Saturday, December 31, 2005

For the New Year...

Some Thoughts About Friendship

Many people will walk in and out of your life,
But only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.

To handle yourself, use your head,
To handle others, use your heart.

Anger is only one letter short of danger.

If someone betrays you once, it is his fault;
If he betrays you twice, it is your fault.

Great minds discuss ideas;
Average minds discuss events;
Small minds discuss people.

He, who loses money, loses much;
He, who loses a friend, loses much more;

Beautiful young people are accidents of nature,
But beautiful old people are works of art.

Learn from the mistakes of others.
You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

My Life as a Rice Farmer, Part 2

OK, which is the rice farmer’s house? Picture on the left, or below?

Good guess, but only half-right.

The house below is just a part-time living living space for farmers at rice planting and harvesting, a place of respite from the midday heat at lunch or break time. Sometimes, it's an overnight place to sleep if animals or "rice poachers" are threatening the harvest.

The one on the upper left? It doesn’t exist. It came out of someone’s imagination. (Not a bad seaside cottage, huh?)

As we left our last touristy spot, a beautiful drive along a vast reservoir rimmed by a national park, I was enjoying my first day as a farmer quite well. However, I had second thoughts as night began to fall, and we turned off the pavement onto a narrow dirt track. An approaching heavy cloud cover added to the blackness, and soon produced lightning, thunder, and a tropical downpour. Vinny was very quiet, concentrating on the obstacle-course-like country road. The dirt track became a prolonged mud hole, and I began to wonder… 1) Are we going to make it out of the next muddy hole without a broken axle? and 2) Does this farming village even have electricity? I knew we had really hit the “boonies” when my cell phone lost its signal.

The dark route
to the village,
just before
the storm hit.

With the blackness, lightning, thunder, blinding sheets of rain, cow-path muddy road to an unknown village back in the sticks and no communication to the outside world, it looked like a prelude to a B-rated horror flick.

I had no idea what kind of living conditions I would be facing at the end of that road. So, as usual, I had packed for all eventualities; bottled water, my tropical-weather sleeping cocoon (thin, cool silk; but keeps the critters off the skin), mosquito net, flashlight with extra batteries, and insect repellent. I even stashed a little bag of peanuts, since there might not be a refrigerator to raid at three a.m.

Consternation turned to relief as I could see the ELECTRIC lights of a little village up ahead through the heavy rain. Ah, Thailand has done a good job of electrifying at least 99% of its villages, and I was in the majority tonight! After driving through the center of a small town, we came to the edge, where the rice fields were, and pulled into a rice farmer’s compound.

Vinny’s mom and dad hadn’t seen him in many months and the Thai greeting was typical—no hugs, no surprised expressions nor raised voices in welcome--just a simple, silent hand motion to direct us into the drier house. I could tell mom-and-dad-rice-farmer had done well here. They had a hired hand, a“mechanical buffalo” out in the front yard, and a tile floor in their home. The house was closed-in on three sides, but open to nature along the fourth side.

Picture note: The "mechanical buffalo" complains a lot less, doesn't have to be

taken out to graze every day (time-consuming), and is a status symbol for a
farmer who's "made it." You still have to follow behind it, and take whatever mud it
kicks back into your face. Some things just don't change.

This kind of house construction is generally compatible with the Thai environment except for when the flying termites swarm annually and an occasional windstorm whips through the land. Tonight was our “lucky” night of the year--the flying termites. Literally thousands of airborne termites swarmed through the farmyard, and hundreds of their comrades were flying through the house as we entered.

As we swatted the air, a small meal of grilled rice-paddy fish, sticky rice, and rainwater was served as Vinny introduced the first white foreigner that mom and dad had ever welcomed into their home. His sister and brother-in-law joined us from their farm a little ways down the road. Interspersed with the airborne combat (and fishing the winged critters out of the food and drink) we had a good time getting acquainted. His parents, in their 70’s, were the umpteenth generation to farm this land which produced enough rice to sustain its owners for centuries. Mom was in good health, but dad was ailing. Despite his declining health, he continued to daily work the farm. Daughter and son-in-law helped them on their farm, along with the services of the hired hand.

Early evening turned to mid-evening and, true to farm life everywhere, it was early to bed. Much work to be done tomorrow. I was tired from the long day, and my eyes had been drooping for the past half hour anyway. Isan families (and guests) all sleep in the same open space, and I was looking forward to throwing my sleeping bag down among the family members on the floor (comfort and safety in numbers—typical Isan fashion). Brother-in-law and sister would stay the night, so along with the hired help, that would make seven of us finding our own little niche on the floor.

However, Vinny must have told his parents how much foreigners like their privacy. I assumed that, because while everyone bedded down on the tile floor, I was taken aside. Vinny fired up the gas lantern and took me a few meters across the muddy yard to an older shanty, which had been the previous family home. It obviously hadn’t been used in years. As we swept aside the cobwebs, and found a place to hang the gas lantern, I surveyed the one-room hut: It stood about three feet above the ground on stilts. One-inch gaps in the floorboards and wallboards told me I’d be needing my mosquito net, without a doubt. Fortunately, the roof was still in good repair, and it was dry. Vinny left the lantern, and bid goodnight.

OK, I’m on my own. Now, mind you, I’ve taken two-week solo backpack trips up into the Cascade Mountains of my home state—sleeping on the ground, communing with nature, enjoying the great outdoors--without an ounce of fright or unease. A bear-sighting would normally not frighten me, but only be seen as a photo opportunity.

But there’s something just a little different about a foreign country and tropical environment. I’m constantly coming across new weird (read: “toxic, poisonous”) plants, reptiles and insects. I finally got used to my modern duplex in the university village (despite a toad and centipede or two in the house); but in a farmer’s shanty, alone, still stretched my comfort zone just a bit. At least it'd be nice to be able to ask someone nearby: "What's THAT!?" Or, "should I touch it?" Or even more importantly, "Should it be touching ME?"

I first tried seeing the advantages: OK, at least it’s closed in on four sides (fewer flying termites), and I had my own private bath area in back. But, some big unknowns: As I lay my bag down under the mosquito netting, I heard something scurrying in the weeds just barely three feet under the gaping floorboards. Then there was that dark, seldom-used farmer’s bathhouse out back. What unknown experiences awaited me there? Plenty…

Sunday, November 27, 2005

My Life as a Rice Farmer, Part 1

Ok, it was just two days, but I’ll put it on my resume.

