Showing posts with label Reflection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reflection. Show all posts

A Little Soul Searching

Browsing what is written about Thailand, I often find myself wondering if I live in the same country.  I struggle to find much in common with people I meet these days, unlike when I first arrived here.  Our paths through life bear few similarities, making anything beyond social niceties a struggle.  I know nothing of their work lives, marriages, divorces and grown children.  I receive no government benefits or corporate pension and have no health issues.  I do not struggle with the language or why Thais don’t do things the way they are done in some foreign land never visited.  I eat what is available and do not smoke or drink alcohol.  I do not ogle the women or cheat on my wife.

I arrived young and stupid with time on my side, time to make mistakes and learn through experience.  I learned the language and how to act, across the strata of Thai social classes.  Now I live outside of Chiang Rai and I am doing many of the things I missed out on while living in Bangkok for thirty years.

Today Thailand is sold as a cheap retirement destination for those who find life a struggle back home.  They are frequently narrow minded, critical and burdened with toxic baggage from their difficult lives.  The internet has not made them smarter, quite the contrary.  Information overload seems to send people looking for and finding, supporting anecdotal evidence, that they are correct in their often deluded beliefs.  

To be fair, my path was not common, even in the seventies when I moved here.  Most of the guys I met were retired military from the Vietnam era, which was drawing to a close.  Then there were the expats who came here on the company dime.  Young and inexperienced, I was envious of their salaries, expense accounts, houses, cars, drivers and servants.  I, on the other hand, came here entirely on my own and was not sent by military, government, god or corporation.  I had no job and not a lot of money, just a feeling that this was where I belonged, where I could be me.

In this polarized world we live in today, where the haves and the have-nots are pitted against each other, conflict spills over into the expat community as well.  Those lured here with promises of cheap sex, cheap booze and cheaper living, often find they do not end up living the kingly life they were promised, on five hundred dollars a month.  They end up living the lives of village peasants and resenting both Thais and other foreigners who live more comfortable lives than they do.

Articles are being written about homeless foreigners, living on the streets of Thailand.  Whether due to sexual perversions, drugs, alcohol, greed or stupidity, the blame is never theirs.  Perhaps they would have ended up the same in their own countries, but Thailand can act as a catalyst, revealing what lays just below the surface of modern man.  Without the constraints of western society, to hold the daemons at bay, or keep people from making stupid choices, things can go from bad to worse very rapidly indeed.

I love my life in Chiang Rai on many levels.  I have a wonderful wife who I love dearly, a beautiful and comfortable home with lovely views, loving pets, and more toys than I need.  I love my location which I find just far enough into the hinterlands, to turn a very average but rapidly expanding town, into a lovely place to visit once or twice each week.  

These days it seems the Russians and the Chinese bear the brunt of negative comment in the tourist areas but I have not spent time in those haunts for a very long time, so have no first hand experience and therefore no complaints.  Some bemoan the growth in and around Chiang Rai but again I live far enough away to enjoy the benefits without suffering much in the way of negative fallout.

I suppose one could say my reluctance to be confined by schedules and appointments has lead to more social isolation than I felt in Bangkok.  Thankfully modern technology takes much of the bite out of living far from others.  Surprisingly, I did have a couple of spontaneous encounters recently, which I found quite enjoyable.  Met one guy while walking the dogs, who married a girl in the village and is making plans to move here over the next couple of years.  Again not much in common but a pleasure to talk with.

The other encounter was an online acquaintance who ended up dropping by for a visit when he found out his wife’s village was not far from ours.  They too are in the process, as it were, and expect to take a couple of years to get moved.  It will be interesting to see if either of these guys end up here or not.  I am watching with interest, as a few people I know struggle with retirement and adjusting to this new phase in their lives.

Sometimes plans and reality don’t end up in the same place.  I liken the planing stage of moving here and building a home, to that of the young girl who fantasizes about her wedding day.  So focussed on that day, with no idea how to get there or what comes after, it is a fantasy that almost promises disappointment.  If only more people could close their eyes and imagine what comes after.

I know many people in Chiang Rai, after living here for six years, and enjoy bumping into most of them from time to time when we are in town.  Unfortunately I made the mistake of getting to know some residents of the Rai too well.  Under a veneer of civility lurked darkness and very messy lives.  I see too many people living desperate lives, moving from one calamity to the next as if living beneath a cloud of misfortune.  Close proximity to people with problems can spill over into our own lives so I prefer now to keep my distance.

In the local expat community I have discovered an intolerance in the hearts of some, who otherwise see themselves as good people.  I find it all quite disturbing and it has made me more wary and reluctant to reach out.  I apparently hold unpopular beliefs with regard to friendship and misplaced loyalty.  In my opinion, life is too short to spend with people who do not inspire you, seeking instead to drag you down.

You may have also noticed that I am struggling with this blog and where to go with it.  From time to time I need new inspiration and direction to help maintain my interest in writing.  For some time now I have found myself writing things I never publish.  For now I continue to enjoy my life and corresponding with those of you who write to keep me up to date on your lives.  I continue to post photos on Google+ but only time will tell what the future holds for this blog.

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.

Do You Miss Your Ninja 650, Dear? …

When my wife asked that question of me, on a recent drive to town, there was little hesitation before my answer.  I had been mulling over a similar question of why I didn’t seem to miss the Ninja at all, so was ready with a reply.  She was a little surprised, I think, when I quickly answered “no” to her query.  As a supportive and caring wife, I believe she was just checking to see if I was still okay with the decision I had made.  At least that was my take on her question, as she really didn’t seem to like riding two-up, so had no personal investment in the bike.

I like to think I don’t make impulsive decisions.  I may appear to pull the trigger and move on, but by the time it gets to that point, I have thoroughly vetted my options and made a choice.  I prefer to look forward, and don’t as a rule, spend time missing things from the past.  One exception might be that I miss being able to walk to a high-end health club and enjoy all their wonderful facilities.  I would no doubt be in better shape than I am presently, if that could somehow be combined with my rural lifestyle.

