Thursday, August 26, 2010

Welcome to Bangkok

I love being a tour guide.

Francois and Danielle and their daughter Zoe stopped off in Bangkok last weekend on their way home to Paris after a month in Vietnam.  Nan and I met them at the Navalai, a boutique hotel I had recommended on the Chao Phraya River not far from Khao San Road and our own apartment, and we took them to dinner at the cavernous barbecue restaurant across the river for a little different experience of Thai food, one usually left out of the cook books.  My reward comes when visitors realize that Bangkok is not just a big city with bad traffic jams and polluted air and water, but a vibrant metropolis with exotic scenes and adventures around every corner.

My tours always involve a lot of walking.  After dinner the first night we strolled down Khao San Road to see the perpetual carnival of backpackers.  The several stalls selling fake IDs surprised them by even offering a fake degree from the Sorbonne in Paris.  The next morning we walked through Thammasat University and into the amulet market where monks and laypeople examined the small wares on display with magnifying glasses as if they were valuable stamps.  Passing the walls of Wat Mahathat, we turned right at Sanam Luang, the large parade ground that is under renovation for the next year, and the magnificent Grand Palace came into view.  We looked inside one gate in the wall, large enough for an elephant to pass through, and I explained that the entrance fee of 350 baht for tourists (free for Thais) was too rich for my blood.  Besides, Wat Pho next door was more interesting.  It contains the giant gold reclining Buddha, one of the city's more spectacular icons, and a number of colorful temples and chedis or stupas.  From there we walked through the dried fish market and got on a river taxi at Tha Tian Pier.  We disembarked at Saphan Taksin Bridge and took the Skytrain, with its elevated views of the skyline of Silom and Sathorn,  to National Stadium, the BTS stop for the giant MBK shopping center.  It was time for lunch and my destination was MBK's cheaper food court where the selection was more traditional and less gourmet that the other, pricier food court.  My guests were delighted, except for Zoe who had ordered number 12 on a menu but got something completely different.  After eating, we strolled through a few of the seven MBK floors, looking for jeans for Zoe and an iPhone to replace the one Francois lost in Vietnam.  Then we walked up Phaya Thai Road and got into a boat on the Saen Saep Canal for a fast and splashy ride that few tourists take.  We got out near the Golden Mountain temple and walked across the bridge to Ratchadamnoen, the broad boulevard King Chulalongkorn modeled after the Avenue des Champs-Élysées he saw in Paris in the 19th century. The new Rattanakosin Museum was unfortunately closed, so we ended the day's tour at a secluded coffee house behind Khao San Road.

Our friends were off the next morning for the 11-hour flight home.  Before their visit, the big event of last weekend was a birthday party for a friend of Nan's from her school days in Phayao.  It was to be a reunion of people now working in Bangkok that she had not seen for several years, a party of some significance for her.   She wanted to show off her farang.  The day before, I met her after work at Central Pinklao and we went to the gold shop where we were remembered as a good customer.  I bought a ring which would match the diamond on Nan's finger to tell her friends that we were married.  When Francois asked, I told him we were married "informally," without ceremony.  Thais recognize people that live together as husband and wife.  The birthday party was held at a large karaoke center in Sukhumvit with numerous sound-proofed rooms for private parties, dozens of shoes outside each door.  We were liberally supplied with delicious Thai food, whiskey and mix, and a non-stop selection of loud sing-along videos, in Thai of course.  I'd been nervous about meeting Nan's peers but they were welcoming and friendly and several wanted to try out their English.  A couple worked for Japanese companies and one woman was a prostitute who bragged about leaving a man from Singapore at his hotel to come to the party.  Several had lovely voices and a couple could not sing on key.  After a couple of hours Nan was ready to go home, happy to have seen her friends and even happier to be my wife.

The party and the visit of my friends from France were a welcome distraction from continuing financial and legal problems.  The English class I had been teaching two nights a week at my university's Language Center in Wang Noi, an hour out of the city, was canceled because only one student had paid the fees (and a minimum of 12 were needed).  Now I am struggling to get paid for the classes I did teach.  The interview I had to teach tutorial classes to Thais applying to enter western universities did not apparently bear fruit.  Fortunately I am scheduled to teach English on four Saturdays next month to a group of graduate students in public administration.  But the hourly rate I was originally quoted has been cut in half (a clerical error, I was told).  The teacher who hired me for that job requested a curriculum vita so he could secure me a position at that school as a "special" (a euphemism for over retirement age) lecturer.  When the second school year term begins in December at the school where I have been teaching for nearly three years, I'm hopeful that I might get more classes.  All of this may help to keep the wolf away from my door for a few months.

