I Blame the Map

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It’s all the fault of these damn maps. They make it seem so easy. I bought the latest update of the Mae Hong Son loop motorcycle map they’ve been selling in Chiang Mai for quite a few years. It’s invaluable. These mountains are rugged and they seem to go on forever. It’s a wonder there are any roads through them at all! Without a good map, a nearly senile motorcyclist would be a goner.

My plan was a simple day trip and we’d spend the night in Mae Chaem. Figured it would be an easy two hour ride. I forgot that maps don’t show elevation. The wiggly red line that was our intended road was only a few inches long on this detailed map of the area due west of Chiang Mai. How long could a few inches take?

Three hours later, after climbing Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain, and back down again, we arrived in rustic hamlet of Mae Chaem. My brakes had given out three times on the way down the mountain. I thought it was a lack of brake fluid, but the guy in the shop said no, it was my brake pads. He asked if I wanted original Honda pads or cheap Chinese imitations. The difference in cost was $5 vs $12. I played the big shot and went VIP.

Amazing that you can find a guy who will not only sell you such an important item so cheaply, but install them for you. When you’re in middle of nowhere, any service at all seems an act of Mercy.

We spent the night there, in a resort with a swimming pool. Our own bungalow. Only one other guest in the whole place. It’s low season here, but not for long. In a couple of months, the hoards will arrive. The Chinese are always here, but they don’t venture far away from the beaten path.

From there, it would have been a simple matter to retrace our steps. We had only brought one change of clothes, I had only brought one days worth of pills that I take for my many afflictions.

A rational man would have headed back up Doi Inthanon the way he came. But I had always wanted to take the road to Khum Yuan. I’d seen it on maps and tried to find it twice before, each time getting hopelessly lost and after three hours or so and finding myself arriving back to Samoeng, the wrong way entirely! But that was when I was coming at Khun Yuam from due east, whereas now I was arriving up the main road from the south. Should be a no-brainer.

It was, but an exhausting one. Three hours later we arrived in Khum Yuan. This was on a road built by the Japanese army back during WWII, when they occupied Thailand. A regiment had been abandoned here with instructions to build a road to the Burma border. This they did, hacking away at some of the most impenetrable vegetation, and building bridges across river and stream. Then they died of starvation. Survivors said the road was lined for miles with bodies. Within a few months, skeletons. Those who didn’t starve to death were picked off by Karen tribesmen who came over from Burma. They had been fighting on the side of the British.

The Japanese soldier ghosts urged us to keep moving, so we drove two hours south to Mae Sariang. By now my first job was to find Sinemet, my Parkinson’s medicine. The first two pharmacies didn’t have it, but they recommended we visit the government hospital. They fixed me up, though only after I registered as a patient and met with a doctor. The cost for the was three dollars. I bought two months worth of the drug for eighteen dollars. That’s pricey for Thailand, but here it’s a specialty drugs, as most people don’t live long enough to get Parkinson’s.

Our room in this town was six dollars. Again, not a tourist in sight. My co-dependent self wanted to rush down the street checking into every hotel that lined the river. Some were really nice places. We got the cheapest room on the block, because I let her choose and that’s the way she is. If I suggest we splurge because it’s her birthday she says “save money for the future.”

The next morning we headed home. A four and a half-hour ride, broken up by three stops. I can’t handle driving more than ninety minutes on winding mountain roads. The amazing scenery taunts me to slow down and take more pictures, but my camera battery ran out that morning (a blessing, probably) and that kept me going.


Back to Doi Pui


We just can’t get enough of the little tourist town at the end of the road up Doi Suthep, the mountain just to the west of Chiang Mai. Think of the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado, or Mount Tamalpais outside of Mill Valley, California. It’s a winding road that takes almost an hour from the clogged traffic on Huey Kaew Road up to the sweet pine scented cool mists of Bhubing Palace, then a dip down a potholed and narrow road and again to the top of Doi Phui, the Siamese twin of Doi Suthep.

It’s little tourist trap, but it’s the only source of income this Hmong village has, and the people are delightful. At the end of a steep walk through the village that is lined with shops selling the same trinkets and clothes you can buy anywhere around here, and which is all made in China, you come…

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Nine days in Hanoi

It’s better than I remembered it from a visit five years ago. People are aggressive and money-hungry compared to Thais, but friendly. What an exciting place!  Street life is a thousand times more dynamic than anywhere in the States. Took a two hour train ride to Ninh Binh to get out in the countryside where they have unusual limestone karst formations. Here are a bunch of pictures from the last few days.



