If you are going to pull up stakes and move to a different country then you’ll have to deal with lots of changes. Language, food, and climate differences will put you under lots of stress.  Culture shock will occur and you’ll have to deal with that too. But probably the first big change will happen deep inside you. No, I’m not talking about the psychological effects of leaving home and living in a strange land. I’m referring to your bowels.

Remember long ago, after a visit to Mexico, President Jimmy Carter caused an international incident when he talked about “Montezuma’s Revenge”? It’s a real thing. Here in Thailand it is sometimes referred to as “Bangkok Belly”, but less likely to cause an international uproar, we could use the term “traveler’s diarrhea”.  Well, even if you take lots of care about eating clean foods, and drinking clean water to avoid the dreaded “runs”, the bacteria we all have inside our guts that we need to assist in our digestion and absorption of nutrients are different in different parts of the world. And sometimes our gastrointestinal tract rebels against these alien microbes.

However you refer to it, you’re going to get it. Hopefully it will be the simple kind that you can “stop” with over-the-counter meds. Once in a while it will be lots worse. Don’t ignore it, stay hydrated, see a doctor if it doesn’t clear up in a few days, especially if you have stuff coming out of multiple orifices. Once you are here a while you won’t be bothered too often. The once illegal aliens in your bowels will become acceptable citizens.

To help you identify this problem, and to know that when it happens to you that you are not alone, I want to share some of my gastrointestinal anecdotes with you, aka, the non-euphemistic term “Poop Stories”.  You may already have, and if you don’t, you most like will have, lots of your own stories to tell, no doubt. These stories are lots of fun to tell, AFTER the fact.

*****

I missed that class

Back in 1969 I went to Peace Corps training on the Big Island of Hawaii. We had three-months training in the Thai language, Thai culture, and in Teaching English. Our trainers tried to prepare us for just about everything we would encounter when we began our volunteering in country, the dos and don’ts, the food, the religion, the Thai houses, kitchens and bathrooms.

One important lesson was how to use the Thai squat toilets. Back then, these were just about the only toilets one would find. So all the volunteers were made aware of and shown how to use them. One problem I had, on the day of the toilet lesson I was away at the training center’s clinic getting a yellow fever injection. So, a few months later, when we got to Bangkok I had never seen or even heard of these squat toilets.

typical_toilet_in_urban_syria-_flush_toilet_squatting_pan_3232388550

We were paired up and spent our first night in-country at a Bangkok hotel. We got to Bangkok at about 2 am and before turning in for the night I needed to use the toilet. I went into the bathroom and right there on a small platform I encountered the first squat toilet I had ever seen. What do you think you would do if you were in my place?

Instead of describing my first Thai faux pas, minutes after arriving in country, here are some pictures describing how and how not to use a squat toilet.  See the picture on the bottom right? Yes, that was me.

how_to_use_the_japanese-style_toilet

Well, for the next three years I lived in a small cabin, with light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and no screens or running water. And my outdoor toilet was, yes, you guessed it, of the squat variety. And through necessity I became an expert, a skill this 70 year old body fortunately doesn’t need to use much anymore since the sit-down variety are found almost everywhere, and if you are lucky and encounter one of those computerized Japanese “smart” toilets, you’re in for a treat. But like I should have done before coming to Thailand, you might have to take a lesson or two in how to use them (A Westerners Guide to Japanese Toilets).

 

Meeting the ambassador

Being from the “Mean Streets” of New York (Scorsese shot his movie with De Nero only a few blocks from where I grew up), the idea of meeting an ambassador was pretty daunting. But on our second day in Bangkok our Peace Corps group was scheduled to meet the ambassador, Leonard Unger, at a welcoming reception at the U.S. embassy. As excited as I was to enter the rarified air of the international diplomatic corps, I had one small problem.

The day before, probably with a little hubris, I had eaten noodles from a street vendor, and loaded my bowl with about a dozen red hot chilies (or rat-turd-peppers in the translation from Thai). And as hubris, coupled with chilies and alien bacteria will do to you, I got as sick as a dog.