My Thai-language tutor and good friend, Vinny, kept badgering me to spend a weekend at his boyhood home and parents’ rice farm, about a three-hour journey from our university town. He wanted me to experience rice farming close up and personal. Finally, with a weekend free coming up, I gave him a call, and off we went in his pickup truck to see life unlike my university environment.

Vinny is really a great guy: father of two older kids (high school and university students), husband of one wife, fish farmer, rice farmer, motorbike repairman, dormitory owner/manager, chili-plant grower, and anything else he can put his hand to in order to make a few extra baht to keep the family in food and clothes. With all that activity, he still finds time to befriend this farang—language lessons as often as I want, and an open door to do short tours around Isan in his pickup truck.

Vinny personifies the Thai idiom “naam-jai” (literally “water-heart”), meaning someone who is totally generous with no strings attached. My Thai friend sometimes stops by my little duplex to chat, and we go on for hours. He’s had such an interesting life—growing up near an American military base during the Vietnam war, working abroad in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He goes on how the Americans were so kind and helpful to his boyhood village. In some way, I think he’s paying back their kindness by being so kind and generous to me.

Leaving shortly after dawn on a Saturday morning, Vinny took on the role of a local tour guide—full of stories and history of the area. Here’s a string of snapshots of some of our temporary stops along the way which took the full day.

A long one-kilometer climb to the
top of a sacred Buddhist mountain.

In the steamy climate, and halfway
to the top of the mountain, this
position looks rather inviting.

An overweight Buddha image
reminds me why I’m panting and
sweating so much on the climb.

View from the top.

A former US bomb casing
converted into a temple bell,
now calls worshippers to meditation.

An artisan putting final touches
on an ornate temple altar.

You donate 3,000 baht (about
$75 US), and you get your name
on a fence section at the temple.

Must’ve been a good idea,
judging by the number of names
painted on numerous sections!

Thais have a quirky sense of humor when out in the forest.
Whenever they see a big overhanging rock, they love
to put sticks and objects under it as if the spindly little
struts were supporting it.
The small red lettering on the rock?
Temple notice: “Do not support this stone!”

This is one “stick” no one grabs to
support their forest stones.
It’s really an insect.

We came upon quite a large reservoir which the
local population finds many uses for.

Top: Freshwater clams at a nearby market.
Bottom: Freshwater shrimp from the barby anyone?
I'm suprised at how many "seafoods" have their
freshwater counterparts: mussels, crabs, etc.

Quite a beautiful national park
lined the shores of the reservoir.

Park visitors’ headquarters. Thai
national parks are well
organized and inviting places to visit.

University students conquering a nearby
rock outcropping at the park.

Asparagus vendors spreading their
veggies on the road shoulder.
This veggie is plentiful and cheap.

Herbal hawker selling his remedies.

Looked like weeds to me…

Tomb of a famous local monk.
Those elephants are life-sized!

So far, being a rice farmer seemed like a pretty cushy job--riding around in a pickup all day, enjoying the local sites with my personal interpreter and tour guide, savoring the local delicacies, taking snapshots like any other tourist. Loved it!

To be continued....
See post December 27, 2005

Friday, November 25, 2005

Interlude: Pause for a Shudder

Scolopendra Subspinipes or Tropical Centipede
Grows up to 8 inches (20 centimeters)
This is probably a “yawn” blog posting to my SE Asian friends, but I’m sure it’ll provide a good “yuck” response from my North American visitors.

About 3-1/2 years ago, I saw one of these things on a pile of ruins at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Being new to SE Asia, I approached it to get a good picture and my native guide rather roughly grabbed my arm and pulled me away, cautioning me to steer clear (and ruining my picture in the process). He made it sound as though the thing would jump on me from a couple meters away. Actually, it turns out these are rather slow-moving creatures (all the easier to stealthily sneak into bed with you at night).

Last year, one of my university students was bitten, and told me the spine-tingling details. Like most students (and rural Isan residents), his bed in the dormitory is a palette on the floor. Therefore it was easy for one of these creatures to crawl up onto his neck and inflict a bite during the night. (Talk about a living Daraculan nightmare.)

He said that the pain was near-paralyzing. The medical clinic is just across the road from his dormitory. However, it hurt so badly, he lay there (near-motionless) for 2-1/2 days before being able make it across the road for medical help (he lives alone).

I just asked another native Isan resident about the local folk treatment:

  1. Heat up cow manure to just below skin-burning temperature.
  2. Mix it with a local herb (he can't remember what it was; probably the main effective ingredient!).
  3. Spread it on the wound, and keep it there until the pain subsides.

As a little boy, this informant was bitten and was treated by his grandfather many years ago. He said it took three days for the pain to subside. However, from what I hear, two to three days for the pain to subside is about the lifetime of the agony anyway. So who really knows if the folk remedy speeds up recovery or not?

I would be quick to add that I'm not purposely discounting most of the Isan folk medicine. These guys know stuff that the Bangkok-trained (or abroad-trained) doctors have never laid eyes on, and a lot of it is quite effective (personal experience).

After hearing some of these local stories, I've made a few New Year's resolutions:
  • I'm checking my shoes in the morning
  • I'm checking the bedding before I hop in at night
  • No more sleeping on the floor, which I've done often.
  • No more walking around in the dark (inside or outside) in my bare feet, which I've also often done since moving to Isan.
I'm no four-year-old wimp, but I've heard enough stories that make me want to exercise just a little more caution in daily life.

UPDATE: "Emergency and Chaos!" Read one of our readers' first-hand accounts with a centipede. At that web-site, scroll down to the Jan. 17, 2006 entry.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Anyone Lose a Leg?

I've run over a lot of interesting things in my motorbike travels in Isan: snakes, rats, haystacks, boxes, and almost an elephant. However, yesterday's bizarre incident just won't shake itself out of my mind.

I was giving a lift to a student from the university to downtown, when we came upon something about 1 meter (3 ft.) long, a mixture of fur (hide?) bone, blood, and rather jagged on one end, I made a last minute maneuver, avoiding it, but looking through my rearview mirror, saw another motorbike behind me hit it. The object flipped up in the air, doing a couple twirls and landed further out into the middle of the road.

I dreaded asking, but road-kill shock drove me to it: "What was that?!" I yelled to my passenger.

It wasn't so much the information I received, but how it was conveyed that rattled me.

"A cow leg," he said in a somewhat indifferent, nonchalant manner. He immediately started chatting about something else: "Did you see the big dormitory they're building over there...?"

