The Age of Gold
June 3, 2011
I just looked at my passport and it says that today is my 65th birthday. That can’t be right. Seems like just yesterday I was 22 years old and stepping off that Pam Am 707, Round-The-World Flight #001, at Don Muang Airport in Bangkok for my first time. It was Durian season and the aroma was deadly, and I swear the temperature was 150 degrees. I almost got right back on the plane and kept going to the next stop (Katmandu I believe).
But they must have been some pretty good years, as I find myself healthy and happy (As a child of the 60s you can’t expect me to remember them all.)
The Thai language has a number of interesting ways to describe someone who is older than dirt like myself. One is ผู้สูงอายุ /pôo-sǒong-aa-yu/ – “a person with a high age”. Another is คนที่เกษียณแล้ว /kon-têe-gà~sǐan-láew/ – “a person who has already retired”. But my favorite is วัยทอง /wai tong/ “the age of gold”.
I feel rather lucky to be living in Thailand during this milestone age of gold. I am one of those first of the Baby Boomers to reach 65 and I often think about what my life would be like if I were still back in the U.S.
- If I were back in America I would probably be attempting to live off my Social Security, and that failing, would be looking for a job to support myself. If I were lucky then maybe a position as a Wal-Mart greeter would open up. In Chiang Mai, Thailand my SS check goes a lot further, and although I am not rich I am quite comfortable here. As the Thai saying goes พอเพียง /por-piang/ – “I have enough.”
- Here is a quote from a web article I just read today “Working well past retirement age – or simply not retiring – is becoming the only strategy available to some people.” Hey, there is another strategy – and I am doing it right here.
- In the U.S. I would have access to the Medicare system, at least until the Tea Baggers try to take it away from me. Because Medicare does not pay when one is outside the United States, I have put some money in a savings account and consider it my own personal emergency medical insurance. Although hospital prices are beginning to climb in Thailand, they are still very reasonable and the medical care here is quite good. How did I know how much to save? I have saved enough for one bypass surgery. I am figuring that I won’t need two.
- The nicest thing about being the age of gold in Thailand is the respect that the people here show to someone who has lived as long as we have. Instead of being old and forgotten as I probably would be back home (not counting all the people I would be saying “Welcome to Wal-Mart” to of course), here I am sought out for my opinion and wisdom and am treated with deference and respect wherever I go. In america, if some young stranger said to me “Uncle, let me carry those bags for you.” I would either give a Robert De Niro impression from Taxi Driver and say “You talkin’ to Me?” or I’d run away. Here it would be the norm.
- There is no winter here.
- Since I am not one of those Expats who sit around all day with alcohol and beer traveling through my bloodstream I am able to keep myself physically fit with good outdoor exercise and lots of fresh vegetables and fruit and good and inexpensive medical and dental care.
- I can ride my 125cc Honda Dream motorcycle past rice fields and through tropical forest roads and pretend to be in a California motorcycle club riding a Harley.
- Since I don’t have to spend my days greeting shoppers at Wal-Mart I have time to take up new activities to keep my brain from atrophying. So I am learning to play the piano and sing like “The Piano Man”. My latest song is “Love is a Many Splendored Thing”. Shmultzy, I know. But so romantic I downloaded the move from which it is named. And even though I may be a “person with high age” Jennifer Jones can still make my heart quake.
- I just recently shot an 88 on a beautiful, scenic, tropical golf course in the shadows of the Doi Suthep Mountain. The course is something out of a Golf Channel’s show titled “Beautiful Topical Resort Golf Courses You Can Only Dream About Playing”. Here it was $12 for 18 holes.
- I read this morning that 1 in 3 Americans is obese. In Thailand I am surrounded by thin, in-shape people. That gave me the incentive to lose 20 lbs. I’m still fatter than anyone here but look totally anorexic when I go back home.
- Climbed Doi Kham mountain this morning. It’s a short mountain but said to have had a religious shrine on it for a thousand years, or about 5 times as old as my own country. There I gave thanks in front of the statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kuan Yin, my family guardian. Buddhists don’t really have any One to thank (Kuan Yin is a representative of the expression of compassion and no one really thinks she is still hanging around.) but it doesn’t stop us from being thankful for what we have.
- I have been married to the same Thai woman for the last 40 years. One way to remain happy is not to get divorced. One way not to get divorced is to work at being happy. It ain’t easy but it is worth it and a happy life seems just a little bit easier to accomplish here when you have “enough” and don’t have to wake up early to get to your job at Wal-Mart.
So I look forward to starting every new day here in Chiang Mai. Something interesting and unusual always seems to happen. Maybe it will be that bull frog that I’ll find in my shoe, or swerving out of the way of a 2 meter long snake as I ride my imaginary Harley down a country road, or getting stung by a half dozen killer wasps after sitting on a chair where they were building a nest (that happened today), or meeting up with some beautiful young people who call me “uncle” (better than “grandfather”), or a Skype call from my son in Afghanistan telling me he is safe and well, or my daughter-in-law in Seattle showing me my granddaughter’s latest accomplishment, or showing us how her belly is growing with our second grandchild, or my older son up in the San Juan Islands near Canada telling me about the ocean wildlife he encounters on his sea kayaking tours, or a Facebook message from an old college friend, or birthday greetings from loved ones, or a rainstorm, or a new flower in bloom in our garden, or seeing the 20,000th hit on my blog, or my wife making my favorite Thai dish, or just that naughty bowl of ice cream to close out my day.
It’s not all great being “golden” of course. Some stuff doesn’t work the way it used to, and I fall asleep watching even interesting shows on TV, and every time I get up from a chair I make loud grunting noises. Bette Davis once said that “growing old isn’t for sissies”. Yea, but I wouldn’t trade it in for the alternative. And I wouldn’t trade my life here for anywhere else right now.
If my passport is correct then I am quite thankful for making it to 65. I’d like to take this opportunity to send my birthday blessings to all who are reading this and my wish that all god’s children find happiness.