Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Not So Much

That I love. The other? Not so much... That is what one of my all time favorite students, Katie St. Pierre, used to say. A few more weeks in New Orleans and Katie would have had the whole place rebuilt. Now she is at U. Maine and in ROTC and maybe she will get that whole military thing all straightened out. If any one could, it is Katie. Okay, so I know I have been generally gushing about my adventures so far, and that is a result of several factors. One is simply that I choose to be positive. Whenever I think of focusing on the positive, I think of my brother-in-law David, one of the finest people I have ever had the good fortune to meet. Unlike my best friend Dwight,who, very much like myself, tends to see the glass as not just half-empty, but covered in spots and probably contaminated with deadly germs, David focuses on the positive and surrounds himself with bright, like-minded souls. It is not some namby-pamby-feel-good-blow-smoke-up-your-ass-positive. Out of nothing, the mutual fund David started completely on his own and against all advice now manages over 6 billion dollars. Meanwhile, Dwight surrounds himself with...well it was parent conference night at the high school last night. Dwight also claims he starts most days curled up on the floor of his shower stall, weeping uncontrollably. The other factor in my sanguine outlook is simply: I do not own the negatives. This is not my show, so I do not have to be critical or accountable. A beauty of being an alien is the freedom from responsibility. So Thailand is 78th out of 178 on the world corruption perception index? (the US is 22nd. Least corrupt? Denmark. Most?Somalia) Not my problem! The other important factor is my intentional refusal to judge, at least for now. What many of certain faiths or certain political viewpoints would posit as a moral issue, I tend to see more as a social construct. Because I am so dismayed by the satisfaction and happiness and ultimate goodness of the US, I see very little there as absolute and morally imperative. I realize I am treading on some very thin ice here- it is easy to say that perhaps the level we place on individual freedom is unhealthy, and suddenly find oneself in a camp of Stalinists, lining up non-correct thinkers for execution. I know that our freedoms have generated some phenomenally creative art and invention. Still, if I publicly criticized the king here, not that I want to, I could find myself in jail, as one westerner did recently. Freedom of speech! Ultimate good right? And yet look at the absolute shit we produce everyday with our unmitigated freedom. So I am not saying I advocate reigning in speech in the US, just that I am not sure I want to ultimately be there or need it to be fulfilled. This is an agricultural region, unambitious and non-industrialized for the most part. It has gotten by for generations on the "grow enough for your own needs and if there is a surplus, that is a bonus", so  should we shove all these people into the 21st century so they can eat like we do, at KFC, and shit like we do, on sit down toilets and drive air conditioned suv's etc.? I would say yes, except after teaching in the US for the last twenty years, both publicaly and privately , rich and poor, and just experiencing it myself, I can say it is often soulless, meaningless, and I was,  at times, and I know many others were, lonely and truly miserable within the goals of the society as a whole. When I see people walking down the road here after a day of rice harvesting, their bodies turned to leather from the work and the sun, they do not appear anxious and unhappy. When they drop their kindergarten-aged children off at school and there is no teacher even present, they do not appear angry or upset. When they are buzzing down the main road on their moped and a dog is running the other way and a huge truck is bearing down on their back and they have to pass a bicycle at the same time, they don't seem to tighten up and worry that they will make it or that everyone will continue in the flow. If something happens there will not be a lawsuit. Part of me has come to see the US the way I perceive individuals- where almost inevitably their greatest strength is also their Achilles' heel. We are a nation of laws and that insures our freedoms, but we are a nation of laws and that ultimately crushes our ability to act freely. The world is coming to Isan, there is no doubt. Already the sweets now ever prevalent are rotting the childrens' teeth black because the dental hygiene has not arrived as quickly as the money-making candy. Anyhoo- transition from the digression- what I meant to say, two glasses of Chang lager ago, was this: there are a few things that bug me here and I want to put them out there. Not the King. I love the King. Let us be very clear about that and I am not joking. I love living in a place where they venerate one person above all others. I think of Richard Harris in The Unforgiven talking about how easy it is to shoot a president compared to royalty. The king is a righteous dude and I would have no issues with bowing down before him. In all his pictures he is unsmiling and straight-backed. He takes his job very seriously and there is none of the bullshit with the British Royalty, which, face it, has made a farce of the position. No there are a few things like that tree pictured above. That is my ancient neighbor's dead stump. Apparently she has decided to burn it one day at a time until it falls over. The wonderful aspect of this plan is that the prevailing wind is directly into my house, pictured there in the background. Now if I had my nice 272 Husky chainsaw I would take care of that eyesore in a jiffy, but instead I will never see it fall because I will die of cancer some ten years earlier. It is apparently the burning season in general, because everyone is getting in on the trend. When I try to go for my bike ride in the evening I am riding through a haze that makes LA look like the pristine towns of northern Alaska. Isan is generally not very clean. As I was riding last night a rice harvester was so busy throwing her empty beer can out the back of the truck she didn't notice she had thrown it in this falang's face. Oops! That called for a major moment of Mai pen rai. Actually, she smiled so sweetly and apologetically when her truckmate pointed out what she had done that all was forgiven- except the fact that no one gave a rat's ass that she was junking up the roadside. Anther somewhat annoying aspect that jumps out at me is the ubiquity of amplified sound. If Buddhism has it right and we are all reincarnated, this must be where all old high school principals are reborn. Every school, whether it has 50 students or 500, has ten times the sound system it needs, and its main function is to provide the principal, or in other venues whoever is in charge, a platform for nattering on incessantly, now and forever Amen. And they inevitably turn the volume just past the point of distortion so it sounds horrible.  We live in concrete houses, shoulder to shoulder, but no one hesitates to blare their sound system beginning at 5 am. And the music is unimaginative and repetitive and the same everywhere. The dance thing is amazing, but it appears to be limited to one dance done over and over ad infinitum. That is probably just my ignorance however. The last thing is the dogs. I am a dog lover, or so I thought until I came to Thailand. They consider it inhumane to spay them, but seeing them starve and yip all night and fight and shit everywhere is apparently quite alright. I am reminded of the dogs in Robinson's Housekeeping. Dogs here have a wholly distinct aura and way with the world. If I do meet the king and I have his ear for even just one minute I will ask him to decree it holy law to spay their dogs... Okay, enough of this kvetching. I am insanely lucky and happy and if I start describing the schools' issues not only will I get all the principals moving here to use the microphones, but the laziest, most disorganized teachers will flock here to take advantage of the free ride. There is a bit of ahem...chaos? Let's just finish on a positive note shall we? I got the nicest note from Megan on facebook (which I really hate by the way. I am not sure if I can stand much more of its inanity and the way it is always barking for attention-reminds me of those horrible electronic "pets" popular a few years back). Congratulations on your clinicals, dear. Here are a few things to cheer up your morning reading. Here is picture of my breakfast!

