You are What You Wear

August 1, 2017

When I got to the garden party they all knew my name

But no one recognized me, I didn’t look the same

Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band – Garden Party

Most of us are aware that when we retire our lives change, sometimes drastically. And when we retire to a foreign country, the changes can increase exponentially. Some things that are affected by retiring and especially when moving abroad include the language that we speak, the foods we eat, the amount of alcohol we drink, the health care available to us, our circadian rhythms (including when we eat, when we sleep, when we wake, how much we sleep, when we exercise), the religions that influence us, our social relationships including our sex lives, and how we entertain ourselves and spend our leisure time.

I’ll bet that you never thought that you wouldn’t even “look the same”.

If you are like me you’ll be wearing a whole set of different clothes. You may have a picture in your mind of the northern retirees who have moved down to Florida wearing Bermuda shorts (men) and muumuus (women, and some men too). But a move to the tropics will have a much greater impact. You don’t see those white suits and pith helmets and flowing dresses with bustles and large floppy hats like you see in the old movies about the British Raj anymore. But you will look different. Here is how it affected me.

 

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I got shoes you got shoes all of God’s children’s got shoes

When I get to heaven gonna put on my shoes

I’m gonna walk all over God’s heaven

Since retiring to Thailand I haven’t worn a pair of “real” shoes even once. And the pair of leather shoes I shipped here have since disintegrated into a powder. Leather stuff seems to do that here in the tropics.

A “good” pair of American shoes after a couple of years in Thailand.

The closest I come to wearing real shoes is occasionally putting on a pair of lace-up running shoes. In the house, everyone here walks barefoot. You take off your shoes before entering a person’s house, or a temple, and sometimes even a shop or someone’s office. Look on the floor in front of a shop or office you are about to enter. If there are shoes lined up in front of the door then you should take your shoes off before entering. When visiting a person’s house ignore anyone who says you don’t need to take your shoes off, especially if they themselves aren’t wearing any.

I see Expats who insist on wearing footwear they were formerly accustomed to. They bend down to untie and later to tie their shoe laces a dozen times a day.

 

So, because of all this taking-off-of-the-shoes, very few people here will wear lace-up shoes. I wear sandals (with Velcro straps) when I go out to a place where I might meet someone I know (my formal wear).  More informally, I wear knock off Crocs when I go to the market. (Note: Real Crocs are sold here for about $30. Knock off Crocs sell for about $2.50).  I wear knee-high rubber boots when I work in the garden. The only lace-up shoes I regularly wear are my golf shoes. It’s also the only time I wear socks. (Note: For some reason Thailand has great socks. Three pair for about $2.50; that is if your feet aren’t too big for them. Mine just about make it.)

My suggestion:

When in Rome, wear the same kinds of shoes that everyone else wears.

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Pants on Fire

Before moving here I went shopping for dress pants, bought a number of pairs that fit perfectly and shipped them here. They are now hanging in my closet, the tags still on. And I am afraid that the waists nowhere still fit me after 10 years. But no problem. I haven’t worn a real pair of pants since I retired to Thailand.

What I do wear are these ¾ length pants (150 baht) with elastic waists, and occasionally shorts. Although things are slowly changing, it used to be that no adult Thai males would wear short pants. These were reserved for school boys and not for “men”. Women also did not wear shorts. It is still that way for older Thais and I will bet that you have never seen a 70 year old man (whose club I am proudly a member) wearing shorts, except for Expats.

I also wear sweat pants and some warm up type pants with elastic waists. These look like “real” pants but don’t need belts (which I also haven’t worn in years). These are my “formal” pants.

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Anthropologists would argue that the tie directs a viewer’s attention downwards to the wearer’s genitals (hence the arrow-like shape). A kind of displaced cod-piece.

Linda Ellerbee (US journalist) is quoted as saying: “If men can run the world, why can’t they stop wearing neckties? How intelligent is it to start the day by tying a noose around your neck?”

