Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Banana Republic With Nukes

Curiouser and curiouser!

This is from the wonderful Paul Krugman. He said it twice in his New York Times blog, "The Conscience of a Liberal," once last Friday, when Paulson was begging for Pelosi's support from Democrats on the Wall Street bailout, and again yesterday ("I'm just going to quote myself") after the Republicans torpedoed the giveaway in the House.
So what we now have is non-functional government in the face of a major crisis, because Congress includes a quorum of crazies and nobody trusts the White House an inch. As a friend said last night, we’ve become a banana republic with nukes.

What now? Kucinich and Michael Moore ("The Rich are Staging a Coup This Morning") are cheering the defeat, along with a plurality of fiscally conservative Republican representatives. It's a strangely non-partisan rejection. And it had a tumultuous effect on world markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged by 777 points to 10,365 - its biggest percentage fall for seven years and its worst drop ever in terms of points. As much as $1.2 trillion in market value was erased from American stocks, $500 billion more than the Paulson solution would cost. The front page headline in the London Guardian read: "Panic Grips World's Markets." Readers of the Bangkok Nation were greeted this morning with "World Markets, Companies Reel as US Rejects Rescue." The Huffington Post used the above graphic for their headline, "Dow Closes Lower Today than First Day of Bush's Presidency."

I'm fascinated by the news as it unfolds. It's like watching a train wreck or a forest fire, in slow motion. I agree with both sides. It's certainly wrong to throw money at the very folks responsible for the mess. And the American Empire could certainly use a bit of downsizing. But how will the global credit crunch impact the little people, the poor? The anarchist inside me rubs his hands in glee, but this bleeding heart liberal is also hemorrhaging. Of course I wonder when the tidal wave will reach me, when will my ATM card fail or the stores reject my pocketful of credit cards. Will the two credit unions that take care of my money in Santa Cruz eventually go under?

Everything else pales by comparison. Pim's departure tomorrow, the phone calls and emails from my students about their grades, the ghost in the DVD/VCD/CD player. Several times we've returned home to find music playing. It seems to have turned on all by itself. Pim thinks it's a ghost and is reluctant to be here alone. I think it has something to do with infrequent power failures. When the electricity comes back on, it somehow triggers the player's on switch. But maybe it's a ghost playing in the wiring.

At least one of the monks has been disappointed by the B+ I gave him for the class. How many people got A's? he asked. Nine, I said. How many B+'s? Also nine. When he tried to find out individual grades for different students, I told him I thought that would be unethical on my part. It's certainly less agitation than I encountered at UC Santa Cruz where half the class one quarter complained to the provost about my grading (egged on by one upset student, I think). But Andy set them straight; the teacher's decision is law.

I haven't been paid for any classes taught after August 11, and I'm still not certain when the next term begins, whether the 15th or 20th of October. Or which day my two classes will meet (Tuesday?). Uncertainty abounds in my life here. I purchased about $150 worth of materials for my next class (one friend was very surprised to hear I was willing to eat this expense), choosing the New Headway Upper-Intermediate series of books and CDs, published by Oxford Press. This may be a stretch. While 28 of my 52 students earned A's and B's, 15 received C's and 7 D's (there were two F's but they didn't complete the course). The range of knowledge in the class is vast. I must figure out how to teach both the advanced and the slow learners (they are all fourth-year students majoring in English) when the next term begins.

Yesterday I had my teeth cleaned in the dental clinic at Chaophraya Hospital up the street. The elderly dentist covered my face with a cloth, leaving only a hole for my mouth. He spoke little English, and when he finished (none of the three who've cleaned my teeth here has been as thorough as Lynn back in Santa Cruz), he said "no cavities." I haven't had any of them for more than twenty years. I was more concerned about the cap I'd been told needed replacing. On the way home, my tongue discovered that the old cap was gone, knocked off probably by his blundering. Most of yesterday I expected a toothache which never came. I will have to do something about getting a cap (I've always gotten temporary caps) or a crown. There is a private dental office two blocks away. I will check there to see if the dentist speaks more than a little English, or at least convinces me of his professionalism.

