Showing posts with label Marriage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marriage. Show all posts

Summer Solstice and Rain...


The sun’s long northerly march has come to an end and after the briefest of pauses it now begins its equally long journey south.  June is a transitional month for me with my birthday and anniversary falling within this month of the Summer Solstice.  I have written four posts recently which haven’t made it to the blog.  We have taken a short trip to Chiang Mai, had visitors from Australia, with more visitors are on the way.  My wife went with friends to Hong Kong and Macau, but maybe that was in May, while I stayed home and played house husband.  My wife is now attending classes again after a two month break.

Father’s Day is also significant, even though I am not a father, as I was born on a Father’s Day many years ago.  When I was young, 60 seemed very old indeed, and seemed to mark the transition into old age.  I am now but one year short of that landmark and will no doubt spend far too much time thinking about what it means to me over the coming months.

I haven’t been out on the bike for a little over a week but there have been some great rides and I still manage to find new trails and invent new ways to link old trails.  That helps a lot in maintaining a sense of discovery and adventure.  My camera, having developed a few bad pixels, has got me looking for something new.  Sony’s NEX 6 or 7 look interesting right now but so far I am still looking.

Rain, Rain, Rain...

Sin Sot, To Pay or Not To Pay …

No, I have not lost my mind, or decided to take this blog down a different path.  This is not a history lesson on the origins of Sin Sot, or a laundry list of how much to pay for what.  That kind of thing has been done to death elsewhere.  VF doesn’t tell people what to do or how to do it.  I would much prefer being seen as motivational rather than instructional.  One additional disclaimer for those who don’t know me well, I did not pay any sin sot when my wife and I were married nearly fourteen years ago.  I guess you could say we eloped, as we got married first and told our families about it after the fact.

When it comes to things like Sin Sot, in my opinion it doesn’t matter what is written in some book or on some blog.  That won’t change how your partner feels about it or how their parents view the custom.  There can be vast differences based on region and class, with your arguments about the "true" meaning of Sin Sot, having no bearing on the beliefs and opinions of others.  I am not going to tell you how much you should pay or how to negotiate paying less.  I am not going to suggest you should be confrontational and refuse to pay.  I am not going to suggest that everyone, could or should, follow my example of no Sin Sot and no wedding party. 

Cross cultural issues like these are only complicated by language and ignorance on both sides.  It is so easy to project onto the other person what we want to see in them, with very little understanding of who they really are.  Just because a person can’t express their deepest hopes and fears in your language doesn’t mean they don’t exist, or that you can disregard them.  Communication in relationships, is a two way affair and any time it seems to be too one-sided, one should be asking why and looking for remedies.

Perhaps surprisingly, I do come from a traditional family in some respects.  There is no history of divorce, with my parents and both sets of grandparents staying together throughout their lives.  The man always provided financial support and the woman took care of the family and the home, though my mother did work before marriage and actually met my father because of her job.  These days it seems more common to divide things into, yours and mine.  People have separate bank accounts and what often looks to me like separate lives, with more time spent apart than together, but that is a separate discussion.

I always expected that I would take care of my partner and if I were not able to do so, then I would simply have to wait until I could.  That was one of many reasons I waited until I was 45 before getting married.  Too often people just don’t seem to consider the consequences of their choices, like who they marry and when.  Finding a partner is often just the beginning of your problems, not the end of them as so many fantasize.  It may be fun and romantic, but hitting the accelerator, closing your eyes and hoping things will workout for the best, has never been my style.

I find it disturbing to hear talk in some expat circles, about how cheap their wives are, and how little they cost to maintain.  Wives end up sounding like commodities or livestock possessed by the husband.  Sure, sex and money have always been major choke points in relationships.  Too much or too little of something, combined with different wants and needs, can lead to conflict and even separation.  Still, I find the monetization and predatory search practices of relationships these days distasteful.

In the past people met their partners while pursuing a normal life, where it now seems common for people to shop for a partner online.  I have my suspicions, that it makes it somehow easier to objectify the opposite sex.  In Thailand, expats discuss endlessly how much women cost, in terms of gold and Sin Sot before marriage, and maintenance after marriage.  It is like they are checking on the Kelly Blue Book price for a car they are interested in buying.  This is perhaps more common in the older, divorced and retired crowd, due to the baggage they carry with them, but it is not entirely limited to them.

I am not bound by tradition or dogma, and it matters little to me what others do or have done before me.  What matters is what my wife and I want as a couple.  I was not about to force someone to do things my way, so I waited until I found someone who was on the same wavelength and wanted the same things.  If you want a partner who will be interested in your athletic pursuits, for example, why choose someone who doesn’t have an athletic bone in their body?  If you don’t smoke and find it distasteful, why choose a smoker?  I am not traditional in my views on most things, so I knew I didn’t want someone with ridged and traditional beliefs.  That is exactly what some people are looking for it seems, though for the life of me I don’t know why.

When I hear expats making declarations about Thai Women, it tells me more about the man and where he is looking, than it does about Thai women in general.  There is endless dialog on what the hunter wants.  The guy often wants cheap, young and hot, while the woman often wants kind, generous and wealthy.  Neither side asks the most important question, “Why would a person like that, be interested in me?”  The trick as I see it, is not to focus so much on your checklist but to have a look in the mirror and turn your attention to making yourself desirable to someone you might like, and to possess the attributes you look for and admire in others.

People seem to be looking for an instruction manual for life, and there seem to be an abundance of blogs out there claiming to fill that need, but I am afraid it isn’t that easy.  I for one, wouldn’t want it to be as simple as following some list.  It doesn’t mean that life is all that difficult or that you should be afraid to try things.  Just look at each thing you do as preparing you for what comes next, not as an end in itself.

Anyway, that is the Village Farang take on Sin Sot and relationships in Thailand.

May-December Pairings and Other Relationship Thoughts…

So not too long ago we were at Chiang Rai Central Plaza, or what I call the Mall for short.  I won’t bore you with what we were doing, as that is not relevant to the topic, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed a familiar face.  Ends up it had been two years so I had to run the face through my built-in facial recognition pathways.  Even with a few extra pounds I placed her before my wife did.

Big smiles and greetings all around and then I put my foot in it, by asking about her farang husband.  When we first moved to Chiang Rai, and before my wife learned how to bake bread, we had a favorite bakery where we bought bread and visited almost weekly.  The new couple were expecting when we met and soon had a little baby girl resting on the counter in their shop, when we would visit.

They had a hard time trying to make it here in Chiang Rai, and after moving a couple of times in the area, they eventually moved to Bangkok and later to Phuket, I believe.  Anyway they are no longer a couple and I felt bad as our friend held back tears and told us her sad story.

Through this encounter I found myself pondering the many relationships we have watched disintegrate over the years.  Sometimes people you know as a couple simply drift away from you, when they drift apart.  Other times the acrimony forces you to choose one side or the other.  Of course there are other relationships which manage to stay together but have you wondering how, or even why, they would want to.  Then there are those who put on a good front while hiding the disfunction that exists at home.  Understand that I am not talking about the bar scene or short time pay for play but couples, married or otherwise, who really try to make a go of it regardless of where they came from. 

Common knowledge says you need to be the same to make things work, same age, same race, same interests, same religion, same education and same socioeconomic background.  Yet some statistics seem to show that May-December relationships are no more likely to fail than your average pairing, despite having very little in common at first glance.  Of course there could be many explanations for this.

