Lower The Flags – 9th November 2021

Flights of fancy, a child always spoiled
Political wrangling, in scandals, embroiled
A name in history, now forever soiled
A handy harem, each night to select
Behaviour fitting one of total disrespect
A country mourning its own death from neglect
Ignorance is the most practiced of skills
Run away to a mansion in the hills
Escaping judgement on who pays the bills
An era ending not soon enough for some
Time to reflect on what has become
Lower the flags, put flowers in the gun

Growing Up In A House Of Cards – 15th September 2021

She grew up in the countryside
A daughter of farming folks
Nothing much expected of her
The butt of the villagers jokes
The poverty that surrounded her
Made no sense as she grew older
And she stopped believing
The things that her teachers told her
Revolution in the hearts and minds
Consciousness was being raised
And the young girl from the village
Was now the one being praised
She stood for what she believed
To bring her country change
And the people stood strong together
With a better system to arrange
She saw the source of the problem
Came directly from the top
Wild plans were being formulated
To bring them to stop
Bullets and brains were deployed
At times it seemed too hard
But soon the house would collapse
By removing a single card

Face – 14th July 2021

Let’s be straight and say what we mean
Because saving your face doesn’t keep it clean
Words that please can be heard as lies
To misunderstanding they give rise
Are you really so delicate you can’t hear
The truth when spoken loud and clear
We’re going backwards, why not advance
Here’s the real world, given a chance

Welcome To My Country – 6th July 2021

Keep the peasants quiet
With a useless education
Prayers and superstitions
The country’s core foundation
Bow to those above
And blame it all on karma
No king are you in this life
Just a subsistence farmer
Kept busy with daily gossip
And acceptance of one’s fate
While the elites siphon off
All the wealth you help create
Palaces grow wings of gold
Temples build new towers
There’s fifteen years in prison
If you dare to challenge their powers

We are teachers by trade, complainers by role – 3rd February 2021

Let’s make a list
So we can feel like we’re accomplishing something
So we can feel like we’re working together

Let’s sit in a circle adding to the list
As we move around the room one by one
As you make a suggestion begin sternly
– you take no shit –
To give credence to your semi-constructive argument

Tomorrow we’ll wonder where this generation
Gets their priorities from
Tomorrow my heart will skip a beat
As it does every morning nine months of the year

It has to do with this list
Before the bells even ring
Before the hair is even combed

Will the approach ever change
Or will it begin as I’ve said
And end with a lighthearted twist
To prove we’re all adults?

It has to do with this list
Which we’ll put in our pockets
To throw away at a later date

It has to do with this list
Which makes me feel more uncomfortable
Than I’ve ever felt
More apple pie than I’ve ever been

We are not housewives, executives, or entrepreneurs
We are teachers by trade, complainers by role

– Let’s Make a List by The Van Pelt

I really love the Van Pelt’s subdued musical tone and the singer’s talk-sing delivery. The lyrics here struck me deeply as these days, once again, I wake during the night thinking about how I could help this student or that student and really make a difference to their lives – if only there was enough time.

Let’s make a list
So we can feel like we’re accomplishing something
So we can feel like we’re working together

Lists and meetings – throwbacks to my office days – useless, endless, time-wasting meetings. Lists have their place but may also be overrated – yet here we are, in the absence of a better solution, doing the same so that we can feel like we are doing something. I like the playful sarcasm of these lines – it appeals directly to my Englishness.

Let’s sit in a circle adding to the list
As we move around the room one by one

See that list, let’s mindlessly add to it – we are accomplishing a list. You’re turn next.

As you make a suggestion begin sternly
– you take no shit –
To give credence to your semi-constructive argument

If I speak louder then my information must be more important. Oops – there’s my own sarcasm manifest. I must also remember not to use this strategy when I’m teaching – or in every day communication, come to that. Recall the stereotype of shouting louder to non-English speakers in the misguided belief that this will help them understand.

Tomorrow we’ll wonder where this generation
Gets their priorities from

I hate the kids! That’s what we are supposed to do, right? Yet, I don’t – I love them all very much – even the angry, lazy, nasty ones, the ones that remind me of myself. But I am not one of them and I shouldn’t expect them to bend to my equations, to live up to my expectations. That’s a useless frustration. I felt my grandparents look upon me in that tut-tutting way but my mother showed me and taught me to find my own way. It was the struggle I needed. It is the struggle I still endure and have learned to love.

