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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

Is “Enough” Enough?

November 17, 2016

His late Majesty, King Rama IX of Thailand, is universally mourned and loved by Thais, especially for the care and guidance of his people which he exhibited throughout his reign. The major suggestion he gave his people on how to live a happy life, which everyone in Thailand knows, from school children to golden age retirees, is embodied in the Thai term “Paw Piang” (พอเพียง).

“Paw Piang” is a simple term meaning “sufficiency, or “just enough” but as a lifestyle it carries so much more meaning. And interestingly enough, besides being a great suggestion about how Thais can live a happy life, it can apply directly to how we, as retirees in Thailand, can also enhance our existence here.

The concept of living a life with the understanding of what is “enough” can be traced way back. Twenty-five hundred years ago, one of the Lord Buddha’s basic teaching tenets was that we find the “Middle Way”. This is spelled out in the “Noble Eightfold Path”, the following of which would lead us to a life of liberation by avoiding extremes and avoiding a too austere life. Wisdom was to understand “moderation”.

At about the same time in history, all the way over in Greece, moderation was being emphasized by another of the world’s great thinkers.   Socrates enjoined us to do “Everything in moderation”, to choose the mean and avoid extremes. One of Plato’s four virtues, moderation, had a similar emphasis.

The concept of “Paw Piang” therefore is not new, but adapted to the Thai people and their way of life, it still works.

To adapt to a “Paw Piang” lifestyle Thais are encouraged to understand their current situation, to not overextend themselves, like not going into debt and buying a top of the line SUV when they really can only afford a Honda Jazz. If you have the money, go for that Honda PCX 150 motorcycle you’ve always dreamed of; if not maybe settle for a Honda Dream. They should do what they can to live more sustainable lifestyles, raising chickens for eggs, having a small vegetable garden for their own use and maybe growing a little more to sell at the market, developing handicrafts. “Paw Piang” doesn’t discourage people from reaching higher, it encourages people to know themselves and reach for the achievable, not for that “pie in the sky”. Many Thais, but not all of course, have taken this philosophy of moderation to heart.

As a young man of 22 living in Thailand I thought that moderation was about the last thing I was interested in. I am not sure what the opposite of “Paw Piang” is in Thai. Some English antonyms for “moderation” are “extreme”, “wildness”, “outrageousness”. The younger me knew them all very well.

I know now that I was lucky to have survived the many extravagances a young man in 60s and 70s Thailand participated in.  But today, as a retiree who really wants to be around a lot longer because I am so curious about how things are going to turn out, I realize that I can achieve that, live contentedly, and learn a lot from the “Paw Piang” lifestyle.

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I have often written on these pages that if one is planning on retiring here in Thailand you should first try a staggered retirement, test the waters, see if Thailand is right for you, see if you have the psyche, patience and flexibility to live in a foreign country, and then see if you can afford a lifestyle here and that you would have “enough” to live a comfortable and stimulating retirement.

It turns out that many retirees, after answering these retirement-prep questions in the affirmative, and then moving here, change.  They decide that they don’t have “enough”.

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Foreign retirees sometimes think that, with the absence of business regulations here, they could make lots of extra money, whether they need the money or not, by starting a business in Thailand. Restaurants and bars are the big dreams of some who ignore the fact that they may be in their 60s and 70s and have never run a restaurant or bar before. As with most foreign-owned business ventures in Thailand they often run into big problems, and they often lose the money they were counting on to get them to the “end”. One example: There are 6 foreign owned pizza restaurants within 1 kilometer of the PC I am writing this post on, and none of them seem to be making a profit.

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Then there are the foreign retirees, men in their “golden ages”, who once again feel a young man’s urges that they thought had been long gone. In his 6 or 7 decades on this planet he begins to feel he hasn’t had “enough” of all that.  This occurs especially when a young Thai nubile, who may or may not have ulterior motives, tells him how handsome he is, and who is more than willing to allow him to express those young-man urges once again.

I like the story of the 80 year old Chinese sage when asked what it is like not to have to worry about women and sex anymore answered with ”It’s like getting down from a wild horse.” That’s “Paw Piang”. Nevertheless, you’ll hear more than one story about old foreign “sages”, aided by the latest in chemical assistance, hopping back on to that wild horse, sometimes with marriage, sometimes with another set of children, usually holding on to that wild horse for dear life, often with quite deleterious effects on their health, sanity, and their life savings.