Thailand is an excellent place to view May-December couples, with most western men not finding Thailand until later in life.  My guess would be that a certain level of dependency may lead to greater longevity in some pairings.  The man may have invested too much and feel it is too late to move on.  The younger woman may feel gratitude and a sense of obligation toward her, White Knight, who may have rescued her from a less than glamorous life.  Then again it could be the devil you know is preferable to uncertainty and loneliness.  Perhaps I have just forgotten the desperate lengths some people will go to in order to fend off loneliness.

Sure there is a lot which can go wrong due to age, language, culture and the like.  For example, if the woman is very young and childless I guess I can understand there might be pressure on the older man to have children, and quickly.  You still hear women say they believe a baby is the best way to lock a man into a relationship, even though their own experience disproves this old belief. 

More often than not, the women who are looking outside their own culture for a husband already have children from past failed relationships.  It is often that desperation which leads then down that path of finding a foreign benefactor to begin with.  The thing I don’t get, is why would these couples, who already have multiple children between them, choose to produce yet another baby with little chance of the father being around until maturity? 

Regardless of what I might think, making babies seems to be a priority for some, even in old age. If I were an older guy coming to Thailand after divorce and redundancy, the last thing would be looking for is to repeat past mistakes and go down the exact same path as before.  Then again I am perhaps not the best judge, since I didn’t get married until I was 45 and already had an understanding of myself and women, sufficient to know what was necessary for a relationship of mine to work.  It also helps that I never bought into the norms of society to begin with.

On a more personal note, I have found our twenty year age gap an advantage in many ways.  To begin with we have more time to spend together since neither of us work, and we relish the time we spend together.  In this modern age, with two working parents and the over-scheduling of their children’s lives, is it any wonder people snap under the pressure or find they no longer have anything in common after the children grow up.

One also hears gossip about friend's partners which makes them sound more like enemies rather than soul-mates.  While I consider my wife my best friend and confidant, I seldom hear that view from others.  If we were both working and spending the majority of our waking hours apart, I wonder if our last 15 years would have been so wonderful.

I can find no rhyme or reason in observing all the failed or struggling relationships I observe around me.  Perhaps it is something external in the pressure exerted by modern society, or maybe it is something in our genetic makeup.  After all, we seldom lived past our forties in the past, and what worked on an evolutionary level for a relatively short-lived creature, maybe just doesn’t work for a species which has more than doubled the lifespan, for which it was designed.

With my parents reaching their 90s having been together for something around 64 years, perhaps my expectations are not in touch with this modern era where most relationship do not last.  I seem to come from a minority background and hold a minority view on relationships.  For me marriage is a onetime deal and there will be no repeat performances in my future. 

I see more young people, especially the better educated and more affluent, looking for alternatives but still the pressure exerted by family and society is substantial and cannot be overlooked.  I suppose couples like us with our 20 year age gap and our decision to live a life not burdened with children, will never be the norm.  Our biology is just too hard to resist for most.  Maybe these May-December relationships will in the end disappear if economic discrepancies are eliminated.  The way things are going with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, with the world shrinking yet becoming more polarized, I think it more likely May-December relationships are going to be around for some time to come.

300 Posts and Still Blogging…

Typically reaching a milestone, even one a trivial as 300 posts, would have me examining the blog and moaning about my lack of motivation or direction.  As fate would have it, I have already done that quite recently.  So clearly I need to find some other way of marking the occasion.

Today I find myself at home again, playing househusband and servant to Cookie and our other four legged family members.  My wife is taking that last of her final exams and will no doubt go out for lunch to celebrate with her classmates.  Now that we both have iPhones, she is texting me more often using her favorite apps.  “I arrived safely.” or “Going in to take my test now.”, things of that nature pop up on the screen from time to time.

Speaking of iPhones, I only kept the iPhone 4 roughly a week.  One of my wife’s classmates jokingly suggested she sell the old phone her and get me a new one.  Well, to make a short story even shorter, that is what we did in the end.  Now we both have a new iPhone 5.

I am pretty sure we are taking a road trip later this week but with my wife cramming for finals we have put off any detailed planning.

Pause ll,

Writing of this post was interrupted yesterday, by a call and invitation to join my wife and a few of her friends for a movie in Chiang Rai.  This was one of those few occasions when it was convenient to have my own transportation since she had the car.  (I am still considering selling the Ninja 650, however, since it hardly gets ridden.)  After a shower, closing up the house and seeing to Cookie’s needs, putting on my gear and inspecting the seldom used Ninja 650, I zipped into town and enjoyed a pleasant afternoon with wife and friends.

Of course I could have opted to stay at home but I have learned to read the signs and usually know when to accept an invitation and when to decline.  Sometimes you are invited because you are there and it would be considered rude not to extend an invitation.  On those occasions it is perhaps best to decline by offering a polite excuse. 

Whether my wife really wanted me there or simply wanted to do something nice for me, to make up for the time she spends away from me, I don’t know.  I do know that when she makes the effort to mention something, even in passing, there is often more to it than idle chitchat.  So I pay attention to the signs, understanding that ignoring them comes at some peril.

I now have an idea where my wife wants to go on our pending road trip and it looks like I will have the opportunity to drive some of the same amazing backcountry roads we found a couple years ago, Road Trip, as well as pickup a few we missed.  I’m thinking of reversing the previous route and heading first to Nan, then taking the scenic route all the way to Chiang Khan before continuing on to a few other places she wants to go.  Sounds like a very long drive but it also sounds like my kind of fun and a great test for the new SUV.

As an afterthought I have decided to include a few shots from my last Mt. bike ride.
Under the bridge next to the Ing River.

The first bridge of the day.

Rice ready for harvest.

Rice just planted in the next field over.

Adding a little color and perspective.

Blocking the flow to make fishing easier.

The second bridge of the day.

Irrigating the rice fields.

Young rubber wood trees near home.

Five Years Later ...

It has been five years since we moved into this house, which in the goodness of time became our beloved home.  I have heard some argue that a house is little more than a shelter but for me it is so much more.  While comfort and convenience do come into play, they are but practical things that do not touch the deeper reaches of ones soul.  It is not so much the modern conveniences that are incorporated in the house, or even the size or the shape that are of importance to me.  It is more about how I relate to the space, both indoors and out, and how it all makes me feel.  Of course I can’t speak for others, but I believe our physical surroundings play a major role in our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  Surely living in concrete or wooden boxes, commuting in metal boxes and working in cubicles exacts a heavy price on the human spirit.

After rereading what I have written in the past about adjusting to life in Chiang Rai, and the phases one goes through, I found most of it still holds true five years on.  It is still a work in progress, ever evolving and changing as I believe life is meant to be.  Some activities have been tried and discarded, not likely to be revisited.  Some friendships have foundered as our paths have diverged.  As I continue to meet more people, and the circle of people I interact with in casual social settings grows, inversely I seem to be retreating from involvement with the more taxing sorts of relationships.

So many people live such messy lives and I don’t wish to be put in a position of cleaning up their messes.  Much of my tolerance of other’s lifestyles and choices is predicated on them not messing up mine.  While I am not inclined to force others to do things my way, I do equally resist modifying how I live to suit others.  I have often been too accommodating in the early stages of new relationships, leading to difficulties down the road when I start to draw lines, differentiating things I will and will not do to maintain a relationship.

With physical proximity not playing a part, due to my chosen place of abode, it does not feel compelling nor practical to limit my friendships to those who live in Chiang Rai.  The demographics of the local expat community, spur me on even further to cast a wider net in pursuit of likeminded individuals or people I find innately more interesting.  This blog has played a major role in connecting me to the kind of people I enjoy corresponding with, and when circumstances allow, meeting when they visit the area.