So my three year biker experiment appears to have run its course.  I went to bike shows, bike shops, road in groups and with a partner for a while, but mostly I preferred solo rides.  Northern Thailand has some really great roads for riding and I have covered them all, as both a cager and a biker.  Along the way I discovered some things about myself.  I don’t posses the rough edges and careless abandon that seem to be a biker prerequisite.  I like to be comfortable and clean, indulging my love of nature in perfect conditions.

I couldn’t get behind the whole live to ride and ride to live thing.  For me transportation takes me somewhere.  Armored up in my riding gear, I found it awkward at best, to get off the bike for a hike or a little photography.  Long rides were fatiguing but hardly a form of healthy, beneficial exercise.  I found that four wheel drive not only took me to places the bike could not, it delivered me in comfort and with toys and accessories to better enjoy the destination.

Though I did not so much as drop my bike in all my outings, that is not to say there were not a number of close calls, on Thailand’s notoriously dangerous roads.  I was helped by the fact that most of my driving experience was derived on Thai roads.  What others complain about as being unusual, unreasonable and unacceptable, I see as simply normal and expected.  Reacting early definitely helps.

With all the accidents I have witnessed and all the wounded road warriors I have met, it became clear that it was simply a matter of time before I was injured or perhaps worse.  For me the idea of living the rest of my life physically impaired was just not very appetizing and I am not yet willing to leave my wife alone.  I know people who have seemingly adjusted to their situation but I question my own ability to do so.

Then of course there is the Mt. Bike which takes me to remote locations while bestowing important health benefits.  Usually I ride from home but in combination with the SUV the options are nearly limitless.  The Trek can pretty much go anywhere I can hike to and covers much more ground in the same amount of time.

To bring you up to date on my Trek upgrades, I finally replaced my seat post which was the last remaining original part.  I had seen Thompson Elite posts online, and they came highly recommended by Lloyd, one of my longtime readers.  Enquiring as to what was available in my local bike shop, Northern Bike, Peak’s wife started digging about on the lower shelf where they keep some of the high-end stuff which is not on display.  Sure enough they had one Thompson that was the right size for my bike.  Comparing it to other brands on offer it seemed much lighter in weight.

Due to extremely hot weather my bike was on the trainer again so I fitted the new Thompson Elite and played with the adjustments.  I was really impressed with how light it was, and minus teeth or grooves, it was infinitely more adjustable.  It felt good on the stand but yesterday was my first chance to get out to test it on the trails and roads.  Rain the night before made for improved riding conditions, in the low 30s instead of the high 30s.  It was amazing how much better the position felt throughout the entire 40 km ride.

The only remaining upgrades that need to be made, are to me.  Fitness and weight are the only things holding me back from being a better climber over the rough bits.  I continue to learn more about riding and more importantly continue to find it enjoyable.  Riding takes me places that recharge my soul, provides me with photographic opportunities and gives me great exercise at the same time.  At some point I may need to try riding with others to get a read on where I am and where I might be able to improve, but I have yet to reach a wall that I can’t get past on my own, thought that day may come sooner than I think.



Village Farang Answers Questions …

Here is comment from my last blog post.  It contains several questions so thought I would use it as a starting point for yet another post.

JJ Said:
“Well, just finished the blog. 300+ posts in 2 days! The level of material -- and the fact it resonates with me to such a degree -- kept me reading...

You like questions, so here are a few:



1) I can only assume that you've seen most of Thailand by now. Which place do you miss the most? By miss, I mean a place that development and time have altered so dramatically that it's been rendered unrecognizable from when you first encountered it. 
My tenure is nowhere near as long, but my list of missed places already saddens me.
2) You seem to be a very carpe diem kind of guy, looking for adventure around every corner. Do you have any regrets? 

3) Do you have a history with Hicks? I didn't follow that exchange...

4) One of the biggest differences I feel from when I first came here is how Thais in general react to farangs. Perhaps due to the sheer volume of them, or it could be their usual lack of understanding, but I usually get the sense that Thais as a whole are becoming a lot less genuine/friendly/etc with farangs as time passes. Would you agree? If so, do you see the trend changing? Or will the influx of tourists and expats end up eliminating the "Thai smile"?

5) Have you ever considered supplementing the blog with videos?

6) Have you traveled much to the bordering countries? Other than Mae Sai, I see no mention of them.”

Let me start with the easy stuff first.  I am not really into video but I have considered podcasts.  Since I am already spread a bit thin, with my attention scattered over too many venues, I don’t feel it is a good idea to make things even harder or more complicated.

Your question about “Hicks” really threw me.  I had to search through several hundred comments before I realizes you were asking about the author Andrew Hicks and a comment he made.  I didn’t really follow that exchange either, so don’t feel bad.  I have chosen not to hitch my wagon to the notorious nightlife of Thailand so I do not follow those who have.  Hicks would fall into that category for me, so we do not have any history that I know of.

Having long ago removed myself from the tourist areas of Thailand, I really don’t have a read on what things are like in areas more heavily populated with expats and sexpats.  Though I have to admit feeling a little uncomfortable a few times on our recent road trip through the Isaan region.  At times it felt a little too much like an extension of Pattaya for my liking.  For the last fifteen years I have had nothing to do with the nightlife and even that last ten years living in Bangkok, we lived and socialized in an upmarket area devoid the stereotypic foreigners and the lack of understanding you allude to.

As for traveling to other countries in the region, I really haven’t.  When I was young, in the mid 1970s, things were not as open as they are now and there were many place where it was not advisable to travel.  Besides my interest was, and still is, focused on Thailand, not on the region.  My interest never even extended to the minorities and stateless people, popular with some tourists, who are at best on the fringes of Thai society.  When I traveled a few years back with my wife, it was to snow covered peaks, pine forest and the national parks in my homeland, which I now find exotic after living here for so long.  Sharing these places with my wife made them even more amazing.