I did a search on wearing a dress-shirt and tie on Google and there are lots of opinions about where and why this all started. Above are two of my favorites.

Needless to say I haven’t worn a dress-shirt or tie since arriving here. Before coming we packed all our stuff. All our clothes went into boxes, one of which, after more than 10 years here I opened the other day. In it I found a plastic bag full of my old neckties. I used to have to wear them to work. BTW, I never (unlike a red-tie-wearer we all know) let the tie drop below my belt. Sad!.

I used to be so proud of my ability to tie a perfect Windsor Knot. I think I have lost that ability. But at least I now never have a noose around my neck.

Note: I do own a short-sleeve black dress-shirt. One thing that increases with age is the number of funerals I go to. Sadly, this shirt is getting a lot of wear.

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Long Sleeves and Jackets

Although Chiang Mai gets nice and cool in the winter there is rarely much of an opportunity to wear sweaters and jackets. Except that they are on sale just about everywhere. Why is that?

I’ll explain that using a scientific study I once carried out.

I stood on a street corner on a hot afternoon watching the traffic roll by. I counted the number of motorcycles that passed by noting how many riders were wearing long sleeves (shirts, jackets, and sweaters). The results: 95 Thai motorcyclists out of 100 who passed me by on that day were wearing long sleeves. Zero Exapts who drove by were wearing long sleeves.

Why the long sleeves? Well, besides the sun being really hot beating down on bare arms, Thais don’t like dark skin and will do what they can to protect themselves from getting tanned (Just check out the number of TV commercials for whitening cosmetics.) But Expats might consider using long sleeves while riding motorcycles for a more serious reason.

I know a number of my Expat friends who have had to deal with skin cancer here. Usually it is of the non malignant type but they still need to deal with these in a drastic manner. Each has had chunks of tissue cut out from their nose, face, hands and arms.

A helmet will protect you from the sun too, among other reasons for wearing one.

My suggestion:

When in Rome, wear long sleeves when everyone around you is wearing long sleeves.

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I should note that Thais occasionally do wear dress pants and shirts and ties and even leather shoes. And there is a bit of history that goes along with this.

Many years ago, along with the first of the Thai constitutions, came a movement to modernize Thai society. This is when the spoon and fork came into popular use, as opposed to simply eating with the fingers (still in vogue in the north and northeast though). Note: chopsticks are Chinese and used mainly with noodle dishes (Chinese) served in a bowl. No Thai would use chopsticks for anything served on a plate unless they were food in little easy-to-pick-up pieces.

People, especially government workers, were required to wear shoes too. When I first came to Thailand I often encountered people, usually villagers, who still walked barefoot. But the flip-flop changed all that. The flip-flop, or thong, may have been one of the most important inventions that have influenced the health of the world’s population (Diseases from going barefoot.) Today I almost never see bare feet except inside the house.

And in Chiang Mai, where ladies going topless was once acceptable, a la the famous topless Balinese at that time (which I was lucky to have encountered), I sometimes came across an older grandma who, on a stifling hot season day, had shed her upper garments (but by that time the younger ladies had made the change to modernity).

Other moves to modernity were the wearing of hats, suits, and ties, and the refraining from chewing beetle-nut.

BTW, It is obvious that women going topless today is severely frowned upon. What isn’t so obvious, especially to Expat men, is that men going topless is also a no-no. Except for an occasional laborer or a farmer out in the field, (and someone on the beach) you will probably not see a Thai male going topless. As for Expats, although it is sometimes difficult to endure, you will see this often.

BTW-2, Expat woman have their own way of dressing, but I try to follow one of the major rules to being a writer: “Write what you know about.” I am only 71 and been married for only 46 years, so I haven’t been around long enough to learn much about women. I will leave the descriptions of how they deal with retirement in the tropics to people who know more than I.

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Today I am sitting here at my computer, writing this post barefoot, wearing a tee shirt and 3/4 pants with an elastic waist, possibly unrecognizable to my friends back in the U.S. but as comfortable as I can be.

