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My Home in Chiang Mai Thailand in 2010

It has been and interesting last few days, at least for me it has. On Saturday my sore throat and coughing had gotten so bad that I had to seek medical assistance. So, I went off to the doctor who prescribed antibiotics, anti-congestion medicine, and some little red pills to suppress my cough reflex. The package seems to be working. It cost me $9 for the doctor visit and $33 for the medicines (That’s the Farang [white people] uninsured costs); not as good as Medicare, but not too bad either. They also call me to ask how I’m doing and if I am taking my medicine.

Everyone must know by now my feelings about the American fundamentalist missionaries inhabiting the neighborhood. Of course it was destined that Hayden would make friends with the son of a missionary couple. They (the parents) have become as close to friends as I have here. I comfort myself with the delusion that they are the proletariat of the missionary class. Those that labor in the fields of the lord so to speak.

He, (I will not give their names to protect them from the risk of an Auto-da-fe) and she are employed by the Southern Baptist Convention and come from the US South. Her father is an ex-hippy guitarist now survivalist who retreated into the mountains around Eugene Oregon (where else) after having spent his best years in good old SF during the 60’s fathering an impressive number of children including our missionary.

He is assigned to brave the murky Muslim-Hindu waters of Bangladesh teaching modern emergency medical care to the inhabitants of the remote villages and picking up the odd soul here and there to add among the elect.

We try to avoid theology and instead meet in the “gosh ain’t it awful” field of human communication with our mutual antipathy for hierarchy.

It seems there is a developing rift between the “Mythologists” as he calls the workers in the field and the administrators and seminarians. The Mythologists are pleased whenever they locate someone who recognizes a similarity between their tradition and the so-called “Peace” message of the New Testament. The “Seminarians” appear to be only interested in the number of baptisms for that quarter. The wife added “and we don’t agree in buying baptisms either.” I immediately could see where they were out of the mainstream of American theological thought and needed the protection of anonymity.

He then told me that one of his students went back to research the Vedas and found passages that indicated that the supreme deity or Poo-bah (A Hindu word) indicated that he would send someone to bring peace to the land. I agreed that was a terrific insight and suggested that we create a new religion where we jettison the Old Testament and its dyspeptic homicidal god and replace it with the Vedas and the New Testaments as the revealed books. My suggestion was ignored.

He did come up with one item if information that I appreciated. I had gone off on my rant about the evils of hierarchical organizations, whether public or private, that reward those in management who produce little of value to the organization when compared to the laborer (white-collar or blue) and suggested management positions should only go to those willing to take a pay cut. He pointed out that his organization pays everyone at the same rate, increasing it only based on seniority. “How un-American, socialist, and unchristian” I thought.

My missionary friend told the story that he had asked some Bangladeshis how it was that Muslim would kill Muslim as they did during the revolt of Bangladesh from Pakistan.


They explained that the Pakistani soldiers were told they were killing Hindus and therefore they had no problem. However, when the soldiers lifted the tunics or whatever of the dead they found they were circumcised. They then realized that the people they had killed were not Hindu but were either Jew or Muslim men (women did not matter) and while it was all right to kill them if they were Jews it was definitely a no-no if they were Muslims. In either event, they understood that they had been lied to by their leaders and refused to fight anymore. And that is how Bangladesh became the independent, economic and social basket case it is today.

Anyway all this kumbya was ruined when he mentioned that since it was Sunday he had to get to a church service. To my annoyance he invited me to come along. He said it would be a unique and unusual service in that they would sing a few songs, then read a few verses from scripture and discuss how they apply to their lives. There would be no minister but the most knowledgeable there would help the individuals in their self-analysis. I told him It sounded a lot like Hill-el developed 2000 years ago when he and his followers created Rabbinic Judaism. His smile turned into a grimace. “Maybe next time” he said, picked up his guitar and piled his family into their SUV and went off.

As Hayden and I walked home, I wondered why the mere mention Judaism would produce that sort of reaction. After all, unlike the other people of the book, Christians and Muslims, who run around the world-beating each other on the head and demanding join each other’s men’s club (and men’s clubs they are) or they will kill you, Jews don’t even want you to join their club and certainly do not want to join ours.