Travel is Optional, But Freedom from Fear Isn’t


I’ve been living abroad for about five years now, and spent about a third of the year in various banana republics for a few years half a decade before that. I’ve come to the conclusion that contentment can strike you anywhere, but not under all circumstances. If you’re terrified about money, you won’t find peace of mind anywhere, anytime.

I’m an American economic refugee here in Thailand, living reasonably well in a place that never seems to amaze me with all the interesting options it offers a geezer such as me. Sure, there are plenty of expatriates who have more money than me, but I don’t waste much time envying them. I have enough money as it is. If an opportunity arose to make more, I might consider it, but not at the cost of jeopardizing what I already have.

I rent a large, four bedroom house with a garden for about what a medium…

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A General Lack of Expertise



Now that anyone with the time and interest can command an audience on social media or via blogs, we are faced with an interesting phenomena. Many people who command large audiences don’t know what they’re talking about. I may well be one of them.


When I offer opinions on politics, or engage in ridiculing people I’ve never met, dissing nations I’ve never visited, and continue to spread rumors that I’ve only recently heard or read, I’m probably not making the world a better place. I’m just another noisemaker, a cricket sawing his legs together on a balmy night. But unlike the cricket, I may actually be doing harm by echoing (Facebook calls it “sharing”) the opinions of others.


Some things are true and others aren’t. There may be important differences that are too subtle to be made explicit in a catchy headline or alarming photo. Often, the gap between true and false is small enough so it doesn’t matter a whole lot, but at other times it might make all the difference in the world. It might result in nuclear war.


So maybe sharing my hastily acquired and sloppily reasoned opinions isn’t really a civic duty at all.


What do I really know about Putin or Trump? Israel and Palestine? Iran and Iraq? I met a guy from Syria once. He had me over to his house for tea. Does that make me an expert on Syria?


If  this shocking lack of expertise were confined to me, the problem could be quickly dealt with. Delete my Facebook and YouTube accounts. Erase this blog. But it’s not just about me, and in fact, I’m not even a major player. I’m just an retired guy with too much time on his hands and too many prejudices to be able to claim an open mind.


There is no gatekeeper anymore. Broadcasting has been supplanted by the Internet, and there’s no process for telling fact from fiction. Walter Cronkite was a newsman. I’m not. He had a staff of fact-checkers. I don’t.









Just Another Day in Paradise



I was on my way to a funeral today at the leper colony near my home when I stopped to pick the flowers of Brugmansia, Angel’s Trumpet, a powerful hallucinogen. It contains scopolamine, among other psychoactive chemicals.

The hallucinogenic effects of Brugmansia were described in the journal Pathology as “terrifying rather than pleasurable”.[28] The author Christina Pratt, in An Encyclopedia of Shamanism, says that “Brugmansia induces a powerful trance with violent and unpleasant effects, sickening after effects, and at times temporary insanity”.[19] These hallucinations are often characterized by complete loss of awareness that one is hallucinating, disconnection from reality, and amnesia of the episode, such as one example reported in Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience of a young man who amputated his own penis and tongue after drinking only 1 cup of Brugmansia tea

In 1994 in Florida, 112 people were admitted to hospitals from ingesting Brugmansia.[31] The concentrations of alkaloids in…

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Time to Get Serious


All  this laughing  through tears isn’t going to get our grandchildren a better world in which to live. Some serious bad stuff is going down and somebody somewhere is going to have to take a stand to stop it.

The first step involves naming. It’s not just Fox News or CNN, it’s corporate lying. It’s not just quirky candidates, it’s pathological narcissism and limitless greed. Rather that a little deal, it’s a big mess, and the costs to clean it up will prove staggering.

Serious people used to be valued, at least in certain positions. Now everybody has to be entertaining first and then maybe capable of taking action when conditions are right, but you can’t blame them too harshly because doing the right thing can sometimes be a tough call. In general, there’s a general feeling of impotence and hopelessness that has trickled down from top to bottom. Facts don’t matter as much as beliefs. Judge me on my intentions, not my actions. Cut me some slack!

It’s amazing what some people were able to accomplish back before foolishness and whimsy became a way of life for most public figures. Now everybody’s a comedian and nothing good seems to be coming down the pike. I’d like to believe that we haven’t all turned into characters from a Seth Rogan comedy, but maybe I’m fooling myself.Maybe we really are all self-absorbed dimwits and will get exactly what we deserve.