My adventures here were within Thailand and usually at the invitation of Thais.  As a youth I accompanied wealthy Thais, to Chiang Mai and Hua Hin, staying in their family holiday homes.  I once accompanied a couple of monks on the train to Chiang Mai where they were going to spend the rainy season.  I was young and presentable so many a young lady took me home to her village as a novelty but I won’t get into that. 

Being accepted into the different levels of society was a challenge and an adventure for me.  Keeping it all separate and straight, remembering how to speak and act in different environments was tricky at times but also a lot of fun.  It also helped me find myself and grow into the person I am today.

In a way I lead three different lives.  I kept my daytime and nighttime lives completely separate and my farang relationships were in yet another box.  Things began to change as I got older and more experienced but Thailand never left me wanting when it came to new challenges or experiences.  Which leads me to question number one and two.

I am not particularly nostalgic nor do I second guess my choices.  I make the best decision I can at the time, with the information I have, and move on from there.  That means I really have no regrets, as I am only who I am today because of what came before.  I don’t really identify with yearning for some place or past which no long is.  I live in the moment, as much as possible, while always keeping an eye on what is coming over the horizon.

As I age, I seem to have gravitated to a more domestic lifestyle, simplistic by design, but surrounded by creature comforts and the love of a good woman.  I no longer look outward so much or focus on the big things.  It is the little things that are close enough to touch my senses that get my attention.  I now notice things, feel and sense things, which went unnoticed years ago.

Sure it is great to bump into an old friend and take a stroll down memory lane.  It can bring back long forgotten memories and flood the senses with sights, sounds, smells and emotions but I can’t say I miss those places, or times, and wish they hadn't changed.  Besides what is the point, life marches on, and for me now is always the best place to be.

I know I jumped around a bit but I hope I answered your questions, even if not in the way anticipated.  Then again, after reading the blog, this was probably what you expected. ;-)  Thank you very much for taking the time to read the whole thing and ask questions.

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.

Me and Generation Jones …

Recent events and readings have stirred memories and found me reaching back in time to the beginnings of my Thailand journey.  I missed the iconic Hippy Trail and the contentious Vietnam War, which marked my brothers generation, by being too young to have participated in either.  Born at the beginning of Generation Jones, I was touched by the idealism of early Boomers, yet the cynicism of the Generation Xers’ has also been well represented in my thinking and motivation.

The Jonesing quality, which some assign to my generation, had me jonesing not for more stuff but for more freedom and self-determination.  As I set off in the opposite direction, others were returning home to pursue the American dream of competition, greed and consumption.

My brother’s experimentation with loud music, the vices of the day and a rather bizarre variety of counter culture groups, allowed me to brush up against things that were really before my time.  Fortunately I seem to have possessed immunity to self delusion, drink and drugs even at an early age and that served me well in Thailand. 

I may have been influenced by the fact that, unlike many of my brother’s generation, he did not set out on that classic Hippy Trail of exploration, but rather retreated into books and ultimately lead him to become entangled in a “group”, which by all outward appearance and report, is a cult.  He of course denies this adamantly, as do others who remain within the group.  His choice to make, I guess.  I on the other hand, never wanted to follow anyone or anything, preferring simply to find my own way.

So I first arrived in Thailand, in the late spring of 1975, not yet twenty one years of age.  The remaining US soldiers were on their way home, with the Thai government having recently taken a less welcoming stance toward their presence and what they had been up to while residing in Thailand.  Several trips while I was still attending university and one extended trip, with the intent of getting Thailand out of my system, assured me that there was no getting it out of my system after all.

I moved into a sprawling mass of humanity with none of the comforts I had grown up with and with no plan.  Yet I was drawn to this place and it felt like home.  It was not the exotic reputation or its strangeness that attracted me but how it made me feel more like me and allowed the freedom to be me.  For many years I had no possessions nor transportation of my own and my only communication with home was traditional mail which took two to three weeks for a turnaround.  Not sure I was able to convey in those letters what my life was like, but perhaps that was a good thing, as my parents would no doubt have worried needlessly.

I read what little was available back then, compared to what we have these days.  I learned what I could about the history, culture, religion and language.  I effortlessly gained access to nearly every level of Thai society, over time.  I spent time in both shanties and mansions, carefully compartmentalizing different aspects of my life and separating what went on at night from what transpired in the light of day.  In spite of my thirst for knowledge and access, I was focussed entirely on Thais and Thailand.  Staying here seemed problematic enough without getting involved with foreign nationals from neighboring countries, those of questionable legal status or those stateless peoples who lived in the mountainous north of Thailand.

There were still communist insurgents in many places where one can freely travel today and I was not interested in anything that would hamper my integration into Thai society and freedom to stay here longterm.  These days it is almost as though visitors, in their modern quest for the Nobel Savage, don’t find modern Thais “primitive” and exotic enough.  Some forsake their own origins and seek to live the life of a village peasant.  For others, even that is not enough, and they seek what they are looking for living among people who have traditionally roamed the forested highlands of the region, without a state of their own.

These mountain people are particularly vulnerable to being used and abused for the financial or personal gain of unscrupulous individuals, entrepreneurs or religious based organizations.  Almost everything that is done for them or to them, seems to further remove them from the process of integration into Thai society and a hopeful future.  Thus securing a continued supply of vulnerable individuals to prey upon.  I acknowledge that life is not fair and the plight of these people is depressing but it is was never a fight I wanted to take on.  I will leave that to others who feel qualified to judge who gets what in life.

These days visitors come armed with detailed itineraries garnered from ubiquitous guidebooks and the limitless internet.  With GPS and smartphones one is never lost or out of touch.  I have no more idea what it is like to arrive in Thailand today, than new arrivals have of what it was like for me when I first arrived. 

It can be interesting to read the assumptions people make about me and my life here in Thailand based on their own experience.  Most of it is unrecognizable to me but that is not the point.  The point is people are still searching and still finding their way to Thailand.  There are still those who make a mess of it but I feel that has more to do with them than it does with Thailand.  Thailand may indeed be your undoing or your salvation.  It is not the safe choice and perhaps some would be better served by going elsewhere.