When I got home and took my nap and had a biblical dream that I will not relate here for fear of offending everyone. However if anyone would like to hear my revelatory dreams drop me a line. They are titled “Successful camel breeder and brewer forms new mens club and almost kills son in process” and “Oh my God” squeal the women of Jerusalem as Jesus of Nazareth tips the scales on Paul of Tarsus”. Needless to say I woke up in a cold sweat.

That night I invited my missionary friends, Jerry the New Zealander and his wife Choti who is the principal of the school, two New Zealand taxi drivers and their girlfriends who were visiting Jerry, Mac’s father, whose name is Oo by the way and the 4 and 5-year-old children of the various guests. We ate at the outdoor street end restaurant run by the shriveled up lady that I mentioned in a previous post. The total meal for everyone cost me $30 half of which was for the beer and wine.

The mysterious building pictured in my previous post is a crematorium. It was in use today as I passed. It looked like a Thai biker gang was sending off one of its members into the joy of re-incarnation. The superstitions of the Thai’s fear of ghosts depressed the prices of the land near the crematorium enabling Choti, the principal of the school to get the land on which it is built, at a low price.

Entrance to the School
The School Yard

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FROM MY DIARY LEADING UP TO POST:

FRIDAY MARCH 19 2010 3PM

Hot again. Lying on bed sweating. Rain brought a morning’s respite from the air pollution but my throat is feeling its return this afternoon. No exercise, just lying in bed. Typing at times, sleeping mostly.

SUNDAY MARCH 21 2010, 9:30 PM

Interesting few days. Went to Hospital yesterday for relief of my sore throat and coughing. Dr cost about $9 and 6 day antibiotics, decongestant/expectorant and cough suppressant $30.

Hiromi deposited $2766 Tax refund into my account. I removed about 20,000 baht. Deposited 12,000 into Thai account (What Happened to the remaining 8,000?).

Last night Hayden told me some interesting things that I relayed to Nikki. See email.

Spent morning with Micah’s parents. Southern Baptist Convention Missionaries. Husband spends most of his time in Bangladesh teaching emergency first aid and trying to convert muslims. Wife daughter of hippie father. Conversation mentioned a Bengali telling H. Veda seemed to suggest need for a JC. I suggested that maybe that is a good reason to throw out the old testament.

H. invited me to attend a what he termed an unusual Sunday service in a house to discuss bible passages and their personal meaning. I mentioned that it sounded a lot like a traditional Jewish service.

When I got home and took my nap I dreamed of something like this:

I saw old Abraham in his tent drunk on fermented camel’s milk surrounded by his sons. Outside the tent his wives, concubines and slaves tended the cook fire and drew lots to see who would sleep with the smelly old bastard that night.

Old Abe was raving about the rejection of his application to join the Babylon Men’s Camel Dung Rolling Club. That’s when he realized the truth. “O my God I must be Jewish”.

“Why would I want to join their damned club anyway” he shouted “they could not be very exclusive if they would allow someone like me living in a tent join”. And with that antisemitism and jewish humor were born.

“I will form my own club and will not let anyone join. I will show them real exclusivity”.

Isaac, a pimply faced overweight adolescent, feared this could lead to the end of his sneaking out of the tent at night after the old man passed out for some action with the sweet-smelling Babylonian girls leaving him only with the camel herding women his dad preferred, protested. “We can’t do that we don’t have a membership card or anything.”

Abe stared at Isaac who he dislike and surmised was probably gay. He thought “maybe I should kill him now before he gets a chance to breed”.

“We will make our own membership cards”. “Clay tablets” Abe announced.

Everyone groaned. “No you’re right, too heavy. It will break the line of our tunics. Tattoos” he exclaimed “No, everyone’s got tattoos nowadays”. “I’ve got it” he exclaimed “We’ll cut off the ends of our dicks. Nobody will have membership card like that”.

“You got to be kidding” cried Isaac.