The news that my income has been cut off far away by bureaucrats (or maybe even a blind computer) who understand little about my life has been paralyzing.  I tackle the mountainous problem in brief flurries of activity separated by long spells of lethargy and ennui.  Letters remain unwritten, phone calls go unmade.  While I think of myself as in relatively good health, a spry old man for 71, I can imagine the difficulties this situation would cause for the elderly and infirm unable to understand and incapable of setting things right.  I'm told that a court case in November may result in a decision that could end the policy of suspending earned benefits.  Former friends who are lawyers fail to respond to my emails, a referral service for attorneys has no one who can take my case pro bono.  The appeals process to challenge the cut in benefits is confusing and complicated. I hesitate to begin it by myself.

While I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself, I also read about the plunge in the housing market in the U.S. and how many are losing their homes to foreclosure.  Politicians are zeroing in on Social Security like vultures around a promising meal and it's unlikely that our children will even receive one check after they retire.  Too many are out of a job in America and some have even given up on looking as factories move their manufacturing overseas where desperate people work for slave wages.  I am surrounded by the most abject poverty in Thailand and every day see evidence of the struggles people go through to survive that make my worries seem petty by comparison.  This is the time that challenge one's faith in the future, in goodness, in interdependence, in compassion and kindness.  Here in Thailand, hundreds of people are in jail for their political views, held without trial for months, threatened with the death penalty for what the government deems "terrorism." Meanwhile, I live like a king on the 9th floor of a luxury condo, surrounded by books, music and a wealth of riches on the internet.  What me worry?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reds Give Their Foes The Finger

I like the red shirts for many reasons, not the least is their use of symbols to rattle their foes.  Currently it's the raised middle finger.  Back before the shooting began a couple of months ago, they donated blood and a Brahmin priest splashed it around the walls and gates of Government House and the home of their nemesis, Prime Minister Abhisit.  It was a powerful symbolic action.  They took the insulting label "prai," which means peasant or commoner, and proudly turned it around, putting it on red tee shirts and claiming it from the stage in marathon speeches.  Their foes were the "ammart," the ruling elite.  Camping first along Ratchadamneon near Democracy Monument in the historic Rattanakosin district last March, the red shirts later extended their two-month anti-government demonstration to Ratchaprasong in the heart of the luxury shopping area of Bangkok.  Tourists and shoppers were mightily irritated but there was little violence until the government decided to crack down on protesters demanding that the government resign and call new elections.  Then all hell broke loose.

Now all their leaders are in prison except for a couple on the run, and some are about to be charged with terrorism which carries the death penalty.  Many red shirts from northern provinces where their strength is greater than in Bangkok are in jail for disturbances including setting fires to provincial halls.   While ostensibly promoting a strange kind of "reconciliation," the Abhisit government continues to maintain a State of Emergency in Bangkok which suspends many individual rights, and has declared war on dissent by a censorship campaign that has closed down publications, radio stations, internet web sites and discussion boards.  Students have been prevented and even arrested for pointing out the failure of the government to determine responsibility for any of the deaths in April and May of mostly civilians, many killed by sniper bullets and several of them international journalists.  In June, Sombat Boonngamanong, a fearless defender of civil rights, returned to Ratchaprasong to tie red ribbons around the intersection sign, and he was promptly arrested.  A week later he was back with additional red shirt support and allowed to make his symbolic witness.  In July, Sombat's photograph appeared in a local magazine with a raised middle finger and the words, "If you stop me from writing, I will still think; if you want to stop me from thinking, you have to stop my breathing." Sombat said that "the truth of what happened around here has not been fully revealed, so I want to make it public." He added: "I'm not afraid of jail, it's free food." Not long after, small groups of reds, despite the SOE ban on groups of more than five, began meeting on Sunday afternoons in different city parks to practice street theater in order to remind Bangkok residents that "People Died Here" and no one has been arrested.  Supporters extend their middle fingers as a gesture of defiance against the government.