I think it is worth the risk but that is just me talking from the perspective of someone who flourished here.  Someone else may very well tell you a different story and you should listen to both.  Life, love, happiness...its all a risk.  A risk some are willing to take and others are not.

A Post Trip Review…

When one finally reaches that last leg of a journey, the heart is filled with joy and the anticipation of returning to the ease and comfort of home.  A sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, at having safely completed the journey, washes over you.  It is a heady mix of feelings, with recent events and all the imagery and emotion they conjure still vividly present, while the comforts of home bring forth a sigh of contentment and well-being.

For a while one is busy with routines of post trip recovery and cleanup.  For me it is not long, it seems, before memories of the open road come flooding back with sometimes confusing results.  Of course I am glad to be home but the comfort of this place provides fertile ground for daydreams, reliving highlights and provoking a thirst for more.  I find myself longing for another adventure while I am yet to catch up from the last one.  Sounds greedy I suppose, always wanting more, when I already have so much.

I know I need to get back on the mountain bike but the recent climb in temperature and my post trip blues leave me lacking in motivation.  It was good I had time to write most of the blog report on the road, otherwise this post trip funk may have dulled my desire and that window of opportunity for writing could have past unheeded.  While I am aware a more proactive approach would quickly banish this emotional malaise, there is a part of me which enjoys wallowing in it, so I linger for a time examining my feelings and making little effort to curtail them.

On first glance one sees but a calm reflective surface, like a lake devoid of even the slightest breeze or disturbance.  Deep in the heart of that lake there is, however, a turbulent ebb and flow of emotion, mostly joyful but punctuated at times with melancholy, as I contemplate what the future holds for me and others.  I have chosen the path not of activist or provocateur but of observer and chronicler of what I see and feel.

Consciously stepping away from the negativity of those who warn of the pitfalls and foibles of life in Thailand, I try to write of other things.  I never know what will inspire the next post, and that is not always a comfortable place to be, but I guess it is part of what keeps it interesting for me.  So until inspiration next comes knocking upon my door, I hope you all have your own adventures be they big or small, and have enjoyed traveling with me on my recent road trip.

A Lost Day …

Great expectations and grand visions of another epic ride home from town, turned into a lazy day at home devoid of any energy or ambition at all.  The night before I laid out a few items in preparation for the ride but fell short of putting the bike in the car.  Good thing I didn’t, as I was in no mood to get out of bed when my wife did, to prepare for school.  By the time she was leaving and had kissed me goodbye, all I could do was rollover and sleep for a few more hours.  Even then, I got up out of embarrassment at the hour, rather than because of feeling fully rested.

Opened the house, walked Cookie, turned on the router and computer, ground fresh beans, drank coffee and browsed the internet, all while I was still in a state of energy deficiency.  Almost forgot to call my father on Skype, so dull were my senses.  Watched the second half of the Lance Armstrong interview with Ophra.  For me this whole saga illustrates so well, the notion that history is written by the winners, an opportunity that has been so glaringly stripped from him. 

Politics, religion, business or sports, winning is what is expected and rewarded.  Good losers, like good guys, finish at the back of the pack and are not remembered.  Throughout history the biggest winners have often been endowed with monumental flaws, as well.  The difference these days seems to be the fact we find out the truth when they are still alive, rather than years after their passing.  In some ways the big lie made for a better and more motivational story but our appetite for scandal and retribution seems greater than our desire to feel good these days.

I spent some time thinking about Phil’s questions from the last post but could not conjure up succinct and satisfying answers.  My answers are more likely to be seen a jaded and cynical or evasive and dismissive.  I will leave it to the academics to write papers on Thailand’s future, to further their own careers and advancement in the halls of academia.

Even in this small village where we live, bordered by a new rubber plantation on one side and rice fields and hillside orchards on the other, no one can say with any certainty what the future holds.  Have the children really moved to the city or are they there simply to work, while their hearts and homes are still in the village?

As for the question of “whether the government's higher rice payments are a significant benefit and if so how is the additional income being used.”  If one understands that the first goal of any entity is self preservation, then the inflated rice prices have indeed benefitted the intended party.  The governments power base has been broadened and reenforced.  Still, most villagers are in a state of constant debt, something that seems to be written into the DNA of most humans, and no amount of money thrown at the problem will ever alter that most human of traits.

For example it is commonly required in the village loan schemes, that you payback a loan before you are able to borrow more.  Here people simple get a bridge loan, from a loan-shark, to carry them from one loan to the next.  The money is then treated more like income than money to be invested and repaid.  Getting more money from the government only raises expectations and expenses.

To be honest, these kinds of things hardly register a blip on my radar these days.  Not sure what that will say to others, about me, but no doubt something can be made of it by those so inclined.

I captured this image in the field next to our house before retiring for the night, so thought I would add it here.
 

A New Year, The World Didn't End, Now What? ...



This unusually slow start to my blogging year does not bode well.  Finishing off last year with just under 50 posts, I didn’t even rack up one a week.  With my best year hitting 70 and my worst 28, I guess I should be happy here in the middle ground.  This year more than most, I find myself questioning what I am doing and why.  All I need is a glimpse of the path ahead to get me started but things are a blur at the moment.

Even at the best of times, my attention is strewn over a broad unmeasured expanse.  Focus and concentration don’t seem to be things that come easily or naturally to me.  My preference is to channel surf or set my attention to wide-angle in an attempt to capture as much input as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, this tendency of mine has served me well over the course of my life, but there are drawbacks.  While most things come easily to me, and I excel up to a point, I often fall short of the level of excellence that would truly satisfy me.

Take my online activity for example.  This blog is at the genesis of my online life but I now find myself scattered over Google+, Facebook, Twitter and various forums.  It started with the written word but I now find myself torn between words and images.  It is all but impossible to excel in one area without neglecting the other and I find it impossible to choose.