"Wait!!" The urgency in my voice stopped him mid-sentence. "Did you say a COW LEG? Like 'the leg of a cow?'" (making sure I was correctly understanding his grammatical construction.) "Cow leg? As in, 'There's a cow running around in a field somewhere missing a leg?' And I just saw it's missing part flipping around in the air back there? Like, I almost HIT it?"

"Yeah, so?" The non-surprise in his voice revealed to me that this was a non-event to him. It was then I remembered I was talking to a kid brought up on an Isan farm.

It was also at this moment he also realized he was talking to someone from a different planet who'd never quite confronted anything's bloody leg lying around Seattle's streets.

We rode on in silence; him, wondering what kind of sheltered life I'd lived until now.

And my thoughts?

I couldn't help picturing a cow trying to cross the busy highway, against the pedestrian "Wait" light, dodging, dancing among the racing cars, trucks, and buses. Finally, her luck runs out on the front bumper of some Nissan pickup.

Or, some farmer trying to milk an unsteady cow. "Hold on Bessy, just a few more minutes of this torture. Grab that barn pole with your teeth just a little tighter. That'll steady you".

Or overhearing a cow-to-cow conversation out in the barnyard: "Molly, did you forget to wear your prosthesis this morning? You really shouldn't leave the barn without it. You're unattractive when you hobble."

"Why me?" Molly bellowed in anguish.

Then again, perhaps it was just an overloaded rendering truck bouncing along the highway, dropping a few heads, legs and tails along the way. Most likely.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

What Thai Students Really Want

What does a 19-year-old Thai university student really want in life? In two of my English conversation classes, I asked the question: “If you were granted two wishes, what would they be?” Students responded anonymously on small slips of paper, and then after collecting them, I read their wishes to a very attentive class. Here’s a sampling of their answers:


I wish…

…that I will get a pretty boyfriend.

…my true love came with a nice guy.

…I lived with my boyfriend in Korea.

…I could find the most beautiful girl who would love me.

…I could find a soul mate.

…I could say “I love you” to someone I have a crush on.

…I married Prince William.


I wish…

…my parents could live with me forever.

…my parents could live in my dormitory with me.

…good health for my family.

…my family had enough money.

…bad luck didn’t happen to me and my family anymore.

…I lived in my family’s hometown.

…I had more time to spend with my family.

…I had more time to do everything for my family.


I wish…

…I could be stronger.

…I was taller.

…I could be more confident.

…I had much more knowledge.

…I were more intelligent.

…I was luckier

…I could be more beautiful.

…my body could be a better shape.

…I could be a nice boy for everyone.

…I was a good guy.

…I were a dancer.


I wish…

…I could travel around the world.

… I lived in America.

…I could study abroad.

…I was an actress.

…I were a Ninja.

…Thailand had snow!

…for world peace.


I wish…

…I had my own BMW car.

…I had a good job in a good company.

…I worked a part-time job.

…I could get a lot of money (more than a million).


I wish…

…for a grade “A” in Basic English Conversation class. (at least 5 students)

…I could be better at English.

…I could study better than last semester.

…I could find something…

…I could ask for many more wishes.


A few thoughts to ponder--

How many of these wishes do you identify with?

How many of these wishes could have originated from just about any university classroom around the world?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Flashback: The Emergency Space Pirate

Several years ago, in Seattle, I was waiting for a friend, sitting in my parked car in a temporary waiting area in front of a busy downtown building. A shiny black Cadillac SUV (that screamed "I'm having my mid-life crisis") drove up behind my humble working-poor Ford Taurus and parked in the EMERGENCY ONLY! space. Oh no. One of my worst pet peeves. It just drives me nuts when people act like they own the city.

Out gets Mr. Cool in his flashy sport coat, open-neck silk shirt, gold chest medallion, sunglasses, the whole bit from the 70's. He hits the remote button to set the alarm and lock the SUV, then struts into the office building. After about ten minutes, I had a feeling he'd be awhile. So, with nothing better to do, I decided a little entertainment was in order. I rummaged around in my glove box, and found an official-looking slip of bright-pink paper with no personal information on it. It would double nicely as a look-alike parking ticket.

In a dark black pen, I scrawled a note on the inside, folded it, got out and placed it under his wiper, and then got back in my car to watch what might transpire from my rear-view mirror.

It was definitely gratifying.

The minute Mr.-It's-All-About-Me exited the building, he stopped dead in his tracks--fixated by the bright-pink "ticket" that fluttered on his windshield. I couldn't hear it, but I could clearly see the curses escaping his now-snarling lips. He bolted the 60 feet to the SUV, and still panting, snatched the bogus citation from its spot. Head turned toward my mirror (yes!) he unfolded the note. I watched anger turn to relief, then to embarrassment, then back to anger as he read:

"No it's not a $75 parking ticket, but you should hope to God, next time, it's not YOUR loved one who needs a medic, ambulance, or firetruck real quick. Now MOVE IT, LOUNGE LIZARD!"

I couldn't resist a satisfied smirk. He had been outed and didn't like it one bit. However, the pricked conscience quickly scabbed over and rage now took control. He took a couple of menacing looks around the area, looking like he'd like to pummel the first suspect he laid eyes on. At this point I thought it wise to hunker down a bit in my seat, but still maintain a good vantage point via my mirror.

Seeing no one to vent his hostility at, Mr. Cool now definitely lost his cool. He turned the air blue with every expletive in the book (this time I could hear him) while he tore the note into a dozen pieces, and threw the confetti into the wind--which promptly blew back into his face and littered the hood of his $80,000 road toy. He ripped open his door, jumped into padded luxury, roared the energy-guzzler to life, and jack-rabbited out into traffic, nearly side-swiping another vehicle.

My last visual memory was watching him burn rubber for 70 feet down the avenue.

Immaturity confirmed.

OK, call me a gutless little trouble-maker, or a jealous piece-of-crap-Taurus driver, or assume a cretin like this guy seldom changes his self-centered behavior...

...but it can sure be fun making a point.

ou're asking: What does this have to do with Thailand? Ah! I read your mind! I was just over at reading one of Wit's blogs about the "mai pen rai" mindset of the Thais. This phrase has only about two dozen translations, but basically centers around concepts like "chill out, dude," "don't worry," "take it easy," "no problem," and "relax and let it go."

