Monday, November 28, 2011

Gratitude


I had intended to write a rant about my bad experience with Experian, the credit reporting agency that is threatening my fiscal well-being.  But Thanksgiving intervened.

Last year this uniquely American holiday slipped by unobserved, but this year I wanted to introduce Nan to gluttony with gratitude.  We met Jerry at Bully's, the Sukhumvit eatery, after I'd seen a notice that the owner had hired a new chef six months ago.  Two years ago he and I had shared turkey and the trimmings at Bully's together, but last year in my absence the food was awful, Jerry reported.  The tariff was about $25.50 for all you can eat, one of the cheaper holiday buffets in town.  So Jerry agreed to give Bully's one more chance to redeem itself.  We skipped breakfast and Nan was excited about trying lots of new farang food. The feast was, to put it mildly, fantastic.  We arrived at 1 to find an empty restaurant and three tables loaded with freshly prepared traditional cuisine.  Nothing like being first in line.  Other than not seeing the whole, unsliced turkey, everything was perfect: tender turkey and ham servings, mashed potatoes with delicious gravy as well as scalloped potatoes and sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows, excellent stuffing, tender beans and peas, and a table full of cheese, fruit and pies: pumpkin, apple, cherry, pecan and key lime.  We stuffed ourselves, and waddled away from the booth two hours later.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, the doyen of gratitude, author of Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer and creator of the web site Gratefulness.org, advises: "Love wholeheartedly, be surprised, give thanks and praise -- then you will discover the fullness of your life."  The realization of good fortune sometimes comes as a surprise if you expect the worst.  Sometimes I deliberately anticipate negative results in order to stave off disappointment, a pretty poor way to find pleasure.  But this year there was nothing to do but give in to gratitude.  I am thankful for so much!  My wife, the light of my twilight life, good companions like Jerry near and far (real and virtual), discovering the vocation of teaching and the joy my students' give me, the constant delight of everyday life in Thailand, good health and happiness, and, let's face it, the ability to chew good food with my real teeth (at least on one side).

I am well aware that the American Thanksgiving story is a myth.  Humorist Jon Stewart says it best: "I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way.  I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land."  My progressive Facebook friends posted numerous links about Thanksgiving from the points of view of native Americans and turkeys (I doubt that tofurkey can be found in Bangkok, Don).  But I realized this week that you can take me out of America but you can't take America out of me.  The idealized memories remain.  During the last few years before I left for Thailand, I spent a number of delightful Thanksgivings with my son Chris and his wife Sandy who prepared a repast worthy of Gourmet Magazine and Martha Stewart.  More than the food, however, was the wonderful feeling I got from being in the bosom of my family (however illusory that might sometimes be).  Loving what once was and might yet be, however, does not negate a realization of the horrors perpetrated on the world by America, from the initial conquest to the current wars conducted by the swaggering bully.  As the radical essayist Linh Din put it, "Americans are for the most parts kind and generous, unlike its murderous government.  I'm claiming that our 99% are mostly fair and decent, unlike the 1% that rule and represent us."

Now comes the rant (I'm grateful for this forum): I treated Jerry to our feast in honor of his 76th birthday earlier this month ("A good number for trombones").  Fortunately, my credit card was accepted.  Several months ago, a Citi credit card I've had for 23 years was declined when I attempted to pay a hotel bill.  Online I learned that my substantial credit limit (I could have charged a new car) had been reduced to the amount currently owed, and on the phone I was told that a credit report from Experian had marked me as "risky."  Although Citi claimed I could see the report for free, Experian wanted $1 and I paid using the endangered card.  I discovered my daughter had missed two payments on her student loan that I'd cosigned and I was in default of the now $22,000 debt (she used it to finance life rather than school, which was a surprise to me). Although she paid the outstanding amount within a month, there was no recovering the lost credit limit.  Then I learned that Experian had been billing the card $14, increasing to $17, each month for their "services."  I had never agreed to that.  When I tried to view a new credit report online, the website program would not work.  I found I could cancel only by calling their number in America, and when I did, was told by the machine that it must be during weekly working hours.  Clearly Experian wanted to make it difficult to cancel something I never knowingly ordered.  Others have shared their experience of this scam with me, one that is engaged in by other "credit reporting agencies" as well.  So I cancelled the card that Experian's report had made no longer useable, meaning they could not collect the ever increasing monthly fee.  Now, every time I use one of my remaining credit cards I fear that the long tentacles of Experian will reach out and take it away.