 There is a false sense of peace now in Bangkok.  The traffic jams are back to normal and the luxury shopping malls are crowded.  Hotel occupancy rates are rising and the business sector is making great predictions for economic growth despite an unsettled political situation that is by no means on the road to resolution.  The opposition party ran a jailed red shirt leader as its candidate in a recent municipal election and he received 46 per cent of the vote despite being prevented from making appearances or speeches.  Another round of local elections next weekend could show continued red shirt strength even in the heart of the ruling elite.  At its height the red shirt rally drew perhaps over 200,000 participants and it was estimated that 70 per cent of them were living in Bangkok, most because it was the only place a poor country person could earn money.

The government often justifies its censorship by claiming there is a hidden campaign to replace the monarchy with a republic, a conspiracy denied vehemently by red shirts who one and all declare their loyalty to the King.  The government is holding political education seminars throughout the country about the need to show loyalty to the monarchy and the nation.  This re-education effort is similar to that 35 years ago when anti-communism was the enemy.  The King has been hospitalized for nearly a year and makes rare appearances without speaking about his country's current troubles.  The government's attempt to promote "reconciliation" is what political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak calls "the great bamboozling."  He thinks "the issues are still very raw, they are lurking underneath," and the several committees appointed are "time-buying instruments" which "are not really about compromise, they are about [the government] prevailing."

 Abhisit has promised to hold new elections only when there is "peace" and stability but few expect them any time soon.  A small bomb that killed one bystander was used to justify continuation of the State of Emergency in Bangkok which is needed, the government claims, to insure safety.  A SOE has been in effect for years in the southern provinces where a Muslim insurgency has made life unsafe for all sides, surely evidence that no one is secure when decrees replace any possible non-military solutions or or real, meaningful reconciliation that involves all sides in the conflict.. 

I want to thank the bloggers and photographers whose work I have shamelessly borrowed for this post.  I hope they will feel free to take and use my photos in the future. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dark Clouds Can Hide Rainbows

Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers and me

I have a magnificent view of the Bangkok skyline from my 9th floor window and daily I watch the  weather moving across the cityscape.  The various formations of clouds are sculptured masterpieces and the sunrises are magnificent.  It's the monsoon season now in Thailand and torrential rain accompanied by dramatic thunder and lightning is frequent.  But rainbows are rare.  This is the first I've seen.  A little after this shot, a second rainbow appeared above the first, but I couldn't capture it clearly with the camera. 

I'm tempted to call it a sign.  And why not?  The response to my previous post, in which I described my dire financial situation, has been heartwarming, to say the least.  I've received sympathy, empathy, consolation, commiseration, prayers, and even an astrological assist from a reader in San Francisco.  Some have even offered advice on how to fix things, but lacking many of the details that I was reluctant to reveal, their suggestions were well-meaning but not very useful.  It was their intention that counted, however.  Other expats in various places shared their own experiences with the precariousness of life and the vagaries of fortune.  Buddhists affirmed my struggle to accept uncertainty and impermanence.  My closest friend recognized that what I really need is a pro bono attorney, and he set about finding one for me from among his wide circle of friends, some of them lawyers interested in justice rather than just tweaking the legal system.

For me, the immediate answer to the problem of dwindling fiscal resources is more work.  But two weeks after getting hired to teach a twice-weekly class at my university's new Language Center, the school declared a three-week holiday for the beginning of Buddhist lent, and at the next class back only two students showed up.  I get paid just for time in the classroom so my first pay packet will be slim, and prospects for the class continuing with less than 10 are not promising.  My other English class filled up for the midterm exam but a week later half inexplicably went missing.  Thai students do not take attendance seriously despite my ranting.  Then yesterday I was interviewed to teach history-related topics at the Bangkok School of Management, one of the many tutorial schools in Siam, site of the recent red shirt rally.  Apparently Thais are eager to take entrance exams for universities in the U.S. and England, and feel they need tutoring to pass.  If hired, I will attempt to teach graduates of Bangkok international schools one-on-one the facts they need to know about U.S. and world history, as well as social studies in general, in order to pass the dreaded tests.  Pay is $15-20 an hour and classes are held on the 16th floor of Amarin Plaza, an hour away from home by bus or a combination of boat and Skytrain.