Recalling this Seattle experience, it hit me how much I have personally changed since my move to Thailand. In the US, I wanted to fight every battle that came along--especially if there seemed an injustice to correct--however small or large. That's OK if you're a full time crusader, but it sure takes a toll on one's peace of mind and emotional reserve.

There will always be jerks in this world. I'm not going to change them all. Probably won't even change a few. I also have to remember that whatever they sow, they will usually reap--with or without my help. Even more realistically, I have to admit that I'm a jerk sometimes. Amazingly, not all the decisions and behaviors that emanate from me are pristine examples of wisdom and selflessness, either.

I watch my Thai friends carefully in situations like the above. Most of them are much more generous with a "live and let live" frame of mind. Most of them are pretty realistic about things they can change and the things they can't. They hotly pursue the former and leave the latter battle for others more capabable or more powerful to fight. Their reaction often comes out as a "mai pen rai" utterance. "Take it easy." "Time will tell." It frustrated me for a solid year, until I began contemplating the motivations behind it.

No, Thailand isn't turning me into a wuss. I haven't given up the battle against injustice and trying to right the wrongs of life. But, I'm learning to pick my battles more carefully. As an average human being, I only have so much mental energy and emotional stamina. I need to focus on what's the most important, and pursue that. Jesus concentrated on twelve men in the span of just three short years. That focused investment in time and energy changed the world and billions of lives. A model to follow. A teacher who knows how to replicate redeeming values in the lives of others, and centers on that, at the expense of nearly everything else.

Win the smaller battles but lose the war?
Lose a few battles but win the war?

Two questions. Two mind-sets.
A fork in the road of daily life.

My sojourn here is helping me to evaluate the road I take with a little more reflection and reserved determination.


Mr. Cool/Lounge Lizard picture for illustrative purposes only. No, I didn't get a snapshot of my victim before he blasted off down the road.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ah, So THAT'S Why I'm Here...

Since I started working as an exporter years ago, developing close ties to Japanese and Korean expatriots living in the USA, I always asked myself if I could do it. That is, live abroad. I marveled at my customers' abilities to pick up on the language, customs and culture, and often fit right in. They seemed to relish being able to move freely and easily between two very different ways of living and thinking. From a business standpoint, alone, it was a huge advantage.

Not only was I curious about my ability to adapt, long term, but I wanted to "get below the surface" of cultures I had only observed from the outside. I wanted to get in on the inside. What little I had learned up to that point with my foreigner-friends had become the most mind and soul-expanding knowledge I had ever happened upon. I wanted more.

Traveling as a businessman and tourist to 30 countries didn't satisfy the urge, only deepened it. Finally, desire, time and opportunity married and I took the plunge into a foreign culture. Among the seven or eight cultures I had been closest to, I knew the least about Thailand. Therein lay the challenge I wanted.

Three years later, in retrospect, it was the best decision of my life. It has been like being "born again." New ways to talk, read, eat, think, sleep, bathe, keep house, shop for food, relate to people, work--and the list could go on to include all the variety of human life. Yes, it's mind-expanding and deepens the soul. Yes, it shows one how very limited his world and life view has been up until then. Yes, it's sometimes frustrating. Yes, it's sometimes exhilarating.

Have I rejected my old culture? Of course not. My students are eager to have that "foreign" contact, and I need to preserve that opportunity for them. Rather than rejecting my native culture, I have simply embraced a new one as well. I am becoming a child of two cultures. Both cultures contain things to embrace and things to reject. I hope to be wiser for integrating the best of both, and jettisoning that which doesn't edify.

The zenith of this experience is to really "connect" with other human beings from diverse ways of life. In some ways they seem like absolute extra-terrestrial aliens. Especially when caught by suprise in an unfamiliar situation, you often think you've landed on another planet.

Yet in many more ways, you are reminded that the Family of Man has undeniable traits that are shared by all. They appear to all be made in the image of a central alpha figure. You get below the exterior and you find the same dreams, fears, hates and loves you've known since childhood. Amidst all the strangeness, it adds a familiar comfort.

Karen Conelly, in Dreams of a Thousand Lives: A Sojourn in Thailand, says it best:

"I now conceive of travel, and more particularly of living abroad, as responsibility, neither a right nor a privilege but a profoundly human act. To slow down, to listen more carefully, to watch the surface until we glimpse what is underneath, to learn from people who know well what we do not know at all: these are choices, steps towards dismantling the barriers that separate not only nations and strangers, but neighbors, too."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Livin' It Up On a Shoestring

Living in Central Isan, I cannot possibly spend all of my meager teacher's salary in one month! Here's my monthly expense breakdown in Thai baht. This supports two people minimum, although I’m often treating more than one friend at mealtimes. (U.S. dollar equivalent in parentheses.)

Spacious, new, clean duplex apartment: 2500 ($60)
Utilities (water/electric--including air con): 1200 ($30)
(that's on a hot-weather month)
Phone, including high-speed internet service: 750 ($20)
Food (three daily meals in restaurants): 3000 ($75)
Clothes: 500 ($12)
Toiletries: 250 ($6)
Household supplies: 500 ($12)
Motorcycle gasoline/petrol: 200 ($5)

When I first moved here, it cost me about $1000 USD to completely furnish an apartment: TV, clothes washer, stove, refrigerator, beds, desks, sofa, two floor oscillating fans, wardrobes, kitchen sink and counter (yup!), and three floor-to-ceiling wood bookshelf/cabinet units. All new.

Another $1000 USD bought my transportation (a new 125cc Honda motorbike), and I was set!

If one thinks about living in Bangkok (BKK) costs are many times the above. A BKK friend rents an apartment about one-third the space of mine on a 9th floor for a whoppin’ 6000 baht. From there, it's an inconvenient one-hour bus commute to his job in the central city. Monthly rent 10,000 baht and upward for an equivalent apartment to mine is the norm.

However, even better than BKK, here the air is clean, the water is purer, the horizon more spacious, people smile more, and no traffic jams. Rural living is very peaceful and laid back. (That might drive some foreigners crazy, I admit). BKK is an overnight bus ride away when you get lonely for the big city lights. Two nearby airports make it even quicker: a 45-minute flight for about $40 USD, Thai Airlines. ($20 discount airlines).

But please-- don't tell anyone else about how good it is here. We don't want it to get too crowded!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thai Names, Tongue Purgatory

Did you take phonetics in primary school? It finally paid off for me in my old age when I have one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel. My first day of teaching in Thailand, May 3, 2003, I faced the daunting task of deciphering the class list.

Unmercifully, it was in Thai script.