I quickly learned to use that squat toilet in my hotel room.  It only took about a dozen visits in the first hour, and with a fever and sweat pouring out of my pores and other stuff pouring out of “wherever” I got on the bus to the embassy. I had a sinking feeling that my entry into the world of high government was not going to go as I had hoped.

Even though I grew up on the “Mean Streets” I had learned something about etiquette and diplomatic protocol. I must have learned what I knew from my readings, which were extensive for a street kid. For example, I learned which fork to use by reading Miss Manners in her New York Daily News column. So I must have learned about “receiving lines” sometime about then.

And so here I was, on my first formal receiving line. There were the embassy’s diplomatic corps, followed by Mrs. Unger, and then the ambassador himself. The cramps hit me as soon as I shook the first hand. By the time I got to the ambassador’s wife I was close to exploding. The wonderfully gracious Mrs. Unger extended her hand and said in a warmly welcoming voice “Welcome to Thailand, son”.

And as in the line from the Kenny Rogers’ song The Gambler goes, “And the night got deathly quiet, and his (my) face lost all expression”, and all I could say at my introduction to high society, something I had dreamed about and wished for since I was a boy was, “Where is the bathroom?”

Now another person might have been put off by this. Another person might have been offended. The gracious Mrs. Unger, seasoned diplomat as she was, knowingly took me by the hand and lead me down the hall, to a small bathroom, the sit-down kind, where I remained for the duration of our reception.

Once again I learned, be careful what you wish for.

 

Friends come for an unexpected visit

Many of our Thai friends seem to like to surprise us by showing up unannounced to stay for a visit. Two of our friends now make sure to call before appearing on our doorstep, and with good reason.

Regular “Bangkok Belly” is more or less an inconvenience. That is not the case with another affliction travelers encounter, food poisoning. I have come down with food poisoning a few times. It takes the form of super diarrhea and projectile vomiting, two activities I could easily eschew. Food poisoning usually lasts for about 24 hours and if you survive you’ll be about 10 lbs. lighter, and exhausted. Exhausted were what my unannounced visitors were the next morning after a night dealing with the aftereffects of my bowl of lunchtime Tom Yum Noodles had done its worst.

At the time, we lived in a one-room wooden house which we used on the few weeks a year we spent in Chiang Mai. It contained a small kitchen, small bathroom, a bed, a table, and a few chairs. So when our friends appeared and asked to stay the night there was nowhere for them to sleep but for some mats we had on the floor. Picture this, middle of the night, they are lying on the floor, between my bed and the bathroom door. That’s when my battle with food poisoning ensued.

I had no choice but to walk (and later climb) over our friends (a big no-no in Thai culture) to get to the bathroom. Not only the fact that all night they had to endure the groans and other sounds related to my illness coming from within the bathroom walls, but I had to make this nocturnal excursion (and I really counted) 27 times that night.

Our friends wisely waited until we moved into our permanent home and built a guest bungalow before making their next visit. And of course, they called first.

 

In the jungle, the mighty jungle

I once had one of those one-up type arguments with a friend on who had been the poorest growing up.

Me: We were so poor that in the tenements we lived in, many of us had to go down the hall to use a shared bathroom. And my bathtub was in the kitchen.

My Friend: I was so poor growing up in Kentucky that we didn’t even have outdoor plumbing. When we had to go we went out into the corn fields.

My friend won that argument.

Once when I was out trekking in the northern Thai forests we spent the night in a Karen village. When I felt Nature’s call I asked the headman where the bathroom was. He pointed out the door. It was pitch black at night and when I got to the door and looked out all I could see was the jungle. The headman gestured again, out the door. He meant that, like my Kentucky-bred friend, I was to do my duty “outside”.

So, without a flashlight, I ventured out into the dark forest and with the light of a few stars found an empty spot that looked appropriate. Being now skilled in squatting I simply dropped “trow”, collected a few leaves from a nearby tree and proceeded to answer Nature’s call.

Just then I heard a rustling of the bushes around me. Then a low groan. I know that tigers have been long gone from this area, but what about leopards? The rustling came closer. The groans louder. And I was only halfway through my present activity. I was sure I was going to die an ignominious death with my trousers around my ankles.