So August is off to a slow start.  I try to swim some laps in the pool several times a week, and I've been working my way through books by James Lee Burke, Lee Child, Ruth Rendell, and Jess Walter.  For serious thought, I'm slowly reading through a local collection of articles on karma by members of the movement for engaged Buddhism. Some, like the renowned Bhikkhu Bodhi, say that belief in kamma and rebirth is necessary in order to be a Buddhist.  Others such as Steven Batchelor dispute this.  It reminds me of the claim that belief in resurrection is necessary to be a Christian.  I side with disbelievers in both cases and hope the articles can give me ammunition for argument.  Much of my reading is conducted at Starbucks in the Central Pinklao shopping mall, a comfortable watering hole where the baristas greet me by name and know my order (shades of Cheers!).  When I finish I do a little eye shopping and browse the bookstores, Thai and English, and stroll through the cinema hall to see what's playing.  (This afternoon Nan and I went to see "Toy Story 3" in 3-D and I cried at the end of this delightful all-ages film.)

Most of my writing recently has taken place on my Facebook page where I link to to articles about the decline and fall of the U.S. Empire,  red-yellow politics in Thailand, the continuing fiasco of endless war and saber rattling in the middle east, and the recent death of historian Tony Judt and the terminal illness of the cantankerous non-believer Christopher Hitchens.  Of course I add my two cents' worth to the mix and occasionally encounter dissent.  It doesn't take much research to learn that the Islamic center proposed for lower Manhattan is not a "mosque at Ground Zero."  In this age of instant knowledge (as well as rumor) via the internet, why are people like the Republicans in the U.S. getting more aggressively stupid?  I also use Twitter to spread my views and opinions but not so often as I did during the "troubles" in Bangkok when the new media was perfect for important instant information.  Now it's mostly a collection of brief anti-Hallmark ideas.  I've also been experimenting with my new iPod Touch to see if it's possible to use it as a digital reader like the ballyhooed Kindle and iPod.  I've downloaded lot of apps, including iBooks which has a small but possible collection of books to purchase.  Above is a sampler from James Lee Burke's latest novel for $9.99.  It's readable, but I'm afraid I am a confirmed print man who needs the feel and smell of paper to accompany my engagement with fiction, and the ability to highlight and dog-ear pages in order to converse with non-fiction books.

Last Thursday was the 78th birthday of Queen Sirikit of Thailand, and therefore it is also celebrated as Mother's Day.  For three nights in a row (and perhaps again tonight and tomorrow) there have been fireworks in the sky across the Chao Phraya River that we would be able to see clearly if there weren't a few high-rises in the way.  The booms are very audible.  At times, the bright and sparkling displays compete with heart-stopping flashes of lightning, but there is no real contest; nature trumps always.  The King remains at Siriraj Hospital where he's been convalescing for almost a year for unannounced reasons.  His son, the Crown Prince, recently celebrated his 58th birthday and has been more often in the news lately having his photo taken during ceremonies.  A Singapore online news source has commented, "Recently a special task force of over 300 officers was formed to investigate what the government is calling a plot to overthrow the monarchy. This runs contrary to the generally accepted position that royal family is universally revered."  For Mother's Day, Nan's sister Ann drove 11 hours up to Phayao with her boyfriend to deliver their mother's favorite Bangkok delicacy, dried squid.  Two weeks ago Nan's nephew Edward celebrated his 8th birthday and we got him a remote controlled car which was taken to Phayao in the care of a cousin.  I remember when my boys each wanted such a toy and how they broke within hours of unpacking.  This gift was more sturdy and expensive and we're told Edward is taking very good care of it.  We also sent him several DVDs of Tom and Jerry cartoons which he loved when he visited us in Bangkok.  Now he watches them every day after school.  I'm sure he thinks of me as his rich farang uncle.  If he only knew how much I owed in credit card debt!

Nan loves school and did very well on her first English class.  She's taking a class in what sounds like current social issues, and here is her part of a report to be given about drug problems in Thailand.  We spent a long time during the holiday looking for the pictures of various drugs she wanted for the poster and she took all one evening to put it together.  I was amazed at the decorative touches she added to the frame.  The cut flowers are made of layered colored paper and not painted.  Where did you learn to do that?  In school when I was younger, she said.  It reminded me of the Thai art of fruit and vegetable carving, but she said she had never studied it.  She is part of a team of five to make the report and she's already heard that one man wants to assert control and disapproves of her contribution.  I've advised her to stick up for her herself and resist the kind of takeover men like to do in any culture.

And that's the state of things on a not so dark day in Thailand.

Friday, August 06, 2010

When the End Comes Sooner Than You Thought

I don’t know how to write about this.

