October 16, 2016
I want to express my deep condolences to the good people of Thailand for the passing of His Majesty King Rama IX.
In his honor, I thought I would recall the two times I got within arm’s length of His Majesty. You might wonder, but these are true stories.
The first time we “met” was by pure accident. Pikun and I were married on Loy Krathong Day 1971. But we were in the middle of a teaching semester and had no time to take off. So we planned on a “honeymoon” around the New Years, 1972.
I had a friend who did a lot of upcountry travel at the time and he had just visited a Lisu hill tribe village way up north on the Kok River, near the Burmese border. At the time the Kok River was quite isolated and one had to go way off the beaten trail to find it. Today it is smack-dab in the middle of Tourist County and the river is now a tourist highway for leisurely rafting trips. Not so back then. It was considered a “wild river”.
My backcountry friend knew we were planning a trip to that area so he gave us a picture of the headmaster of a tribal school in a village he had just visited (photographs were hard to come by then and were prized possessions). He said to give the headmaster this picture and he would probably feed us and let us stay in the village and sleep on the school floor overnight. Our honeymoon wasn’t going to be Paradise Island, but it was to be one we would never forget.
The Lisu village was on the Kok River. You had to take a long tailed canoe taxi a couple of hours down the river from the town of Fang. It was New Year’s Day by the time we got there. It was a steep climb from the river to the village and along the way we encountered some very strange goings on. Every few feet along the climb were heavily armed Thai military, M16s at the ready. We didn’t say anything right away. Quite often during those days bandits roamed this area so we thought maybe this was the soldiers’ station. But it soon became apparent that this was more than that.
As we reached the top of the climb, in view of the school building, I noticed that the whole village was out on the school playground. They were dressed in their most beautiful traditional clothes and they were all at attention. I had a feeling this wasn’t in our honor, although that would have been pretty cool. It turned out to be even cooler than that.
I turned to the last soldier on the trail, “Excuse me sir. Is there anything special going on here?” “You don’t know?” he asked surprised. “His Majesty is visiting the village today. It is New Years and every New Years the Royal Family visits the tribal villages and gives out gifts to the people.”
Just then we heard the beat of chopper blades and looked up to see two helicopters descending onto an open flat area. Within a minute or two of landing, out came the King, the Queen and all the whole Royal Family, accompanied by a load of military brass. As I looked around I noticed that Pikun and I were the only people there who weren’t either villagers, military, or part of the Royal Family. And I was secretly hoping we were not going to be arrested.
As we were shaking in our hiking boots, the Royal Family casually walked within a foot or two of us, over to the waiting villages to hand out their gifts. The King was wearing a military uniform as was the Crown Prince. Queen Sirikit was wearing a big floppy hat and looked as beautiful as a queen in a fairy story. Pikun and I were both left breathless.
After a few minutes greeting the beautifully clad Lisu tribesmen, the Royal Family came back the same way, boarded the choppers and flew off to the next village, never knowing how they had helped us to celebrate our wedding and had given us a honeymoon story like no other.
Our second encounter was a bit more formal. Later that year Queen Elizabeth, Prince Phillip, and Prince Charles came to visit Thailand and they planned on staying at the royal Phu Phing Palace on Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep. That meant that the whole city would turn out to greet them. Every school would wait along the Royal procession. We were all given British and Thai flags, placed along the road and waited.
Down the road they came, slowly, the King’s very famous Yellow Royals Royce leading the way. As they drove down the road they were greeted by our shouting, flag waving students There was Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip of Great Britain sitting alongside their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand. And Queen Elizabeth was doing her patented Royal wave. We of course all waved back. The motorcade made a turn and went to the recently completed Huay Kaew Road and up the mountain to the royal palace.
As a side note, the day before the Royal motorcade, Pikun and I had taken a motorcycle trip up the Mae Saa Valley. We almost literally bumped into a pack of about 50 elephants. They were all in a field and doing all sorts of elephant tricks, playing football, pulling logs, playing music. Lots of stuff they do for tourists now, but rarely ever seen back then.
It turns out that we had come across a dress rehearsal of the elephant show that was to be given especially in honor of the British Royal Family the next day. According to The Telegraph report at the time: (Queen Elizabeth saw) elephant logging in Chiang Mai. A sacred elephant she was due to feed ‘sat on a police car in a fit of temper, and was sent back to the zoo’. I am sorry I didn’t get to see that.