Sometimes I serve a passing role in the lives of those who dream of living in Thailand and enjoy reading about others who have already done it.  I play my part and then, at the appropriate time, fade into the sunset.  There are still others who from time to time drop me a line to let me know how they are doing.  Not much need to ask about my life, as much of it finds its way into the prose and imagery of this blog.  I choose to share part of my life in this more public format but I understand there is much that is better confined to emails or phone calls and I also relish those opportunities to interact on a more personal level.

For me it is perhaps a bonus that we don’t live next door to each other and do not feel the need to interact or correspond daily.  I have never been good with routines or a regimented lifestyle.  Give me freedom and spontaneity any day, over monotony and repetition, fixed to the relentless ticking of a clock.

As expected this has turned out to be my wife’s year, as opposed to mine.  Most things have revolved around her university schedule, weekend classes and midweek homework.  Her levels of independence and self confidence have grown over the year, as she has learned to drive on own and do her homework with no assistance from me.  Her first term’s, 4 A’s and a B+, were entirely hers and reflect her own accomplishments.  She has taken her role as class leader seriously and developed socially as well as personally, to a noticeable degree.

For many years the core of our relationship was companionship and our enjoyment of spending time together.  Being older and more experienced I, more often than not, took the lead in sharing my world with her as we spent time traveling, working out in health clubs and partaking of Western food, music, television and movies.  Having lived in Thailand nearly as long as she has, we do not fall into the typical pattern of Thai-Farang relationships where the husband doesn’t speak Thai and is so often dependent on the wife as translator and guide.

I guess I hadn’t realized how much control I exerted over our relationship, until my wife started taking more control over her own life.  This whole process has been eyeopening and educational, for me as well as her.  I am not always comfortable with this evolutionary process but I understand it needs to happen.  I am considerably older than her and the chances are she will find it necessary to make do without me at some point.

Though her schooling has contributed to us spending more time doing things separately, the dogs and the house are probably more responsible in their own way.  With less of it, I relish even more the time we are able to spend together.  Hopefully we will find time to travel together, one of my favorite things, during her next school break.

This morning, in addition to the heavy fog, there was a distinct chill in the air.  This is our first, and somewhat late to arrive, wintery morning of the year.  I am sitting in the car, under a tree, waiting for my wife with the windows down, something I don’t often do.  From time to time a tiny leaf drifts in through the window, as I write to the sound of the birds in the trees and the occasional footsteps and murmuring of students walking to and from class.  There is something about a university campus that is both calming and stimulating at the same time.  Wrap it all up in a cool winter morning in Northern Thailand and I am quite enjoying waiting for my wife today.

It has been a very long time since we enjoyed Sunday Brunch at the Meridien but with her class ending early today, we will be able to enjoy one of our favorite dining experiences later this morning.  Apparently class is over and she is on her way so I had best sign off and focus my attention on her.

New Year's Eve with 2012 hours away ...

For those of you who have been with me for a while, expectations might be for an agonizing post about where I have been, as I lament a lack of visibility into the coming year.  Where is the blog going, why do I blog and what path might I follow, no doubt would spring to mind.  I am surprised to find that I actually have a vision for 2012.

It is all falling into place and seems to make so much sense.  The first two years were about building the house and the long process of moving in and turning it into a home with a string of projects.  To some extent those projects continue today but at a much more relaxed pace.  Later attention was focused on our social life, primarily exploring the expat community that exists here in the Rai.  This last year has been one of consolidation as we sorted through what was important to us and allotted our time accordingly.

Admittedly I exerted more than my fair share of influence over the navigation process, as I was in the driver’s seat both literally and figuratively.  With my wife finally taking to driving on her own, the impetus coming from my trip to Hawaii, she has gained more independence and confidence to do her own thing.  Her iPhone has freed her from our computer, allowing her to interact in a way that is more natural for her.  Nearly constant interaction with friends on Facebook has expanded her circle of friends, reinforced her Thainess and tickled her creativity bone.

After being joined at the hip for so many years it is with mixed feelings that I watch my wife refine her own style and venture down her own path a little more.  I try to support her while keeping in check any impulses I might have to be excessively protective.  While age has never been an issue with us, it is nevertheless important for me to remember our age difference, when it has a bearing on our growth and development as individuals.  I do ask questions to help gauge my wife’s interest and commitment to projects she is considering but leave the final call to her.

If anything my wife has too many interests and finds it difficult to narrow things down enough to keep life manageable.  Fortunately the days and hours she volunteers at the local school are flexible.  Her expressed desire to further her education and get a teaching degree is admirable and potentially beneficial on many levels.

If it has not become clear yet, 2012 is shaping up to be “the year of my lovely wife” and the continued expansion of our Thai connections here in the Rai.  Having been through what one might call a Farang phase it is now time for a Thai phase.  I have had my turn, so now it is my wife’s turn.  As yet I am not certain how her being busier and away from home more often will affect my schedule.  Perhaps we will need a little more structure to make sure everything gets done.  Then again being spontaneous and going with the flow might continue to work best for us.

Not being burdened with my usual angst over the coming year has put me in a very mellow state of mind, perfect for ushering in the New Year.  Wanting to share some pictures today I finally settled on the Chiang Rai Flower Festival now in progress and a shot of a few of my wife’s students that I snapped during an impromptu visit to her class on the Ninja.

Christmas Day in the Rai ...


Yes, Thailand celebrates Santa in all his commercial glory.  To the point that our favorite lunch venue is sold out and we are forced to staying in on this cold and grey winter day.  So much for our going with the flow and not planning things far enough in advance.  The upside is, my wife is preparing a special meal just for the two of us, though I am sure Cookie will get a bite or two.  So there is time today for thought and reflection.

I am not what you would call driven or goal oriented in my pursuit of happiness and the good life.  I do not traverse life’s highways and byways astride an iron rail with relentless determination that takes me from point A to point B without deviation.  Think of me more as raptor soaring through the sky, searching out updrafts to stay airborne with as little effort as possible.  I am already where I want to be, so there is no need to point myself steadfastly in one particular direction.  Maybe just drift a bit higher to broaden my view and expand my horizon.  My style is to take advantage of opportunities that present, not to cling to the past or fear change but I do keep track of the choices I make and the reasons for making them.

This is the time of year when we think back on what has transpired over the last year and prepare to turn the page and start anew.  I have turned, or had turned for me, many pages during this last year and no doubt will turn many more in the year ahead.  I have turned the page on the hash, the expat club, the potluck, early mornings at the coffee shop, group motorcycle rides and surely a few other things that don’t spring to mind at the moment.  For now we have an ever expanding circle of friends though some have wondered off along the way, perhaps having found more satisfaction elsewhere.  I have focused more on my own fitness, the happiness of my family and doing things I enjoy.

There have been those who found it difficult to understand, that Village Farang for me, was like a character in a play of my own imagining.  He was distinct and different from me in important ways. Over time those differences that existed early on, have all but disappeared as the two melded into one.  Village Farang has taken me on a journey of discovery through writing.  Some may write what they know, paraphrase others, or journal events with facts and figures.  When I write, really write, it becomes a journey of discovery for me.  Occasionally I know exactly what I am going to say before I begin writing and those are often the occasions when I don’t bother.  Really what is the point if it is already clear and I have worked through everything in my head before I start.