Words no longer demand, with untempered urgency, to be etched upon the page.  With new ideas lacking, it becomes a struggle at times to find the words and I often resort to the easier option of posting pictures.  Image searches are directing an increasing amount of traffic to the blog, something I have mixed feelings about.  With roughly 2200 accounts including Village Farang in their circles on Google+, my images now arguably garner more attention than my words and response time is much quicker.

One would expect that level of attention to bring some sense of accomplishment but it only serves to accentuate my own dissatisfaction at the quality of my images.  I despair at the shortcomings of my camera and my often clumsy attempts to maneuver through the complicated procedures of processing raw data into something resembling the image that exists in my head.

Some might expect my move from city living to country life would have made it easier to focus, with fewer perceived distractions.  I have found, however, one simply tunes into different frequencies and the bandwidth remains as full as ever.

I can’t recall with any clarity what I envisioned country life would be like, when we started down this new path.  I think I knew my life would not be the same as others who live in this village but I don’t think I could have known how different it would be.  This blog has taken me down an interesting and varied path as well, but I find myself at a fork in the road and unable to move forward or choose a direction.  For now I bask in the joy of living and ponder how best to share with others.

Here are a few shots of a new place we were taken to up in the hills near Chiang Rai.  Here we shared a meal with friends who will soon be returning to New Zealand.







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.

The Long Road Home ...


*Hawaii*

I had visions of saying goodbye to my father, running a couple quick errands and heading home early in the afternoon, in order to pack, rest a little and perhaps take one last walk on the beach.  Well, that was the plan anyway.  It turned out to be a blustery day with frequent squalls and I didn’t get my walk.  So my visit ended as it began, with grey skies and strong winds.  On the whole the weather during my stay had been very cooperative with sunny skies and cool trade-winds, so no real complaints.

All things considered it was a good trip.  I got more done than I had expected.  Two weeks was just right, allowing enough time to accomplish what I needed to, without dragging it out too long.  I didn’t manage to see everyone, but I am not as social as my better half when left to my own devices.  Shopping got off to a slow start but in the end I found almost everything I was looking for.  One highlight was being there to mark my mother’s ninetieth birthday, even if she wouldn’t look at me and didn’t know who I was.  The paperwork and legal stuff went pretty smoothly considering I dread that kind of thing.  After I left, my father said he really missed me and that made me feel good and bad at the same time.

This is the second year in a row that my father’s friends have offered me the use of one of their properties in the Islands.  I am overwhelmed by their generosity and eagerness to help.  They even went out of there way a couple of years ago to come stay with us in Chiang Rai when they were visiting Thailand.  Good people are good people, regardless of their social standing or fiscal position but I must admit to being attracted to accomplished individuals who have done more than I have, or at least different things which I find interesting.  I can’t overstate my appreciation for the generosity of these friends.

*Bangkok*


Arriving in Bangkok my senses were accosted by a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells, all encased in asphalt and concrete, intersected by pedestrians, cyclists and cagers rushing frantically and perpetually toward some essential yet questionable destination.  Each year when forced to pass through this seething mass of humanity, I find myself pondering how I managed to live in this place called Bangkok for more than thirty years.

Of course I was younger then and not nearly so accustomed to my present level of comfort and pace of life.  More importantly I suppose, I had a life in Bangkok back then.  A place to live, things to do, friends and interests, all of which go a long way toward making any place feel more like home.  Many of the places still remain amidst all the new development but they have been overwhelmed by growth and progress.  Of the many people one once interacted with regularly, only a select few have remained in the inner circle, connected through technology and social networking, even though separated by time and distance.

I seem to remember a singular point in time in the early 1970s, which rapidly expanded outward sending a complex maze of tentacles to seek out and explore every imaginable nook and cranny of this strange new world.  I have no clear recollection of when this amplification slowed to a halt and began to collapse in upon itself.  My gaze became more inward as I focused and centered my life around the things I had discovered to be of greater importance to me.  My random quest for more became a focused search for less, if that makes any sense.

*Chiang Rai*

The flight from Bangkok to Chiang Rai was the most beautiful I can remember.  The patchwork of clouds added accent and texture while not blocking the view of what lay below.  Bangkok soon faded as the image from my window seat changed to that of the geometric layout of industrialized agriculture.  Further north the patchwork of small family worked fields became more chaotic until we reached the lush green mountains that signaled our approach to Chiang Rai.  By then the grey industrial haze of Bangkok was but a memory, replace by clear Chiang Rai skies.  Even the ever-present clouds that had accompanied our flight north, took on an otherworldly glow as we descended toward our destination. 

We flew over a large body of water that I only later realized must have been the lake at Phayao.  I pointed out the White Temple, to a Bangkok tourist sitting next to me, which sparked off a brief but pleasant conversion before we landed.  My wife was waiting for me at the airport and her embrace helped vanquish the stress and fatigue from my long journey home.

As I awoke on my first day back, it eventually came to my attention that it was Thanksgiving Day.  I clearly had much to be thankful for but the traditional celebrations of past years had to take a backseat to the simple joy of being home this year.  By way of celebration I did dust off the Trek in the early afternoon and went for a 41 kilometer ride which left me exhausted but content, despite my lack of fitness after the trip.

Though I do not enjoy these long journeys, I understand they are necessary and even educational to some extent.  Soon enough they will no longer be necessary and I will no doubt lament that fact.  For now I am just very glad to be home.

Home.

Apologies for Neglecting the Blog ...

While I continue to ride my mountain bike and take pictures, posting them on Google Plus, Facebook and ThaiVisa, I have struggled with where I should take this blog.  If anything, there has been too much to write about and I have found it difficult to focus on any one thing long enough to get it on the page.  Endless distractions and my attention is diverted again and again toward something more interesting or more pressing.  Without a vision of where I want the blog to go from here I often resort to posting pictures, which is the easy way out, but perhaps better suited to Google Plus.

My wife has been doing exceptionally well with her university classes but that leaves me playing househusband on the weekends, cleaning the house, doing the dishes and feeding the dogs.  We have a new car, after nearly a year long wait, and sold the old truck with remarkable ease.  In contrast, unfortunately, our gardener’s husband died, suddenly and unexpectedly a few days ago, so we are still in the midst of the multi day funeral and all that entails.