With that Abe grabbed his knife jumped over the fire grabbed Isaac by the shirt and said “I’ve had enough of you, you little shit, prepare to die.”

In good biblical tradition Isaac thought quickly and lied. ” Wait” he said “I see the hand of God what’s his name staying your hand from killing your son because he and all your sons submit to the will of what’s his name”.

With that Abe relented killing Isaac. Instead he cut off the end of every male present’s dick. At the moment of initiation each one screamed “Yowee that hurts”.

When it was all over Abe rested. He looked at all his sons writhing in agony on the floor of the tent and said, “You know, I like that. Up to now whenever the guys hung out talking about their gods it was always Ishtar this and Baal that. They would all laugh when I mentioned the god whose name could not be uttered. From now on in recognition of this event whenever we utter we shall utter that the name of our all-powerful creator, “Yowee”. What do you think?”

In my dream I wondered how they were able to identify one another as member of the men’s club. Groping under each others tunic was a little more obvious than a Masonic handshake Maybe they originally had their meetings in the health club shower.

Anyway my dream fast forwarded to 33 AD (although they did not know it at the time, thinking it was 3000 years or something since god rested) and the throng (We no longer throng today, we crowd, what a loss) was pressing forward to enter the temple on the sabbath, the day people thronged to the temple, a building that replaced the health club showers .

The guard at the gate of the temple in Jerusalem stopped one of the throng who happened to be Jesus. “Hey you. Only Jews allowed to enter the temple. You Jewish. You don’t look Jewish with that fruity double-pointed red beard”.

“My good man”, said Jesus (he was a Rhodes Scholar and had studied in England) “of course I’m Jewish, I speak Hebrew as though I never learned Aramaic”.

“Anyone can learn Hebrew” responded the guard. “Whip it out and put in on the table.”

Now Jesus had no problem with whipping it out given all the time he spent with the ladies and all that lying of the head on the breast and that sort of thing and he was quite proud of his membership card. So he whipped it out and everyone getting a look at it exclaimed “Oh my God”.

“That’s right” said Jesus, “Now all of you get out of my fucking temple”.

Now where Jesus was quite proud in his membership in Judaism, Paul was less so. Where they all marveled at Jesus Membership ,they all laughed when Paul whipped his out. So Paul went to the Apostles (Jesus’ biker buddies) gathered in Jerusalem (Apostles “gather” they do not “throng or “crowd”)and said to them “This membership card thing isn’t working. It’s too hard to get anyone to join and tithe. Since we’re the new guys (and guys we are) we need a new card. Besides aren’t you all a little tired of having to show your card every time before you give a sermon”

“Good thought Paul” said Peter who although not afflicted by the results of being kicked by a horse on the way to Damascus as was Paul, was a shy man. What should the new membership card be?”

“Faith shining through their eyes” said Paul.

“How would anyone know” questioned Peter.

“We will know. Besides if the light shines through everyone’s eyes what difference would it make”.

And the rest is History. And I awoke

11PM

Earlier today I went to the Bank withdrew 30,000 baht from BOW acct. Deposited 20,000 in BKKB pers. acct. Kept 10,000.

Hosted dinner party with missionaries, Choti and Jerry two NZ tourists and Thai girlfriends, Mac’s father and assorted children 950 baht. About $3 each including wine and beer.

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English: Transamerica building, downtown San F...

Transamerica building, downtown San Francisco, CA, USA. Photo taken from Coit Tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the Edge: Stories about the Creation and Early Years of California’s Monumental Coastal Protection Program.

In the Beginning: an oft-told story.

In the autumn of 1972, I was a card-carrying, pot smoking, alternative lifestyle living, unemployed, hirsute Hippy San Franciscanus. It was about noon on a glorious fall day. I was wandering about in downtown San Francisco wondering what I was going to do about lunch. I was just passing the newly built Transamerica Building on my way to North Beach, hippy central during those times. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of a very tall, very skinny, bearded man emerging from the forest of columns supporting the somewhat pyramid-shaped building. He was rapidly approaching me.