It’s easy to chronicle my expat existence in a big Asian city, describing daily life as well as journeys near and far from home, parading opinions about political and theological matters, and even being critical and giving advice, wanted or not. Though at times this blog has bordered on the confessional, my aim has been above all to generalize and universalize my experiences. I wanted to write about aging from the inside, both to help me understand it myself and also to provide suggestions for a human user manual (no one ever prepared me for this!). What do the events of our life mean in a philosophical or spiritual sense? Even if it’s all accidental, we can still creatively interpret. While I do not indulge in fiction here, there is much about myself that remains private. Who of my tribe over 70 does not have something to hide?

It’s easier to talk about death than taxes or other money problems. I recall vividly the day I got the results from a prostate biopsy. The urologist was a woman and she didn’t mince words. I asked questions in an attempt to soften the blow but she emphasized the seriousness of her diagnosis. That obscure walnut-sized organ hidden from sight or touch was riddled with cancer. It’s amazing what goes through your head at times like this. I felt like I was in a movie and had forgotten my lines. Should I cry or scream? She handed me a sheaf of papers and I went out to my car where the dog was patiently waiting. My wife was out of town on a holiday in Mexico with friends and what I didn’t know then was that shortly after her return she would put an end to our 24-year marriage."Bad timing," she said of the cancer.

The day was cloudy and cool and I walked with the dog on the beach. I don’t recall my exact thoughts, but they were along the line of: “Isn’t this odd. I’ve got the Big C, a terminal condition (is cancer a disease?). Who do I tell about it and how? What will be my response to their questions? Will they pity me (yuck!).  I wonder now how long I will live.” The situation seemed to be happening to someone else, and I was an innocent bystander. Should I sympathize or empathize? I was in search of a script so I could learn my lines. In the meantime I talked with the dog and he listened silently.

Learning that I had prostate cancer was not the worst thing that has happened to me. The end of the second marriage was far more catastrophic and it took much longer for me to adjust to it (even though there are far more movies and scripts for this sort of thing). I had to, as what author advised, reinvent myself.  Learning to die was easier than learning to live alone after two and a half decades of family life. My best friend Peter got his cancer diagnosis not long before me and we commiserated about the future of our internal organs. He was not philosophical about death, however, and avoided any discussion of it, even during his last week after it had moved from the prostate into his bones and I kept him company as his body failed. Peter was surrounded in death by his family and friends as he listened to music that he loved from his hospital bed in the living room. Being with him at the end helped me to see that death was not the enemy. By this time my family had broken up and I was living in a series of rented rooms.

I’ve not been very secretive about being a piss-poor father. I abandoned my first two boys to their psychotic mother in order to continue a glamorous yet destructive life in the music business. And though I tried harder with my second family, in the end I pursued self-interest over the needs of my two younger children while reinventing myself as an academic scholar. I was also a lousy husband, a poor listener, an insufficient provider and, while putting limits on my wandering eye, retained an appreciation for the beauty of other women while clinging to my marriage vows. My first wife was impressed by my travels and the promise of more adventures, and the second thought I was a poet. She eventually learned that artists and intellectuals are not very useful around the house when broken things needed to be fixed, food cooked, and children raised. I acknowledge all these failings and admit that some could even be categorized as sins, the details omitted here.

I grew up in a middle class family where the mother was a dedicated housewife and the father steadily raised our standard of living with various jobs as a salesman. I resisted his attempt to instill a work ethic in me and chose my goals for glamor and excitement rather than salary and responsibility. My first ambition was to be an actor like my uncle who achieved a bit of fame on Broadway, followed quickly by the desire to be a jazz musician, and soon after to be a famous writer, none of which panned out. I changed jobs frequently in numerous fields, often sacrificing position and income for something new and more exciting. When a job with Fantasy Records in Berkeley turned out to be less than interesting, I quit to travel to Europe with first wife and our two young sons. Since we were almost broke, we did it on credit cards in the hope that I could find work in London as I had once before. Failing that, one Christmas eve we snuck out of our rented house and flew back to Los Angeles where eventually I had to declare bankruptcy. It took ten years to get my credit back, and by then I had a new family.

In each of the jobs I held (only the last one for more than two years), I contributed into the Social Security system, and by the time I retired I was awarded something over $1,000 a month in benefits. In California this didn’t amount to much since over half went for housing expenses. I used my savings, bolstered by my share of the sale of my late mother’s house and a house buyout from my ex-wife, to travel around the world looking for an affordable place in which to retire. Thailand won hands down. Here my income was five times that of an office worker and infinitely more than that made by rice farmers and construction workers. Despite my many failings, I had clearly earned a spot in Paradise.

