Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I’m feeling good about being on Koh Phangan. Having the help of my friend Michele to get me oriented and introduce me to some people has been a great benefit. Now he has gone north for a few weeks to visit a lady friend in Chiang Mai so I am renting his motorbike while he’s away. I’ve also rented a house for a month, and moved in a few days ago – not Michele’s house, but a rental unit owned by one of his Italian friends who lives here and is married to a Thai woman.
My house seems ideal for my purposes. It’s quite new, sparkling clean, has hot water shower, kitchenette, refrigerator, single burner propane stove, and A/C. It also has full-time internet access, which is essential for my work (although it’s not a very fast connection), and cable TV, but I only get a few channels and none of them is in English. They do tease you with a headline in English, like “Weather,” but everything else is spoken and written in Thai, so I have no idea what place they’re talking about.
The only downside to this place is that it’s about 2 km away from the beach and 5 km from Thong Sala. But that has it’s advantages too, since it’s on a road less traveled and the area is pretty quiet. I have it for a month and can renew it, but probably at a somewhat higher rate. I’m paying 11,000 Baht for the month. That may seem like a lot but at current exchange rates, it comes to around US$325. A place most anywhere in the US would cost me at least twice as much and would not be as nice. It is possible to rent houses on the island for as little as 5 or 6 thousand Baht but without the amenities.
You can see my pictures of the house along with others from Koh Phangan at my photo gallery.
According to a local guidebook, November is the wettest month for the island, averaging 52.6 cm (about 21 inches), twice as much as any other month. February, March, April and June are the driest. The first 4 or 5 days of November were dry, but now the rains have started again in earnest. It’s actually rather pleasant to hear the sound of gentle rain and jungle critters as I lie in bed or sit working at my keyboard. It’s also pleasantly cool. The frogs here, when that get going after dark, sound like bellowing cattle. Amazing. And the scents are exquisite – the earthy smell of jungle soil, the sweet fragrance of frangipani and other blossoms, occasionally blended with pungent curries from the neighbor’s kitchen.
Prolonged showers do present some difficulties, however. It’s been raining almost constantly for the past five days. Relying on a motorbike to get around leaves one exposed to the elements so I don’t venture out when the rain is heavy. Rain makes the roads somewhat slippery, flooded in spots, and strewn with piles of sand and tree branches, adding to the usual hazards of broken pavement and falling coconuts. I must admit that I’m not entirely comfortable with this me of transportation, but it’s the only practical option here. Returning home two nights ago, and again this evening I got soaked and felt a little chilled. I was very happy to have access to a hot shower. Contrary to what you might expect, the tropics are not always hot and steamy.
Health and Comfort
As in Malaysia, this place has an abundance of studios and health spas where one can get a traditional Thai massage, oil massage, foot reflexology, body scrub, and other therapies and creature comforts. I’ve gone for three massages already and plan to go two or three times a week. Besides being relaxing and pleasant, it has helped to resolve my lower back problem, which has been flaring up of late. A one hour massage costs only 200 to 300 baht (7 to 10 US dollars).
Now that I have a kitchen where I can cook, I’ve expanded my grocery shopping beyond mangos, papayas, and cans of juice. There are numerous little shops and produce stands scattered around, and Thong Sala has a wet market with many fish and produce vendors, as well as a Tesco supermarket. Tesco is a UK chain, but the local store doesn’t measure up to the Tesco stores I’ve seen in London, neither in scale nor variety of offerings, and of course what they sell is mainly Thai-made and geared to local tastes. That’s all well and good but I find that only a few products have labeling in English. They typically list the ingredients but most of the time not in English so I can’t be sure whether a product contains additives that I would prefer to avoid.
“Irrational exuberance” is a phrase that has become stuck in the public mind ever since Alan Greenspan used it to describe the stock market boom of a few years ago. The exuberance attendant to Barack Obama’s election to the presidency may not be irrational, but it is almost certainly based on false premises and unrealistic expectations. Like most of my friends, I was pleased with the outcome of the presidential election, not because I expect Obama to implement the kinds of deep changes that are needed, but because (1) it showed the willingness of Americans to put aside considerations of race and choose a black man to lead the country, and (2) because it may indicate that the majority of the American people are snapping out of the delusion that caused them to previously choose leaders who, putting on the mask of righteous religiosity and appealing to people’s fears, have taken the country to the brink of fascist dictatorship and financial ruin. As Sinclair Lewis was supposed to have said, “When fascism comes to America it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a Bible.”
Virtually all of the foreigners I encounter are also pleased with the election outcome, hoping that it will bring about a change from the way the United States has thrown it weight around in recent years to a more respectful and cooperative foreign policy. I’m hopeful of that too, but lets not be too sanguine about this recent turn. Sure, we might prefer the manner of the “good cop” (Obama) to that of the “bad cop” (Bush), but do not doubt for a minute that the overall agenda remains the same. Obama is not our savior. At best, he might throttle back some of the wholesale looting that has been going on for the past 8 years, and he might allow a few more crumbs to fall to the masses from the oligarchs’ table. But did he not vote in favor of bailing out the banks instead of helping the people whom they lured into the usury trap? And, like Nixon before him who promised to end the war in Vietnam, Obama’s rhetoric about ending the Iraq war will probably prove to be just as hollow.
One thing should be perfectly obvious by now, one does not get to be a viable candidate for the office of President without being approved, even “groomed” for it, by the elite group that runs the world. Just look at Obama’s list of advisors and his list of major funders. Long-time friend and associate, Jeff Smith, in his online newsletter, The Progress Report, has made us aware of the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) whose role is to “follow the money” and track its influence on American government.