My suggestion:

When in Rome, if you’re retired and old enough not to care what anyone thinks of you, wear whatever makes you feel good.

Beware the Jabberwock

July 1, 2017

One of the first articles I ever wrote was titled “Cobras in My Garden” (Bangkok Post, circa 1980). I told the story about finding a couple of monocled and venomous slithery friends who had invaded my garden. They didn’t fare very well after an encounter with my garden hoe though. I had chopped one in half (a big no-no I later found out), the head flying off into the bushes. The whole neighborhood screamed at me for being such a fool. About a half hour later their fury was corroborated when the head part, with its fangs flaring and cobra viscera trailing, and still very dangerous, came wiggling out of the shrubbery.

And ever since then I have had to answer the question about how dangerous snakes are in Thailand; the latest being an email telling me that a perspective female retiree to Thailand had decided not to migrate here because she was afraid of the snakes.

Personally, I love snakes. Maybe because of that I see snakes often. Most are harmless and non-venomous. Some are dangerous but sadly all snakes usually run away from me as fast as they can. In fifty years here I have never heard of anyone I know being bitten by either a venomous or non-venomous snake. So are snakes a reason for not coming here? I think my emailer is making a mistake.

Yes, you should be careful if you see a snake although most will be harmless. But there are lots of other things lurking here that, on the danger scale, rank much higher than the 200 or so species of snakes.

Before I get into things to “beware” of, I should emphasize that none of the following “Jaberrwocks” would stop me from a move here.

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The tiny danger

The most dangerous animal in Thailand (besides humans that is) is not a snake, or a tiger, or a water buffalo in heat, or a rampaging elephant. All are dangerous, but nowhere near as dangerous as the tiny mosquito.

Dengue fever is a real threat, although for adults it is usually not life threatening. I’ve had it. Painful as hell, worse headache I ever had, 104 temp, lasted about 4 days, but I am still here. It wasn’t much more of a bother for me than a trip to Immigration. Others have had more severe cases.

Children can be hit hard by dengue and recently one of Thailand’s biggest movie stars caught a lethal strain, ended up in a coma and later died. This was a big deal here not only because of the victim being a celebrity but because it is so rare for an adult to die from dengue.

Mosquitoes also carry the much rarer Japanese encephalitis. As the name implies, it attacks the victim’s brain. There is a vaccine for it but unless you are living way out in the boondocks you won’t probably ever see this. It is also known as “sleeping sickness” because many children who get it lapse into a coma which they rarely come out of. I know of only one Expat who contracted Japanese encephalitis. He lived way upcountry and he later had severe psychological issues due to it. Since the Japanese encephalitis mosquito’s life-cycle includes time spent in a pig, if you don’t live near or around pigs then you’ll probably be fine.

And of course there is malaria. I haven’t heard of malaria up here in the north. There is some down in the south though but I have never met an Expat who caught malaria here in Thailand. If a reader knows of someone please let us know, and tell us the story. There are malaria pills but I don’t know anyone here who takes them. It just isn’t a problem that concerns most Expats.

So what does one do about mosquitoes? Screens on your house would be a good idea. I lived in a non-screened house for about 3 years and slept under a mosquito net (When I wasn’t sleeping under a net was when I caught dengue even though the dengue mosquito is most active in the daytime.) There are many insect repellents available here. The best ones use “deet”. Mosquitoes are definitely “repelled” by it, but many people have side effects using it so be careful. There are also mosquito coils which you burn and do keep the little buggers away. But I don’t like breathing in the fumes.

There are also lots of other little buggers that hang around trying to eat us. If you get a scratch or a scrape or break the skin in any way, be sure to quickly wash it out with soap and water and use an antiseptic. You may not be able to see these bacteria but you are now in the tropics and they will find you. A friend of mine almost lost a leg when he got a simple scratch which got infected and it took some serious antibiotics and weeks walking with a cane before the infection was gotten under control.

