Weather Permitting

June 26, 2015

I often write (and talk) about the weather. I especially do this as I try to disseminate information to those thinking of retiring here to Thailand and who may not have experienced all the seasons. I’ve described the cold season, and coping with the hot season, and I have written about the floods here during the rainy season. But now I am experiencing something I haven’t seen in all my time here. Severe drought.

The California drought has nothing over what the north of Thailand is currently experiencing. Here is a Bangkok Post pictorial essay about our current situation.  These pictures were taken in April of this year. It is now almost July and things are worse since the rains have not yet come.

We are luckier than most since when we were house hunting we came across this house with a nicely running stream next to it. Pikun loves the water and I love the mountains and this house has both, so we jumped at it. And unlike so much of the north, because we can pump water from our stream to water the garden, things are still green around us. But we aren’t sure how much longer that will last. The stream is now at the lowest level we have ever seen it.

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The Mae Hia Stream

Normally by this time all the water plants that sprung up during the dry season have been washed away by the stream’s flow and the water would cover the whole stream bed to a couple of feet. Right now there are only a few more inches left before it dries out completely.

And just in case you are thinking that I am only concerned about my garden, there is a little more at stake. It’s the whole country’s economic well being that is tittering on the brink. Here is an article that appeared in today’s Nation newspaper, Drought Crisis Could Knock Down Growth. Looks like the whole of Thailand’s economy is waiting for the rains to come.

I just came off the phone with a rice farmer friend. I asked him what his take on the current situation was. He told me that it is difficult to know when a real drought is upon us since every year during the dry hot season there is a 5 or 6 month period when no rain falls at all. The way to check is by looking at the reservoirs and see where the water levels are at the same time each year. For the past 3 or 4 years that level has gone down until now when they are dangerously low. So the drought has been an ongoing thing for a number of years now.

He also says that water shortages can be a hit or miss thing. This year he had all the water he needed, but a farmer he knows just a few kilometers away got no water at all. No water, no rice. It all depends on how the water is doled out. Some farmers will be okay. Others will be up-a-dry-creek.

He also said that since the population centers are the first priority on who gets the water the farmers are quite worried that there may just not be enough water to go around, especially with the huge increase in population around the northern cities. Population growth has gone uncontrolled; planning difficult to see.

For the past two or three years I have noticed that the rainy season has been very different from what I traditionally remembered. This is how the rainy season is supposed to look.

Every year about mid April, Songkran time, there are big thunder storms. Then there is no rain for a few more months. By june the clouds form daily and there are some showers. A few weeks later the rainy season really gets underway and big puffy-cumulous clouds form every afternoon, and by 4 or 5 o’clock the skies open up (just in time for rush hour, btw). Huge downpours occur every evening and they last for a short while up to a few hours. By night the skies clear up and we wait until the next evening when it happens all over again.

Except that for the last few years, that is not what has happened. Last year the rains came maybe once every 3 or 4 days. And I only recall one or two heavy downpours whereas in a typical rainy season they occur every day.

Why is this happening? I don’t know. Maybe it is normal and just happens on a time scale so long that no one can remember it. Maybe it’s the global climate change that scientist all agree is happening although the scientifically-challenged continue to refute even when reality stares them in the face. Whatever the cause, a change has happened. I’ll be taking shorter showers and hoping someone in the government is doing something to mitigate the impact that less water will have on all of us.

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I just read this morning that North Korea has a very serious drought condition and they are predicting famine. As if the North Koreans didn’t have enough problems. Let’s hope for the best for them.

Nothing so bad here, yet. As I am writing this it has begun to drizzle. We’ll need lots more than a few sprinkles to get things back to normal but at least it is a start.

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The Days of Our Years

June 1, 2015

The days of our years are threescore years and ten;

And if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,

Yet is their strength labor and sorrow;

For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

 -Psalm 90:10

 *****

But the days grow short when you reach September…

And these few precious days, I’ll spend with you

These precious days, I’ll spend with you

-September Song (as sung by Frank Sinatra)

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Impermanent are all component things,

They arise and cease, that is their nature:

They come into being and pass away,

Release from them is bliss supreme.