After a week or two of hazy uninspiring days we have once again been blessed by beautiful skies, after the heavy morning fog burns off, that is.  The trails are no longer muddy or rutted, the bike is performing better than ever with the recent upgrades and I have gotten some amazing photographs while losing a few pounds along the way.  Presently I have plans to upgrade my bike frame, after new models come out at the end of the year, moving my recent upgrades to the new frame.  I am still uncertain how I will feel about riding the motorcycle this winter.  I seem to be getting much more from the mountain bike for the time being.

Two regular readers are now in Chiang Mai and another has recently retired to a town not far from Chiang Rai and even closer to our village.  Phone calls sometimes replace writing as a distraction these days.  The recent forum drama has subsided after a few members managed to get themselves banned from posting, and a brief spell where all comments were subject to moderation before being posted.

While the somewhat idillic life I write about stands in stark contrast to the often messy and troubled existence of many here in the Rai, the thing I find most disturbing, is the use of that contrast, not as a source of motivation and inspiration, but as a justification to openly ridicule and deride both me and my online persona.  It strikes me as odd that one would willingly take on the label of village idiot or serial underachiever, brandishing it as a badge of honor, while condemning those who have orchestrated a smoother less troubled path through life.  Taking pride in ones triumphs seems to have been replaced by boasting of one failures and shortcomings, in some circles.  I find this phenomenon strange indeed though I suppose it is instructive to be reminded of the darkness which envelopes the lives of some.

I am still making plans for my annual pilgrimage to visit my aging parents.  All aspects of this trip are much more up in the air than usual, which may lead to a trip somewhat different from past years.  Once again I will find myself traveling alone as my wife stays home to take care of the house and dogs, while continuing to attend classes.  I didn’t feel that I could put off the trip until her next school break.  The swirling torrent of thoughts and emotions that engulf all stages of my preparation, travel and return do not seem to abate with time or repetition.  Each year, each trip seems more torturous than the last and stands out as one of the very few unpleasant facets of my life.

I am of a generation dealing with the sometimes slow and painful decline of our parents.  The denial of death and wanton pursuit of longevity seems at times to have lead to greater suffering as people hang on longer and longer, lingering in some twilight-zone, devoid of the joys of living while resisting and denying the inevitability of death.  Through modern living we have so successfully removed ourselves from the natural rhythms of existence that we seem ill equipped to deal with our own mortality or the mortality of others.  Watching my parents is affecting my life view as is living here in this rural village in Thailand.  I feel lucky to have made the transition to a simpler yet richer life when I did.  I see life so differently than I did living in Bangkok for so many years.

I would like to say I will be writing more in the coming day, but I really don’t know.  Perhaps the long hours of travel, or what I encounter and feel while in Hawaii, will cause me to shutdown rather than motivate me to write.  I guess only time will tell.

Here are some recent shots to help end on a more positive note.









The Expat Divide ...

It can take the form of an observation, a question or an accusation.  For some it is a nonissue and for others an obsession.  On Thailand forums the topic comes up often, so it must be an issue for many.  I am more of an observer but thought I would weigh in.  Whatever ones experience with the expat divide, I see no excuse for withholding a smile and a nod of recognition.

The things that divide us as expats are not all that different from the normal divides one finds back home.  Some of the obvious culprits are language, nationality, age, sex, money, social and marital status, education, as well as a multitude of experiential and attitudinal differences.  There is one thing that should bring us together and that is our shared experience of being a foreigner in a foreign land.  That too, however, is often overshadowed by the divide between newcomers and more established residents.

The enthusiastic naiveté of the newcomer is often lambasted by the cynical old-timer.  One side asks why expats ignore or snub fellow expats while the other side asks why they have to be nice to someone simply because of their skin color.  It is not always as simple as someone being rude, or shy, though sometimes it is.  Unless one truly enjoys the role of mentoring others, who may or may not heed ones advice, it can be tiring answering the same old questions time after time.  Unless one is very self sufficient, on the other hand, it is tempting to rely on others to hold your hand and show you the way.

Back home, I dare say the majority of people ensconce themselves in an enclave of like minded individuals who share their lifestyle, aspirations and background.  In Thailand one is confronted by the fact, that just because you may look alike, doesn’t mean you have anything in common.  Even native English speakers may find they need subtitles when confronted by the heavily accented and nonstandard variances of the English language one encounters in Thailand.  Things get even more confused as you try to communicate with those who do not share your mother tongue, whatever that might be.

The age and financial disparity among expats can be enormous, leading to discomfort and misunderstanding at times.  In the emotional baggage expats inevitably bring with them, there can also be hiding numerous sensitivities and triggers for hurt feeling or indignation.  Depending on the severity of ones negative experiences with fellow expats some individuals opt for withdrawal from the expat community or limiting themselves to those of the same nationality and their new Thai family.

This is not to say there are not those who find expat life and interaction quite enjoyable.  Those who come from pub cultures will no doubt find a drinking hole somewhere, that is filled with other likeminded drinkers.  Those to whom religiosity is important, a church or temple may become a focus.  Those with children may find companionship among the other parents at their children’s school.  If one is employed things are not all that different from anywhere else, with your friends and acquaintances most likely being work related.  I sometimes feel it is the older retired expat who has the toughest row to hoe, with few of the time honored options for relating to others available to them in this strange new world.

I have found being young and single in Bangkok, or any big city, cannot prepare you for being old, married and retired in someplace like Chiang Rai.  Age, health and finances seem to take their toll on the retired expat community who find Thailand late in life and take up rural living in a village.  Many older expats live in isolated towns and villages for a variety of reasons.  Often it is where the wife or girlfriend is from.  Many express an inability to cope with city life or they simply can’t afford it.  Unlike many, I enjoyed 30 years in Bangkok and find the negative motivations of some to be depressing.  I saw our move to Chiang Rai as a positive new phase of life, not the cheapest place to live out my final days, nor brought on by an inability to live elsewhere.