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was on the Thai throne as long as I have been on this planet, 70 years. No one did more for his country, and no one was loved more.
October 6, 2016
It’s been a while since I have sat down and did some writing. Maybe it is “writer’s block”. But probably not, since I have written lots of stuff on Facebook – mostly about the election campaign shenanigans going on back in my home country. Which brings me to the reasons I have been too occupied to write about a retired life here in Thailand.
- It’s the rainy season. And when it rains that means lots of tree trimming and weed pulling. In Thailand a gardener doesn’t need to encourage things to grow, they have to cut things back so they won’t take over the garden.
- My addiction to politics. I can’t seem to pull myself away from Facebook, YouTube, et.al. And when I hear about ridiculous stuff politicians say I can’t help but comment. One more month and I will have to go cold turkey.
- The NFL is playing – and what’s more, the Seattle Seahawks have a really good team this year. But to watch a Sunday afternoon game I need to get up at 3am Monday. Mondays are not good days for me.
So because of these obstacles I haven’t been near MS Word for a while but there isn’t a presidential debate today, and the Seahawks don’t play this week, and most of the alien trees have been chopped down and I have a bit of time today. I thought I might share how I connect up to watching the debates live and news shows live, and the NFL live, since most of these aren’t on Thai TV (although for some reason the first debate was telecast, and they always seem to get the Super Bowl, with Thai announcers though).
Some of this may have appeared in earlier posts but no harm in updating and repeating.
Downloading TV shows and movies
In a post in Oct 2011 “Keeping Up With Popular Culture While Living in Thailand ” I covered how I download “torrents” from the Internet. You’ll also see what I was watching on TV 5 years ago. Some good stuff that’s gone now.
Some of the sites I used are now closed and new ones have opened. If you are interested in downloading TV shows, sports, and movies, as well as music, and eBooks (all illegal and we don’t suggest that you would ever do anything illegal) do a Google search on “download torrents” and find out what is presently available.
(Mostly American centered news, maybe some people from other countries can tell us what they do)
CBSN – Live programming and podcasts. They have televised all the debates live.
MSNBC – Some live programming but many podcasts of their regular shows.
Fox – For people interested in real news this is not recommended.
Reuters News – Very good 15 minute news summaries.
Democracy Now – Very good left leaning news and commentary.
CNBC – Economic and Wall Street news.
Ajazeera – Contrary to what you might think, a very good news site. Used to have live TV but have changed recently to written news.
BBC World Service – Podcast updated twice daily
National Public Radio – Morning Edition, and weekend editions, and more.
Diane Rehm Show – Probably the best interview show ever.
You can also do a Google search on your own favorite radio stations from back home and most of them now will steam their shows in the Internet.
You can download torrents of all sporting events (not quite legal of course). But then you will be a day or 2 late. I used to do this and had to avoid reading the news, especially the sports for 2 or 3 days so I wouldn’t know the results ahead of time. That didn’t work too well. Now I have a new way to do it and I watch sporting events live.
I know some people who pay the NFL to get live streaming. A friend visiting from the U.S. just told me he pays $99 a year and can see all the games, and replay them anytime. I don’t know if it is available in Thailand, but you can check out NFL Game Pass for availability
Betting sites will have live sports feeds where odds are displayed, and one can bet on results. I don’t gamble but I go to the sites to watch just about any sporting event live. Do a search on “vipbox” and see what you come up with. You’ll have to deal with lots of popups and ads but once you get the hang of it It will be fine. I have not had any problems with viruses or Trojan horses (yet).
Then there is always YouTube.com for just about everything. Sometimes a debate or sporting show will be available within minutes. It is also where I see The Daily Show, Seth Myers, The Late Show, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. These are shows where I and lots of Americans, get their news fix for the day.
August 10, 2016
When the rain came I thought you’d leave
cause I knew how much you loved the sun
– Rod Steward, Mandolin wind
It starts around 3:30 pm with the buildup of clouds over Doi Suthep in the west. The puffy cumulous clouds shoot up thousands of feet, turning dark with the promise of a daily afternoon rain. The last two rainy seasons have been anything but rainy. One or two hard rains in all that time, when normally the downpours are daily. The reservoirs are the lowest they’ve been in 50 years, when normally they are overflowing at this time. The rice fields struggle to produce one good crop when some years there are three.
