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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Will, an excellent comeback of an article, Love teh rainbox in the opening.

The rainbow is mentioned twice in the bible, the very first book, Genesis, and the last book, Revelations

It is a reminder of God's new covenant with man. Mercy and Grace thru Christ.

Very pleased also with your new prospects working with Bangkok international school students. wonderful development.

Blessings and open doors to you Will. Trust in His will for you.