard, the wardrobe, the boxes of pictures and old tax returns, the clothes that you were going to wear again one day when you lost weight…all of it goes before you move many times zones away.

The airlines help with this by charging exorbitant rates for extra luggage. Nevertheless, I met a guy who had brought kayaks, canoes, a grand piano, oil paintings in a shipping container and then paid for it to be hauled up the entire length of Thailand to the mountains in the North. Some people take their shit seriously.

I arrived here three years ago with two suitcases. Since then, I have accumulated a minimal amount of “stuff,” the things that one puts in no particular order in boxes and then hides under the bed. I change residences every year, so I am not tempted to engage in recreational shopping. It was a lousy pastime anyway. Back in Iowa, I used to frequent auctions and delude myself into thinking I was running an antiques business selling the smallest items on eBay. Truth be told, I was simply a shopping addict justifying his addiction.

I was bored and I didn’t enjoy my job. The perfect recipe for cultivating an addiction, and I became very good at fooling myself into thinking this was “entrepreneurship!” Yes, I was the Donald Trump of funky boxes full of other people’s crap, stored in the garage until I had time to go through them all, photograph the best of the haul, and then haul the boxes back to the auction! Did I have a truck? No. Were my items neatly shelved and organized? Of course not!

Out of sight, out of mind. Then, when the garage door refused to close, I knew I had to change my ways.

Now, when I go to a big box store, or a Goodwill, and see the hollow eyes of middle-aged people wandering the aisles with full shopping carts, I feel a mixture of revulsion and sympathy. There but for the grace of God go I.

Living abroad as I do, I get comments from people who say “I wish I could do what you’re doing, but I have too much stuff that I can’t get rid of.” The next most frequent comment is “I’m on medications that I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to get over there.” They’ve also bought into the phony medical insurance “benefit,” where you think your medical insurance is providing a level of cost reduction or security. Here in Thailand, medical costs are a fraction of what they are in the States, often less than the deductibles most insured people pay for services and drugs.