 

 — Mahaa-Parinibbaana Sutta

 *****

As of this month I enter the last year of my 7th decade (three score years and ten) on this wonderful planet, feeling strong, healthy, and “marvelous”, and waking up each day just as I have for so many years, thankful to still be around and really looking forward to whatever is next.

I know, the introductory quotes above might be considered by some as a bit morbid, but I feel the exact opposite about them. Please indulge me one more quote to explain.

The changes somehow frighten me, Still I have to smile 

It turns me on to think of growing old.

–   Poems, Prayers, and Promises, John Denver

By western reckoning I am 69. But many eastern cultures count you being one year old at birth. I like the sound of the round number. So let’s say that I am now 70 years old.

Holy patootee, those 7 decades went fast!

For this special occasion I thought I would take a break from talking about retiring and Thailand and simply share some of my feelings having become, as some of my 20 something colleagues on my last contract at Boeing used to warmly say, “Older than dirt.” Fun guys those Boeing kids. It gives me great pleasure to know that they are still toiling away in their cubicles.

Being healthy and happy at this age is a blessing, just as having the ability to retire comfortably. But in fact, one needs to go about achieving both in much the same way. First one needs to prepare for these days, then work your ass off getting here, not make any really bad decisions along the way, and then be lucky. I have been a lucky boy.

I talked about how we were able to save enough to retire early in a blog post from 2010 (when I was a strapping 65 year old), Retiring Early – Or How to Go to Taco Bell and Save Half a Million Dollars. The moral of that story is to keep your costs down and be frugal without denying yourself basic comforts and the things you need instead of spending your money on stuff the culture and the TV (and Don Draper of Mad Men) say you should have.

As birthdays come along we tend to ask the question “What’s it all about, Alfie?” If we are lucky we have already answered that question long ago. First, I have felt that to live a good life we should refrain from causing suffering to others and if we are lucky enough to have the chance, we should try to alleviate suffering when we see it. Secondly, hopefully we got the first one down, we should try to live an interesting life, one worthy of remembering, and to later tell stories about.

Along the way I have tried to stay healthy. I exercise every day, weights, push ups, walking, gardening, lifting bags of cow dung and compost. I also stretch a lot and do a bit of yoga daily. Sometimes just for the fun of it I walk up the stairs 10 times in a row. I play golf once a week, shoot in the mid 90s, and always walk the course. If anyone sees me in a cart on the golf course please feel free to shoot me. There would be no point in going on.

I don’t drink, never smoked (tobacco) and eat everything I want. I don’t consider low fat anything or lean meat, dark chocolate, or 2% milk real food. I could possibly live off of bacon, ice cream, Pepsi, instant noodles, and milk chocolate, but for some reason I usually eat healthy. I am an omnivore, which breaks my first rule above about not causing suffering and I know that my karma will eventually come around to deal with it. But I keep my meat intake quite low.

I do take vitamins, fish oil supplements, and Reishi mushrooms daily. I have had one cold in the last 10 years and that was this year during the height of smog season. My blood pressure is in the 120/70 range. If it weren’t for some aches and pains and my huge prostate (which is currently under control) I would have no complaints.

I also try to keep my mind active. I write these blogs, contribute to a blog on learning Thai, am learning the piano, and when I have nothing to do I multiply two 2-digit numbers in my head. Also important in keeping my mind working well, I don’t own a smartphone. My head is always up, observing the world around me, and I’m never looking down into my palm poking at a rectangular piece of plastic.

But the thing that I believe really keeps me healthy is that I laugh often and try to belly laugh at least once a day. If I can’t find anything to belly laugh about I watch an episode of Modern Family or Veep. That usually gives me my fix.

I have now reached what the Bible says are “The days of my years”.  Am I ready to go gently into that good night? Not yet.