Tomorrow my heart will skip a beat
As it does every morning nine months of the year

Every day of school I have to pretend I am a teacher. I am purely a teacher based on my mother tongue and my age. But I consider myself a student first. When I feel joy at seeing the student’s grow – I see my own journey. I feel grateful to them for teaching me about myself.

Will the approach ever change
Or will it begin as I’ve said
And end with a lighthearted twist
To prove we’re all adults?

These were the lyrics that really stood out when considering the education system in government schools in Thailand. I was told by other teachers that I would never be able to facilitate change in the system here. I took that as a coward’s statement. They chose the easy way, the way to not ruffle anyone’s feathers, to not take to task the inefficiencies that all can see. Even the students are aware of the low quality of education they receive and have made it part of the protest movement of this past year.

Anyway, the nail that sticks out gets hammered down and that is what had happened to me before here. But, the feathers were ruffled enough to make some change – I felt the sacrifice worth it and the lazy and noncommittal can benefit from it. Of course, there was no sweeping change to a utopia but patience will be rewarded. It may take another 100 years but I’d rather be a lit match that started a tiny fire than a bucket of water. I feel sorry for the kids – how can you hate them?

It has to do with this list
Which we’ll put in our pockets
To throw away at a later date

Ouch! Isn’t that the truth?

We are teachers by trade, complainers by role

Where do we get our priorities from?

The Chiang Rai Alternative Memorial for Tim Smith – 25th July 2020

Crave fun, brave sun, he keeps the world as his disguise
Slave hung, brave sun, the leader of the starry skies
From the tops of the trees
To the bowels of the Earth
Swings from pillar to post
‘Cos he’s here
And now
And now
He’s here

24 Cardiacs tracks randomly selected by iTunes, in memory of the genius of Dr Tim Smith, The Leader of the Starry Skies.

….never mind the war take me home again
For the last time

Thoughts all seem to stray to places far away, I need a change of scenery – 12th January 2020

Last Sunday Amy and I, along with Mum and Dad, had to attend a funeral in Chiang Mai. It’s a three plus hour drive and meant a 5am start for us. I know we’re getting older and getting up earlier is kinda normal but damn, 5am!

I was hoping to be able to spend some time listening to podcasts but when we arrived at Mum and Dad’s and found Dad asleep in the passenger seat it was obvious that I would be driving. It was still dark as we left the city and approached the mountains. The air turned grey and dusty as the sun rose slowly somewhere in the sky and it was entrancing to watch the changes to the colours of the mountains that I was driving towards and soon driving through.

Dad’s big truck made easy time as we settled into the long valley and then through the twisting second set of mountains where a never-ending road work slows things down somewhat. I had to ease off once into the Chiang Mai valley though as, eager after the road works, I was starting to hit 140 km/h without even realising it.

This funeral was for cousin Ting’s mum. Ting had taken the time to travel an hour or so to my own mother’s funeral in the UK so it was only appropriate that we attend her mum’s and it was good to catch up with her despite the circumstances.

Monks did their thing and relatives did their thing and I followed where and when I was told. I noted the ‘No women allowed’ sign outside one of the buildings and wondered when Thailand will discover its enlightenment. Is it my place to judge and do I need to care about how people following certain religions behave? Well, if it feels like injustice it feels ok to care. Just know that progress of this sort often takes more than a single lifetime but we can hope that the progress is made before the world burns.

Having left Chiang Rai before the sun came up, we returned after the sun had set again. Chiang Rai missed us for the day and still the Earth turned without care.

And so it was we arrive at Friday and this time I’m on a solo adventure in my own car, again to Chiang Mai. This time it was for my UK passport renewal and I had allowed myself an overnight stay so as to split up the driving.

I had challenged myself since the Sunday journey to drive more conservatively and having that extra time I planned to enjoy the drive and take a few extra seconds to check out the views. It also meant I could listen to music uninterrupted for 3 or 4 hours.

For some reason I enjoy driving; I’m not sure why. This trip towards Chiang Mai was especially entrancing and I arrived in a very good mood. In fact I was a little annoyed that the first half of the travelling was complete!

The first port of call was back to International House, where I had studied for my CELTA certificate, almost two years previously. I bumped into my favourite tutor there and was pleased to have a quick chat and also to see a few other staff members that I still recognised, though had forgotten their names.

