I’m writing with no internet connection, and that makes me feel like I’m the first guy to scratch a hard rock into a softer rock, trying to leave a permanent record of his thoughts.
But I’ve got to remember that the writing process isn’t as important as the thinking process that precedes it. And my thoughts, though perhaps not always profound, are at least truly mine.
I live in Thailand, and the people of this country are about the vote in a national referendum on a new constitution. They’re going to do this on August 7, which is my wife’s birthday. We are flying from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and then going to the beach for a few days before returning home on August 12, Mother’s Day, which in this country is the Queen’s birthday.
This wouldn’t occupy my mind so much if it weren’t for the fact that yesterday the army arrested the governing body of Chiang Mai province, taking them and their families to a military base in Bangkok for “Attitude Adjustment.” Apparently these men had been bold or foolish enough to ignore the warning that no discussion of the upcoming referendum would be tolerated.
A couple of years ago I managed to return to Thailand just in time to witness the coup d’ etat. The streets filled with tanks and jeeps, the TV stations left the air, to be replaced after a few hours by one station, showing some military men sitting at a folding table, a banner behind them reading “The National Peace and Order Party.” These men assured the audience that there was nothing to fear, that everything was under their benevolent control, and though there would be a few extreme measures in place for a while, Democratic rule would soon be restored.
That was two years ago. The initial curfews have been relaxed, but there is still absolutely no free discussion of a political nature. Anyone attempting it is taken away for attitude adjustment. Universities cannot hold seminars. Newspapers cannot publish anything unflattering to the government. The Constitution has been suspended. The military passed a law absolving themselves from any liability. When it suits them, they like to charge people with slander, and just the threat, especially if it involves the Royal Family, is enough to silence the boldest critic.
The International Edition of the New York Times is no longer printed in Thailand, for the printer feared he would be charged with a crime if an article critical of Thailand’s rulers appeared.
My Thai wife pays no mind to any of this. When I asked her about the coming referendum which will take place on her birthday, she said “It’s just like Mother’s Day. Another holiday.”
Maybe she’s right to be so cavalier. I’m not just worried about my new home, but also about my old one, the one that sends me a social security check every month, and has promised to do so for as long as I live. Fifty years ago I started working, washing dishes at a Howard Johnsons restaurant for $1.25 an hour. They took out a chunk of my first paycheck and every one after that, promising to pay me a pension. I have been receiving $1,215 a month for the last four years. The things Donald Trump is saying make me wonder how much longer I can count on that.
Thais are nice people, sweet and pretty docile compared to the Americans I saw the last time I waited in line at LAX to board a Southwest Airlines flight to Oakland. People were exhibiting frightening levels of hostility and frustration. I didn’t know what the problem was, but I avoided making eye contact with any of my fellow passengers.
When I got to my brother’s house in Berkeley, I found that most public places in that town were inhabited by homeless people. These people, mostly men my age who looked like they could use a shave, shower and change of clothes, were not the least bit apologetic about their situation. They glared at me as I walked past. Someone muttered “What are you looking at?”
I stopped by the Berkeley Post Office to mail a letter. This formerly beaux arts building was now a homeless persons camp, and the smell of stale urine prominently advertised that fact. The lobby was largely abandoned, but I saw that for convenience’s sake they had put several mail boxes out on the sidewalk. As I searched for the right mail slot, a man lying in the ice plant below glared up at me.
“What are you looking at?” he demanded.
So I don’t know which country I’m less confident in, but I do believe that Helen Keller may have nailed it when she said “The reason no one has ever experienced Security is because it doesn’t exist. Life is either an exciting adventure or it is nothing.”