The distance one must travel to spend time with other expats can be a limiting factor in Chiang Rai or other rural areas, and unless there is some parity in the effort expended, it is easy to question the benefits.  After expending a fair amount of time and effort, I too find myself drifting away from the expat community these days.  Some tiresome and bitter individuals are simply best avoided, though it can be entertaining to be nice to people you know don’t like you.  Sometimes it is the scheduling that is just too difficult even when you genuinely like the other people.

It seems that whatever ones situation is today there is never any certainty about tomorrow and I actually seem to like that.  In my five years in Chiang Rai, each year has been different.  A few expats I have met along the way have moved away or died, one very recently.  Relationships have ebbed and flowed as needs and interests have diverged.  You meet new people all the time and just the other day I bumped into someone at the mall who I had not seen for maybe twenty years.  Having recently met a couple of young women, one British and one Austrian, who have married local Thai men I am newly fascinated by their less than familiar expat dynamics.

Even if it feels as though there is an expat divide at times, and things don’t always go smoothly while adjusting to expat life, there is something about the freshness and novelty of ones experiences that seems to grab and hold those of us who stay.  Things back home might be neater, cleaner and more predictable but that is exactly why some of us seek out this sometimes messy and chaotic life of an expat.  We tire easily of the familiar and relish the stimulation of new sights, sounds and smells. 

Expats often find that what brought them to a place is not necessarily what keeps them there longterm.  Some of us are comfortable with where we are while others are still struggling with the place, the people and their relationship to both.  Sure there are things that divide us but they should’t keep us apart or keep us from being civil or even friendly when we encounter other expats.  Offering a smile or a nod costs one nothing and may make someone else’s day.  There is no need to shutdown due to a few bad encounters.  With a little effort you can bridge the expat divide.

Lone Wolf ...

I find myself in unfamiliar surroundings this morning, sitting at the back of my wife’s English class, trying as best I can to ignore what is going on around me and gather my thoughts.  We have an early lunch scheduled with friends and I find myself without enough time to go elsewhere.  Besides, this is my first opportunity to tryout my wife’s new MacBook Air and write somewhere other than in my familiar lair.  I can’t help wondering how this will workout.

I received an email yesterday of a complimentary nature, which of course is always encouraging to a writer.  More importantly he expressed an affinity with what he called my lone wolf mentality.  That gave me an idea of how to handle some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head for a while.  Sometimes one writes and then searches for a title to fit what has been written.  Then there are days like today, where one if gifted with a title that sets you on the path to a new blog post.

Though I consider myself a lone wolf of sorts I’m not sure anyone really starts out that way.  My early years were nothing unusual.  I lived in a quiet residential suburb, of a university town, with neighbors of a similar age to play with.  I walked or rode my bike to school, throughout both elementary school and junior high, which were conveniently located next to each other.  During that time a few friends moved away but there was a strong core of friends that spanned those years with shared interests, primarily sports.  Life was active and carefree with little need for thought or introspection.  Looking back it was a good solid childhood, though perhaps lacking in ethnic diversity.

That all changed when we moved to Hawaii.  Removed from my homogenized and familiar environment, I found myself a minority and alone, not surrounded by my friends, for the first time.  I began to question who I was and my relationship with others.  It was not long, however, before I had a girlfriend and a newly discovered interest in surfing and the ocean.  The group sports of my youth were replaced with the more solitary activities of surfing the shore break near home, sailing a small catamaran left parked on the beach, running on the sandy beach and hiking in the ridges and lush mountains of Hawaii.  Groups were never again to play a part in my life as girlfriends took center stage.

I never experienced living near my relatives but, until I was ten, we did visit both sets of grandparents each summer and that provided an opportunity to see and play with my cousins if only briefly and occasionally.  I suppose it should not feel strange now, having never lived near each other and not having seen each other for the better part of forty years, that the majority of my cousins have little or no interest in knowing who I have become.  Fortunately there are a few notable exceptions on my mother’s side.  Sure we might find that we have nothing in common but still I would find it interesting to see them again if only once.

I seem to remember little of my cousins but I can vividly recall the sites, sounds, smells and animals of my grandfather’s dairy farm.  Fishing in a small pond, riding horses of which there were two, mingling with a couple hundred cows as they were milked twice a day, building secret hideaways amidst the hay bails stacked in the barn and even images of the local dogs all seem fixed and unfaded in my mind’s eye.  The farm was a vast and amazing world in my youth but when revisited that one time after growing up, it seemed to have diminished considerably in both size and mystery.  These days I can go to Google Earth to checkout all the development in the area.  Things sure have changed.

Sadly my grandfather died when I was ten and my grandmother move to the city.  The farm held nothing for her with husband gone and four boys scattered from coast to coast.  It was only a few brief years later that we moved to Hawaii, further removing me from my idyllic childhood and what was once a possible life path.

Moving to Thailand further consolidated my path toward lone wolf status, as friends came and went with some regularity being posted elsewhere, while I remained in Bangkok to find new friends.  I have often wondered what it must be like to have close relations with both family and friends throughout ones life.  It is quite simply beyond my comprehension at this point.  Transient and impermanent relationships are all I have known.

One must remember there was no internet or Facebook back then and without proximity it was difficult, at least for me, to maintain relationships.  In time my self-reliance grew as did my feeling that needing people was a weakness.  As much as I might revel in a long animated discussion and enjoy the people I might be with, dependence on them has been something I have tended to avoided.

At this point I feel like I became a full fledged lone wolf.  I have met those who assume lone wolves to be socially inept, awkward and antisocial.  Many of us are actually quite gregarious and affable at times.  Not confined by the expectations of membership in any particular group, we are free to range widely and can be more open to strangers and new encounters than those with a fixed group of friends.  Our interests can be varied but seldom does any one topic hold our attention for any great length of time.