Mercifully, I passed around the list and the students transliterated their names into English script.

Unmercifully, I was no better off.

When the list came back to me, I faced the most confusing combination of vowels and consonants I'd ever laid eyes on. It must be a cruel joke. No one has a name this long. Up until that point, I thought "supercalifragilisticexpialadocious" was The King Tongue-Twister. Well, I hadn't been to Thailand yet. I stared at the list. The drops of perspiration belied my faked calm. My students had that "Now watcha gonna do?" smirk.

Hope you finally learn one difficult last name, and at least there will be a few repeats? (Like Smith, Jones, Wilson in the USA?) Dream on. Nearly every last name in my classes is unique, unless more than one student is from the same village (rare). In many villages many, and sometimes, the majority of the inhabitants have the same last name, which identifies their geographic origins. (Imagine every couple in a little Washington State town having the same name: "Mr. and Mrs. Duvall", or "Mr. and Mrs. Moses Lake").

Fortunately, the Thai like to go by their first names in conversation, and there are repeats. Still, three-syllable first names abound, so I had a BETTER idea--ah, the NICKNAME!

Thank God, most Thai also go by a one-syllable nickname (and they are sometimes very strange: Beer, Golf, Dung, Wit, Nit, Cat, Rat, Pooh, etc.). One syllable, even if it's a bit strange? I can handle that! Ah, pitffall ahead! Read on...

So after staring at my English-script class list until the students thought I'd turned into stone, I sent it around again. I cleverly had the students add their nicknames to their never-ending real names, and knew I’d licked the problem. I was now smirking.

Nope. False victory.

Now, with their "simple" one-syllable nicknames, I had to master the tones and dipthongs (vowel combinations). At least one girl in every class had the nickname “Koy”. OK, so I said it like it looked. Every day at roll call, my classes erupted into gales of laughter at my "Koy", and none of my mischievous little darlings would divulge the reason. Somehow they wanted me to keep this up. Normally, they talked and laughed with each other during the calling of their other nicknames, but when I came to Miss Koy, they hushed, edging forward in their seats, in eager anticipation of hearing the Farang Teacher botch her name once more. I hesitated every time, the proverbial pregnant pause, but couldn't think of any other way to give birth to it. "KOY" I would finally blurt out, in resignation. Their exuberance at my verbal offspring never diminished. Howls of delight could be heard up and down the halls of academia. A couple of times a nearby teacher would stick her nose in the open door to see what the ruckus was about, only to see 50 students gesticulating and guffawing, repeating my "Koy" to prolong the entertainment.

And only two silent human beings in their midst. Only two red faces. Mine and Miss Koy's.

After three months (I know, too patient), I’d had enough. One day, while having lunch in a crowded noodle shop with one of my Thai teacher friends, I loudly inquired, “So why do my students always laugh at "KOY" during roll call?” I thought I was going to have to perform the Heimlich maneuver on him as he gagged on his mouthful of noodles. Wiping half-chewed noodles off his shirt, and hastily looking around with a red face, he hissed the explanation to the farang in a tone that said, "Don't ever say that again in public!" Oh.

Well, because my tone was a little off, my “K” wasn’t soft enough, and my dipthong didn’t come through quite right (it should have sounded more like “Gawy”), I was daily calling the sweet female student a part of the male anatomy—the genitalia family, to be more specific--and to make it worse, it was the slang rendition. OK, so I had an x-rated roll call everyday. What’s a poor farang teacher to do?

Go to lunch with a Thai confidant early-on, and keep your voice down.

If your name is John or Jane Doe, count your blessings. If your nickname is a meaningless "JJ", double blessings on you. And to prove it, wrap your tongue around these twisters...

Miss Kittiya Buahom
Miss Yanan Woraphaibun
Miss Tanyarat Nasui
Miss Teeraporn Kaewpiw-Ard
Miss Nipaporn Noichan
Miss Nutsara Jaijumnong
Miss Sophita Sokaokha
Mr. Suradetch Amornsitticharoen
Miss Khanungnit Ariyatugun
Miss Pratana Somnongbua
Miss Phiraya Sinphromma
Miss Phiangphit Rungrotchawalit
Miss Rompruek Hanwongsar
Miss Wilaiwan Junpratak
Miss Sayamon Unboonruang
Miss Suwincha Thoranong
Miss Kritsana Nakhowong
Miss Thanyalak Somprasopsuk
Miss Patcharamas Singhol
Miss Monthakan Saenpradit
Miss Sirilak Chansaengsri

That's a typical class list (and multiply this times seven or eight classes...). Notice the only male in the class wins, hands-down, with a nine-syllable first and last name combination. Well, nearly three years later, I now use their more formal first names to bring a bit of decorum back to the class atmosphere, and even once in a while take a stab at a last name, thanks to those phonetics lessons way back in the Dark Ages.

~ God bless my first grade phonetics teacher, Mrs. Peterson ~

From Your
"Forever-Grateful JD"

P.S. Did I tell you I was going down to Phayakhapoomphisai Village to visit a friend this weekend? You're thinking the same thing? Yep, you can drive through it faster than you can say its name.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Respected, Resilient Royalty

The longest reigning monarch on earth, Rama IX, or King Bhumiphon Adulyadej, has headed the Thai monarchy since 1946. The Thai love him to the point that any of them would willingly put you in jail for any derogatory comments!

“... the King embarked early in his reign on a journey (to know his subjects and, in the process, allowed his subjects to get close to and know him. At the same time, he used his time wisely to accumulate "constitutional" experience. He has been through 15 constitutions, 17 coups d'etat, and over 20 prime ministers. He has an acute grasp of constitutional rule. He remains detached from politics, playing a non-partisan role in the country's political process and development.

”...Without His Majesty's guiding hand, we would not be where we are today - a nation which has consistently demonstrated its inner strength, political resilience, social harmony and economic dynamism - a trait which has enabled the Thais to survive many a threat and misfortune in their long history..”

From The Nation Newspaper

A downtown Bangkok billboard at a busy intersection.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Seasons for All Things

In Isan the joke is, "Our seasons are simple: we have hot, hotter, and hottest."

But actually, we do have three very distinct seasons mixed in with the heat. [Following references to temperature are in Fahrenheit.]



Lower humidity (60-70%), 80 degrees in the afternoon, but gets down to a frigid 60-70 degrees at night. Believe it or not, it feels VERY cold at those temperatures. People walk around in big winter coats, neck scarves, knitted caps, and ear muffs! At first it was funny. I sported my short-sleeved shirts the first year while my students looked like Santa's elves bundled up against the cold of the North Pole.