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They’ll eat you out of house and home

Probably the most destructive insects here are the termites. If you have any wood in your house, even door frames, or book cases, or books for that matter, they will find them, and eat them. They won’t physically hurt you but your bank account might get eaten away after paying for house repairs. I have some climate-change-activist friends who tell me that if we don’t stop the destroying of our environment immediately then our species doesn’t have much longer to live on this planet. I hope they are wrong, but if that is the case, then I think the termite will be crowned the new “King of the World”.

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There are lots more biters and stingers here who can make life painful and itchy. I’ll just mention the ones I have encountered personally.

 

The stingers

There are many species of bees in Thailand. The jungle produces lots of illegal honey (which sometimes finds its way into our kitchen), and bee keepers produce a good quality legal kind. We once had a hive of tiny bees living inside the walls of our house. They entered and exited the hive from the outside so we weren’t concerned. Their stings are only bothersome unless you are allergic.

It’s the wasps and hornets that can knock you out with their stings and there is a buzzing, hairy bumble bee whose sting feels like a gun shot. Avoid these guys if you can.

Scorpions are just about everywhere. You’ll often see the large black ones, sometimes frying in a wok in the market as they are considered a delicacy. They are huge and look like black lobsters, but their sting is more or less just a bit of a bother. It is the little red ones that give the big stings. Just turn on the lights, as scorpions are usually photo-phobic, and, like New York roaches, they’ll scurry away.

I can’t fail to mention the one time I was walking through my garden and my arm brushed along the underside of a leaf. POW! I thought I had been bitten by a cobra the pain was so intense. I turned over the leaf and there was this hairy caterpillar looking up and smiling at me. It took hours for the pain to go away. Moral of the story, if it is hairy, stay away.

The biters

You will get bitten by ants, that’s for sure. Little black ones hurt, the big red weaver ants, the ones that make those cool woven nests and whose eggs and larvae are so tasty, can give a painful bite. But it is those tiny red ones, the ones that the Thais call “mot khan fai”, the “ants that itch and burn” that can really hurt.

After a heavy rain ants sometimes like to move house. One rainy season morning I went downstairs, eyes still closed, and stepped right into a moving parade of the “itchy burning ants” going right across my living room floor. They flew up my leg and started biting. I looked down and saw what was happening but it was too late. There was so much pain I thought I was going into cardiac arrest. After getting all the ants off my leg my heart was still racing, my leg felt like it was being cut off, and if I wasn’t flat on my back, and if I had a phone, I would have called 911 (nothing would have happened anyway because emergency here is 191). I survived though, and ever since then, no matter how sleepy I am, I open my eyes wide before going downstairs.

Other biters are centipedes, the big long 8” variety that can put you into the ER (Note: Those huge millipedes are harmless and are in fact good for the garden.); during the rains there are tick invasions, especially in houses with dogs; leeches you’ll discover on your jungle trekking experience; and there are little bugs you can’t even see, like scabies. I caught scabies once in a hill tribe village. Little red dots on the skin, the insect is microscopic, that itched like crazy. Made me feel dirty. If I got them in one night in the village what must it be like for the villagers?

But the bites you want to avoid are from our best friends, dogs. Rabies is endemic to Thailand and a large percentage of the dogs here go unvaccinated and are prone to this virus. If you are bitten or simply scratched by a strange dog then to the doctor you must go and you will probably be in for a series of the rabies vaccine. It is a series of shots over a number of days. They are costly and chances are you wouldn’t even have needed them, but peace of mind sometimes costs a bit. To paraphrase Cercei Lannester, the Mad Queen in Game of Thrones, “If you play the game of rabies, either you get vaccinated, or you die.”