Though my wife has tamed the wolf in me and tempered my sometimes rough edges, I still cling to no one but her.  Friends come and go, some are missed and some are not.  For me a friend is someone who brings a smile to your face and makes the world feel a bit brighter and someone you look forward to seeing.  It seems to me, some people expect less of their friends than they do of others.  They overlook their shortcoming and forgive a multitude of sins, all in the name of friendship.  I feel that friendship carries the burden of not becoming a burden to others, though I understand that not to be a common position.

I want to make it clear that I am not touting my way of life as something to be emulated.  I’m just saying, being a lone wolf worked for me in Thailand, while it left me feeling a bit lonely and detached when in my own country.  From talking with others I have gotten the impression I am not alone in feeling more connected and less lonely in Thailand.  We are perhaps not as vocal as those who complain so loudly about all that is wrong with Thailand.  Maybe our expectations are different, making it easier to fit in here, while making it harder sometimes to fit in with the complainers or those who cling too tightly to the life they left behind, intent on replicating it here. 

I’m a lone wolf, not a recluse.  I often prefer to act alone but not to live a solitary life.  I am not a misanthrope, just independent self-reliant and a little picky about who I choose to share my time with.  In short I am a lone wolf and proud of it.

Building a House, Building a Life ...

While considering what to write about today, it occurred to me that it might be time to revisit the house and how I came to be where I am.  Though not a new topic, it is something I have not spoken to for sometime and could perhaps benefit from a rewrite of sorts, based on where I am today but with some historical perspective thrown in.

My parents grew up in rural areas, pretty much in the center of the country, in an area called the Midwest.  Large two story homes with attics and basements were the norm back then.  Though I visited my grandparents in those lovely homes in my youth, I was raised in single story dwellings located in the idyllic suburbs of university towns.  My parents did not take up condo living until after I moved to Thailand and even then moved into a place large enough to maintain separate rooms for their two sons in case they ever needed to return home.  Thinking back, that room with my stuff in it did a lot in the way of freeing me to explore the world unencumbered.

Bangkok was my first experience with a big city, though back then there were only three buildings that could be remotely considered high-rise.  I experimented with living in various types of dwellings during my years in Bangkok but the vast majority of time was spent in studio apartments and eventually in my own condo unit for the final ten years.  Young and enamored with Thailand, eager to experience as much as I could, I spent very little time at home and basically used my apartment as a bedroom and changing area while spending most of my time exploring, often staying out all night.

In later years the central location of our condo meant my young wife and I could walk or take the Skytrain most places we cared to go.  It left us free to travel, often turning the key and going away for six months at a time.  That travel phase lasted for roughly eight years.  Over time the combination of travel and condo living began to take its toll, I guess.  We began looking for alternatives in both my home country and here in Thailand.  All with an eye to living a more settled life surrounded by things we loved.

Though we had early on discarded any notion of living in her home village, over time it started to look more promising and eventually got a vote of approval from both of us.  Having lived so many years in Bangkok, I dreamed of something as far from city living as I could find, while still providing necessary creature comforts.  Over the eight years or so that we had been visiting the village, I had time to explore as much of the surrounding area as one could on foot.  That helped in our search for the right piece of land to build on.

The external look of our house could be considered happenstance as all attention was on floor plan, orientation and views.  As for outward appearance I guess one important desire was for the back of the house, facing the road and traffic, to be as inconspicuous as possible.  With a five rai plot of land to work with, space was not an issue and we were free to spread out as much as we liked and have continued to add other structures over the years. 

Somehow a single story building with a high ceiling seems more spacious to me.  Though I sometimes find two story homes quite attractive, I couldn’t see myself living in one.  With an open floor plan one can both see and feel the space around you because everything is on that one level.  Add big picture windows and sliding doors to draw your eye to the fields and mountains that surround the house and the result, at least in my case, fills me with a calm serenity that keeps me balanced.  Indoors or out I gaze upon the same ever changing view throughout the year.

It should be reiterated that until I was in my fifties I had never considered this kind of life in this kind of location.  I sometimes feel the young, or at least young at heart, come to Thailand in search of adventure and new experiences just to burden themselves with the same encumbrances which drove them to despair back home.  For others it could be the loneliness of old age trumps all other emotions, leading us down familiar paths rather than exploring completely new ones.  In a foreign country maybe it is just easier to latch onto a woman to be your guide, translator and companion while also relieving you of your burden of loneliness. 

When I encounter people especially those younger than myself, who lust for the life I live, my first bit of advice is to slow down and take some time before taking actions that may be difficult to recover from.  Make sure you are really ready.  I wasn’t ready for marriage until I was forty five and was in my early fifties before I moved to Chiang Rai to build this house.  I can’t imagine I could have been happy here during my thirties or forties.  Even with all the years of living in Thailand, planning and forethought that went into this choice, there was no certainty as to how things would turnout.  Even now the story continues to unfold and though it still feels like the right choice at the moment, there is no way of knowing what lies ahead.

I knew I was putting limits on my freedom when we moved to this life in the village but I was perhaps unprepared for how restrictive pets and possessions could be.  I was primarily focused on acquiring the things I had lived without for so many years in Bangkok, things from my long lost childhood.  What was that line...something about being careful what you wish for?  Though we both love the comfort and beauty of our surroundings there are times when we wax lyrical about bygone days when we could just turn the key and travel for as long as we wished or enjoy luxurious health clubs and fine dining in the big city.

While there is still a small voice telling me I should be traveling more or attacking that bucket list with more gusto, there is a bigger part of me that finds the expense, discomfort and inconvenience of travel these days a real turnoff.  I am so comfortable where I am, it would seem my focus in life has shifted dramatically without my really noticing.  I was never very domestic before and viewed life as a pursuit of adventure and experience limited only by what I could afford.

I sometimes wonder if my wife, house, dogs and possessions have altered me somehow at the core or if perhaps they have just released something that was dwelling deep inside all along but was held at bay by past circumstances.  Maybe I am just getting old and this is the normal way of things.  Having followed a path far different from my peers, I’m not at all sure I know what normal is or whether that might be where I am heading.  For now I ponder these questions and others from the comfort of my house in the field, built at a time in my life when it felt right.