The Christmas season in Bangkok began long before Thanksgiving.  They've been playing "Jingle Bells" for weeks in the Starbucks I frequent.  Above is the tree outside Terminal 21, the new luxury supermall at the corner of Sukhumvit and Asoke.  Other giant trees are going up outside stores in the shopping district that cater to EuroAmericans who might be culturally Christian.  I took Nan to Terminal 21 after the turkey buffet where we digested our food by strolling through the stores and doing some eye shopping.  Even more impressive than the San Francisco cable car on display or the miniature Golden Gate Bridge (the mall features theme areas for major cities) are the toilets.  I've learned these high tech contraptions are common in Japan now but this is the first I've seen with remote-controlled buttons combining both butt-washing and bidet features (I couldn't understand how to operate the dryer).  Ever been intimidated by a toilet?, asked my friend Ian who visited there several days later.  On Sunday night we put up our tiny artificial tree and inaugurated the seasons for ourselves.  Last year, when I was gone, Nan decorated the tree for her mother and Edward who were visiting.  In America, crazed shoppers are pepper-spraying each other to gain an advantage (imitating Lt. John Pike, the pepper-spraying cop who is currently enjoying his few minutes of fame).  We've not yet discussed our respective gift requests, although I had to throw a wet blanket on Nan's dream of going to Korea to play in the snow (I've lost at least a month's teacher pay because of the flooding).

Speaking of nam tuam (Thai for the flood), thousands are still suffering from the water that remains in suburban areas around Bangkok. One news report hoped they would be dry by New Year's Day.  Nan's sister Ann came to dinner the other night and she showed us photos in her phone of the water outside her condo in Bang Khae.  It's fairly clear now that the governor saved inner Bangkok by building barriers that have kept adjacent areas severely flooded.  In several cases, neighbors have organized to remove the walls that clearly discriminate between those with power and those without.  Thaksin Shinawatra's sister Yingluck is struggling to keep her government afloat and sharks and whales on every side are threatening to attack. Our neighborhood of Pinklao, however, is dry and after a week back home, life is returning to normal for the residents.  Traffic is jammed and the stores are full.  This man will have a hard time unloading boots that are no longer needed.  I'm especially grateful that we were able to leave town before the flooding got serious and could stay comfortably with friends and family until it was safe to return.  Nan went back to school today and in two weeks my university's long-delayed term is scheduled to start.  In the meantime I have my weekend linguistics class to teach.  Life is good.  Hear those words with the passion and gratitude I put into them.

Watermarks from the flooding in Pinklao are everywhere.  Here you can see the flood evidence with our building in the background (we're on the 9th floor of the 22-floor building so our balcony is out of sight).


7 comments:

janet brown said...

Thankful for you and your writing--love the photo of Jerry and Nan!

"Simplifried" said...

Hello Dr. Will, thanks for your musings about Thanksgiving abroad, early signs of Christmas in Bangkok, the floods, and life as a expat in general. I share many of the thoughts you express here and on twitter. I'm dropping a note to say that while you were in Bully's enjoying ET's hospitality, I was next door in the Marriott having dinner with business colleagues. My Thanksgiving meal was more of a pedestrian business meeting designed to discuss recovery of the many factories, and the status in our common industry that has been especially hard hit. I would have much more preferred to be in Bully's with you. I flew back to K.L. the day after, so never even had the chance to drop into Bully's to say hello to ET, let alone take advantage of a post Thanksgiving treat that I had with him after the same holiday last year. ET is a son of Texas, as much as I am a son of Oklahoma, i.e. both of us are a long way from home. But we share a youthful experience that was as much a part of Thanksgiving as the original feast. I am talking about turkey sandwiches, on white bread, with lettuce, tomatoe, and mayo. ET treated me and a buddy from Hong Kong to this delight a couple of days after Thanksgiving last year and when anyone asks me now about a "most memorable meal", that one would have to be in the top 5 for sure. I fear you are too late to go back, but perhaps next year we might meet up at Bully's a day after Thanksgiving and enjoy that epicurean all-star while the pepper spray flys back home, and the mix of Thai folks and farong tourist walk by outside, unaware of the revelry going on inside.
Cheers & Best Regards,
Gary Davis

fragmentary results said...

Glad you got to have an all-American Thanksgiving feast! The spread sounds wonderful. I like Thanksgiving and I don't feel the liberal need to remind people of what they already know about the history of the colonists and Native Americans. I like Thanksgiving because I enjoy the food, the cooking, the family, and because you don't have to buy anyone any gifts!

fragmentary results said...

That last comment was me, Tiffany. I logged into my gmail account, so not sure what name is going to appear. Just fyi :)

Marcus said...

Hi Will,
Oh yes, Japanese toilets (washlets) are indeed the best in the world. No doubt about that !
Just wish we could afford one in our place! Winter is coming and we have the old non-heated variety! LOL!
Glad to hear you survived the flood in good spirits mate.
(And I'll spare you the rant about eating animals this time! LOL!)
All the best,
Marcus

masako said...

Hello, I enjoyed your blog. Thailand, for me, is a country of Theravada Buddhism. Sooner or later everyone will be affected by this way of thinking or you are already. I will come back to your blog looking forward to read your perspective over Thailand as an American. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Glad things are returning to normal for you both, Will.