I am often surprised by what VF writes and he has taught me a lot about life and about myself.  With wonder I try to imagine where the words come from and how a turn of phrase found its way on to the page.  At times I didn’t know I knew certain things until I read them on the page in front of me, written in a way that is VF’s alone.  At first VF was an alter ego freed by anonymity to express himself with abandon.  As the gap between VF and myself narrowed, I began to guard my own identity less closely.  There was a gradual coming out as it were, to the point that many now know my face, especially here in the Rai.  In the interest of cyber security certain things are never divulged but I am no longer reluctant to be known as Village Farang, online or in person.

My wife and I have had some very productive discussions of late, covering where we have been and some options for where we might be going, both short term and long.  With age this kind of pondering seems to hold more urgency and gravity.  We feel it is important to communicate and not let things drift, especially when you sense a transition is in the offing.  Someone talked my wife into volunteering as an English teacher at a local school and now they are encouraging her to get a teaching degree to backup her already impressive grasp of the English language.  She seems happy and this looks like a path worth exploring.

I am contemplating doing more strenuous things that she might not be interested in and are therefore better done alone.  After the New Year I am considering a multi day motorcycle adventure back in the direction of Pai, for example.  I will try to get my visa taken care of early to allow more time for the many things we still want to do during the remainder of this wonderful season of action and adventure.

It is all I can do to restrain myself when I overhear others ponder how to fill their time when they retire or fantasize about moving to Thailand.  Often for us there just aren’t enough hours in a day, or days in a week.  I guess we all live our lives differently.  For me the main shift has been from focussing on a world distant and vague, to one that is present, immediate and real.  In a way I have turned to the micro setting on the camera.  I read volumes in the faces around me.  The world overflows with sights, sounds, smells, the exhilarating dance of life and what sometimes feels like a headlong rush toward death.  The mind is never idle no matter how relaxed the body may appear.

With that let me recall those famous words, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

My Amazing Thai Wife ...


Fourteen years together and she can still amaze me.  After being reluctant to drive for years she recently stepped up, realizing she would need to drive while I was in Hawaii for a couple of weeks.  Before that there had never been a pressing reason for her to drive so it kind of sat on the back burner.  Now she chauffeurs me about more often than not.

She had never shown any interest in my Ninja 650 and then one day she suggested we ride it to Phu Sang Waterfall, a 142 km trip.  The day after we drove even further, most of the way to Mae Sai.  The plan had been to do the Doi Mae Salong route but we got a late start and had to change plans.
Taking pics
Posing
Chilling

I had no experience riding 2-up but it didn’t take long to adjust.  It felt really good to have her along for the ride.  Then again everything is better when we do it together.  Worried about her reaction I took it easy on the outward leg only to have her ask why I hadn’t passed this one car we followed for a while heading toward Thoeng.  From then on I drove and passed as I usually do.  We didn’t go exceptionally fast, but except for the wind trying to take her helmet off, she said she didn’t mind the speed and really felt safe with me maneuvering the roads in my usual fashion.  That was a relief since I had been concerned about her reaction, sitting helpless on the back of a speeding Ninja.

Being Thai my wife has a few fear issues with things both real and imagined, but every once in a while she just says enough is enough and faces her fears head on.  That is more or less how we ended up going skydiving in Hawaii after her saying she would never do so.  She is still reluctant to do much hiking or any camping in Thailand as she doesn’t feel it is safe here.  It is her own country after all, so who am I to argue with the way she feels about her own countrymen.  Her rationale actually makes a lot of sense.

In the States, however, some of our longer and more difficult hikes were undertaken at her request.  She had seen young women on the trail and marveled at their self-confidence and athletic prowess.  They hiked alone or with a dog on the trails around Bolder Colorado in skimpy outfits that would be frowned upon in Thailand and seemed to have not a care in the world.  We also found people quite friendly and approachable on the trail, wherever we went in the National Parks.
Yellowstone

San Francisco

Mount Rainier

Somewhere in California

Lake Tahoe

Grand Canyon

Crater Lake
Bryce Canyon

Fiery Furnace, Arches 
Multnomah Falls

Sadly my wife was born into an environment where children are controlled by fear, superstition and are held back, instead of being encouraged.  I guess it makes it easier for the parents but it does little to prepare a village child for the bigger world that lurks beyond the boundaries of their village.  Cultural changes do not come easily or quickly, however, no matter where you are from.  Oddly there is no shortage of visitors to this country who are eager to voice their quick fixes for all that they feel ails Thailand.

Most visitors tend to ignore the inherent dangers in attempting to tinker with another’s culture.  I constantly weigh the plusses and minuses of the tinkering I have done with my own wife’s world view.  She obviously pays a price in her own culture for having been modified by me to fit better into my own world.  On balance I think she has gained more than she has lost but I suppose only time will truly tell.  At least I am here everyday to provide support and encouragement when she struggles in her attempt to straddle the divide between her culture and the life we have carved out for ourselves.  In many ways she is probably better suited for life in my country than she is here, but here is where we live.

So life goes on, just as my love and admiration for my wife grows with the years.  From a child of 23 to a woman of 37 she has never ceased to amaze me.

Why Chiang Rai and Not Hawaii? ...


Chiang Rai

Hawaii

I was tempted to answer the bigger question of why Thailand but that was not the form the question took and would have required a much longer backstory.  Chiang Rai is easier having lived here for a little over four years.  Still, the backstory goes back fourteen years to when I first met my wife.

Since the question did not include details of how we got together I will skip over that part, to where we had been together for over a year and were starting to get more serious wanting to grow our relationship in new directions.  I had always made myself clear on the subject of marriage and children but as our relationship grew I wanted to be able to share more of my world with her.  To that end it seemed a natural progression to visit my people and where I came from.

After a little research it became clear that as a girlfriend that option was not going to be open to us.  So instead of the traditional route of meeting my family first, we got married first and told people about it later.  That was nearly two years into our relationship.  Marriage is far from being a slam-dunk for entry to the USA so we did an end run and went for the Green Card.  Not having the burden of proving a negative, made obtaining a resident visa much easier than getting a tourist visa, as strange as that might seem.  At that point we had no idea what we wanted to do but the road before us and our potential options had just expanded greatly.

Our trips to Hawaii started off short and got as long as nine months at one point.  That was a major plus of condo life in Bangkok.  We could turn the key in the door and be gone as long as we wished.  Not long after we started traveling and spending extended periods with my parents, my mother began her long slow decline into the dark foreboding realm of dementia.

Travel for us was surprisingly affordable back then.  My parents had a very large, four bedroom condo on the Ala Wai within walking distance of Waikiki, beaches, parks and the zoo.  My mother’s car was seldom used so we ended up with free accommodation, transportation and adequate privacy in our living arrangement.  All of our money went to our pursuit of happiness not to fixed overhead.  The Baht was very weak so for a while I was able to fly us business class for nearly the same price I used to fly economy.

I was torn between wanting to spend time with my aging parents before things got worse, mired as they were in their state of denial, and a need to expand the horizons of my growing relationship with my wife.  Our answer lay in extended breaks of up to a month, on long drives through the scenic back roads and national parks of the Western states.  We fantasized about living in places like Bolder, Portland, Vancouver or Hawaii during this time.

We were living a great life and our options seemed limitless, but of course we all have limits.  There are self-imposed limits, limits based on our potential or lack there of, environmental and economic limits, just to name a few.  A hard look at our situation made it clear that startup costs for a move to my homeland, to be nearer my parents, would leave us with much less disposable income and a subsequent drop in our standard of living.  Besides my parents were not keen on the idea, as they denied there was any need for us to make such a move.