Then bursting out of the bushes came the most enormous black pig I had ever seen. He came right up to me, checked out what I was doing, pushed me aside, and proceeded to devour my current contribution to the forest floor. I quickly finished up and took off, as my hog friend cleaned up after me.

No wonder, even with the whole village using the forest as a bathroom, the land around us was completely clean of any sign of such use. They had their own cleanup squad. I tried not to think about that pork we had that night for dinner.

 

A Balinese farmers market

I don’t want to sound like Thailand is the only place one encounters gastric discomfort. Probably the worst I ever felt was when I got a case of “Balinese Belly” while visiting that enchanted isle.

I was enjoying a wonderful evening meal up in a mountain village on the verandah of an inn overlooking a huge volcanic caldera. A thousand feet below and about a mile away was the cinder cone of a volcano which exploded with a column of black smoke every 15 minutes or so. When the sun set, the black smoke turned into a fiery red shower. Since there was no electricity in the village, with only lantern light, the show was spectacular. That is until the well-known symptoms of another assault on my intestines kicked off.

Knowing that I only had about a minute before I would erupt like the volcano, I asked our host for the WC and she said to go out pass the small field next to the inn, turn right, and about 50 yards down the road you’ll find the village outhouse. I grabbed the lantern, the only one they had, and set off.

Wearing my sarong, and surrounded by every dog in the village barking loudly, I only made it 25 yards. Oh, did I tell you that halfway down the road the lantern had gone out?

I cleaned up with a torn-off strip of my sarong, and followed the sound of the exploding volcano back to the inn.

That night, at least a dozen times, I never made it to the village outhouse but settled for the small field next to the inn. My sarong was now in shreds, almost completely stripped away, when morning came.

When I finally awoke I heard a commotion outside my bedroom window. I pulled the curtain aside and looked out. The field next to the inn, that same field that had been the scene of my nefarious doings, had been turned into a morning farmers market. There were the fruit sellers and vegetable vendors setting up for the day, and right next to each stall was a bit of stained grass, and behind each, hanging on the branches of the bushes, was a strip of what appeared to be sarong cloth.

Still sick, I quickly packed up, hopped on my rented motorcycle, and made a speedy exit out of town, never looking back.

*****

Happy travels and may you survive to have lots of good stories to tell.

Becoming a Tourist Again

February 14, 2017

Before retiring to Thailand I spent many years as a part-time resident and a part-time tourist. Upon retiring and settling down here, my time spent doing touristy stuff in Thailand became less and less. I had forgotten what a really cool place this is to be a tourist. Then some old friends came for an extended visit and helped us to remember.

John and Denise and Pikun and I had shared a house together when John and I got jobs teaching in Iran. This was in the mid 70s, before the Iranian revolution and when the Shah was still in power. We later joined them when we moved to Seattle and have been friends ever since. After many invites to visit us here in Thailand they acquiesced and in being their tour guides for the next three weeks we also got to renew our acquaintance with them as well as with so many wonderful places that surround us here and that we had forgotten to appreciate.

Here is some of what we did. Denise had done her homework and had a bucket list of the many places to visit and things to do while here in Thailand, and we were able to check off the majority of them. I had done all of these things and visited all of these places years ago. All had changed, some for the better, some not, but I was glad to experience them all again. If you are just coming here, this tour will get you acquainted with your new home. If you have lived here a while, try revisiting them.

*****

Temples

Lift your eyes just about anywhere in Thailand and you’ll probably be looking up at a temple or pagoda (“chedi” in Thai). You don’t have to go to a fancy temple popular with tourists. Just about all of them are filled with beautiful artwork and architecture. We are lucky here in Chiang Mai, a city of over 300 temples, or “wats”. You can spend days going from temple to temple, as we did with churches and cathedrals on our visit to Italy. But we narrowed down our choice to two for John and Denise to tour, Wat Doi Suthep, the temple which overlooks Chiang Mai from its mountain perch, and Wat Doi Kham, our own local temple, also on a mountain, this time overlooking our house.