Today the clouds build and build and darken, but then they begin to dissipate and like in those National Geographics movies of the Serengeti that are still popular on Animal Planet, we gazelles and wildebeests stare up at the clouds wondering if this year the rains will come again.
The rains bring big changes in our lifestyles here. Gone are the smoggy days of March and April, gone are the 40ͦ C days of the hot season. Now the mornings are glorious. The temperatures, perfect. The other day at the golf course, looking up at the beautiful cloud formations over the mountains, I thought, if I am a really good boy in this life, and I get to heaven, this is what the weather will be like.
But there is another side to the rainy season.
Since the rains begin in mid-afternoon they are sure to catch us all as we head home from work or school, right during the evening rush hour. Now we aren’t talking about a Seattle-type rain where you have to put out your hand palm up and still wonder if it is raining. It isn’t even like taking a shower-type rain. It is more like a bucket being poured over your head-type rain. And when it happens as you are riding your motorcycle home, it could be a bit of an inconvenience.
For some reason, motorcyclists tend to speed up as the rain pours down. Maybe they are thinking that if they get home faster they won’t get so wet. That never works. I always pull over, look for a shop awning and just wait out the storm. The downpour usually lasts only an hour or so. I’m retired. I have no appointments to keep.
Highway underpasses are popular places to stop and keep dry – but they are dark and cars speeding home during the downpour sometimes don’t see them, often with dire consequences. Roads outside of town get covered with flowing water. I once thought I was going over a mere puddle where the water had overflowed the rice field on my right and was emptying into the one on the left. When the water flowed over my spark plug and my engine stalled I had visions of being washed away, my body being found in a distant rice field. Luckily I was able to walk the bike out of the flood. Now that I am older I realize that relying on luck in a flood like that is not a great game-plan.
Houses get washed away, animals die. One night a few rainy season ago we lost our entire flock of ducks who were in an enclosed pen by the side of our stream when, after a huge downpour, a flash flood came by. It rose to more than 3 meters above normal and as incongruous as it may sound, all our ducks drowned. My heart is out to the people whose homes get treated in the same way during rainy season floods.
For those who don’t get along too well with creepy crawlies, the rainy season will be a bit more challenging. This is when the insects proliferate, especially the ants. Ants look for a place to get out from the flooded ground, and what better place than right in our homes. Currently, I have counted 6 different ant species living in our kitchen. And of course there are those biting red weaver ants who live in the tree right outside my kitchen door.
Much more dangerous are the mosquitoes and the diseases they bring. The rainy season is the time for dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis, aka “sleeping sickness”. Both are often lethal especially to younger children. Insect repellent is probably a good investment at this time.
Snakes like the cool of the rainy season. We have had egg-eating snakes that have spoiled my breakfast omelets many a rainy season morning. They steal my bantam chicken eggs and swallow them whole by unhinging their jaws. Later, after cracking the egg inside their bodies, they regurgitate the whole crushed shell in one piece. I found a 2 meter long black egg-eater in my tool shed once. It jumped up and ran between my legs and headed straight for the canal, being quite familiar with our back yard. Some species of egg-eating snakes are toothless, the better to swallow those eggs. I’m hoping that this was one of them.
Then there is that 3 meter python that lives in the canal. I really want to catch him, revenge for our ducks and chickens that have gone missing. But then again, 3 meters? Maybe I don’t want to catch him after all.
I write these blog posts in my head. Then when I get to my computer, the words just pour right out. I am now writing this post in my head as I drive my 125cc Honda Dream home from an afternoon at the U.S. Consulate here in Chiang Mai. I usually avoid driving in the afternoons but couldn’t avoid it today.
Those clouds that were earlier dissipating over Doi Suthep are beginning to darken again. I can feel in my sinuses the barometric pressure building. We gazelles and wildebeests look up expectantly. Will it rain? Should I speed up to get home before I am soaked, or look for a shop awning?
