Category: travel

Anything is Possible

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It’s occurred to me lately that I’m never going to be “discovered.” The phone isn’t going to ring again with someone hoping for my services. Nothing is going to happen that will rescue me from my current situation. That’s not to say my current circumstances are bad, nor am I waiting for rescue. For most of my adult life, I sort of half-expected things were going to get better over time. I no longer expect that.

No, this is it, as good as it’s going to get. If I failed to save for retirement twenty or thirty years ago, it’s not going to suddenly happen now that I’m seventy. The next big landmark in my life will probably be a catastrophic illness or accident, a medical bill I might not be able to pay, a Go Fund Me site, but now with the pandemic, I suppose the line for charity bail outs will be interminable.

On the other hand and possibly on the brighter side, nothing seems to make sense anymore. Merely watching our own government handle the pandemic is an exercise in absurd logic. It’s like watching a Betty Boop cartoon. Nothing follows from what came before, and anything is possible. There’s a chance, albeit a small one, that when I leave my house this morning I’ll bump into Johnny Depp who was just coming to see me to offer me a role in his new film. We’ll go have coffee and he’ll offer me more money than I’ve ever made in my life, just to be part of a fun, new experience. That could happen. I’m not holding my breath, but it could happen.

Or a meteor could land in the vacant lot down the street and I could take it home and crack it open, finding that it contained pure old! Lots of things could happen.

Rain?

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It hasn’t rained for four months. This afternoon the temperature reached 105, typical for this time of year. The plague has ensured that almost all business are shut, and I finally decided I couldn’t take sitting in my room staring at Facebook for one more minute, so I jumped on my motor scooter and raced away. The Internet said a storm from was arriving from China. So I pointed myself to the Northeast and headed towards China, hoping to catch a cool breeze or a shower even only a few minutes before I would have if I had stayed at home.

The sky ahead was just as hazy and hot as it has always been over the last four months. After riding for an hour, I noticed a strong breeze had come up from the Southwest. That seemed odd, as the weather was supposed to be coming from China. Suddenly the smoke haze we have been blanketed under was lifting! As I arrived home I looked to the Northeast, and darn if the sky in that direction wasn’t a bit dark blue, verging on gray!

I’m so hopeful I can’t stand it. Before jumping in the shower I put the hose on my favorite plant, which I’ve just transplanted, hoping to nurse it back to it’s phenomenal growth of the last season.

Ex Pat Voice Crying in the Wilderness

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As an American living abroad and addicted to Facebook, I am well aware of what’s going on in my home country, especially regarding politics. I do my best to voice my disdain for Trump, but these posts of mine seem hollow gestures at this distance. I am also living in a second-world country that is for all practical purposes, a dictatorship. I dare not express my opinions about this government for fear of being thought an unwelcome guest. Also, in this time of Corona virus, I’m not sure it’s safe to do so.

Compared to its neighbors, Thailand is modern and developed, with better roads and infrastructure, but most of the population is very poor and getting poorer by the minute, now that everything is shut down by Quarantine. Things here could rapidly fall apart. In Indonesia in the mid-sixties, Suharno took power and ushered in a decade of repression where half a million people were slaughtered in the name of Anti-Communism. The sheer extent of this makes what happened in Argentina and Chile a decade later seem like a totalitarian hiccup.

There is a documentary film made by the Dutch, in which the film makers interview those hoodlums who became self-appointed executioners in Jakarta. To this day they are proud of their blood-letting, and thought the film’s producers were making this film to turn them into celebrities for their garroting of tens of thousands of innocent people who were simply suspected of being Communists.

Things can fall apart in Asia in a manner that makes Europe seem stodgy and disciplined. Thais smile a lot, and seem light-hearted, but when pushed to a certain point, they all of a sudden become vicious. Lately, the Minister of Health has started blaming “dirty foreigners” for bringing corona virus to their country. Foreigners don’t subscribe to the wearing of sanitary masks to the same degree that most Asians do, and this has turned into a focal point for resentment. Thais noticeably stiffen in fear when approached by a foreigner who is not wearing a mask.