Just within the past few days Obama has announced the appointment of Congressman Rahm Emanuel to be his Chief of Staff. CRP reports that:
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois congressman who was an aide in the Clinton White House, was the top House recipient in the 2008 election cycle of contributions from hedge funds, private equity firms and the larger securities/investment industry–not the most popular of industries in the current economy. Since being elected to Congress in 2002, after working as an investment banker, Emanuel has received more money from individuals and PACs in the securities and investment business than any other industry.
It also points out that “Emanuel and Obama have more than just Chicago in common; investment bank UBS, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley are among both men’s lists of top donors.” You can read the full story here.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, in a November 7 newsletter, said he was “shocked and deeply disappointed” at the news of Emanuel’s appointment, and that because of it, those who have a “commitment to single-payer universal health care, carbon taxes for environmental protection, a Homeland Security strategy based on generosity and implemented through a Global Marshall Plan, will be unlikely to get a serious hearing in the White House.” Rabbi Lerner, who is editor of Tikkun Magazine, and is chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, is a respected voice of reason and compassion and someone who is acutely aware of political realities.
Am I saying that we should stop working at the political level and not try to influence Obama and the new administration? Not at all, but we need to acknowledge the reality of the situation, which is that there is no easy way out. We cannot rely on any political leader, no matter how charismatic, to fix things for us. Virtually all top level politicians are beholden to the moneyed interests and there is no way ordinary people can outspend those who have control of the very source from which money is emitted. They are in power to maintain the debt-money power system, which, as I’ve said before, forces accelerating expansion of debt and unsustainable economic growth (the debt imperative and the growth imperative).
We need to look to ourselves and to each other. To repeat what I said in my last newsletter, we need to nurture our communities and form new ones. This requires more than neighborhood coffee klatches and barter exchanges. We need to lessen our dependence upon the failing structures and institutions and apply our talents and resources to creating new ones that can better satisfy the needs of all. We need to organize as whole communities, creating mutual support networks, including credit clearing associations and non-political currencies that are based on the productive capacity of local and regional businesses.
On Sunday I participated in a four hour workshop to learn non-violent communication, or compassionate communication, to use the generic term. Originated by psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg, NVC provides effective tools to create more satisfying relationships and to resolve conflicts. I had had some previous exposure to NVC a few years back when I lived in Tucson but not in such a systematic and intensive format. Tiffany did a fine job of leading the workshop and guiding the 10 participants through some practice sessions. Coincidentally, she had her NVC training in Auroville, India from a friend of mine, Tewa Holloway. I met Tewa when I stayed at Auroville last year, not in connection with NVC but as teammates on the project to develop the ACCES regional moneyless exchange system. Tewa helped us out during the early stages as we discussed the dimensions of the project and forged some basic agreements. You can learn more about NVC from The Center for Nonviolent Communication and at http://nvctraining.com/media/new/index.html.
There’s something satisfying about trivial activities like playing solitaire. Sometimes I just cannot find the motivation to write or answer email or do anything else that one would consider productive. At those times, I often play Spider Solitaire or FreeCell on my computer (I think everybody with MS Windows has them already). It’s a totally useless waste of time, unless one considers it to be mind exercise, like working out at the gym is body exercise. My win rates have gotten pretty good – I win around 80% of FreeCell games on the first try, and I win about a third of the Spider Solitaire games at the middle level of difficulty. On the other hand, maybe I have an addiction, and this is just my peculiar way of distracting myself.
This morning I woke to a bit of sunshine streaming in the windows. The sky was mostly cloudy but there were a few breaks and small patches of blue. My spirits buoyed by the prospect of mobility, I ventured out for a morning walk, my destination the little cluster of shops around the crossroads about 600 meters away. In Asia it’s common for home and storefront to be combined in one space, with varying degrees of separation between the two. Most small entrepreneurs eke out a living selling a few things or providing some service, and they know instinctively the importance of keeping overhead low.
In this climate there’s less need for doors and windows, except for security, so spaces are more open and entire walls are movable (garage door style). The shop I wandered into was open on two sides. There were 3 or 4 racks of shelves that displayed some groceries, items of personal hygiene and sundry others, and a cooler containing beer and soft drinks, including small cartons of soy drinks in various flavors. I scanned the available offerings and settled on a small bag a peanuts and a can of 7-Up. I rarely drink 7-up or any other sugary soft drinks, but I felt obliged to support the local economy and I had some thought as to how I might later indulge myself.
Toward the back, at one side sat a middle aged woman at a desk, ready to accept payment. As I handed her thirty Baht in change I happened to glance over toward the other side of the room. There was a ancient, frail-looking woman lying quietly on a single bed. I imagined that in America, she would have been in a nursing home, the family, or the insurance company or the state, paying each month the cost of a small house to keep her.
There was still some trickling runoff on the road and in many places piles of sand that had washed down onto the road during the heavy rains. As I made my way back home I stepped on a slippery spot where some slime had grown and went down on my left knee scraping a few layers of skin onto the pavement. Nothing serious but enough to make it bleed. When I got back to the house I washed the wound then dabbed it with a little whiskey which I keep on hand for such situations. Alcohol is a great disinfectant and whiskey has multiple uses. I also apply it to soothe bug bites and, yes, I even drink a bit of it from time to time. Hence the 7-Up.
Don’t worry; be happy,