Note on soi dogs or dogs you meet on your walks or runs. They will sound really aggressive but they are just doing what dogs do, protecting their territory. Some people carry sticks or stones with them. That just makes the dogs angrier. Here is what I do. When I pass by a yapping pack of soi dogs, I just stop, arms hanging low, palms out, non-aggressive, and I speak sweetly to them and say, “Please let me pass. I know this is your territory and I promise I won’t do anything to mess it up.” And they quite down, sniff my palms, and then let me go on my way. Amazingly this works almost every time, and I have never been bitten.

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So you like it raw?

Do you like sushi and sashimi, raw fish? Live tiny shrimp, still wiggling are favored by many beer drinkers. Lots of people here will eat raw meats including pork. I suggest you go onto YouTube and search for “intestinal parasites pictures”. I would normally put the link here but the sites are not for kids or the squeamish so I’ll let you do it for yourself if you can take it. After seeing them, tell me you still want that nice raw salmon or tuna.

But not to worry. If you cook your foods well and unless you are extremely careless about what you eat, get really drunk often and don’t know what you are eating, or are just addicted to Japanese sashimi, you’ll probably never get a picture of your intestines posted on YouTube. Many old-timers here will do a series of deworming pills once a year as a prophylactic (ask you pharmacist), just as you would for your dog or cat. I used to, but now that I am more careful about what I eat I don’t see the need.

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In Nature, it is always a war. Either something (big or small) is trying to eat you, or something is afraid you are trying to eat it and will throw up protection. Because Thailand is in the tropics, is hot, and damp most of the year, and is blessed with so many and varying species of plants and animals, we tend to come into contact with these battles more than if we lived in the more moderate regions of the world (although if my climate-change-activist friends are correct then every place may soon become tropical).

But is that a reason to avoid a retirement here in Thailand? I mean, America has black widow spiders, alligators, rattle snakes, gila monsters, the zika virus, lime disease, its own share of parasites, the Kardashians, Chipolte, and now the U.S. even has dengue fever. I might be afraid of moving THERE.

For some, maybe there are good reasons for avoiding Thailand and the tropics; they simply want to avoid the Jabberwocks. For others, Jabberwocks just make life a little more interesting, and that is one of the reasons I love it here.

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If you see a snake and want to ID it, first stay back, and then this link might help.

See an insect you might want to identify? Here’s a link.

Deet and other mosquito repellents.

I’ve written about health care here in Thailand a number of times before, but since this topic is in the forefront of the news back home I thought maybe an update might prove useful. Also, I just had a physical checkup so it is pretty fresh in my mind.

I know I am supposed to get an “Annual Checkup” annually, but it has been about 4 years since my last one. Since my birthday is this month Pikun thought that we should begin doing this annual thing on a yearly basis, and when would it be easier to remember than on my birthday?

We still go to Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, although there are now other hospitals in Chiang Mai that are Expat-centered. We went to the old reception desk and said we wanted to get complete physical checkups and were told we had to go to the new building about 100 meters up the block. Not to worry, they have a shuttle service. It turns out that they have a brand new, spotless and modern, complex with one building just for “Checkups” as the sign in front says.

Since one cannot eat before getting certain blood tests we go as early as possible and reach the Checkup Center at 7 am, which just happens to be their opening time. I bring my book to read (The Handmaids Tale) since there is usually lots of waiting time at hospitals. I can tell you now, so that you can get a feel of what the service there is like, that I did not get to read more than 1 ½ pages during the whole waiting time.

A doctor first takes a history. We have been going to Chiang Mai Ram for years so they have our records but they still ask, which I think is a good policy. I see the same friendly doctor I saw 10 years ago, and she remembers me. We speak in Thai although I know she is fluent in English.

Aside: All the Chiang Mai Ram doctors’ English was quite good but not that of the nurses. The nurses did speak English but haltingly. But none of the Expats I observed seem to have any problems with that.