Well, 2-1/2 years later, I now wear my old ski coats I dragged along with me from Washington State.

These "cold" temperatures are unique to Isan, as nothing blocks the cold winds that sweep down from China. Bangkok, central, and south Thailand remain pretty warm (80's-90's day and night). The staple of life, rice, ripens in November-December and is harvested at that time.


Transition to Next Season



(Yep, right. No spring)

Extremely hot (105-110) and humid (90% and higher), no rain. Despite the humidity, the land still dries out. Everything dry as a bone, and everything dies but the trees. Villages run out of water, and children scrounge for little crabs, frogs, lizards and eels to eat at the bottom of dry cracks in the hard soil. It's a very harsh time when nature seems bent on crushing all the life out of the land and its inhabitants.

This extreme heat is also unique to Isan. I lived a couple summers in Red Bluff, California (where it hit a record 124-degrees my second summer), so I was psychologically prepared for it. But not the humidity!


Transition to Next Season




Temperatures moderate to 80-'s and 90's. Everything very suddenly turns verdant green, the rice fields look like golf courses (tall grass!), and the water buffalos smile. Many tree fruits ripen at this time. This is the main rice-growing season, and the harvest comes next season.

All of Asia (from India to China and Japan) experiences these monsoons. Japan gets the added "perk" of typhoons at this time.


Transition to Next Season


It's a very different seasonal cycle from that which I was used to in any place I've lived in the USA (Washington, California, Michigan). What's fun to observe is how everything seems to be more closely tied to the seasons and the land, here. Almost every holiday is seasonally-related, or agriculturally-related; usually dealing with praying for future rain, thanking nature for current rain, or the activity of harvest time.


SIDEBAR: Another interesting sidelight is that, this close to the equator, the days and nights are equal (12 hours each) year around. The sun consistently sets at 6 and rises at 6. It affects my sleeping habits. I sleep about 2 hours more a night here than I did in the USA. And, unlike being close to big population centers (as in the Seattle area), it gets DARK when the sun sets on moonless nights. When the electricity goes out (as it frequently does), you can't see your hand in front of your face. It's weird. One little birthday-cake candle throws an amazing amount of light in that situation!

It gives new visual images to the child’s song “This Little Light of Mine.”

Friday, August 05, 2005

To Taste Thailand

News Item: August 4, 2005

A new Pizza Hut promotion in Thailand--a pizza with four sections. One of the sections is covered with strawberries. (In picture, upper left quadrant).


Strawberry pizza? Hardly a surprise in Thailand. Cases in point:

A favorite way to sell vanilla ice cream is two scoops stuffed into a hotdog bun--with corn kernels sprinkled on top. In fact, corn shows up in a multitude of culinary delights: Warm corn drink (like drinking creamed corn, only much more watery), mixed corn and ice swimming in condensed milk for dessert, corn on bakery pastries, etc.

Half the pastry in bakeries is stuffed with shredded, sweetened pork. It feels like shredded coconut in your mouth, but definitely tastes like pork!

All the 4 and 5-star hotels in Thailand advertise "American Breakfast!" What does it include? A steamed frankfurter, a shredded cabbage salad, and sliced tomatoes with cucumbers. Never saw that at the local USA diner, mixed among my pancakes!

A "hamburger" at the local Seven-Eleven actually consists of a piece of chicken stuffed in a small hamburger bun, with familiar condiments.

Nearly all the favorite "crunchy" snacks found at the convenience store come in the following flavors: squid, fish, and shrimp. All smell very foul when you open the package--something like a fishing boat that needs a good mucking out.

And the favorite food of Northeast Thailand? Shredded pappaya salad, drenched in fermented fish paste. More of the fishing boat aura.

Then there's the favorite fruit, durian. The taste is palatable, but keep your nose plugged. It smells like a well-used cat litter box. I liked it until one of my friends made the cat box comparison.

And of course, most cooked animals come with their heads and feet on the platter as well, particularly fowl. I side with one of my skitterish US friends: "I try not to eat anything that's smiling at me."

The folk wisdom in Isan affirms: "If it moves, eat it." Favorites on the farm menu are frogs, eels, scorpians, lizards (large and small), and nearly every insect that flies, crawls and burrows. Roasted silk worms are a real hit: chomping through a crispy, roasted exterior, one is surprised at the creamy, almost custard-like interior. Very nourishing. Very filling. In fact, so filling that at my first try, it only took one to send me to the restroom to reduce the load on my stomach and psyche. Now I can eat two or three at a sitting without unexpected bodily reaction.

Acquired tastes? Yes, some things do grow on you. After a couple years, I've come to really develop a penchant for:

1. Yogurt milks
2. Hot, hot chili peppers
3. Lemon grass
4. Roasted garlic cloves
5. All soybean and rice drinks
6. The exotic fruits of rambutaan, mangosteen, dragon's eyes, and a couple other fruits without English names and that defy description as well.
7. Yup, and corn on my ice cream.

If it moves, eat it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Nearly every Thai is a firm believer in ghosts. After living here two-and-a-half years, I've heard a hundred ghost stories. These are not the tongue-in-cheek-let's-spin-a-good-yarn-by-the-campfire sort of ghost story. These are hushed first-hand accounts from firm believers whose story ends with some sort of misfortune caused by an evil spirit. Ancient spiritism and animism is alive and well in Thailand--even on a modern 21st century university campus graced with a radio station, computer labs, a modern engineering building, and all the other trappings of modernity.

One of my students had a near-fatal motorcycle accident two years ago late at night. He had just driven by a dark temple compound, which is sometimes feared like graveyards are in the west. Temples are where bodies are burned and ashes are buried into crypts in the compound walls; so spirits are thought to linger about the area. My student friend tells me that just after he passed the temple compound, someone glancing his way saw a lady dressed in white sitting behind him on the motobike. The apparition matched the description of a "Pob" ghost--a strikingly beautiful lady who glides about in a mysterious long white dress. However, she is only a "head." Inside the dress are only bare internal organs, not enclosed by a body. She's considered to be a very dangerous and malevolent spirit. Hence, the explanation for his accident. (By the way, at 80 miles per hour, and drunk, he hit a dead dog lying in the road, which sent him out of control. Another possible explanation for the accident.)

A few months ago, one of our younger professors who just won a Fullbright Scholarship to study in the USA for three years, came into my office late at night, as he was preparing to leave.