Wat Doi Suthep is the one temple that people say is a must visit on you trip to Chiang Mai. I myself don’t visit it often because it has become quite commercial with vendors lining every empty space along the road around the temple. But it is beautiful and on a clear day will give you a panoramic view of the city a thousand meters below. I put John and Denise on a red taxi for the trip up the mountain. The taxis queue just west of the entrance of Chiang Mai University on Huay Kaew Road and will save you from driving that winding road up the mountain.

Doi Suthep Temple overlooking the city of Chiang Mai

Doi Suthep Temple overlooking the city of Chiang Mai

My favorite temple was the one near my house on Doi Kham Mountain. Wat Doi Kham is a sister temple to Wat Doi Suthep and the temple buildings and the central chedi are replicas to the ones on Doi suthep although about a third the size. But, as happens to so many nice places around the world, Wat Doi Kham has become even more commercial than Wat Doi Suthep. What was once a quiet beautiful temple has now become inundated with visitors after a rumor that the Buddha image there will grant your wishes, and even give you the winning lottery numbers.  Denise got frisky and walked the hundreds of steps up to the temple. There are some huge Buddha images up there and she got a great view of the south of the city and the Royal Flora Park below.

The new 19 meter standing Buddha at Wat Doi Kham

The new 19 meter standing Buddha at Wat Doi Kham

We now found a temple that no tourists visit. It has only one monk and is quiet and meditative. There will probably be one just like it only doors away from you where you will be staying.

*****

Culture

Chiang Mai was originally a kingdom of its own. It has its own language, music, dances, and culture. One place where you can experience the culture of the north of Thailand is at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center just south of the city wall. There you’ll get a taste of northern Thai food, called a “Khandok” dinner, with sticky rice, barbecued chicken, northern pork stew and northern sausages. And with the dinner you’ll be entertained with Thai music and dances and the hill tribe cultures. It’s real touristy but a great place to spend an evening. The food is really good and plentiful too.

One thing to note. Northern Thais eat sitting on the floor with a small short table (the “khandok” table) holding the food. If sitting on the floor makes your old bones scream like it does mine, then request a table and chairs. You and your bones will be much happier.

Dancers at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center

Dancers at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center

*****

Markets

I still love Thai outdoor markets. I visit my local one almost daily and usually in the middle of every Thai town is a morning or an evening market. There are also markets that meet on designated days (“talaat not”), similar to farmers markets back home. But the one can’t-miss-market in Chiang Mai is the Sunday evening “Walking Street Market”.

The usually busy streets of the central part of the old city, within the moat, become traffic-free and by early evening the handicrafters, artists, and food vendors set up.  Just about every kind of Thai handicraft, woodcarving, garment, and art work will be there, as well as t-shirts and tourist trinkets and street foods. There are now “walking street” markets all over Asia but the one here was the first of its kind.

It’s best to go there early. We go at 4pm. By about 5:30 the streets will be crowded with market goers. By 7pm tens of thousands jam the streets. Unless you are an avid people-watcher it is a good idea to get out of there before the crowds make market browsing impossible.

The Walking Street Market (before it gets crowded).

The Walking Street Market (before it gets crowded).

*****

Thai gardens and flora

John and Denise spent lots of time in our garden. When you leave a cold country in the winter and land in the tropics, just hanging around a Thai garden is as good as visiting any tourist spots. Growing a garden in Thailand is almost opposite to growing one in a cold country. There you need to encourage and nurture and pray that your plants grow. Here, we spend most of our time cutting and pruning and trying to control our plants’ growth. So gardens and parks in Thailand are great places to visit.

Kham Tiang Market:  Gardening is one of the most popular leisure-time activities around the world. Thais love gardening and because of its popularity there are garden centers and flower markets in every town. There is a large market near the river here that has just about every cut flower you could think of. But for gardeners, the Kham Tiang Market is the place to go; a huge garden center where walking through it is as good as a tour through any botanical garden. From flowers, to orchids, to full grown trees, to garden statues and fountains, and Japanese koi fish, you can get anything for your garden.

Flower and plant vendors.

One of the hundreds of flower and plant vendors at the Kham Tiang Market.