The next step is to meet with a nurse and decide what procedures we want to have. There is a list of recommended tests but we could choose not to have certain ones. I eliminate the x-ray and the ultrasound and since I get a PSA and urology exam every 6 months I drop that one too. Besides the normal blood pressure, Body Mass Index (BMI) and weight checks, I get a bunch of blood tests (including red and white blood cell counts, platelets. glucose, uric acid, liver and thyroid function, testosterone, and cholesterol, and a few others that I have no idea about). I also select an EKG, and an Ankle Brachial Index (ABI) which test for any blood vessel blockages.

My test for whether a health center knows what they are doing is to see how good the nurse is who takes my blood. Since my arm veins are a bit deep they are often hard to get at. My nurse gets an “A”. Got the vein in one shot.

After the blood test they give you a coupon for a snack since they know we are all going to be hungry. I get some juice and a tuna fish sandwich.

Everything was finished by 9:15. We are told to come back at 1 pm for our results and to talk to the doctor.

But I have another problem. Lately I have had some shoulder pain and wondered if I could see an orthopedist. Maybe I could get an appointment for some time within the next month (good luck with seeing a specialist that quickly back home). The nurse made a call and then said, “This man will take you (in a golf cart) back to the main building where you can see an orthopedist. He (the orthopedist) is waiting for you now.” By 9:30 I was in the orthopedist’s office.

The orthopedist found that I have a slight case of impingement syndrome and some easy exercises and Tylenol will fix it right up. He takes out a number of pictures of shoulders and shows me exactly why I am having pain. I check it out on the Internet and they had similar diagrams and they recommended a bunch of diagnostic test for impingement syndrome. My doctor, it turns out, did every one of them. So I was very pleased with him.

It is early now so we go to the nearby Kat Suan Kaew shopping mall to do some shopping and get some food and maybe I could even read a few pages of my book. I also went to Dairy Queen and had a Chocolate Blizzard (important information; see below).

At 12:30 we go back to the Checkup Center thinking we would be a half hour early so I could maybe even get a whole chapter finished. As soon as we walk in they said the doctor would see us right then.

Results: Pikun’s got a slightly high blood sugar count, and my cholesterol is a bit high too. The doctor said to cut down on chicken skin and pork fat and ice cream. “But those are my 3 most important food groups.” I said hoping to elicit a smile. No smile. So I tell her I would be a good boy and I would see her in one year, slim and svelte and with a lowered cholesterol level. Pikun will cut down on carbs.

That’s it. We’re as healthy as teenagers.

Oh! I forgot that we are both way overweight, I with an embarrassingly high BMI.

So it is diet time for us and Dairy Queen will not be seeing any money from me for a while.

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Just a thought: Americans are wont to say that they have “The best health care in the world.” True or not, if one can’t afford to get the care, then it makes no difference. May sanity prevail back home and allow everyone to be able to afford to partake of that great care. Maybe that won’t make us “great again” but it would at least put us on a par with every other developed nation in the world, as well as with Thailand and the very good health care available to us here.

How much did my hospital bill come to?

Checkup cost: $100.59

Orthopedist cost: $17.63

The tuna fish sandwich: Free

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Love to you all on my birthday. May you be healthy and happy and don’t forget those “annual” checkups.

Birthday present 2017

 

And you just had some kind of mushroom

And your mind is moving low

Go ask Alice

I think she’ll know

The White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane

Thailand is a good place for mushroom lovers. Normally when we think of mushrooms we think of the edible kind. My two favorites are the shiitake, in Thai called “black mushrooms”, a basic ingredient of lots of Chinese stir fries and soups, and the wonderful rice-straw mushrooms (also called paddy-straw mushrooms), named for the rice straw they are grown in. These are often found in the Thai restaurant favorite “tum yum” soup.

Shiitaki Mushrooms

Rice-Straw Mushrooms

I remember way back in the 60s, during Chinese New Year’s dinners at our house in New York, the feast’s show-stopper would be that plate of shiitake mushrooms cooked in oyster sauce. Shiitakes were a delicacy and we would have it only once a year because back then, pre Nixon’s visit to China,  there was an embargo against Communist Chinese products into the U.S. They had to be smuggled in from Canada and were very expensive, but they were worth the price and the wait. Even today, when they are cultivated almost everywhere, I still consider them a special treat.