Enter the snake. Three months ago I learned that my Social Security benefits have been suspended. The reason is related to some serious trouble I got into fifteen years ago that has had long-term consequences. In my ignorance I assumed all was now well. But there are some debts that can never be repaid, sins that can never be forgiven. That the denial of benefits was based on a technical mistake makes no difference. Try solving legal and bureaucratic problems and snafus from a distance of 10,000 miles and a time difference of 14 hours, even in this age of the cell phone and the internet. Lawyers and courts apparently avoid email like the plague for fear of a deluge of complaints and angry litigants. One lawyer's suggestion -- move back to California -- served to alienate me from my brother and son when I said no.  Returning to try and straighten things out is an option that I can no longer afford to do, nor can I fund any more legal help. And the thought of saying goodbye to Nan leaves me distraught. It would be very hard for her to survive without me.

Here the veil of silence must remain. I will save the details for my memoirs (to be written shortly). Suffice it to say that I am now an old man struggling to survive in a big Asian capital without much of an income, surrounded by excesses of wealth and poverty. I continue to receive a small pension from my retirement from the university that puts me slightly ahead of the average office worker in Bangkok. My savings accounts are dwindling rapidly, and I am reaching new extremes on my credit card bills (it’s amazing how many daily expenses can be charged). Teaching English, unfortunately, does not bring in much additional income and payment is erratic. I’ve looked for more work on the education web sites here, and though there are jobs in abundance,  I’m afraid prospective employers hold my advanced age against me.

Nan has been incredibly supportive, even though my fate must undermine to some extent her future plans. She has to know that loving an old man is a short-term affair. I’m not sure she fully understands how dire the situation is. Some days, when my phone calls or internet research give me cause for hope, she rejoices with me. The more numerous dark days, when all I can think about is the end of my money, I try to disguise for her. She is consistently upbeat, suggesting that eventually we can go live in her northern province near her family. There are several empty houses in the village, and her mother recently bought more farmland. I wonder how I will survive in the country, far from a dependable internet connection, bookstores, movie theaters, and Starbucks. My first choice would be to live in a shack on the beach until I run out of breath.

How can this blog post NOT be about my individual experience? In an earlier post, a comment on this continually depressing financial situation, I wrote about the difficulty of coming to terms with uncertainty, with the inability of any of us to be able to control even the little things in life. I no longer can conceive of God as a puppet master pulling the strings, and I do not believe that prayer of petition can somehow convince the divine to play favorites. We all know that too often the righteous perish while the evil succeed beyond their wildest and wickedest dreams. I have to contend with the consequences of all my past actions, even when they seem patently unjust. And I fail at that necessary acceptance, time and time again.

What happens when our hopes and dreams, as well as our carefully laid plans, do not come to pass? What philosophical or religious perspective can help us adjust to reality, to what actually happens? A hospice counselor once told me that devout Christians can deal much better with a terminal diagnosis than people without any such faith. That would probably go for all the religions as well since each has some doctrine promising rewards (as well as punishments) after death. What if this is all just a helpful illusion? I am still not able to believe it.

In a crisis our lightly held convictions are sorely tested. I am beginning to think that without early indoctrination, what Dawkins would call religious child abuse, religious faith is flimsy and easily rubbed off. Adult converts, even to Buddhism, maintain faith as an idea (although converts can often be most fanatic) rather than a deeply held certainty that what they’ve been taught is so. Perhaps because the end is so near for me, I am less able to accept intransigent fate that will not be moved. However, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I did not want to become one of those people who dedicated their lives to fighting it. I did not want to think of the tumor as an alien invader but rather hoped to be able to accept it as something that I and my body had decided to do (like pimples). If it killed me, so be it. I thought of this as a wonderfully stoic attitude and patted myself on the back constantly. Why can I not do that now about the financial crisis that has overtaken my life?

Right now, today, life is wonderful. A truly remarkable lady is in love with me and I in her. We live in a comfortable apartment in an exciting city and I am privileged to spend time each week with young monks who are eager to be taught my language. My health, aside from the Big C, is good. I have enough savings, along with a little additional income, to last possibly six months. We lack for nothing. What more could one ask? My chattering mind unfortunately has much to say about that, along the lines of “why isn’t life fair,” or, “are we there yet?”