 

Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens: The Mae Saa Valley, with its elephant shows, and tiger gardens, and orchid farms, and monkey schools, and snake shows, is a big hit with foreign tourists. We drive past all of these and head for the place that most Thai tourists visit. Settled right in the mountains, the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens contains beautiful tended gardens as well as a group of green houses containing medicinal plants, carnivorous plants, cacti, a tropical waterfall, and lotuses. The best thing about it for us, everyone over 60 is let in for free. Check out the video.

The Royal Flora Park: In 2006 Thailand threw a highly successful International Horticultural Exhibit attracting garden exhibits from dozens of countries and 30,000 visitors a day. After the exhibit closed the park was kept open to the public and can be visited daily. There is a beautiful northern style palace (Haw Kham) and the park is used for a number of festivals including a New Years Eve countdown.

A beautiful park at the base of Doi suthep/Doi Bui National Park (with Wat Doi Kham on the mountain above)

The northern style palace, “Haw Kham”, at the base of Doi Suthep/Doi Bui National Park (with Wat Doi Kham temple on the hillside above)

*****

Thai History

I’m a pushover for ruins having visited Rome, and Greece, and Egypt, and our neighbor here to the east Angkor Wat. And Thailand has some really interesting ruins too, especially in the northeast. But the queen of them all is Sukhothai, the former Thai capital. After being named as a World Heritage site the ruins at Sukhothai have been spruced up and are quite beautiful. If you are doing a road trip to Sukhothai you might want to visit the nearby ruins at Sri Sachinalai Historical Park and the historical park right in the middle of Kamphaeng Phet town.

Sukhothai's restored ruins

Sukhothai’s restored ruins

*****

Beaches

But John and Denise’s visit wouldn’t be complete until we experienced the tropical humidity, see palm trees and rubber trees, and walk on the beaches and islands of the south. We like Trang Province because of its isolation compared to Phuket and Pi Pi Island (2 places we loved 10 years ago but never visit today). But we chose to fly down to Krabi (pronounces Kra-bee, not crab-ee). Krabi is really not Thailand anymore. The workers there are often foreigners (the hotel desk clerk Philippina, the bartender American, the waiter Nepali). But we got a room on the beach, did some island hopping, and ate lots of fresh sea food while watching the sun set over the Andaman Sea. Commercial as Krabi is, I still love the place, as did our two visitors.

Long-tail boats for island hopping

Long-tail boats for island hopping

*****

Lots of other stuff to do here

We visited elephants (not the show and riding kind but the more natural, happy, retired elephant kind), ate lots of Thai food (J and D learning that the Thai restaurants back in Seattle serve cuisine not anything like what we eat here), drank lots of Thai ice coffee and cappuccino fraps, and, especially John, drank lots of Thai beer and got a daily massage.

My massage story: John and I were taking a walk on the Ao Nang beach in Krabi and there were lots of massage shops set up there for tourists. John hadn’t had his daily massage so he elected to get one on the beach. Unlike John I am not addicted to Thai massage but I didn’t want to wait around so decided to get one too.

Here is what happened. I told the manager, Please be gentile. I don’t want a hard massage. I don’t want to hurt. He said sure. I lay down and waited for my masseuse. The girl working on John (who turned out to be really gentile) looked up as my masseuse arrived. She said, Oh no! You got Sumalee. It’s going to be a hard one. You’re going to hurt for sure.

When I studied karate we learned about nerve bundles and how to use them to disable our opponent by using them to inflict severe pain. Sumalee knew each one of them and dug her thumbs into every nerve bundle of mine she could find. I was still hurting 3 days later. It reminded me why I don’t get Thai massages very often. John got another one the next day.

*****

John and Denise got on the plane for their long trip home after their tropical sojourn. The last I heard was that there was a foot of snow on the ground in Seattle and not a masseuse to be found. I love Seattle but I am still really glad to be here.

 

 

Apologies to Arlo Guthrie and Alice

When we were packing our 40’ shipping container on our way to a retirement in Thailand one of the things we thought about was what stuff should we ship that we just couldn’t get here in Thailand. We made a long list, went shopping, packed it all up in boxes, and sent it on its way. It turns out that we were way off with our list, and in today’s Thailand you can get just about anything you want or need – almost.