He dressed more or less in the style of my cultural sub-group. That is, he was not wearing a business suit or clothing purchased from any retail store not dealing in second-hand garments. His outfit was accessorized with a red bandanna around his neck and an aluminum Sierra Club drinking cup dangling from a rope belt tied around his waist. He grabbed my arm with his long skinny fingers and Moses-like, but in a surprisingly squeaky voice, said:

“You must help save the Pygmy Forest.”

Now, the societal fringe movement to which I belonged at that time was very sensitive to anything that could be considered a portent of an emerging transcendental experience. Here, the sun was at its zenith and I was standing at the base of an almost pyramid and detained like the wedding guest by the ancient mariner. Clearly, a portent portended. So in the polite idiom of the denizens of New York where I was born, raised and had so recently left, I answered:

“What the fuck is a Pygmy Forest?”

“Come with me,” he beckoned with a long bony finger.

The tall skinny apparition led me through the columns that made up the base of the pyramid and into the sparsely furnished lobby of the newly completed building where several large easels were set up in some sort of ad hoc exhibition. My guide introduced himself as John Olmsted. I was later to learn that he  descended from “The” Olmsted, the high school dropout from Connecticut who became a journalist and in the latter stages of the Nineteenth Century parlayed his journalistic abilities and his political connections to win the competition to design NY’s Central Park becoming thereby one of the most successful landscape designers of his generation.

John stood me before the easels and proceeded to explain all about something he called an “Ecological Staircase,” and about the “Pygmy Forest.” Now, at that time, I was vaguely familiar with the word “Ecological,” at least enough to know it had something to do with nature, but what it had to do with staircases had me mystified and curious. To explain it, he had a large chart set up on one of the easels. The best I could make out was that logically it had something to do with “The Pygmy Forest,” and that John was going to connect it all up for me.

John then pointed to a photograph of what appeared to be one of the ugliest plants I had ever seen. Had it grown in my garden, I would have pulled it out by its roots hoping I acted quickly enough to prevent it from infecting the rest of the place. To John, however, the sight of it seemed to have instilled in him an almost religious ecstasy.

He enthusiastically explained that the stunted monstrosity was a full-grown tree. My excitement at that revelation was muted.

Unperturbed by my lack of response, John continued with his presentation.

According to John, it seems the ground around a place called “Jughandle Creek,” located somewhere along the coast in Mendocino, a county lying about 100 miles north of San Francisco,  had, over the eons, risen and fallen beneath the ocean. Each time it rose the incessant waves carved out a ledge. About five or so times this happened sculpting the land to appear to the imaginative obsessive as a giant staircase — hence the Staircase to which Ecological was appended. It was all beginning to make sense.

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John explained that the ground on the top of each step (for some reason that I have forgotten), became packed as hard as cement. Over the years, the soil settling on top of that cement became more and more hostile to just about any living thing except for flesh-eating plants, these benighted trees, and illegal marijuana farms.

Apparently, the roots of the trees could not push through the cement-like hard-pan causing the stunted growth of these three-foot high monstrosities. “Natural Bonsai,” John crooned. They did not look like any bonsai I ever saw, but hell, who was I to argue with the crazed hippie descendant of “The” Olmsted.

The looming tragedy that prompted John’s hysteria that resulted in the exhibit and my selection as a potential acolyte, was a developer’s plans to build a motel right in the center of the first step of John’s beloved Ecological Staircase, thereby ruining it for future generations of, I assumed, people like John, as well putting  the nearby forest of stunted trees at risk.

Although I suspected that any tree that could thrive in that soil was a match for any developer, I nevertheless heard myself say those eternally fateful (and often regretted) words, “That’s awful, I used to be a practicing attorney, what can I do to help.”

About two weeks after my almost mystical encounter with John Olmsted in the shadow of the TransAmerica pyramid, I found myself traveling to Mendocino and Jughandle Creek with my friend Jeanne McMahon. I  smelled the beginnings of an adventure and it intrigued me — if strolling among flesh-eating plants and stunted trees with a tall, skinny, obsessed hippy could be considered as having the makings of an adventure.