The catch phrase from the immortal sci-fi flick Starship Troopers (spoken by platoon leader Jean Rasczak and later by his replacement Johnny Rico as they run out to battle the Bugs) is, “Come on you apes! You want to live forever?” Turns out that this is a paraphrase from Peter the Great. And people put down this great film for its implausible story and bad acting.

Aside: This movie also contains my favorite movie scene of all time.  I’m not sure how the powers that be here in Thailand would take my linking to this scene but if you are interested go to YouTube and search on “The shower scene from Startship Troppers”. You’ll see right away why it is my favorite scene.

So do I want to live forever? Not really (unless I can look like those kids in the shower), but you’ve seen the pictures of those 115 year olds, right. My response to Johnny Rico’s rhetorical question is in the words of It Ain’t Necessarily So, from Porgy & Bess.

Methus’lah lived nine hundred years,

Methus’lah lived nine hundred years,

But who calls dat livin’

when no gal will give in

To no man what’s nine hundred years ?

 

– George and Ira Gershwin

I wonder what Methuselah’s prostate looked like.

I’ll know when it is time enough. Sometime Way down the road, on the pages of this blog, I’ll let you know. There are still a couple of things I need to do though. I’d like to live long enough to break 90 on the golf course. I’d like play the piano and sing like Nora Jones. I’d like to grow enough vegetables for our daily needs. I’d like to see Pikun grow a 20 kilo jackfruit (we just picked one today at 17.6). I’d like to see my grandchildren grow to be as excited to wake up every morning as I am. Oh, and of course, world peace.

Until then, I just can’t wait until tomorrow morning.

To all my friends and readers please accept my birthday blessings and may you all Live Long and Prosper and have lots of interesting stories to tell.

*****

Stream-of-Conspicuousness Anecdotes and Opinions of a 70 year old

(In no chronological order – Hey forgive me, I’m old)

You can skip this part, but then I’d be disappointed.  It’s just me having fun remembering and writing some memories down as we ancient ones are prone to do. I didn’t share with you many of my sex, drugs, and Rock & Roll memories, but don’t think I haven’t thought about them lots during this exercise. Thanks to the Internet and YouTube which helped prove to me that some of the things I remember really did happen. At this age you never know.

I believe that I have been very lucky to have grown up in the latter half of the 20th Century, when tropical beaches were empty and baseball stars took the time to say hi and the women were beautiful and the music great.

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– When I was 5 years old I remember waving to Jackie Robinson, my childhood hero,  from the cheap seats at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. And he waved back at me. It is my first memory.

– I met baseball stars like Willie Mays and Duke Snyder while traveling home on the subway after games.

– On weekends I would get on the subway in New York and go alone to visit places like the Bronx Zoo, the Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They were all free at that time. I hung out in Central Park and in Greenwich Village. I started doing this when I was 8 or 9 years old (I was alone because Mom was gone and Dad worked 7 days a week and I had the legendary latch-key put around my neck at age 7.)

– My first job was at 15 selling newspapers after school from a stand in the Erie Lackawanna Ferry Terminal on the Hudson River on the New York side near Wall Street. I earned $15 a week.

– I saw my first Broadway show, My Fair Lady in its final season, at a low priced matinee. Later I saw many other Broadway shows including Hair in 1969 which contained that shocking “nude scene”. Pretty tame I thought (Hope you took a look at the shower scene.)

– I snuck backstage before a performance of the Metropolitan Opera and was outside the dressing room door listening to the diva warming up before they caught me and threw my butt out the stage door. My friend, who was an opera extra and was one of the spear holders in Aida’s Triumphal March, had snuck me in.

– I saw Judy Garland at the Palace. She wasn’t perfect, she’d been around the block a few times,  but she was still JUDY and we loved her. I am one of those very rare people who loves Broadway shows and Judy Garland, but orientation-wise I am completely straight (not that there’s anything wrong with the other way).