I came to understand that I was drawn to the adventure and romance of traveling with my wife, seeing the world anew through her eyes.  I was not interested, however, in the monotony of day to day life in an environment of growing regulations and the oppressive authoritarian attitude that so permeated every aspect of life and seemed to be growing exponentially.

Things took a dramatic turn when on a visit that was meant to be six weeks, turned into a six month ordeal of moving my parents into a retirement home and preparing the condo they had lived in for more than twenty five years, to be sold.  With hindsight it was clear that we were at least a year behind the curve when it came to the move, making it that much more difficult to accomplish.

Upon returning to Thailand I was struck with the realization that I no longer had a home to go to in Hawaii.  That safety net and sense of security that had always been there, in the form of my parents and our family home, was gone.  Though my parents were still alive, clearly the burden of responsibility and care was shifting and before long I would be the end of my line.

After ten years of condo life in Bangkok the wife and I yearned for something different.  For the first time in my fifty some years I wanted a home of my own.  Land, a big house, pets, toys and all the things that I had as a child but had done without during my bachelor days in Bangkok.  In Chiang Rai we could have it all and much of it could be paid for by the sale of our condo in Bangkok.  If anything, I am practical and calculating in all that I do.  We thought long and hard about it.  We talked endlessly of our options and the pros and cons of each.  The more we deliberated the clearer our path became.

Though my wife had a Green Card, a move to America would have been a move to a foreign land for both of us.  For nearly as long as it had been my wife’s home, Thailand had been my home.  There was nothing to return to in my homeland and the cost of starting over there was just too high.  The truth is, once my parents are gone I can’t imagine any pressing reason to return at all.

Apart from my parents and some financial investments, all that I am and all that I have, resides here in Thailand.  There really is no other place for me to go.  So comparing a few random pictures of Hawaii and Chiang Rai one might ask, why one and not the other.  That would be a very simplistic question based on a very superficial observation, however.  It did give me the opportunity to expand upon my life’s story and path, which I hope you have found entertaining.

Got The Girl, Now What?...


As you know I have lived in Thailand most of my life and found my wife after living here for a very long time.  That is not in the cards for most people, however.  Most find love during a brief visit or perhaps online, these days.  So once you have found your true love, for many there is little option but to take her home where you can provide for her.  For that matter, at some point most of us want to at least travel with our partners so we end up jumping through the ubiquitous bureaucratic hoops our governments set up for our enjoyment or perhaps their entertainment.

A couple of my readers are getting close to bringing their partners to visit or live in their home country.  Having overcome the mountain of obstacles placed in their way so far, now they will be burdened with task of everyday living.  As far as I am concerned there are no hard and fast rules as each individual and each couple face different challenges and have different resources to call upon.  In general there are two main camps on the subject of immigration, whether Thai or farang.  You either stick to your own kind or mingle with the locals.  Somewhere in the middle is probably best but you get my point.

I am in favor of multiple visits before making any longterm moves but I understand that may not be an option for many.  Jumping off the cliff into unplumbed waters will work for the lucky ones but others will end up battered and bruised, if not worse.  As usual there is anecdotal evidence to support optimism or pessimism.  It is your choice.

If your language skills are not great or you don’t have much free time, it might be tempting to find a bunch of Thais for your wife to hang with and lighten your load a bit.  You could get lucky and fall in with a good group but there are some real horror stories about Thais preying on the naïve newcomers in their midst.  I am of the camp that believes in adjusting to the local life first and then when you are more settled, perhaps looking for friends from the old country.

If you don’t make the effort in the beginning, in my opinion, it is easy to get complacent and stick to what you know.  You see it with farangs in Thailand and with Thai overseas.  My wife met Thai women, who while living overseas, seemed more Thai than she.  They were up on all the latest celebrity gossip, soap-operas, singers, ate little but Thai food and had few if any friends outside of the Thai community.  In spite of living overseas many don’t put any effort into improving their language skills either, much like many of the farangs in Thailand.

While most people think of the big things like visas, food, weather, loneliness and homesickness, some little things are forgotten or overlooked.  While the cold is hard on most Thais it is often the dry air that causes more problems.  Starting on the airplane the air is very dry, then the cold air is dry and the heated interiors of buildings are dry.  Those with more delicate skin will find their skin flaking and itchy while their lips chap and noses might bleed as the sinuses crack and dry out.  My wife goes through copious amounts of skin lotion in the hot climate of Thailand but nearly baths in the stuff when we travel.  Various medications and things like birth control, which are bought over the counter in Thailand, may require prescriptions in another country so one needs to think ahead.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that you shouldn’t go for it in life or in love.  I’m just saying, don’t expect it to be smooth sailing all the time.  No matter how much preparation time you have put in, things will come up that you didn’t consider or prepare for.  Cross-cultural relationships can be incredibly rich and full but they can also be very complex and difficult.  Patience and understanding are needed in abundance and while the payoff may not be immediate and things may fall apart eventually, don’t forget that life is always lived without guarantees.

For those of you anxiously awaiting the arrival of your true love, just sit back and let those emotions wash over you.  You may never have those feelings again so don’t let them pass unnoticed.  Don’t rush too quickly to make everything normal and common place.  Soon enough you will be wondering where all the excitement and anticipation disappeared to.  For now just enjoy the ride.

No Children Please, Pets Welcome ...


Driving to town on a dark rainy day with misty clouds clinging to even the lowest hills, it was enough just to enjoy the company of my wife, who was driving for the first time in the rain, the lovely passing landscape and the relaxing ambience that seemed to envelop the world around us.  Someone had proposed a question just before leaving the house, through the comment page, so instead of enjoying the quiet I thought I would run the query by my wife to get her most recent take on the subject.

Our dialogue on having children has changed over the last fourteen years as one might expect.  After listening, she paused ever so briefly and then began a thoughtful discussion with the acknowledgement that when we first met, if she had met a man who wanted children, she probably would not have even thought about it.  After all that is what couples do, right?  Now at thirty-seven years old, and years of living with me, she has a clearer understanding of the question and her feelings on the subject.  Then again how clear can something be that is mired in biological imperatives, tradition and cultural beliefs?

Over the years she has been witness to the births of many of her friend’s children and continues to follow their progress.  They have pretty much covered the spectrum from easy to difficult and given her a good idea of the sacrifices involved in being a responsible parent, as apposed to just giving birth and passing it on to someone else to take care of.  She seems to like infants in small doses these days and understands that given the choice she would prefer not to surrender her own existence to the sole task of taking care of someone who is totally dependent upon her.  Besides, between Cookie and me, isn’t she already doing that?  Reading this part aloud to her as she worked around us, she moaned audibly, venting that she indeed had enough children to take care of already.

Clearly we have evolved strong biological and hormonal urges, that have served us perhaps too well, in our rush to dominate and over populate this world.  To counteract our more primitive urges, evolution gave us the prefrontal cortex with its executive functions capable of overriding some of our more destructive tendencies.  A quick look around and one would be excused for thinking that most people have never opened that box or read the instructions contained there in.

It took a while but I think my wife now understands, that yes she gets a warm fuzzy feeling around infants, not unlike what she feels when she sees a golden retriever puppy and holds it in her arms.  One can choose, however, to enjoy and embrace that feeling for a moment or two with other people’s children, without surrendering ones entire life to it.  To this end I am more than happy to let her get a regular dose of nurturing by visiting friends with babies.