I do not remember how we got there. I did not have a car at that time and neither did Jeanne. I guess we hitch-hiked which was the preferred mode of travel for those of us eager to join the counter-culture (you know “On the Road” and all that).

Jeanne was a freckled-faced, relentlessly positive young woman from Dubuque Iowa who, in the late sixties, like many others had left the mid-West farm belt to join the nationwide migration of those eager to experience “what’s happening” in California. She walked with a spring in her step, her face resolutely pressed forward toward whatever new experiences life she was sure would lay at her feet.

A few years later, she decided to go to medical school to become a doctor. She went back to school to acquire the proper science credits. She was successful and was admitted to medical school. To celebrate, she and a companion decided to go camping and hiking for a few days in the Trinity Alps a few miles north of Mendocino, an activity she loved.

While hiking, she slipped and fell off a cliff, her friend ran to find help but was not able to bring it back in time. Jeanne died alone and in pain as most of us ultimately must. Her friend and I accompanied her body back to Dubuque for burial. Two weeks later he drowned while swimming.

But that was then in the future and as now it is in the past. That day we were off on our adventure blissfully and thankfully ignorant of our futures (John himself died a few years ago after a long illness).

John lived in a little cabin (Actually a two-story Victorian type of thing, but I always thought of it as the cabin) in the redwoods along Jughandle Creek. A sign affixed to the cabin announced “The Jughandle Creek Conservancy.” Inside, John and a friend had just returned from mushroom hunting and had laid on the table before them an incredible collection of dirt-encrusted bizarrely shaped fungi that they both were obviously enthralled with. They invited Jeanne and me to join them in sampling their earthy delights. We declined.

jug-handle-creek-farm-1440182777-1

After a while, we unrolled our sleeping bags on the porch outside and slept soundly lulled to sleep by the rustle of the wind through the redwoods and the periodic hoot of an owl on the hunt nearby.

The next morning, John took us on a tour of the “Ecological Staircase.” In some ways, that hike changed my life as much as anything ever has. Never before had I experienced anyone that seemed to have such a passionate love of nature, or of anything really; musicians or those sexually bewitched maybe excepted. Perhaps those who met John Muir or explored the marshes with Mrs. Terwilliger (“Spend the day at home and you’ll never remember it. Spend the day outdoors with me, and you’ll never forget it.”) may have been equally affected as I was during this walk. For me, it seemed both revealing and somewhat disquieting.

I grew up on the East Coast in and around New York City. I could be included among those who that passionate cynic Don Neuwirth said get nose bleeds when the soles of their feet are not in contact with cement. To us the “Woods,” as we called it, was somewhat forbidding and dangerous, a place approached with care and where possible avoided (I to this day believe all “woods” to be inhabited by ravenous bears and rogue biker gang members).

As we walked along, John pointed things out like a tour guide in the Sistine Chapel. He would stop, dip his hands into the mulch of the forest floor breathing in its earthy smell then urging us to do so also. At times, he tenderly touched this or that shy plant explaining its particular remarkable attributes. I soon realized I was experiencing someone who appeared to be speaking about his beloved.

To John nature was nothing less than a symphony of renewal. I, on the other hand, could not go quite that far, the smell of the earth although pleasant still possessed the faint odor of decay. Where he saw in a green shoot pushing up through the browned fallen leaves the miracle of regeneration, I saw only the catabolism of the dead.

And yet, and yet, I could not resist his infective enthusiasm and hoped, no wanted it all to be true.

Or, I suddenly thought, was this in fact just another example of something I once read, of, “…our peculiar American phenomenon of seeking guidance or redemption within nature.” From what could John be seeking redemption? Not being “The Olmsted?” Something that happened during recess in grammar school? A secret life perhaps?

Among the stunted trees, John explained how the nitrogen-depleted soil encouraged the plants in the area to evolve to trap insects from which to obtain that chemical so necessary for life.