Thailand is now quite a modern country where just about everything is available. Maybe a little history will help us see why we were so mistaken about what is available here now. We’ll start with an anecdote about coffee.

I choose coffee because it seems that within just a 7-iron drive’s distance from my computer (for me that’s not very far) there are at least a dozen coffee shops. The shops have on their signs (in Thai) “Kafae Sot”. This literally means “fresh coffee”, but should be interpreted as “freshly brewed” coffee.

When I first arrived in Thailand coffee was rarely encountered. Maybe if you had a meeting with a high ranking official he would offer you a cup of coffee in his office. This meant Nescafe instant coffee, at the time the only coffee available. There were no coffee shops as we know them. If coffee was ordered at a hotel or a high end restaurant, it was Nescafe, the brand name that became synonymous with “coffee” itself. The reason the ubiquitous coffee shops today need to emphasized “fresh” is to differentiate it from the instant, powdered, variety so popular in the past.

I remember when the first real coffee shop was opened in Chiang Mai, circa 1970. Its very appropriate name, “First Coffee Shop”. And coincidentally, it was just one or two shops down from where currently sits the Starbucks on Tha Phae Road.

As with coffee, so many of the things we wanted or needed that were unavailable to us back then are encountered just about everywhere in today’s Thailand.  Here is an example.

My son on a visit here saw how much ice we used (it was the hot season) and he decided that we needed an ice maker. We couldn’t find one in the market here so back in the U.S. he checked out Amazon.com and got one for us and the next time he visited he schlepped* it all the way here in his luggage. It was 110 v so we needed a heavy duty electricity converter, but the thing works great.

We later learned that all we needed to do was a little on-line shopping right here and we could have found just about whatever we are looking for. Ice makers are here. So is the food dehydrator that we were thinking would be our next “schlepping” purchase from the U.S. All are available right on a number of Thai web sites and they are of the 220 v variety so no electricity converter is necessary.

The two on-line sites we have used are Verasu and Lazada. They seem to be reliable and fast, with good prices. Besides these two Thai sites there are Chinese on-line stores that ship directly here and so does Amazon and Best Buy and lots of other international companies.  For many items, especially foreign made, their prices are often much lower than the Thai prices. But to the lower prices must be added overseas shipping costs which can be quite high, and the possibility of having to pay taxes. Because of that our son is bringing a new Android tablet for me on his next visit. In this case, schlepping will be worth it. On Best Buy the price for the Android tablet I chose is 1/3 the cost here in Thailand.

The list of what I need from back home is getting shorter and shorter. But there are still some things that are either hard to come by here, are much more expensive, or the specific brand you like may not be available.

Here are a few examples.

 

Foods

Thailand seems to have a plethora of western sausages, none of which for me are edible (although Thai sausages are quite good). I absolutely love American hot dogs. Not to be found here. When in the U.S. I buy about 10 lbs. of Hebrew National Hot Dogs, freeze them, wrap them really well, and put them in my check in luggage when I travel back to Thailand. They make it here fine, still mostly frozen, but with all their nitrates and nitrites they stay fresh and are a great reminder of home.

We also pack a bunch of good quality cheese. You can get good cheese here but the prices are quite high and the selection is limited.

I also love those Blue Diamond almonds you can get on sale in U.S. pharmacies.

But the food I crave most is Trader Joe’s Belgian Milk Chocolate. I bring about a dozen 1 lb. bars back here with me, frozen. I eat two small pieces each night. It lasts me about 6 months that way. I have one 1 lb. bar left from my last trip. Just thinking about what happens when it is finished sends me into chocolate withdrawal. Locally produced Kit Kats just don’t suffice.

 

Clothes

I am a little guy in America, but large for here. Luckily I am right at the maximum range for Thai clothes and shoe sizes so I can usually get what I need. Anyone larger than I am, and that includes most westerners, might need to get their clothes, and especially shoes, back home. This includes both men and women.