– I volunteered for 5 years in Seattle helping people living with AIDS. The first year all my clients died. The last year I volunteered they all lived.

– During Peace Corps training on The Big Island of Hawaii we had a day and a half off a week from our studies. They would give us $12 and a couple of baloney sandwiches and we were off for 36 hours. Many of us would hitchhike to the other side of the island to an empty Hapuna Beach. We would body surf and get sunburned all day, eat our baloney sandwiches, and sleep on the beach at night. The next morning, starving, we hiked over to the next beach, across a golf course, and ended up at the brunch buffet at the Mona Kea Beach Hotel, at the time one of the grandest hotels in the world. The $12 weekly stipend just about covered the cost of the brunch buffet. There were no other hotels or towns nearby so the buffet was for the hotel’s fashionable jet setting guests, them and a bunch of very grimy Peace Corps trainees. Until this day, those were the best breakfasts I have ever had.

– While on The Big Island I climbed both Mona Kea and Mona Loa, two 14,000′ volcanoes.

– I have more than 400 different species of birds on my “life list” from 5 continents. My favorite view was in a Kurdish village 10,000′ up in the northwest Iranian mountains looking down on an Egyptian vulture a thousand feet below. The Hummingbird Gallery in the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica was pretty cool too.

– At 5’7” I played on the Long Island University freshman basketball team. I was the 12th man on the bench on a 12-man team, and had a high of 6 points in one game. Throughout college I had a lot of very tall friends.

– I’ve seen the original King Kong 25 times. I have seen Casablanca 30+ times. Don’t know for sure because sometimes I just watch Sam singing As Time Goes By or I watch the Problems of 3 little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world  scene with Rick and Ilsa, and her so so beautiful hat and the tears begin to flow in her eyes and in mine. We’ll always have Paris.

– I love crying at movies. The first time was when I saw the star crossed lovers Gregory Peck and the beautiful Jennifer Jones die in A Duel in the Sun. And speaking of star-crossed lovers, the last line of Romeo and Juliet destroys me, “For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo”. OMG, tears are running down my cheek as I type this. But when Scarlett shakes her fist at the sky and says If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again, and the music of Tara’s Theme crescendos, the flood gates spill open.

If you haven’t noticed by now I am pretty much a popular culture junkie. One question often asked of me, “Who do you think is the most beautiful actress?” Easy. Grace Kelly in To catch a Thief. The future princess is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and Hitchcock really knew what he was doing, and Edith Head did the spectacular dresses. Cary Grant ain’t bad either.

– A friend of mine once asked if I wanted to go see Bennie King at the Vanguard in Greenwich Village (Bennie was the lead singer of the Drifters in the 60s) I said sure. When we got there the announcer said “The Village Vanguard is proud to present B. B. King.” Who? This very large guitarist, a bass, and a drummer came on stage. I sat no more than 10 feet from B.B. (who no one had really heard of at the time) and his guitar Lucille. What a great night. Just recently both Bennie and B. B. have passed away. RIP and thanks for the great music.

– I traveled across the US from New York to the west coast winding up in San Francisco. That was the summer of 1967, The Summer of Love.  At least for me, it was well named. Hippies were in Haight Ashbury, and the song If You’re Going to San Francisco Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair  played on the radio just about every 15 minutes of our 5 day drive across country. Am I wrong but were the women back then and the music so much more beautiful than any other time in my life?

– I visited the Taj Mahal when it was 115° F.  Worked in Phoenix, AZ when it was 120° F and I was in Saudi Arabia when it was 130° F. But the most uncomfortable weather I have experienced was every summer I spent in New York City.

– I visited Angkor Wat in 1970. The US had just started the illegal bombing of Cambodia while I was on the road traveling and I had no idea. Wondered why there were sand bags and machine guns at every corner. For 3 days I toured the spectacular ruins, the only tourist in all of Angkor Wat. I was the lone resident of the Siem Reap Hotel. I slept on a cot on the roof with a mosquito net for 25 cents a night. For 3 days I bicycled through the ruins and saw not one other visitor. There were only the sounds of gibbons in the jungle and an occasional American fighter jet flying overhead.