"Staying late tonight?" he asked with obvious consternation.

"Of course, probably until about 11pm or midnight. Why?"

"Aren't you afraid to stay by yourself?"

"Not really. Should I be?" I thought maybe he knew of some prowling murderer loose on campus.

"What about ghosts?"

I was taken aback. I didn't really expect that comment from someone who had just gotten his master's degree from one of Bangkok's more progressive universities. But my teacher-friend was Isan to the core, which included a solid belief in malevalent spirits--which especially like to plague people who remain alone in big empty buildings.

His wide eyes and sincere concern actually rattled me just a bit.

So that same night, after shutting out all the lights, and powering down the noisy air conditioners, things seemed unnervingly quiet. Then, wandering through a cavernous dark room to the distant door on the far wall, I was just a little more alert to strange sounds and fleeting shadows. What is that white thing in the far corner? A lady in white? No, just the faculty refrigerator in the pantry area.

Never afraid of ghosts in my life, and now I start this in my mid-50's? Get a grip!

lmost every night you can count on the TV to dramatize one or two ghost stories in a thriller. Although it scares them, the Thai cannot help watching these, the way morbid onlookers are drawn to the scene of an accident. Every Thai child is told the story of Nang Nak (you can read a brief description of it at )

The Thai have many categories and types of ghosts and every Thai person knows all the "species" by name. Thus, I share with you a great article which spells it out in ghoulish detail. I'm gradually learning these names, because it's so much a part of daily conversation!

Picture from a book on Thai ghost stories.


A Guide To Thailand's Ghosts and Spirits

The Thai spirit world is populated by a plethora of ghosts, ghouls and demons - some good, some harmful, and some openly dangerous. Among the most interesting are:

Phi Peta - A hungry ghost. Everyone who is preoccupied with material attachments to the exclusion of the spiritual will be reborn as a Peta, having a giant belly and an mouth as small as the eye of a needle. Peta may sometimes be heard whistling at night, looking for people to make merit for them. This ghost is relatively harmless.

Phi Am - A ghost which sits on the chest or liver of sleepers, causing discomfort. It can be harmful.

Phi Chamob - A ghost which haunts the place where a woman has died in the jungle. This spirit does not do any harm.

Phi Ha - The spirit of a woman who has died in childbirth. This ghost is considered to be very violent.

Phi Krahang - This ghost appears as a man with feathers and a tail like a bird. It eats filth and glows at night. An unpleasant and frightening spirit.

Phi Krasy - This ghost lives inside a witch and leaves her body during sleep by way of the mouth. The Krasy is the colour of fire, has a head the size of an electric light bulb and a half-metre long bluish tail. A Krasy ghost likes dirt and does not generally harm human beings, although when it consumes entrails (hardly surprisingly) it can cause death. Krasy witches have a sleepy appearance during the day. Their eyes don't blink and they can never look anybody in the face. Also, they don't cast any reflection in the mirror. Before Krasy witches can die, they have to find somebody who will inherit the Krasy by consuming some of the old witch's spittle.

Phi Lok - A ghost which haunts various localities. It frightens and misleads people, and can be seen as well as felt.

Phi Phrai - The spirit of a woman who has died in childbirth and whose body has been used to make phi thai hong lotion. A sorcerer must hold a candle under the corpse's chin, and from the resultant melted oil essences are manufactured which drive men mad and attract women.

Phi Tai Ha - The spirit of a woman who has died of malaria. The ghost will also spread this disease.

Phi Thuk Khun - The substance of a living person which has to be sent out on astral journeys every week, or harm will come to its owner,

Phi Khamod - A spirit in the shape of a red star which, like a Will o' the Wisp, misleads wanderers.

Phi Nang Tani - A female tree spirit which is essentially beneficent and may fill the alms bowls of itinerant monks.

Phi Pa - A forest spirit. Hunters may leave a piece of the foot, lip, tongue or eyelid of a killed animal to show respect to this spirit.

Phi Poang Khang - A spirit in the shape of a black monkey which likes to suck the big toe of people sleeping in the jungle. It is said to live near salt licks.

Phi Ka - These spirits are inherited through women and can be contagious. The Ka, if not properly treated (with raw eggs) will attack and possibly possess people without the owner's knowledge. Perhaps understandably, ordinary people are said to be reluctant to marry into Ka clans!

Phi Hai - Hungry, amoral spirits associated with places where people have died an unnatural or violent death. Phi Hai are easily offended, and take every opportunity to possess people. Normally, they can be induced to leave their victim if suitable offerings are made, but on occasions an exorcist has to drive them out. In such cases, when incantations and lustral water prove insufficient, a whip may need to be employed.

Phi Pob - A malicious and very dangerous spirit which manifests itself as a beautiful woman. Phi Pob float through the air because they have no legs or lower body. They generally appear as a length of internal organs and intestines suspended from a strikingly lovely face - therefore, beware beautiful women gliding mysteriously by in long dresses! This type of ghost is probably more feared than any other species in Thailand.

learly, there can be no doubt that belief in ghosts and spirits remains widespread throughout Thailand....Chinese "bouncing" ghosts have long been a staple of Thai television and children's fantasy. Muslim ghosts have appeared which can be driven off by flourishing a piece of pork (preferably a pig's head) at them, and even vampires have made the long journey from Transylvania to Thailand. In this age of mass communication and international tourism, ghosts too - or so it would seem - have become world travellers!

Text of above article, copyright © Andrew Forbes / CPA 2003. Found at

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Not Surviving, But Thriving

To the Editor, The Seattle Times, 16 July :

Taking responsibility

Wow! It looks like Thursday's edition of The Times should have been called "The health-care edition." I read everything, the front-page article on the health-care-cost study and all three columns on the editorial pages. What I found to be conspicuously absent is Americans' abject failure to take responsibility for their own health. I'm certainly no expert in the field, but living in Europe and traveling extensively have given me the opportunity to compare how we live to those in other nations.

I can only conclude that our poor diets and sedentary, TV-watching, car-based, drive-through lifestyles have a far larger impact on our national health than anyone is willing to admit. Combine that with the American penchant to seek the easy way out with cure-all drugs while scapegoating segments of the population like smokers (more Europeans than Americans smoke, yet their overall health is much better).