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I sometimes wonder why a retired person who could be happy with a small room-with-a-view wants to get back into real estate. I mean, would you join a “fight club” at this age? That’s what real estate is. Even though we as foreigners can’t own land, so many people think that what they currently have is not enough. Land is fairly cheap here so the possibility of becoming landed gentry looks inviting. Often the deeds to the land that they “own” have the names of Thai spouses, almost spouses, Thai companies, or Thai acquaintances.  I have literally seen an older foreign real estate mogul want-to-be end up with life savings gone, pot to piss in gone, along with that small room-with-a-view.

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I had drunk my lifetime quota of beer and alcohol by my mid-thirties, and have abstained since then. That is probably one reason I am in pretty good health (knocking on my wooden desk). But so many foreign retirees do the opposite of “Paw Piang” when it comes to alcohol. I have seen many a foreign retiree indulge to the point that they have used up their alcohol quotas for the next few lifetimes. I don’t give much direct advice, I tell stories, but one piece of advice I would give is a bit Socratic. One should consume alcohol in “moderation”.

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“Paw Piang” works for me. I have a great life working in my garden, playing golf once a week, Skyping with my kids, drinking Thai Frappuccinos, learning the piano, hanging out with old buddies once in a while, satisfying my addiction to Game of Thrones, watching my Seattle Seahawks, studying the Thai language, going down south to the beaches once a year, writing these posts and maybe occasionally helping an Expat understand this place a bit better, and each morning waking up to my roosters crowing and a brand new day.  It works for me, but we are all different and I find that “Paw Piang” is relative.

We were on a short trip with some Thai friends down in Karbi in southern Thailand. We took a short ferry ride to Kho Yao Noi, an island in the Andaman Sea with a number of resorts and empty beaches, not the white powdery type, but nice. We found a place on the beach with a beautiful view and cabins for 1,200 baht per night. Just about our speed.

While we were there we heard about a number of higher scale resorts around the island, a number going for 30,000 – 40,000 baht per night. You could even rent a luxury yacht for a “nightly rate as low as 365,000 baht”.  We were told that there was a resort up on the hill overlooking us and the bay that charged its guests 400,000 baht per night. And a local showed us pictures of the European football great Renaldo, who had just spent his honeymoon up there. Whereas we took the ferry here, they had flown in by helicopter. We hired a long tail fishing boat to take us island-hopping, they had one of those super-fast luxury speed boats.

Now my first reaction was, “That’s crazy. 400,000 baht per night!?” But then I thought about it. I could afford the 1,200 baht, maybe a little more, and the next morning I would wake up with about $50 less in my bank account than the day before.  That’s no problem.  Since Ronaldo earns $70 or $80 million a year he would probably wake up the next morning, after having spent 400,000 baht the day before, with tens of thousands of dollars more in his bank account than he started with. That is the definition of “an infinite amount of money”, that is, he could not spend all his money no matter what he bought.

This is the essence of “Paw Piang”. I was staying at the appropriate place for someone with a finite amount of assets, and he was doing what was appropriate for someone with an infinite amount of assets. Interestingly I was not in any envy. I am sure that Ronaldo and his bride ate a beautiful gourmet meal that night. We, on the other hand, had given a fisherman some money in the morning and that evening he brought us a bucketful of fresh jumbo shrimp, crabs, squid, and fish that he had caught that day. The cabin owner cooked it all up for us. Holy sea bass, Batman! That was a great meal. I don’t think Ronaldo’s could have been any better.

I went to bed overlooking the view, although at a somewhat lower altitude, of the same Andaman Sea that Ronaldo was seeing, and I was enjoying every minute of it as I am sure he was.

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And btw, I am still in lust for that Honda PCX 150, but my 10 year-old Honda Dream still works great. Maybe once it dies I’ll reach for the brass-ring. Until then I have more than enough to be a happy retiree here.

I Remember His Majesty

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.

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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.

Queen Sirikit

Queen Sirikit

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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.

queen-e

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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.

 

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 

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TV News

(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.

ABC, NBC – Podcasts

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.

 

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Radio 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.

 

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Sports

 

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).

 

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YouTube

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.

 

 

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