Month: May 2016

A Rainy Morning in Chiang Mai



I have waited for such a morning.  For four months we’ve had nothing but drought, record-setting heat, and smoky air but now Northern Thailand is everything I hoped it would be. Except I still don’t know what to do with myself.


If I were someplace else, would I be more plugged in, more connected? I don’t think so. I’m retired, which means the thought of working for someone else fills me with nausea and dread. If I were sitting on the shores of Lake Como in Switzerland, I would still be retired. The days would still stretch before me like a blank page.


If I were in Switzerland, I wouldn’t be hearing the Took-eh crying his distinctive cry, for he is a tropical creature. A cup of good coffee might cost more than $1.20, The circumstances of my life would necessarily be different than they are now, for I wouldn’t be able to support myself on my modest pension. Maybe I would be in the position to be kept by a countess. She would go about her business and I would go about mine. Hers would involved expensive lunches with wealthy friends and mine would involve sitting in cafes, writing blog entries.


No, I’ll take Chiang Mai over Como. I’ll take reality over my fantasies, which are largely composed of a mish-mash of other peoples fantasies, Graham Greene’s in particular. He died a long time ago and I’m still kicking.






The Weirdest Thing That’s Happened To Me In Years



A few days ago I was driving around Northern Thailand on my motor scooter. For two months now there’s been little reason to do so, as the heat, smoke and drought have conspired to make this beautiful place ugly. Then a few rains came, the air was washed clean and a green fuzz has miraculously covered the ugly black and brown of burnt vegetation.  So I decided to visit my favorite place about a half an hour north of here, on the way to Srilanna National Park. It’s a valley that looks like the Napa or Sonoma valleys near San Francisco.


As I was driving through a little town I noticed a flame tree in bloom, and stopped to photograph it. There was sign near the tree, on which was printed one of the few Thai words I recognize, “Massage”  Price: 108 baht. I decided to investigate.  Only a few yards away I found the place advertised, but it was a little temple, and instead of Buddhist images, it held Hindu statues, featuring lots of disembodied heads. Everything was unusually dirty and chaotic. I asked if I could take pictures. The lady in charge said yes, so I pulled in with my motorcycle, parking next to a big tree.


When I got off the bike, a a hundred red ants immediately swarmed over my feet, up my legs and into the clothes. These were large ants; the kind that bite.


So now I’m jumping around, swearing, trying to shake these ants off my feet and swat them out of my clothes. The three ladies there found this mildly amusing, but not surprising. Then the one who seemed to be in charge asked it I would be interested in massage. I checked my wallet and all I had was one hundred and ten baht (about $3.30).   OK, I said.


The little temple was full of stuff, large pieces of furniture, maybe some appliances. I badly wanted to photograph the creepy heads they had scattered along every available surface, but my camera was still in the motorcycle, and not wanting to risk the biting ants, I waited while they moved furniture around to some purpose I couldn’t understand. The eldest lady brought me a glass of water. A younger woman, maybe in her twenties, who looked as though she might be mentally handicapped seemed to be my masseuse and after about ten minutes she lay down a bamboo mat on the only level ground that wasn’t crawling with ants and then tossed on it a dirty child’s plush toy that I surmised was to be my pillow. By now she had donned a turban about the size and shape of a waste paper basket. She motioned for me to lie down.


The thought occurred  that this might be my last chance to run away.


I lay on my back, putting my head on the plush toy and trying not to think about the ants. Then she pulled out a large knife about the size of a Bowie knife. She asked me what parts of me hurt, and I told her my knees, which then prompted her to lay the knife on parts of my legs and while making limp massage motions with the other hand she began to loudly and repeatedly burp. These burps were deep and sounded surprisingly like a man talking.


This went on for about twenty minutes. She also began to sniffle from a runny nose, and sometimes would blow her nose in her hand and then fling the snot away, returning to massage my leg with that same hand. Every time I considered getting up and running away I remembered the ants. After about half an hour the boss-lady (her mother?) yelled something and that was it. The girl stopped burping. I handed her my hundred baht note, but could no longer find the ten baht coin. Perhaps it had fallen onto the ground. The girl said “no problem” and waved me away.


The girl went to her mother and knelt at her feet while the mother put her hand on the turban as in a blessing. No one was paying attention to me, so I made a run for the motor scooter, only picking up a few ants along the way. I raced around the tree and up to the road. It took me a few minutes to realize I was headed the wrong way, back the way I came, and when I turned around I briefly debated stopping again to photograph their weird temple, but decided against it. Besides, pictures wouldn’t help tell the story. It was one of those things you had to experience first-hand.


Flame Trees in Bloom




Here in Northern Thailand, despite the drought the flame trees think it’s spring. They dominate the landscape. Their blossoms are a mix or red and orange and their seeds pods are over a foot long. I’ve been collecting them and then breaking them open when I get home (not an easy task) with hopes of selling them to my friends all over the world. 20 seeds of $10, free shipping.  is my pay pal address

Out of Synch



I just tried watching Fast and Furious 6, and found myself unable to stay with it for more than a few minutes. Here is a movie made for and perhaps by thirteen year old boys. It is punctuated by endless car crashes and engine revving noises.The characters are totally believable as the kind of people who would make quick, evasive driving their life’s work, but the dialogue is especially strange, as it vacillates between clunky, clumsy attempts at humor (we need more than a plan B, we need a plan C, D, E and F!) and preachy, sentimental talk of the importance of family and of being true to oneself.


Now that I have spent much of the last five years abroad, I can see why and how the F and F franchise made so much money. There are thirteen year old boys all over the world. Millions of them, and if they can persuade a thirteen year old girl to accompany them to the theater, that’s a lot of tickets sold. Then there are many more people who certainly could not be bothered to read a subtitled version of My Dinner With Andre, but can appreciate a good car chase and shootout.


After I gave up trying to watch the movie, I opened a five year old copy of the New Yorker magazine someone had given me. For most of my life in America I had a subscription to that magazine, and read it cover-to-cover weekly. But now I find I can’t become interested in the articles. In fact, I can’t even understand a lot of what’s in there. The attempts at humor seem unnecessarily oblique. As I try to get into it again, I find the whole magazine is a mystery to me, and even with my new reading glasses the type font is so small it hurts my eyes to read those narrow columns. I’m afraid Facebook has spoiled me for reading.


Here in Thailand, the cinemas get only the stupidest of our American movies. Super Heroes and other forms of action movies determine what people here think of America. America is New York or Los Angeles, with fast cars and sexy women. They prefer our film exports to their own national product. The only Thai movies I see in the cinema resemble Thai television comedies. A pretty girl, a fat girl with pimples, a handsome boy, a fat boy with glasses, grouchy relatives, goofy neighbors, a lady boy or two. The plots usually involve ghosts.