Just looking at it makes me happy all over again. My god those peppers! And these are my lunch mates and look what we get to eat and where we get to eat it! That day was Vietnamese so it was even better than ever.
And here is the "kitchen" where all that is made daily. These people, like the French, know that eating well beats the hell out of everything else, and so have built their culture around it. They are very proud of "being a good cook" and someone liking their dish.
There are two burners and there is no oven. And how about this guy? He just put this whole bamboo cover thing together in a matter of hours and it is rock solid.
This guy is  the Thai twin of Rocky at RDHS- a totally competent, totally generous, totally open and bright, hardworking guy. I love him. And if that isn't enough to wash that nasty blog entry taste out of your mouth, here are a couple of my super fantastic 5-6ers. I love them so much and they were so focused and hardworking in my 2 hour class with them on Wednesday that I gave every single one a lollipop- Next week I'll give each a toothbrush! Yes. These I love.

Yes. So much. So much.


  1. Forget the dirty glass, let's talk about the filthy tongs I had to use at last night's conference supper. Also, I electrocuted my crotch the other day after I fell onto the electric fence. I was in so much pain from simultaneously laughing and screaming that I couldn't get off the fence. Just when I thought I was headed for the pig pen in the sky, the pigs pushed me out of the way and electrocuted themselves in the process. I told the pigs I owed them my life, but then I realized that I had fallen on their food bowl and they were merely trying to eat.

  2. Lovely! Here, hear the rain coming down hard..hope it will clean the streets.

  3. Ah! the pig story reminded me of how they disposed of the murdered bodies in Deadwood. You're lucky you aren't hereafter known as Pegleg!

  4. you speak of having been "lonely and truly miserable" back home in Maine. Don't you feel that it is far more complex then that in life no matter where you are?

  5. Anonymous- Thanks for making the point- I meant only at times was I feeling that in the US- and I really was not referring to the ups and downs that occur through life's trials and tribulations. More that I was lonely and miserable within what I sensed was the overarching ethos of modern culture as promulgated by the media and our leaders. I went back to edit the post to be a little more specific. I realize that EVERYTHING is far more complex than I can possibly encapsulate in a simple blog entry, and especially with the limits of my intelligence, experience, and perception. So I appreciate your patience with my limits. Yet a large part of why I came here was to break free of the conditions and cultural expectations prevalent in a 21st century industrialized, capitalist nation. I am striving to see this culture not through my eyes, but as far as possible through "neutral" ones. Again, thanks for making your point.