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.

Mother’s Day Ruminations


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It’s Mother’s Day here in Thailand, the Queen’s birthday, August 11. We are in Lamphun, a small, old city about twenty miles south of Chiang Mai. It was once its own kingdom, and has a moat and a reconstructed brick wall, with four gates at the four cardinal directions. We’re staying in a very nice hotel for $15 a night. It’s right across from the hospital in case I die during the night.

When we’re in Lamphun we like to go to the open-air night market which runs along part of the moat, near a park full of old-looking terra-cotta statues and brick structures that look like something from Ankor Wat. There is also a surprisingly sexy bronze statue of an ancient Thai queen. Evening approaches. Starlings swarm in the trees. Colored lights illuminate statues of elephants. People burn incense and pray in front of the statue of the sexy Queen.

We buy our evening meal at the market. It occurs to me that we don’t frequent supermarkets. They have them, mostly for foreigners and rich people, but we don’t use them, nor do most people. Most people buy produce, meat, fish, and prepared foods at local markets, which are everywhere.

As we climbed on the scooter to return to our hotel there was a grandmother standing nearby, holding a baby in diapers, and they were both watching the starlings swarm as night fell. I’ve seen this scene many times, grandparents holding babies in the evening simply watching people pass by, and I realized, we don’t see this kind of thing in America anymore. People are all indoors. They are sitting in air conditioning or in heated, carpeted rooms, watching television. If they are out of the house, they’re in their car, or in a mall.

But in the developing countries where I’ve spent the last seven years, Nicaragua, Paraguay and now Thailand, people are out and about, everywhere. Another person is only inches away. Women are more visible than men, because women tend to run the market stalls and do most of the family shopping. Sure, in America we have weekly farmer’s markets in our most enlightened communities, but only during the summer months, and there’s a precious awkwardness to them, as if everyone were painfully self-conscious about carrying a reusable bag and buying fruits and vegetables that were not yet encased in plastic. These farmer’s market events are organized and promoted by someone on the city payroll. Your property taxes at work.

The average American supermarket offers processed foods that are often worth less than the packaging that contains them. Take frozen pizza. The brightly printed box and the plastic sleeve inside are probably more expensive to create than the food they contain. Multiply that by most items in supermarkets and you can see why the American cost of living is so much higher than places like this.

Unlike their American counterparts, the Lamphun grandmother and baby who stood and watched dusk fall probably won’t be taking psychiatric medications anytime soon. As Thai citizens they can go to a clinic or be admitted to a government hospital for one dollar a day. It’s not VIP treatment. Long lines, no air-conditioning, but they’re not terrified of what might happen to them if they don’t have medical insurance. If I returned to America I would be partially covered by Medicare, but the deductibles would cost far more than paying out-of-pocket for care at a private hospital. Drugs and doctor’s fees here are about a twentieth of what they cost in the States.

I just bought a year’s refill of my blood pressure medicine for six dollars. You don’t need a prescription to buy most drugs at a pharmacy. Although they weren’t expensive, after reading a bunch of negative stuff about statin drugs I decided to stop taking them and simply eat garlic instead. Last time I had my cholesterol checked it was normal.

If I’m lucky, I’ll die here, in about thirty years, when I’m ninety-eight. My cremation will be handled by the neighboring temple. A pile of wood and in thirty minutes I’ll be smoke and ash.

retirecheaply

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It’s Mother’s Day here in Thailand, the Queen’s birthday, August 11. We are in Lamphun, a small, old city about twenty miles south of Chiang Mai. It was once its own kingdom, and has a moat and a reconstructed brick wall, with four gates at the four cardinal directions. We’re staying in a very nice hotel for $15 a night. It’s right across from the hospital in case I die during the night.

When we’re in Lamphun we like to go to the open-air night market which runs along part of the moat, near a park full of old-looking terra-cotta statues and brick structures that look like something from Ankor Wat. There is also a surprisingly sexy bronze statue of an ancient Thai queen. Evening approaches. Starlings swarm in the trees. Colored lights illuminate statues of elephants. People burn incense and pray in front of the statue of the sexy…

View original post 538 more words

Whistling in the Dark


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Arrogance can be cute in children but appears decidedly less so in adults. Presumption borne of inexperience is understandable. There are situations when humans are operating in the dark and forced to simply make stuff up in order to cope. These situations may be more common than we would care to admit.

The thirteen Thai boys who were trapped in the cave sat in the dark for over a week until suddenly, and from their perspective, unexpectedly an Englishman in a scuba outfit surfaced, shone a flashlight into their faces and asked “is everyone all right?” They assured him they were all OK. He said “Help is on the way” and went back where he came from.

Naturally the boys talked among themselves, and hatched a plan. The first boy they would send out would be the strongest of the group. He would be best able to quickly ride his bicycle from the cave entrance to his parent’s house and assure them they were OK. Little did these boys know that as each arrived to safety he would be conveyed by a personal helicopter to a hospital, assigned a personal physician, and that hundreds of millions of people in different parts of the world were watching the progress of their rescue with baited breath. They had no prior experience or current information to make them think their plan for the strongest boy to pedal home was not a sound one.

Another example of trying to make plans with limited data.

In the mid-1960’s, anthropologists discovered that people living on remote Pacific Islands had built replicas of radar towers, airplanes and army barracks out of bamboo. They were hoping these would once again attract “cargo.” The oldest members of their community remembered that over twenty years earlier, their peaceful island had suddenly swarmed with United States Army soldiers who built landing strips, barracks and then airplanes arrived with cargo. The islanders’ lives were changed in an instant. The army and all that equipment stayed for a while, then when the war ended they quickly packed up and hurriedly left. A few things were inadvertently left behind, and these things became sacred objects, deciphered only by priests. The chief of their tribe would don a pair of headphones that had been rescued from the burn pile in order to hear spirit voices tell when Cargo would return. He chanted “Roger Wilco” into a bamboo replica of a microphone. Young people begged their elders to recant once again the stories of that glorious time, when their island was awash in cargo, when chewing gum and snickers bars flowed like water.

We like to think we’re more sophisticated than either of these groups for we know what’s up. We’ve identified the causative factors at work in our lives, that we’re in control of our algorithms and hence our destiny. But there’s a good chance that we’re just little boys whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up. If we enjoy good fortune, we like to take credit for it. If not, we complain bitterly and try to blame the persons or forces we imagine have robbed us of our happy birthright.

dancoffeypostdotcom

12764456_10154018288953993_5512391176604870963_oArrogance can be cute in children but appears decidedly less so in adults. Presumption born of inexperience is understandable. There are situations when humans are operating in the dark and forced to simply make stuff up in order to cope. These situations may be more common than we would care to admit.

The thirteen Thai boys who were trapped in the cave sat in the dark for over a week until suddenly, and from their perspective, unexpectedly an Englishman in a scuba outfit surfaced, shone a flashlight into their faces and asked “is everyone all right?” They assured him they were all OK. He said “Help is on the way” and went back where he came from.

Naturally the boys talked among themselves, and hatched a plan. The first boy they would send out would be the strongest of the group. He would be best able to quickly ride his…

View original post 380 more words

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…

View original post 255 more words