 

Electronics and sports equipment

As mentioned above, electronics, computer equipment, tablets, smart phones, computer games, and their like, are quite expensive here. U.S. on-line sites have much better prices. The same goes for sports equipment. I priced a Ping driver at a department store here the other day and it costs more than $1,000. It is more like $300 back home (I ended up buying mine used from a friend for 2,000 baht.). An archer friend of mine said he had the same experience with his bows and arrows.  Best to check prices.

 

Vitamins and supplements

These aren’t considered medication so they carry a big tax. Vitamins, even the one-a-day kind, can be quite expensive. I take one tablet of Glucosamine a day. Keeps my joints lubricated. Very expensive here. They are pricey at Costco back home but still lots cheaper than here.

 

Other stuff

We like good quality American tools, especially Craftsman from Sears.

I like a specific brand of after shave and deodorant that I can’t get here (It’s as Hannibal Lecter said after sniffing the Edward Norton character in Red Dragon, “The one with the ship on the bottle.”)

If I eat spicy foods for dinner I get stomach troubles at night and America’s Alka-Seltzer it’s the only thing that works for me, but it isn’t sold here.

We can get fitted sheets here but for some reason they don’t come with a matching flat sheet, so we buy good quality sets at home and bring them here. Be careful with these since the mattress sizes here can be different from those in the west.

What I really crave is good ice cream. Most Thai-made ice cream has never seen cream and is made with palm oil as a substitute. That is a big no no for an ice cream aficionado. You can get Haagen Dasz Ice Cream‎ here but a quart costs about as much as a good wristwatch and I won’t pay that much for an ice cream with a made up Scandinavian sounding name by two kids from New Jersey. I prefer Breyers Butter Pecan all natural ice cream and if I find a way to bring it in my luggage then the world will be spinning correctly.  (As a substitute, Thai coconut milk ice cream, sold in push carts, is quite good.)

*****

Request: For those already living here, to help those planning on making the move, please leave a comment if there is stuff that you can’t find here and that you bring to Thailand whenever you return from a visit home.

*****

I just checked and it turns out that Lazada website carries the stuff with the ship on the bottle.

I did another search and found ice cream makers and scoops but no Breyers Butter Pecan.

*****

*schlep: to carry or pull (something) with difficulty: to drag or haul (something).  A Yiddish word that is part of the New York vernacular I grew up speaking. No standard- English word seems to carry the same feeling.

 

Time

We know that time is a relative thing. Einstein taught us that time changes depending on the speed in which we are traveling. I now believe that time also changes depending on how old we are. It is my learned opinion that now a day consists of only about 18 hours (4 of which I can sleep if I am lucky), a week has 5 days, a month about 3 weeks, and a year, maybe just 8 months now. Those 90 day immigration reporting requirements come about every 45 days for some reason. That’s the way it appears to me now that I am 70 years old.

In a few months it seems, I will turn 80. Wow! Where did the last decade go?

Youth is wasted on the young.

– attributed to George Bernard Shaw.

When I dream I am always 18 years old (which makes it a pity that I can sleep only 4 hours a night).

And when I dream:

I was eighteen, didn’t have a care

Workin’ for peanuts, not a dime to spare

But I was lean and solid everywhere

Like a rock.

 Like a Rock, Bob Seger

*****

Friends

Back when I was 18 it seems like I had hundreds of friends. I’m not talking about Facebook “friends”. I’m talking about real people; people I would hang out with, travel with, party with, get high with, dream and love with. I had time for all that because a day had 36 hours back then.

You would think that the older one gets the more time we would have to accumulate more friends. I guess that I have met more than 10 thousand people in my lifetime (I once counted more than 3,000 former students.) But now I find myself spending most of my days with myself (Pikun is outside in the garden), writing, lifting bags of manure, playing music, Internet surfing, binge watching TV shows, and never missing a Seahawks game.

I have about a half dozen friends that I occasionally take a meal with or visit, and another half dozen that I email or Skype once in a while. Living 10,000 miles away from people you know makes anything more than an email/Skype relationship difficult. But once a week I play golf with a friend I have known for 40 years. We’re not getting any better at golf but our friendship continues unabated.

New friends are few and far between.