The hard rains always start with very large drops. When you get hit by a large droplet, you know that a few seconds later a bucket will be dumped on your head. A misty few drops splash across my helmet’s faceplate. Maybe I’ll get home before it rains.
And as I think that, a huge drop of rain slams against my helmet.
June 23, 2016
I recently celebrated my 70th year on this planet. I really enjoy my 70 year-old mind, lots of good stuff going on in there. My 70 year-old body, well, that’s another thing.
Today I want to talk about how we can use the wonderful “personal” computer residing between our ears to live a happier and more successful retired life abroad.
Our “personal” computer has a fantastic memory capacity, and unlike the computer I am writing this blog post on, the memory never seems to get maxed out. Yes, sometimes our computer’s ability to retrieve information slows down, but if we keep it well-maintained (good food, exercise, less alcohol and drugs, and a daily belly laugh) it will serve us well for a lifetime.
This brings me back to the question of how to live a happier and more successful retired life, especially in a foreign country. And the answer is in that wonderful “personal” computer’s language-learning capacity.
We who live here in Thailand have good reasons and real motivation to learn the Thai language, and even though our aptitude for learning may have been slowed down a bit, it has not been maxed out yet. No, old friend, you are never too old to learn.
First let’s get motivated. I’ll start with something that happened to me just yesterday.
I went to my favorite iced coffee vendor and I ordered my usual. While the “barista” was making my cappuccino frap I struck up a simple conversation. I told her how much I liked her product, how in fact I was becoming addicted to it. I told her how I had already gotten 10 stamps on my card so this one was free. She laughed and told me I could get a free cookie too.
I know, not a deep exchange but I got to thinking – if I didn’t know Thai, the “barista” would just take my order and serve me my coffee – a serving girl to me at most, and me, a mere customer. Instead, using just a few lines of simple dialog, she became a real person to me, and I to her. She handed me my coffee, I thanked her, took my free cookie, we both smiled, and both our days were brighter for it.
Sometimes, instead of making our days a bit brighter, knowing the language can make our days a bit less dark.
A while back I was at the driving range when behind me a long-time Expat, in English, told the 16 year old counter girl he wanted another tray of balls. She asked him in a three-word Thai sentence, “Old ones or new ones?” They are priced differently. The long-time Expat, not understanding a word she had spoken, turned to his paramour sitting nearby and shouted, loudly enough for all to hear, “Tell this girl what I want. She is too STUPID to understand me.”
I came so very close to breaking this guy’s jaw after telling him that he should not call the girl stupid, that she in fact did understand him, had asked him a simple question, and that he himself was the one too stupid to understand her.
The moral of this story: Just a few words of Thai and the Expat would not have become so angry, not have his blood pressure rise to unhealthy levels, not made a fool of himself by calling a young girl who was helping out her mom stupid, and not have had that physical confrontation with me. He would simply have hit some golf balls and then gone home, looking forward to spending the evening with his paramour in a much happier mood. All that with just a few words of Thai.
I have heard the excuses for why one doesn’t learn Thai:
- “I tried but after a few weeks of study I just gave up.”
- “Everyone I need to talk to speaks English.”
- “Thais really don’t want me to speak Thai.”
- “I’m too old to learn something new.”
- A few weeks is not nearly enough to learn a language. I’ve been studying Thai for over 45 years and still have a ways to go.
- Very few Thais speak comprehensible English. Mostly it’s just the ones doing business with foreigners, and even then their English leaves much to be desired.
- Many Farang feel that Thais don’t want them to speak Thai because the Thais always answer in their broken English when they try. In fact, it is possible that they are responding in the little English they know because the foreigner’s Thai, often toneless, is incomprehensible to them. My barista never said a word to me in English except “cookie”.
- I’ve already told you what I think about being too old.
These excuses don’t do much to convince me that an older person can’t learn Thai, just that the effort to learn, sadly, might be too much for them.
So why put in the effort to learn Thai?
Don’t we want a little more than “Me Tarzan you Jane.”? Wouldn’t it be nice to really get to know someone here and to understand their dreams and desires? Wouldn’t it be nice to tell someone how you feel so he/she understands you better? Wouldn’t it be nice to order something at a restaurant and get what you are expecting, or tell the barber “Not too short.”, or let your barista know how much you love her coffee?
Can you at your advanced age learn a foreign language?