At the hospital I once again chickened out over talking to a doctor about my loose bowels: food, bad water or parasites? Since there is no pain and little discomfort, I've been relunctant to undergo the no doubt necessary tests. I also did not inquire into my tricky knee. The right joint makes an odd sound when I walk. I've tried an ace bandage to no avail. But again, since there is no pain, and only a little discomfort, I can easily put off the operation I will probably need eventually, if I want to continue to walk. The prostate, that malignant walnut, continues to remain silent.

I've become quite adept at traveling all over Bangkok by bus. Even with uncertain traffic patterns, I can usually arrive at my destination on time. And the bus is certainly cheaper than a taxi ride, 18 baht compared to nearly 100 for long rides. I even board the small green buses which are driven recklessly, their full loads, with most people standing, struggling to remain upright on the perilous turns. I've noticed that no one, I mean no one, reads on the bus. I'm the only person I see with a book. Same on the Skytrain and subway. While there are numerous daily newspapers and periodicals published here, people do not travel and read. Perhaps most are meditating.

I plan my day around picking up the Bangkok Post. It's saved for me by a lovely lady who operates a newsstand with her family across from the Tesco Lotus. Since she puts her one copy aside especially for this farang, I feel obligated to pick it up. She doesn't open up much before 10 so I can't read it with my coffee. If I leave this end of town earlier, I try to arrive back near the stall at night so I can pick up the paper before I go to bed. It makes me feel good to be known by at least someone in this oh-so-Thai neighborhood.

Pim is moving into her new room tomorrow. She found a place on the third floor of a dormitory for women with a private bathroom for 2,000 bath, 500 more than she paid last year (a sixth of what I pay). She says that she will have to move her possessions in stages, and that she really doesn't want the woman on the desk downstairs or the guards to know she is leaving (no doubt it would mean somehow losing face, even though it is she that is leaving me). Last night she said she wanted to think of me as her father and that she would call me "Papa," as Lamyai does Jerry (it's different, I grumped, they're married). If you were 50, I'd marry you, she said. That didn't make me feel all that much better. Let me know when you want to come get your stuff, I said. I might have a guest. She no longer seems troubled or jealous that I will be seeing other women. I said someone was coming next Saturday, but I did not tell her about Yim who accompanied me to the movies last weekend, and who is three weeks younger than Pim. I think that might prove to be more upsetting.

When Pim returned from Kalasin in July to tell me we must separate, I renewed my membership on ThaiLoveLinks, the dating site I began using in California after my visit to Koh Samui a year and a half ago. I met both Pim and Yim on TLL, as well as Nat, whom I took to Laos last year, and Apple, who traveled with me to Phuket. Nat is in Bangkok studying massage at Wat Pho and we've had lunch twice. I'll probably see her again this week after she finishes the foot massage course. Apple is in Udon where she has a rice farm and we have exchanged some recent friendly emails. There is no shortage of Thai women who want to care for an old farang, no doubt in return for supporting their large extended family upcountry. I target my search on TLL to women from 35 to 45 with photos in their profile who live in my area of Bangkok. There are several hundred, and quite a few respond to my vitual indication of interest.

What am I doing? I can recognize the difference between sex and love and take joy in finding them together. But I flourished during a mostly sexless marriage and I think I can survive here in Thailand as a single man living by himself. There are convenient outlets should unavoidable needs arise. I know that Pim cares for me but I've no illusions that it ever was romantic love. She was kind and always willing. But something has been missing, something my imagination too often provided. I'm sure my friends who've followed this melodrama are nodding their heads in agreement. Other friends simply cannot understand how a spiritually-inclined senior can persist in chasing skirts. Poor socialization, I suppose. My adolescent years were filled with spin-the-bottle games and worse. Suddenly I am surrounded by oodles of Thai women, with figures like my high school sweethearts, who are eager and willing to provide the girlfriend experience. Where is my resistance?

My aim in this blog is not so much to examine what I ought to do, but what I am in fact thinking and doing at the moment that I write. It's a crazy sort of self-reflection that requires a rigorous honesty and unstinting self-awareness, of the beautiful as well as the bad. Trying to be good often seemed to get me in trouble. Accepting my flaws and foibles feels like a more spiritual path.

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