Those National Geographic shows on the Serengeti told us how things would be.

They would start out with those lion cubs, romping around all day, playing at hunting and fighting. Then the lions grew to adolescence and they did some more serious life-practice at being adults with their ”friends”. Later they would all join and work together, colleagues, to achieve their group goals, antelopes and wildebeests beware. When the male lion was mature and at the top of his game he would lay around all day, the little ones jumping all over him as he tried to snooze, waking only to go eat the food his ladies had prepared. When he got too old to lead the pride he was left to mostly wander about on his own.

I am happy now, and after retiring probably as happy as I have ever been, and if I could sleep for a solid 6 hours I would be ecstatic.  But sometimes I feel like that old lion wandering about alone. Where did all the “young lions” go?

*****

Older

I used to laugh when stories would depict older people grabbing the newspaper in the morning and opening to the obituary section first. I don’t read the newspapers anymore but I do note when some famous or important person passes away. I never miss the part of the Oscars when they show the pictures of all the stars who have left us this year.

Before I even look to see the reason for their demise I look to see their age. Are they older or younger than I? And if they are younger, then I look to see how they died. And I check to see if I have any of the symptoms of what they died of. So far so good (as I knock on my wooden desk).

So many of my contemporaries are “less-than-well”, or worse. Just the other day, after visiting a sick friend, of which I seem to have more and more lately, I thought to myself how lucky Pikun and I are to be healthy and happy; a few aches and pains, nothing a good session of senior complaining won’t cure. But we know that the Buddha’s truths will always be with us. If we have been born then we have getting older, becoming ill, and then leaving this mortal coil to look forward to. That’s all there is, but it is enough.

We’re okay with that, but at the same time we will continue to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”, but we’ll enjoy the light as long as we have it.

*****

Politics

I wasn’t happy with either candidate. I was a Bernie supporter and over a year ago I posted on Facebook: “If Hilary is nominated then our next president will be named Trump.

Sometimes I hate being right.

I recently posted the following on Facebook. It describes my feelings about the United States’ next presidential term.

Bizarro World: A world in which everything is opposite from the real world, down is up, wrong is right, bad is good.

Now that the president-elect, whose name shall not be spoken, has selected most of his incredibly divisive billionaire-military-general-Wall-Street-banker laden cabinet, we realize that we are living in that Bizarro World.

In this “post truth” era, a time when the truth is not important and “fake news” and fake accusations help to elect a president, and that president is the prevaricator-in-chief, then down is up, wrong is right, and bad is good. Once again Orwell has proven prescient.

How does one live in this upside down world, without rats attacking your face that is? We now know that almost every stance the Republican nominee took has been modified and revised by the president-elect, that all his promises were conditional, that even his top advisors tell us not to take what he says “literally”.  We should realized that we can believe nothing said by this administration, good or bad. It is the “post truth” era so what can we expect.

My suggestion about how to survive the next 4 years is that anytime he, or his minions say anything on TV, switch the channel. Anytime you see an article on the Internet, newspaper, or magazine, about what the administration is planning, turn the page. Don’t listen to or read any of it because it will change with the weather, and if we do, it will only make us heartsick.

In that way your mind won’t be twisted and turned by these Bizarro machination and we might come out at the other end with our sanity, although sadly maybe not our country, intact.

*****

Annus Horribilis

The horrible year 2016 is over. That’s the good news. Looking forward to 2017. Game of Thrones Season 7 will be upon us. Prediction: Cersei Lanester, the Mad Queen, dies a horrible and much deserved death.  If the football gods are with us, and our defense holds up, then the Seahawks will once again be in the Super Bowl. Pikun and I are going to Hawaii’s Big Island for my Peace Corps group’s reunion (for some reason it is the 48th year reunion), and we have some great friends (2 of the half dozen I still email/Skype) who we once shared a house with in of all places Iran, coming for a nice long visit. It will give us a chance to tour the country and do lots of the touristy stuff we usually put off.

And I just planted a cocoa tree.

If we are lucky then 2017 will be a huge improvement from this year and we will see our first chocolate harvest.

May 2017 be for you happy, healthy, prosperous, and peaceful.

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