– I ran at least 5 times a week for more than 40 years. This was long before the word “jogging” was termed. It started with a group of us kids in Chinatown running across the Manhattan Bridge every night. I ended up running the Seattle and then the Portland Marathons and stopped running only after my Achilles’ tendon screamed at me that I had had enough. It is something I really miss.

– At the age of 50, after 7 years of study, I took the 4 hour exam, fighting 15 martial arts experts along the way, and getting completely destroyed by the Grand Master (I never came close to hitting him once), but was still awarded my karate black belt. I am more proud of this than my college degrees. I know I worked harder for it and nobody ever tried to kick me in the head in college.

– I’ve travelled to 45 countries.

– I was on the 1967 March on the Pentagon to oppose the Vietnam War. Was the Long Island University coordinator of the Poor People’s Campaign began by Martin Luther King Jr. just before his death.  We also marched on Washington. I was walking up to the Washington Monument when I heard the Peter Paul and Mary song Blowing in the Wind playing. When we got to the top of the hill I stood next to the monument and looked out on a sea of 100,000 people, and there was the real Peter Paul and Mary singing on stage.

– Joined the Peace Corps in 1969 when the Vietnam War was raging. On the opening day of school in 1970 I saw a tiny new teacher had just arrived, I was struck by lightning just like Michael Corleone in The Godfather, and 46 years later she is the mother of my two boys and is downstairs making dinner for me as I write this.

– Saw B52s take off from Takhli Airbase in Thailand on bombing runs to Vietnam. I counted one B52 take off every 5 minutes for as long as I was there. A B52 taking off is the loudest and scariest thing I have ever experienced. But I think it might have been worse on the other end.

– In Bali in 1970 there was not one structure and almost no people on Kuta Beach which now looks like Waikiki. I came out of the water there after skinny dipping (there was no one else on the beach) and a little boy appeared and asked me if I wanted something to drink. I said yes and he climbed a coconut tree, opened a coconut for me and asked for the equivalent of about 2 cents.

– I am quite proud  that my two sons are also my friends.

– Was at the ballpark in Seattle with the boys in 1990 when Randy Johnson threw his first no-hitter.

– The boys and I went to the NBA All Star Game in Seattle in 1987 (This was the definition of “Show Time”). We sat in the last row in the upper deck of the huge King Dome. The 60+ thousand of us saw one of the greatest lineups of all time. The game went into overtime with the West winning 154-149. Here is what the teams looked like.

The Eastern Conference

Moses Malone,  Jeff Malone,  Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Dominique Wilkins,  Michael Jordan.

The Western Conference

Tom Chambers, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sleepy Floyd, Joe Barry Carroll, Rolando Blackman, Mark Aguirre, Alvin Robertson, Walter Davis,  Alex English, Hakeem Olajuwon

I count at least 14 hall of Famers in the list.

– I’ll end this trip down memory lane with the time I greeted royalty. I was carrying little one-year-old Warren in the garden after our baths, he in his birthday suit and me wearing only a Thai sarong tied loosely around my waist when a neighbor ran by calling out “The King is coming down the road”. I said to Warren “You want to see the King?” and he said “Goo Goo”, which I interpreted as “Sure let’s go” So we rushed out to the highway to watch the royal procession go by. As His Majesty’s yellow Rolls Royce came into view I lifted my hand to wave and somehow Warren’s foot got caught under the knot in my sarong. I waved, he kicked out, the sarong dropped to the ground, and there the Leong family was in all their natural splendor greeting Thai royalty.

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May you also live long enough to have lots of interesting stories to tell.

Now tell me I have not been a lucky boy. I no longer have a “bucket list”, but maybe I’ll start a new one, and in another 70 years I hope to have another list of anecdotes for you.

Lately it occurs to me what a long strange trip it’s been.

― Truckin’ (The Grateful Dead)

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