The main thing I want to stress in this posting is that anyone at any age can learn a language. You don’t have to become fluent, I still haven’t. But how about just learning to say “I love your iced coffee.” or “Give me the new balls, please.” Your day will be much brighter, as will your chances of getting a free cookie.
So here are some Thai learning hints on what and how to begin. You can use it as your basic curriculum. Give this list to your Thai teacher and tell them this is what you NEED to learn.
- Learn the Thai greetings and how to say “Please” and “Thank you”.
- Learn the Thai numbers, at least up to 10,000. Learn the Thai money system.
- Learn the Thai personal pronouns and how to refer to yourself and to others.
- Learn subject/verb patterns. Learn everyday verbs. Learn to speak in the present, past, and future.
- Add to the above the subject/verb/object pattern. Then add some adjectives.
- Learn the vocabulary that is important and interesting to you. Learn the nouns that fit your needs. Enjoy gardening? Learn the Thai words for the plants, insects, and birds you will encounter. Enjoy eating Thai food? Learn to order all the Thai dishes you like. Enjoy cooking Thai food? Learn all the names of the condiments and sauces that you will need. I would stay away from talking about politics and religion for now though.
- Learn how to ask “What is this?” “How do you say … in Thai?” (Use both to increase your vocabulary.)
- Learn how to ask if someone has something, and the vocabulary you’ll need in order to ask a shopkeeper if he/she has the thing you are looking for.
- Learn the vocabulary you will need to tell a doctor or your Thai companion how you feel if you are under the weather.
- Learn to ask yes/no questions and other questions like when, where, who, how and how much. Then learn how to answer them.
The above basics will take you about a year of hard study. What fun. Get a good teacher and good learning materials. Anything with “Easy”, or “Fast”, or “Learn Thai in … Days” should be avoided. They are lying to you. I mean, do you believe everything a carnival barker running for the U.S. presidency says (and the other one isn’t any better)?
Learning Thai will not be easy, or fast, or accomplished in a few days? No! That is why it will take so much time but also is why it will be so much fun.
No need to be in a hurry. When we get older, learning new stuff just takes a little longer than it used to. Take your time. You have the rest of your life to get it right.
At this point don’t worry about learning to read and write Thai or learning the Thai tone rules either. Many people suggest this. But I feel that’s the equivalent of having to learn how to read music in order to sing “Happy Birthday”.
But what about those terrible Thai tones?
Yes, they are terrible. But Thai tones are really, really important to get right. Really!
First learn to laugh at yourself when you make a tonal mistake. I currently laugh at least a half dozen times a day.
Here is my suggestion on how to handle Thai tones. SING.
Thai is a tonal language, just like music. How did you learn “Happy Birthday” in the first place? You heard someone singing it. And then you sang it back just like you heard it. Thai, and all tonal languages, work the same way.
You in fact, can do much more than you think you can. I completely don’t accept the idea that older people can’t learn anything new.
I took up rock climbing in my 40s, got my karate black belt in my 50s, became a blogger in my 60s, and started playing the piano at age 67.
I am now learning Latin in my 70s? Why not?
Here, you can cut and paste this into Google Translate to check my progress.
Fīlia mea cenam parat.
Learn Thai in your 60s and 70s? Why not?
Just reboot that old computer of yours. No, old friend, you are never too old.
Below I have listed some resources for beginning your learning Thai odyssey.
There are quite a few on-line Thai/English dictionaries, many with good audio to help pronunciation. Here are some that I frequently use.
- Thai-Language.com – Probably the most extensive with lots of words used in sentences.
- Thai2English.com – You can paste whole sentences into a translate box and it will return definitions for each of the words in the sentences along with their phonetic transcriptions.
- Google Translate – Good for individual words and phrases but less accurate when translating complete sentences. Has good audio for all words.
Thai learning resources
- Women Learning Thai … and some men too –A wealth of information on the Thai language and on learning Thai.
- Paiboon Publishing – Carries the book Thai for Beginners, by Benjawan Becker, one of the most popular beginning Thai textbooks.
- The Mother of All Free Thai Resources – The name is self-explanatory. Lots and lots of on-line, free Thai language study materials.
Good luck, enjoy and I hope you get lots of free cookies.