Culturally things can be made more difficult by the pressure put upon us by friends and relatives to produce cute little clones of ourselves.  I tend to view the sometimes incessant prodding as no more mindful than remarks about the weather or your health, a simple reflex with little or no thought behind the words.  Some people give in way too easily to their urges and the prodding of others, in my opinion.  Just because someone can give birth doesn’t mean they should do so, or that they would be competent parents.

With many foreign men finding Thailand late in life and choosing much younger wives, simply because they can, there is a disproportionate number of very old fathers with very young children, at least in rural areas such as mine.  Spending ones twilight years changing diapers and playing reruns of a life you have already lived is beyond my comprehension.  Playing grandparent from time to time seems more suited to old age.  I do my best to keep those thoughts to myself around others but I’m sure they must sense my misgivings about such things.

In Thailand one hears repeatedly the question, “Who is going to take care of you when you are old?”  Even worse I used to hear, “You need to have children in time to use them.”  As I have gotten older, thankfully I don’t have to listen to that one anymore.  Those questions and comments will in time be relegated to the past where they belong but for now many still cling to them.  Taken to the extreme some seem to ignore the present and the lovely memories they could be creating together, regardless of age, and greedily prepare for their future by producing offspring and milking the ATM.

In contrast to the belief that children will care for you in your old age, these days one sees more and more old people in villages with no one to care for them.  Their children are off working in the cities trying desperately to sink no further into debt and often failing.  There are those who champion the idea of families taking care of aging parents but I have witnessed on too many occasions, families who are simply not equipped to provide the care their aging parents need.  Sometimes we do more harm than good by giving in to emotional and cultural pressure, instead of acting on a clear and rational plan.  Old age and dying are never easy subject to discuss, however.

My wife and some of her single friends half seriously joke about building houses next to each other when they get older.  Who knows, that may turn out to be doable with so many single female friends and with people staying active much later in life.  Alternatively by the time I am gone my wife’s niece and nephew will be parents a few times over and may need help raising their kids.  As the world and our circumstances in it change, we may need to evolve new models of how to deal with those changes.  We desperately seek certainty in an uncertain world but in the end the most we can hope for is that we will have acquired the needed experience and resilience to deal with whatever comes up.

At this point I probably have more confidence in my wife than she has in herself.  She has been taught to worry about things she has no control over but I do what I can to help her, if not embrace change and uncertainty, to at least not fear it quite so much.  No one knows what tomorrow will bring and one day I will not be here to love, protect and care for my wife.  All we can do realistically is make the most of the time we have together and hopefully that will provide a strong foundation upon which to continue her life after I am gone.

No doubt I have readers who would have preferred something more authoritative or instructional on this topic but those who know me better will have expected this style of rambling dissertation.  It is to be hoped, this will lend itself to stimulating ones own thought process on a subject many of us have to deal with.

Why I Married a Thai Village Girl ...


To begin with, I am sure there are those who would dispute my wife being a “village girl” and they would not be wrong on many levels.  She speaks and writes English well, has a modern sense of fashion and design, with a fondness for western food.  Into fitness, self-improvement, travel, hiking in places as diverse as Mt. Rainer, Arches and the Grand Canyon, and even tried skydiving in Hawaii.  The truth is, however, she was born in the village we presently live in making her at least technically a village girl.

She was never a farmer like her parents and was primarily responsible for taking care of her younger brother and sister.  To this day she speaks fondly of other children, now grown, who were under her care at some time in their infancy.  Having that kind of responsibility at such a young age may go some way to explaining how I was not pressed or badgered on the issue of having offspring, something I have never been in favor of.  Though I did change my mind about getting married, I have never wavered on the issue of children and was clear from the beginning.

I can’t see that she learned much from her family with their lives being as different as night and day.  That said perhaps she did learn what she did not want.  Her goal had always been to escape the village, yet here we are, after both of us having lived most of our lives in Bangkok.  I may come back to this later but I have yet to touch on the topic of why I married my wife instead of someone else and should perhaps move in that direction.

With my years in Thailand and experience across social lines, one might ask why I did not marry into an upper crust Chinese-Thai family or one of the old Thai family names.  It is not like I didn’t know people like that or spend time in their homes when I was in my twenties.  I suppose it might have been possible when I was young and full of potential.  Though I did meet a couple of girls who were heartbroken and their dreams shattered by their unrelenting parents who threatened to disown them if they did not break off relations with their farang boyfriends from university in Europe.  Such a threat from powerful and socially influential parents was too much for them to resist.  I doubt I would have faired much better.

There were a few other stumbling blocks that were quite obvious to me, from the very beginning.  First, being from an academic family, I presented well but really had no money and little prospect of making any in Thailand.  That is of course unless I was willing to work for someone’s daddy.  I have known a few guys who integrated fairly well into that kind of situation but it was definitely not an option for me.  Being under the thumb of some Thai man who controlled both my income and my wife was unthinkable.

Secondly I was not really attracted to the girls I met in those families and getting them away from parental supervision to spend time with them was all but impossible, especially in the evenings or on weekends.  Most importantly I was having too much fun as a single guy and had no intention of ever getting married or having children.  With no interest in ruining mine or anyone else's life, it seemed more prudent to play elsewhere, with other less demanding females and those less fraught with the danger of altering my lifestyle.

Among those who knew me well, I was voted most likely to remain a lifelong bachelor.  We all know how that played out.  My youthful appearance played a major part in the early years but that was later supplemented by various jobs and time spent on Thai TV programs.  As I moved into my forties, with my taste in women not having change much in the last twenty years, it became clear that at some point I would become that desperate dirty old man who surrenders his dignity in pursuit of young Thai girls.  Though on some level I may have resigned myself to that inevitability, it was not something I was looking forward to.

This is roughly where my wife entered the picture.  I was forty-three and she was twenty-three.  A bit older than I was accustomed to but within my age tolerance.  Nothing should have ever come of our meeting because we lived in the same apartment complex and that was high on my list of survival rules, or what I sometimes called my rules of engagement, as something one never does.  I had to make a rather quick and life changing decision as to whether I should pursue a relationship with her or not.

I found her interest in me, despite having been witness to my comings and goings over the previous year, to be quite intriguing.  Not like she was stalking me, but she noticed when I was out of the country and wondered where I went.  She claims that if she had known I spoke Thai she may have summoned the courage to introduce herself instead of leaving that up to fate, which took more than a year.  Where most girls would have been turned off by what they saw during that time she spent watching me, she seemed attracted by my bad-boy persona, the parade of women and maybe even welcomed the challenge.  So from the very beginning I was accepted for who I was.

The proximity provided by our living in the same building paired with her family being far away, ended up playing a big part in our relationship progressing soothly and effortlessly from one stage to the next.  So my rule about not getting involved with someone where I lived was broken and I started down the path of breaking many more of my bachelor rules.  I considered for a moment listing some of those rules but thought better of it.  I don’t want to be responsible for tempting anyone down that potentially hazardous moral path.

Others looked at us and saw little potential for a lasting relationship and we were not disinclined to agree with them in the beginning.  Over time we discovered that from past relationships, we both had developed a list of deal breakers in members of the opposite sex.  Our lists were long and it took some time for us to discover how well we fit each other's lists.  With others that list had always been an easy way to avoid commitment with no one ever coming even close to passing the test.  It didn’t quite turnout that way with her.

Whether a list is scribbled on a piece of paper or indelibly etched into your soul from a lifetime of experience, it should be your list and not someone else’s.  You need to know what you can tolerate and what you can’t.  Obviously that can only come from experience and self-knowledge, something sorely lacking in many individuals I fear.  A list won’t necessarily change who you are attracted to but it should have some bearing on who you choose as a lifelong mate.  Love or lust will not overcome all things.