The first time I encountered rice-straw mushrooms was my first or second day in country. I thought I had found a heavenly food. My wife Pikun tells me not to order them when we are out at a restaurant now because they are getting expensive and we can make them so much cheaper at home. But I still order “tum yum het” (mushroom tum yum) just about any time I can.

Lately Thailand cultivates lots of other mushrooms. The oyster mushrooms are popular as are those little Japanese ones, enokitake, we find in soups. And every rainy season the hunters and gatherers, of which there are still a few left, go up into the mountains and return with baskets full of wild mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Next time you are driving from Chiang Mai to Lampang (on the way to Bangkok maybe) there is a market at about the 50K mark from CM. You’ll find all kinds of “forest” foods there, bugs and birds, and creepy crawlies, along with lots of mushrooms you’ve never seen before.

For our more adventurous friends, there are the buffalo-shit mushroom (it’s where they grow). Also called cow-dung mushrooms but probably best known as “magic mushrooms” or “psilocybin”.  I think this is the kind that Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane are singing about (check out the link to “White Rabbit” above).  They are technically toadstools, or poisonous, and it has been a long time since I have been that adventurous, but I do have fond memories of drinking “sky juice”, psilocybin tea, on the island of Jamaica and encountering ”kaleidoscopes” when I closed my eyes.

Our experiment in raising Oyster Mushrooms

Enokitake Mushrooms

Magic Mushrooms growing in buffalo dung

But now, since the latest visit from my son Darin, I am  getting familiar with medicinal mushrooms, popular where Darin lives, and also becoming quite popular here in Thailand, although the Chinese have known about their healthful properties for centuries.  Darin lives on Orcas Island, in Washington State up near the Canadian border in the great Pacific Northwest, aka The “Left Coast”. And there is nothing more “left”, both geographically as well as culturally, as Orcas Island and btw, it is also one of the more beautiful and enchanted places in America, where live more deer and rabbits than people, and where Dungeness crabs and Pacific salmon, and orcas, and whales, and elephant seals, and the huge Stellar Sea lions, and giant octopi, make the waters around Orcas Island a living soup.

Darin and Pikun going out crabbing

Deer population on Orcas Island

The catch

But, as usual, I digress.

I now am learning about reishi, cordycep, and monkey-head mushrooms, as well as jiaokulan, and stevia leaves, all now cultivated in Thailand.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) 

Reishi from a tree trunk in our backyard

Reishi mushrooms have been a staple in the traditional Chinese pharmacology for centuries. They are wood mushrooms that grow on the bases of trees and fallen logs. They are hard like wood and inedible although they can be boiled down and the bitter tea made from them can be drunk.

Formerly they were quite expensive but the price has fallen since the Thais have learned to cultivate them. I have visited a number of reishi farms and research centers in northern Thailand and the hilltribes are raising them and selling them to distributors in Chiang Mai.  I get my reishis from the Kings Project markets.

Modern studies on reishi’s effects on our health have been carried out in Japan, China, USA, and the UK.

Health claims for reishis include enhanced immune systems, anti-tumor effects, improved liver function, and lowered blood pressure. Also, reishis are thought to alleviate common allergies by inhibiting histamine release. And of course ingesting them will lead to a longer life, or so it is said.

No side effects have been noted in long-time use of reishis.

Reishis have become a big hit in Thailand and are considered a life lengthener by those who imbibe. They are referred to by the Thai rendering of their Chinese name. In Thai they are called “het lin jeur”, reishi being their Japanese name.

Corteceps (Cordyceps militaris)  

Cordyceps. The caterpillar, or what’s left of it, is under the ground.