Most lower class Thais have never traveled on their own, and certainly have never experienced a world-wide pandemic like this one, so they form their beliefs based on what they see, hear and what their neighbors believe. It’s the same way they learned to drive. There are precious few driving schools, and most motorcycle owners don’t bother with licenses, so they way they learn to drive by imitating what those around them are doing. This partially explains why there is no concept of “right of way” in Thai driving, nor any attempt to enforce this abstract Western notion.

When a government is being criticized by its own citizens, it tends to point blame elsewhere. Even if people don’t start dying in massive numbers here, the economic impact on the populace will prove brutal. People are going to want to know who’s fault it is. Those “dirty foreigners” will trip lightly off the tongues of those under attack.

Appointment in Samarra

The speaker is Death: There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture,  now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.  The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning?  That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

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Among my crowd of ex-pat friends here in Chiang Mai there has been a rash of heart attacks and strokes. We who are too old for medical insurance have to pay our hospital bills out of pocket. Several of my friends have created Crowd Funding sites on the Internet. Another guy languishes in the public hospital where there is no air conditioning and there are ten beds to a room. The lone Norwegian in my group was told by his country he could fly home on his choice of airline and would be met at the gate by a wheelchair and taken by ambulance to the hospital. Guess it pays not to be from a third-world country.

 

SIMPLY OUT OF GAS

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I am awash in good luck even when I don’t know it. Yesterday I rode the motorcycle for ten hours with few breaks, and by the end of the day I was seeing double and triple, the light was fading, and I was racing to get to Grandma’s house where my wife assured me everyone was eagerly awaiting us. Except they weren’t. Grandma herself didn’t even know we were coming. My wife had been communicating with her twelv-year-old niece, and she decided it would be better not to worry Grandma with the fact that we would be driving a motorcycle twelve hours over two days to get there.

As I was racing along the bike began to sputter, then stalled. I assumed something horrible had happened, like I ran out of motor oil and the engine froze. The world in Thai for oil and gas is the same word, and I told my wife I thought maybe we had run out of oil, because the gas gauge still showed something in the tank. So we parked the bike in the parking lot of a closed restaurant and she called the police for roadside assistance. We sat in comfortable chairs and waited about half an hour for the police to arrive. She chewed me out for buying a junk motorcycle, old, unreliable. I said maybe it just ran out of gas, but there was that word again, the one that means both things.

The police arrived, we gave them six dollars and they went in search of gas. They had to go a long way, because we were in the middle of nowhere. When they returned, to my delight, I had simply run out of gas and the engine started right up. By now it was dark. I was still exhausted, but fortunately we had only another twenty minutes or so to Grandma’s house.

When we got there no one was waiting for us to arrived. Only the niece who had failed to tell Grandma even faintly expected us. I kept waiting for some one to award me the medal of valor for driving ten hours in one day, but that medal never came. Instead, everyone forgot about me and chatted away in Thai. My wife told the story of my stupidity in letting the bike run out of gas after ten hours of driving. Everyone laughed.

NEVER GIVE UP, BUT DON’T BE AFRAID TO NAP

 

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Your complete attention is rarely required. Far better to doze contentedly, registering what happens around you through a gauzy haze of indifference. There is absolutely nothing to worry about. Immense forces move about, taking care of business so you don’t have to.

This is the way to maintain your sanity and composure no matter what happens. Any other path leads to frustration and insanity. Hasty decisions made from a position of weakness are always regretted later.

When in doubt, do nothing. When you feel driven by passionate intensity and fiery ambition, also do nothing, or at least as little as possible. No good come from actions made in haste.

The illusion that you’re running out of time is just that. Almost certainly, time is not the constraint you imagine it to be, but rather a gift the size of which you have decided to remain unaware. Being in a hurry gives you license to behave recklessly. Having plenty of time obliges you to act with precision and care. You can fool yourself into thinking that by rushing through a task or set of decisions you will buy yourself freedom afterwards, but it won’t. Instead you will be unsure and worried. You will be haunted by your haste.