Pygmy Forest.jpg

As we trudged along we passed through the towering redwood forests that grew where the hard-pan had been broken at what could be called the staircase’s risers, crushed by the incessant geological forces as they thrust one step above the other.

As we walked in the silent spaces between the giant trees, John referred to it, as many do, as nature’s cathedral. Like a cathedral’s columns, the massive trunks climbed up to where, far above, sunlight filtered through the branches as it does through a cathedral’s stained glass clerestory windows. Far below, in shadow, the ground revels in silence.

But, in reality, even I knew the trees grew that high in order to expropriate the sun’s energy at the expense of everything below.  Just like, I assume, the builders of the great cathedrals sought to expropriate the grace of God, leaving the few worshippers scurrying about in the gloom and quiet below. Whenever I visited one of those grand churches, although I enjoyed the brief respite from the vicissitudes of existence offered by the silence, I, nevertheless, soon found myself longing for the excitement and distraction of life’s bazaar outside.

As we turned to go back to the cabin for lunch, I was a bit relieved, fatigued from scrambling across the wild terrain and somewhat overwhelmed by my sudden immersion into the intricate mysteries of nature. I guess, we usually simply absorb our momentary experiences with Mother Nature in unthinking contemplation but, wandering about with John, however, was more like a post-graduate course in ecological transcendentalism. It was made even more exhausting by exposure to a lovers passion that you, the observer, could not really share.

Still, unless one is simply hateful or irredeemably cynical one usually hopes the lover succeeds and perhaps thereby you gain some vicarious empathic connection to what you could never experience directly.

Watching them plod on ahead of me, Jeanne determined to wring all that could be wrung from her experience and John, in the lead, shining like Gandalf the White, I felt a chill and I thought about redemption.

We all seek redemption for something. For me, perhaps, it was absolution for that morning long ago, hearing my wife screaming over and over, “My baby, my baby is dead,” while I tried to breathe life back into that tiny purple and red-splotched body and failed. Or later, feeling nothing but anger at the stares of the mourners and the somber burial on some forgotten hilltop?

Could an innocent excitement about the future and a lovers enchantment redeem anything?

I followed them back to the cabin.

Back at the cabin, we ate a lunch of elaborate home-made trail mix and some locally grown fruit while John explained how to, “use the techniques of the private real the estate market to protect resources.” It seems he had managed to cajole many of his neighbors into selling him relatively low-cost options to buy their land. He raised the money for the purchase of the options from various endeavors including peddling “Jughandle Creek” Christmas cards. His goal was eventually to sell the options to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Unfortunately, the Department did not see Jughandle Creek with the same urgency and significance as John.

Nevertheless, John’s approach of using the private market to preserve nature impressed me a lot since, among other things, it indicated some creative thought regarding getting something done beyond simply pressuring the government to figure it out and do it. This approach affected some of the implementation policies that several years later I wrote into California’s Coastal Plan.

Since I had already been hooked, I spent the remainder of the afternoon discussing, planning and plotting our strategy for preserving and protecting John’s beloved Staircase.

It was clear to me that John was a lover and while he, like any lover, believed he would fight to preserve from harm every strand of his beloved’s hair, he was not, a defender. The difference to me was that the defender operates more or less by the following rules:

1. If the conflict is severe, damage is inevitable. (The lover often can neither conceive nor tolerate of the slightest harm to his beloved.)
2. You cannot protect anything if you are dead. (The lover, on the other hand, swears he would give his life for his beloved, but in fact rarely does, and because of that is prone to rash and foolish decisions.)
3. The opponent has to know right down to his shorts that he is in the battle of his life.
4. The defender will be disposed of the moment those defended believe the threat is past. Any songs that will be sung will be sung only about the lovers or those who merely survived the enemy’s rout.

(If this all sounds a little Seven Samurai and the Magnificent Seven, it is.)

Anyway, eventually, over the following month or so, we began the defense using all the traditional methods; protests, demonstrations and the like (John had many allies and supporters he could call on) and I joined in. Then came the litigation.

120156683.GuGMEFqp.JohnOlmste_091206

John Olmstead years later but still partial to funny hats.

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