Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Soi Dog Days

These are the dog days in Thailand, summertime, when fans and A/C run constantly. It was so named by the ancients who believed Sirius, the Dog Star, was close to the sun and responsible for hot weather.  Now we are much wiser and know it has something to do with the trade winds.  Southeast Asia has three seasons: cool (hot, really, though the Thais usually wear sweaters), hottest and rainy.  In Bangkok, "dog" is usually paired with "soi," as in the countless mongrels that live in and around the many streets and alleys that branch off the main boulevards.  Many of them are mangy and maimed, and survive with no fixed abode or owner (although they seem to exercise territorial rights).  People write letters to the editor to plead that they be cared for, and there is even the Soi Dog Foundation to assist in that worthy goal.  The other day when I went looking for dogs to photograph, few could be found, probably because they're smart enough, unlike me, to find shade out of the heat.  But I did wonder briefly if a Vietnamese butcher had snapped up the few fat ones.

The dog above is obviously healthy, but so cute I snapped him up from a Buddhist site where it was said he lived in a temple.  Whereas this dog is healing from an injury that apparently took one of his back legs. I like the red shirt he's wearing, which I suspect has seen a political rally or two, given him by the motorbike taxi drivers he lives with. While he's tied up, there is another three-legged puppy frolicking nearby, oblivious to his own missing limb.  There are probably as many ownerless cats as the numerous dogs, but they usually stay out of sight.  A friendly white cat can frequently be encountered on the sidewalk in front of the nearby S.D. Hotel, eating rice that some kind soul has given it.

I don't mind either the heat or the humidity, but I do miss the comforting discipline of the school year.  Since the last term ended in early March I have searched to fill the void.  There was a Ko Samed weekend and the book fair in March, and in early April we spent several days at the Cera Resort, a brand new hotel on the coast between Hua Hin and Cha Am that we loved.  Later that month. I holed up in the apartment to avoid getting soaked with water during the festival of Songkran while Nan went to visit her relatives in Phayao.  She returned with her 9-year-old cousin Edward who stayed with us for two weeks, swimming in our pool, watching Transformer videos, and playing games in the iPod and with toy soldiers we bought him.  We spent a day with him swimming in the huge pool at Siam Park and a half-day at the Dusit Zoo where he was mostly interested in crocodiles and the pedal boats on the lake and not much else. I wanted to take Edward to see "The Avengers" but before we could work out a time, he had to go back home with a relative who was driving.  So Nan and I went to see it childless, wearing 3D glasses at the IMAX theater.  It was terrific.

Dogs never seem to be frustrated, but we western expats do.  It's in our cultural nature to fret over difficulties.  The Thais call everything from frustration to anger jai ran and Nan must constantly urge me to cultivate patience, a cool heart (jai yen).  My annual visa and work permit expire at the end of this month and getting the proper documents to apply for renewals has been an arduous two-month process.  The visa was no problem, but the Ministry of Labour in Ayutthaya where my university is located has been nit picky, requiring several trips, frantic pleading, and anxious phone conversations.  Hopefully it will be resolved tomorrow.

Next week is the Day of Vesak celebration and conference at MCU and I will deliver a paper written for a meeting in October that was postponed because of the flood. There are 110 speakers on June 1 from all over the world and I am allotted 10 minutes for a PowerPoint presentation based on my 24-page paper (which will be published in a volume with other essays).  Trying to make my argument about "Big Tent Buddhism" in such a short talk is virtually impossible, and editing has never been my strong suit; I'm a splitter, not a lumper.  I did a test drive for my monthly political discussion group and it took an hour.  Friends were sympathetic and full of suggestions but I was chagrined.  Back to the drawing boards, and the clock is ticking.