Smoking, drinking, gambling, verbal or physical abuse, dishonesty, disloyalty, lack of compatibility in areas of finance, fitness and entertainment, lack of free time to spend together and putting others before your partner were examples of things neither one of us were willing to deal with.  Since I spoke Thai, English was not high on the list for me but it was great that she had the interest and potential to sail through all fifteen books at AUA and later go on to take their intensive class, just as a refresher course.

We don’t agree on all things family, social, philosophical or religious but it never becomes an issue.  I very much enjoy and benefit from our differences as much as our similarities.  We are both granted a broad freedom of action and we are only constrained by our mutual respect and desire to please and not disappoint each other.

As much as we love our home and our life here in the village, I sometimes think we have been too successful at filling our time.  After fourteen years together she is still my best friend and confidante.  If anything, I wish we had more free time to spend together with no outside distractions.  Our house is perhaps a bit too big and our pet menagerie far too spoiled but both are problems of our own making.  Our communication is good and our love continues undiminished by the years, so we deal with whatever comes along, as a united team.

I’m not sure I have answered the original question as to why I married a village girl.  I’m not sure that term had or has much meaning for me, though I acknowledge it may be more descriptive and important to others.  Even the term married may mean something different to others than it has meant to us.  Was it luck?  Was it fate?  Was it planned?  I like to think we are committed, communicate well, and perhaps my age and experience have helped to smooth over the rough spots.  Thankfully my wife found me, chose me, forgave me and continues to put up with me after all these years.

Unsolicited Advice, Classic VF ...


Lets face it, if your company or religion didn’t send you here or it wasn’t part of a much longer trip of self-discovery, you probably came here for the girls.  Okay, maybe you were dragged here reluctantly by a friend who was tired of you being lonely and crying in your beer.  Face it, the girls were the hook that landed you.

The thing that always gets me though, is how many nesters there are, ready to make the same mistakes and fall back into the same hole they escaped from.  While disparaging the divorcées and blue-hairs back home, they continue to scrape the bottom of the barrel here in Thailand, looking for love in all the wrong places.  Don’t know if it is low testosterone or elevated estrogen levels due to the chemicals we use to raise our food.  Perhaps the guys were more severely emasculated by their previous encounters than they want to admit.  Whatever it is, guys who should know better, jump back on the marriage merry-go-round with the first Thai girl who tells him he is a “handsome man” and lifts her skirt.

If you are getting married for sex, then don’t.  I assure you that per-unit cost, it is much cheaper to rent and the variety will keep your interest up, so to speak.  The whole idea that you need a big house, a truck and a baby before anything else, is a crock.  Do you really want to spend the rest of you days prefacing the introduction of your wife or girlfriend by including some variation of the phrase, “and she was not a hooker.”  A waisted effort by the way, as foreigners will assume you are lying and Thais will know before she opens her mouth.

Do you really want to spend your retirement nest-egg on the establishment of a freedom-sucking, financial sinkhole?  Move around, explore the country, learn the language and learn to read and understand the women and customs.  I assure you there are options to the over-the-hill, tattooed girl, with a couple of kids from deepest darkest Isaan.

As with anything, learn the ropes before taking the plunge.  Stay single and create your own life here in Thailand.  If you are successful, then and only then, invite someone to share your life with you.  Don’t let someone you are unable to communicate with, dictate the path of your life.  Talk about the blind leading the blind.

So you are not ready for retirement and still need to work.  Chances are you won’t be able to find work in Thailand if you aren’t already employed there.  That means moving her to your country and all the hurdles that implies or starting up a long-distance relationship.  The odds of a long-distance relationship working are well documented.

Oddly enough in Thailand, that kind of relationship can be beneficial to both parties over the short term.  The Thai woman is able to remain with family and friends in a familiar environment with financial security and no expectation of catering to the inexplicable demands of the foreigner.  Of course they do end up spending some time together when he is on leave, but for a short time one can put up with almost anything.

The man on the other hand, has someone to write to and dream about while he is stuck making money in some godforsaken hole in Africa, the Middle East or perhaps even back home in is own country of birth.  Often it is that fantasy which allows the man to bear the isolation of his work environment and forgo immediate gratification for some imagined light at the end of the tunnel.  What happens when he retires and goes to live with this woman he has spent so little time with over the years and the children who don’t really know him or listen to him, is anyone’s guess.

Strange rantings coming from someone like me who is so obviously domesticated, you think?  Not really, I assure you.  After all I spent twenty plus years as a single guy in Thailand before settling down in my mid-forties and know of what I speak.  I knew my wife for two years before we got married.  I do mean knew her, as we lived together that whole time with hardly a day apart.  The first eight years of marriage we spent living in a small condo and traveling half the year.  Only after ten years together did we start contemplating our move up here to the Rai.

Though my experience is from a distant era, things between men and women really haven’t changed all that much.  As far back as thirty years ago this game of cat and mouse existed between Thai women and farang men.  I was known to write a letter or two (no email back then) for women who sounded so loving on the page, yet would make a sailor blush with their off color remarks and references to their loved ones.  I often wondered what their men would do if they could eavesdrop on their partner’s conversations and understand how truly crude and calculating they were, under their sweet and ever so thin veneer.  It is that very inability to communicate that lends to the objectification of the other sex, I feel.  If all you know about someone is what you can see or feel in the bedroom, then they are no more than a sexual object.  If a man cannot make himself understood, then can a woman be faulted for seeing him primarily as the preverbal ATM?

Remember what people back home think and say about the foreigners who move there and never learn the language or assimilate.  Then ask yourself if you are any better.  There is a certain kind of expat who complains of the treatment he receives from Thais, when it is merely human nature to objectify and dehumanize those we do not understand.  If you move to Thailand, does the burden not fall upon you to do the adjusting and not the other way around?

I suppose if you really want to make things difficult you could fall for a stateless or illegal alien from the mountains of a neighboring country.  That has always made even less sense to me than a woman with kids who as a last resort decides she has no more shame and is ready to start looking for a farang.  Of course there are plenty of guys out there ready to be a savior of the needy, as long as they find them attractive enough.  It satisfies their needs on multiple levels, I suppose.

So how was that for a taste of classic VF?  Is there anyone I have neglected or failed to include in my little rant?  Don’t you sometimes want to ask, “What in the world were you thinking?” even though you know it will make no difference?  Well I do, so here I have unburdened myself of that need fully aware that no one who needs to listen, will.  Perhaps my next post will return to the lush mountains and valleys of the Rai.

Village Life ...

To say we live in a village is a bit of a misnomer.  Our physical location is on the fringes of a village, in a very rural setting, roughly 55 kilometers east of Chiang Rai town.  Presently I find myself in town four or five times a week, sometimes with the wife and the rest of the time riding the Ninja, to have coffee with friends.  In that and other ways our lives bear little resemblance to the native inhabitants who toil in the fields and seldom travel to town.  There is of course the obvious monetary disparity between us and them, but much more than that, is our lifestyle and varied interests which include travel, reading, writing, photography, internet, hiking, mountain bike, motorcycle, baking, gardening, pets, entertaining or visiting friends, exploring new places and events.

Some would take issue with what they might perceive as our inability or unwillingness to ‘fit in’ with the local culture.  I do not sign on to the notion that there is but one way to ‘fit in’, as in bending to the norm of the lowest common denominator, living and acting like the least among us.  There are actually many roles to be filled in a village, with the farang usually taking on one of the more common roles of ‘villager wannabe’, ‘village idiot’ or ‘financial showoff’.