Cordyceps, aka caterpillar mushrooms, have a very peculiar life cycle. All the things we call mushrooms are really only the flowering part of the organism. The real stuff of mushrooms is called the mycelium. The mycelium usually live underground in long strands looking very similar to a nerve bundle. When it is time to reproduce they send out their “mushrooms” which will open up and spread their spores.

A spore of the cordyceps will find its way on to a caterpillar, embed itself, and the mycelium will start to grow inside the little caterpillar host. It eventually kills the host and a mushroom will sprout from its desiccated body, usually the head.

It may sound creepy but these medicinal mushrooms are hunted in northern China and Tibet and can fetch big bucks. Since the 14 hundreds they have been a part of Chinese medicine.

They reportedly have anti-cancer properties, improve renal function, reduce cholesterol levels, increase energy and testosterone levels but are mainly prized for their aphrodisiac potential (energy). There are even claims that they increase a woman’s libido. I take them of course because they reportedly just make you feel “well”; believe me.

The big drawback to cordyceps is their price, as much as hundreds of dollars an ounce. So for years people have been trying to cultivate these, and they finally they have been successful. I visited the Chiang Mai University mushroom labs and saw their products growing under glass; no caterpillars were harmed in the YouTube video linked to above.

Although the specific species that is cultivated is different from the expensive ones collected on the Tibetan plateau, it is still believed that they have beneficial effects on our health. And the cultivated ones, although a bit pricey, costs way less than their “wild” counterparts.

 

Monkey head aka Lion’s mane aka  Yamabushitake (Hericium Erinaceus)

The Lion’s Mane Mushroom, aka Monkey Head

I don’t take these regularly. You can find them in many markets, sold for food, and they are used in soups, and are also sold as a dietary supplement in capsule form. I have included them here because I really like the name, Monkey Head. But they are supposed to have real medicinal qualities like enhanced memory, nerve growth, and longevity and may someday be used in treating Alzheimer’s.

 

Jiaokulan

A leafy plant originally from China, aka Fairy Herb, Southern Ginseng. Claims about Jiaokulan are that it lowers cholesterol, and blood pressure and improves heart function. It is supposed to be an anti-aging agent, an antioxidant, and is a detoxifying agent. Supposedly it also improves memory and prevents hair loss. If the last is true then I’d buy stock right now.

Jiaokulan leaves can be bought at many large markets and are now sold in tea bags.

 

Stevia

I have a bit of trouble with artificial sweeten drinks, especially those that use aspertame. I don’t know if aspertame causes any health problems but when I have used it it has made me feel lousy. And there is that terrible aftertaste. So I have avoided artificial sweeteners.

Stevia is not artificial, it is as sweet as sugar, and there is no aftertaste. Stevia is also sold in markets in Thailand.

*****

With my son’s encouragement I have been using some of these medicinal herbs and mushrooms. I don’t know if they have had an effect on my longevity, but I’m not dead yet so, Maybe.

My morning mushroom concoction (Life Juice)

  1. I cut up about 10 pieces of dried reishi mushrooms into a large pot. Bring it to a boil and then turn it down to simmer for about 3 hours.
  2. After about 3 hours I put in the jiaokulan leaves. I currently use the kind that are in tea bags of which I use 4.
  3. The reishi mushroom tea is quite bitter so after I turn the heat off I add stevia leaves. Normally stevia sweetens the drink but because of the bitterness of the reishi it balances everything out to neutral so it isn’t really sweet but the bitterness is gone.
  4. I strain this concoction into a large bottle which I refrigerate; enough life juice for a week or so.
  5. Each morning I take a large cup, squeeze half a lemon into it and a pinch of cordycep mushrooms with a regular tea bag. Green tea or herbal teas work just as well.  I fill the cup up halfway with boiling water.
  6. When the tea is brewed I take the reishi life juice and add it to fill the cup to the top.
  7. I drink this every morning and if all the literature is right I will be writing this blog for another 50 years.

To learn more about mushrooms (fungi) and how they can save the world you can watch Paul Stamet’s TED Talk here.

 

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