While I can't argue that it's not vitally important to continue working on finding the best and most effective diagnostic and treatment methods to help those in need, I can't help but wonder how many people could avoid...hypertension meds entirely by simply putting the Big Mac down, shutting off the TV for an hour and going for a walk every day. A healthful lifestyle is more difficult and time-consuming than popping a pill, but we'll all have less to complain about and less to pay for by addressing the root of the problem rather than just treating the symptoms.

— Sean Conner, Seattle

My Two Cents

As I read the above article in today's on-line edition of the Times, a slow smile spread across my face when I realized I have somehow been hoodwinked into a healthier lifestyle just by moving to Thailand.

The first indication was the 15 pounds that magically melted away within the first three months of arriving. There are several likely reasons for this, which really don't take a rocket scientist to deduce...

For example, most of the time the elevators don't work in our eight-story building. When they do, they are unbearably stuffy with 15 bodies crammed against each other for the two to three minute snail's pace ride in non-airconditioned discomfort. So, two to three times a day I huff and puff my way up six and seven flights of stairs to my classes on the sixth and seventh floors (with 40 pounds of computer equipment, LCD projector, textbooks, and papers). I carry a loaded book bag on my back, and a heavy shoulder bag of electronics. What really puts the smile on my face, is passing up most of the students on the stairs. As I brush past them I hear "OY!"--an exclamation that means many things. In this case, probably, "There goes that mad foreigner again!" Enjoy it while I can. At 70 if I don't mention this experience, don't ask.

I walk at least a mile a day just to get around the campus. Everytime I catch a bus to the nearest large city, it's a one mile trek to the nearest bus stop. Inconvenient? You just build it into your schedule, and take something to shield yourself from the sun (hat, newspaper, umbrella, etc.). Add to this my daily one-hour workout at the university's well-equipped fitness center, and I do believe I'll live on for another week or so.

Due to the weather, and my physical activity, I sweat three or four litres (about a gallon) every single day. It's not unusual to have my clothes soaked completely, as if I had been caught in a rainstorm. Last Tuesday, I had four showers, and four changes of clothes. It is said that sweat is one of the best ways to rid the body of toxins. Well, my toxins must be heavy commuters--in and out in a flash! To compensate, I have to take in at least a gallon of water a day as well. Fortunately, bottled water is pure and cheap at about 24-cents a gallon.

Olfactory side note: Fortunately, the different type of deodorants available here are effective. In disgust, I finally had to throw away the four or five Mennen Deodorant sticks I brought from the USA--they just couldn't cut it. So, here, if you use Thai-brand deodorants, you can sweat profusely but not stink. The Thai are very fastidious about personal cleanliness as well. It's very rare you catch the whiff of anyone's body odor, despite a tropical climate, crowded elevators, and standing-room-only public buses. Furthermore, a Thai bathes at least two and sometimes three times a day.

Try as I may, I can hardly find mega-fattening, inexpensive stuff to eat. If I do, it's outrageously expensive. Snicker's candy bars are the same price as a full meal in a restaurant; about 40-50 cents. The REAL downside: they're about half the size of USA Snicker's bars, with half the sugar. Bummer. The ice cream is scrumptious, but one cone is also the price of a full meal--definitely a pricey luxury.

Probably the strongest indicator of better health is that my stress level is noticably WAY down from several years ago. Ringing ears is a thing of the past. I haven't had a stress-related headache or backache in over a year (I had them at least a couple times a month back in the USA). I believe the biggest reason is the "mai pen rai" society--"chill out", "take it easy", "don't let anything fluster you"--mentality. Another reason is the really very warm and sweet people I deal with every day. The Thai are truly gentle folk. Raising one's voice is a real no-no in this society. If you do, your level of respect drops about 50% or more. Any problem or crisis seems almost immediately diffused by a gentle Thai response. Even sticky or emotional negotations are carried out with a smile and soft voice.

In April, while vacationing in Chiang Mai, I witnessed a motorcycle collision between two teen drivers who were carrying teen passengers as well. One party was very definitely in the wrong. From a small side road, they pulled right into the path of the other motorcycle going down a main highway. A terrific impact with flying debris, and both parties spilled to the hard pavement. Both endured significant damage to the cycles, and the teens were mostly bruised and skinned up. I anticipated watching my first street fight in Thailand. On the contrary, not one word was said. Both parties, with a big smile (mostly from embarassment) picked up themselves and their damaged cycles, and walked off, pushing their mangled steeds in their respective directions. That was it. No, "What in the world were you trying to do???!!" or "Are you blind?" or "Call the police!" or "You're gonna pay for this!." Just a sheepish smile and a quiet parting. Amazing Thailand.

Undoubtedly, another reason for having such a low stress level in a foreign culture, is a sense of "belonging." I feel very highly valued by my friends, with most of them like family. I can walk into the homes or apartments of any these folks and feel at home. Even the American family I socialize with (the Baptist missionaries from Tennessee) smoothly fit right into the culture here, and they're so relaxing to be around. In addition, the students go out of their way to show the highest respect and honor to teachers, imparting that "valued" feel. They carry your books, bring your lunch, and I've even seen them washing teachers' cars and motorcycles.

Even total strangers are gregarious and welcoming. Today, I planted a little tree in the front of my duplex. A middle aged man I had never seen before (visiting my neighbor) walked over and got down on his hands and knees with me, assisting with the operation. With newly dirty pants and mud under the finger nails, he left with a big smile on his face. The tree was a gift from another neighbor down the road I only met today. I tried to pay her for it, but she would have none of it. All this kindness, from complete strangers--a soothing balm to an expat soul.

Granted, the Thai are not perfect, and certainly there are negative aspects of their culture as with any other culture. However, they've got the stress thing licked. The only Thai I know who are stressed out are those who've been educated in the west and try to bring the high-stress, high-power, high-roller lifestyle back to Thailand. They go nearly mad because they can't get everyone else into their own overdrive gear. They end up becoming abusive or leaving Thailand for good to start a Thai restaurant somewhere. It's hard to go it alone, when no one else senses the "urgency" that you do.

Despite the more dangerous traffic (rules are for breaking), the increased possibility of infection (communal-style eating and drinking), and the not-quite-UL-approved infrastructure (no electrical grounding in homes and schools, manhole covers that flip up when stepped on, etc.), I believe I've added at least a decade to my life. According to many health experts, stress is the biggest killer of middle-aged and older westerners, resulting in heart problems, digestive disorders, hypertension, stroke, and a myriad of other ailments.

At least if I disappear into a Thai manhole someday, it shouldn't raise my blood pressure. Too much.

And the adventure goes on . . .
JD in Thailand