We have tried to strike a different kind of balance with my wife doing most of the heavy lifting, as it were.  She attends all the village functions, contributing in an unobtrusive manner, leaving all the organizing and logistics to those who have traditionally filled those roles.  We are not the largest donors but try to contribute a respectable amount to most things.  She also makes a point of visiting others homes in the evening in an effort to be neighborly.  It seems there is still an uncertainty and unease about when or if people should visit us.  Even with an invitation, many feel uncomfortable and uncertain how to act at our home.

Sometimes it is necessary to visit those who are less fortunate.  Recently an aunt lost her thumb in the pumpkin patch and was transported by others, with her missing digit, to the hospital in Chiang Rai.  Unable to reattach it, they still brought it home as a memento, though I am not certain what method they settled on to preserve it.  Upon hearing the news, we stopped by the hospital the next day to check on her, after having brunch with friends.  This was one of my rare appearances in a hospital.  Shortly after beginning our drive home we received a call, informing us that the doctor was releasing the aunt since nothing else could be done for her.  Circling back we retrieved five of our relatives and delivered them back to the village.  I prefer not having to rely on others but understand that not everyone has that luxury or preference.  It was clear that my wife benefitted greatly from this opportunity to help out her family, as normally people would be reluctant to ask for anything from us.

We try to provide employment for family and neighbors and will sometimes allow children to do some very minor tasks to earn school money.  If they look hungry, they get something to eat, as well.  Villagers are typically afraid of our dogs, Cookie in particular, due to her size.  Having children around presents the opportunity to educate them on how to act around dogs and how not to litter or be overly destructive of the environment.  I’m not certain what they think of an adult actually talking with them outside of a classroom environment but hopefully something will rub off on them.

By having some semblance of a yard and garden, it is possible that a few others have been encouraged to do more to beautify their own environment.  My wife has been generous with plants and cuttings, and family often come over to gather herbs and condiments for cooking.  We have a teenage cousin who is more of a part time babysitter for Cookie than a maid but does help out with some of the cleaning around the house in the mornings.  I do find my wife cleaning up after her on occasion, though.  After lunch my wife keeps a selection of magazines around for her to read.  Hopefully, hanging out with us will teach her some new habits and keep her out of trouble since she is at a vulnerable age.

On the rare occasion of my attending social events, one will not find me drinking, dancing, singing bad karaoke, ogling the girls or stuffing money down the fronts of the dancers and singers, in an attempt to catch a feel.  It is always too loud for me, as well, so I don’t stay long.  Surely some find my behavior odd and bordering on rude but hopefully a few might feel less pressure to behave as badly as the rest.  I am more often seen watching the sunset with my pack, walking my dogs to the dam or riding my mountain bike on the trails.  Not wanting to draw too much attention to the Ninja, I usually slip quietly out the back side of the village so only our closest neighbors notice my comings and goings on the motorbike.

I am truly content with my life these days.  Plenty of friends, plenty to do, a lovely environment and a loving wife.  Not surprisingly to me, my wife is less content with life in her home village.  Family dynamics being what they often are, my wife and her sister don’t always see eye to eye on things.  This leads to estrangement and introduces the element of stress, which is not welcome.  She complains about having too much to do, but my wife is the sort who can’t sit still, so I pay little attention to her protestations.  The only thing for me to do, is drag her to town more often, to get her away from her routines.

At times she even questions our decision to move here.  Thinks it might be better to live somewhere else.  I know her well enough to be certain that moving elsewhere would not quell those thoughts.  She (and I, by virtue of being her husband) are both blessed and cursed with her inability to find contentment for any length of time.  It provides motivation to grow and expand her horizons but leaves her unable to truly appreciate all her blessings.  It falls on me to alleviate her frustration and anxiety, while allowing her to drag me out of comfort zone on occasion.  Even after 13 years together, there is still a synergy in our relationship that brings us both to a better place than we could find on our own.

So do we live a village life or do we just live near a village?  We certainly do not share their superstitions, their preoccupation with money or who is sleeping with whom.  It seems ‘giks’ are all the rage in the village, not just in the big city.  We wonder what future lies ahead for the children of our village but I have long since learned to let people get on with their lives, choosing for myself, a path of noninterference.  Perhaps the wife and I will have a subliminal effect, but who knows.

With my life, as with my blog, I’m wondering what 2011 holds.  Last year I drifted down a path with easily articulated goals and accomplished most of them.  This year I am struggling with the answers, as I have yet to formulate the questions to my liking.  Please bear with me until I figure this out.

Busy Days, An Update ...

Today, Cookie lost out to the mountain bike once again.  I suppose it wasn’t really her turn, having been to the dam just the other day.  I always feel guilty leaving her behind, though.  She so loves to hit the trail.  Anyway, after two hours of hard riding on the trail I’m awash with endorphins and basking in the afterglow.  No worries here.

On a health note.  My recent physical found me fit except for my consistently elevated cholesterol.  Down from the mid 250s of my Bangkok days I still came in at 220.  Over the last month, a regiment of healthy living and the marvel of modern pharmaceuticals, has put me at 108 as of yesterday.  Imagine that.

The combination of intermittently cool weather (today is actually chilly) and guests has produced a whirlwind of recent activity.  Repeats, included another trip to the Black Village and Doi Din Daeng Pottery with a guest.  New for us, (we are seldom out after dark) was a walk down Chiang Rai’s Walking Street one late Saturday afternoon.  Stumbled upon parking quite by accident.  Walked the street in the fading light of the day.  Had something to eat and headed home just as it got dark and the crowds seemed to be pushing in around us.

We also got up a 3am to drive to Phu Chi Faa for the sunrise.  Not a spectacular day for photos but it was still a good experience.  It was anything but lonely up there with a surprisingly good turnout.  I didn’t enjoy the lack of sleep, however, so doubt I will be eager to do a repeat performance anytime soon.  I probably could have done without the incessant talking and singing of the group just behind me, but what can you do.

Apart from the weather being perfect for outdoor adventures, this is a great time to visit government offices.  With all the farmers bringing in the harvest, offices are all but deserted.  We updated our motorcycle driving licenses, from one year to five, with no wait at all.

The Land Department in Thoeng was equally deserted and the staff ever so helpful.  My wife got the notion that perhaps I should be put on the chanote (land ownership papers) as having the right of residence there for the rest of my life.  As a foreigner I cannot own land so everything is in my wife’s name.  Unlike some, I have no misgivings about our financial arrangements or the peculiarities of Thai law.

Being twenty years older, I am usually the one voicing concern about my wife’s wellbeing after I am gone.  Recently she started pondering what would happen if something untoward happened to her.  To protect me from overeager relatives who might inherit the land, she came up with this notion of giving me right of abode so I couldn’t be sent packing.  The land department staff were quite helpful and quickly came up with the proper forms to be filled in.  The fee was next to nothing and even considering the stack of forms, copies and bureaucratic procedures involved, everything went quite smoothly.

A friend from Hawaii has just arrived in Bangkok, so I have booked a flight for my wife to go down for a visit.  I volunteered to stay home and look after the house and dogs so she could enjoy a girls only, time on the town.  We very seldom have any time apart, so a few days surely won’t hurt either of us.

As we are having guests over for dinner a bit later, perhaps I should rap this up and go about making myself more presentable.  My biking clothes are a bit ripe so it is off to a steamy hot shower for me.  On a chilly overcast day like today, who knows I may just get lucky after washing away the trail dust.  Wish me luck.