Each morning I awake as the rosy fingers of dawn creep over the Bangkok cityscape outside my 9th floor window, drink orange juice and make a big cup of coffee.  How did I ever live without the internet in the morning?  Oh yes, I used to read newspapers with my coffee and a Danish.  But that's a quaint memory now.  I check my two email accounts, twitter, and then see if anyone has commented on yesterday's Facebook posts and links.  Then I look at overnight news from my now over 500 "friends," watch the YouTube videos they've suggested, and read stories they've recommended.  After that, it's time to check Google Reader which keeps track of dozens of sites I find informative and interesting.  I wish I could kick the addiction to U.S. news and focus solely on global events.  I'll probably never return or vote in another American election.  But Google News doesn't have a universal edition in English yet, and what's happening in England and Australia is even less interesting.  I'm weary from reading about the lunatic fringe putting limits on contraception, abortion and gay marriage, and the endless wars on terror and in Iraq and Afghanistan make me sick.  California is going broke and the poor can no longer afford to get a degree (or pay back loans if they already have one).  The object of the Vatican's latest Inquisition are the nuns who have made the Church relative for the modern age.  And finally, famous people are dying constantly, not only in America but all over: Levon Helm, Maurice Sendak, Duck Dunn, Adam from the Beastie Boys, Doug Dillard, Ernest Callenbach (Ecotopia), Donna Sumer and Robin Gibb.  How can one keep up with it all?

Many of my friends either hate Facebook's intrusiveness too much to even sign up for an account or once they have one, complain frequently that social networking is destroying face-to-face communication and ruining culture in general.  I disagree.  I've collected people on Facebook from every phase of my life, nearly 60 years, and we relate in a way that was never possible before.  For example, I play a Scrabble-like game on my iPad with my oldest son, a woman I knew (intimately) in junior high school, a British folk singer I met in London in the 1960s who has been an expat in Germany for many years, friends who worked in the music business in Hollywood, and people I knew at the beginning of my 30 years in Santa Cruz as well as a few I met towards the end.  Each morning I have moves to make in almost a dozen word games.  There is even more variety in my friends list which includes fellow teachers and students in Thailand, current and past; Bangkok and Thailand contacts, some whom I've never met in person; a large number of people I worked for doing publicity or on magazines, and a handful of high school friends (most of whom have conservative political opinions).  Google Street Views lets me link to my present address in Bangkok and the house in La CaƱada where I spent my teen years and show them both on Facebook.  I've worked on my Timeline to make it a virtual autobiography with important events and photos (my ex-wife objected to me linking her with our marriage), and I "like" whatever strikes my fancy.  Keeping current requires a good 2-3 hours every day.  But then, as an almost retired person, I have the time.  Right?

What I haven't devoted as much time to is this blog.  I can barely manage two posts a month these days.  Each blog post, which I consider a riff on a theme in the manner of a jazz musician (with sometimes a sour note or two), takes 3 or 4 hours to put together.  Lately I've used much of the space to write about religion as I try to sort out my thoughts for the conference talk on modern Buddhism, east and west.  And I continue to try and come up with a clear argument for the abolition of "religion" as a category in favor of describing what people do and say as aspects of culture, and resources for myth making to create sense of one's experience.  The thoughts remain murky and unconvincing to those whom I corner and take my stand.  Maybe in the next lifetime I'll be more articulate.  There's plenty about politics here and on Facebook.  As for sex, well, I'm a happily married man and, as my father used to say, it's a sin to kiss and tell.


Ed Ward said...

Blogs, Facebook, face-to-face, all different media, all with their own good and bad points. With blogs, no matter what the digerati tell you, it's quality over quantity. I put up a post when I have somehing to say. So do you. So if nothing shakes for a couple of weeks, so what? You'll be back when you actually have something to share. Fine with me.

Anonymous said...

Indeed. This Will's writing quality is exceptional.

Though fans of the blog would certainly enjoy one quality post at least once a month. Smiles

Anonymous said...

Hi Will,
I've met that dog in the photo. Seriously. I really have. That very dog.
But you know that already!
The dog, his name is Maeli, has a blog post here:
And he lives at the Hanmaum main Seon Centre just outside Seoul.
(Sad news from there this week with the passing of Daehaeng Kun Sunim).
All the best mate,

Ivan said...

Hi Dr. Will

Always a pleasure to read your Blogs, as I appreciate your perspective.
At the moment we are in Cow Hampshire working and having a good time, but will be returning to Thaialnd this time next year. Hope to meet you one of these days.

Ivan and Arissara