The environment here on the mini campus still amazes me, it’s so beautiful and not what you would expect. Like a holiday resort but with not much to do except study. I somewhat envied the students who would be arriving after the weekend but then I remembered the feeling in the first week when I was questioning myself whether I could do it or not.

I had hoped that they still had copies of my work for the course in the office there but unfortunately, they only hold on to them for six months. Never mind. It was nice to drive through those familiar small lanes where nothing has changed too much. The city is sprawling out that direction but has only had minimal impact so far.

Back into the middle of the city and everything went well with my passport application, though I had some difficulty making my signature similar to what it was 10 years previous. The staff laughed with me and I’m guessing it’s not that an unusual problem as they had paper prepared for applicants to practice.

Quickly out of there and across town to a book shop that had been recommended. An hour and 1000 baht later it was time to find some food and I treated myself to a tiny pizza and salad. Woohoo! Holiday time!

Dark by now, I waited at the Mohawk Bar to catch up with Facebook friend John Murrie. The bars opening time is 8pm and it was only 7pm so I sat in the car reading some more Anna Karenina, taking the opportunity to cross off one of my daily challenges. By 8.30pm the bar was still closed and Tolstoy was taking a sleep-inducing hold of me and I had to quit and head out south to my overnight lodging with one of Amy’s old school friends.

I wuz ‘ere. No one else wuz.

Tired and sleepy I was somewhat energised by meeting the two puppies of the house, once I was accepted as a welcome enough intruder. I was warned to keep my shoes away from them so placed them in my room and shut the door. Not long after, I placed myself in the room and fell asleep but reminding myself I must make an effort to talk more with my hosts Oh and Namtan when I was in a more lucid state in the morning.

In a flash it was morning and after getting my reading challenge completed before 8am, I did 40 squats, took a shower and planned a breakfast coffee for my hosts. Unfortunately, I had left the bedroom door open and hadn’t noticed the dogs sneak in looking for some bounty.

Everyone showered and set I went to get my shoes but they had disappeared. Obviously, the dogs had got them but no problem, whatever, let’s just go on a hunt for them. One under the car, another at the back of the garden. Unfortunately, they hadn’t just been deposited but chewed on and spat out! Ah well, farewell my shoes. Luckily they were just about wearable as I had no other shoes with me. The girls were very apologetic for their pups’ behaviour but I just thought it was funny. I’d had the shoes for a few years so they’d done me pretty well. Maybe an excuse to go shop for some others soon.

An excellent coffee later it was time to get back on the road and my mind was filled with wonder as I listened to good music and again enjoyed the twisting roads round rolling mountains. I counted off the landmarks backwards, breaking the 3 hours down; mountains, valley, mountains, home. The return journey never as exciting as the outset, slight melancholy following the setting afternoon sun.

However, once home I was awed by the feeling of comfort. Looking across our garden I gave Amy a big hug and declared ‘I love it here. I love this life and I love being with you.’

The local rock group down the street
Is trying hard to learn their song
They serenade the weekend squire
Who just came out to mow his lawn
Another pleasant valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care

Gratitude Journal

I am so happy and grateful to have the energy and motivation to get up and do things. Today I took time to water the garden and clean the car.

I love it, I hate it, I love it, so how about you? – 9th January 2020

I am a masochist. I am completing a test.

I’m sitting here in a hot classroom with about thirty 10 and 11 year-olds dancing, screaming, shouting, crying, punching, singing, banging doors and hanging out windows. And this is on a good day.

But it is a good day. I am in the zone. I can hear and see the cacophony whirling around me, can feel the rush of air as little ghosts dash past. But I don’t notice it. Is this what a meditative state is like? I don’t know (yet).

I sat and listened to a meditation the other night. It had some special name and special components; it was interesting but made me very anxious. After relaxing into a quieter state you had to imagine yourself climbing a steep hill and huffing deeply, gasping for air. OK, I can imagine that. But this went on for what felt like 5 minutes. Huff huff. I wasn’t sure if I wasn’t getting too much air, or too little. Huff huff. I felt dizzy. Huff huff. Nauseous. Huff huff. Anxious. Huff huff. Muscles wound tight, I tensed my stomach, itched my arms and kicked my legs. Fuck this.

Of course, I understand the purpose and I’ll check this again – maybe in a morning, before I’ve had any coffee. The feeling of reaching the top of a mountain after extreme exertion will always have a relaxing satisfaction. It’s a long journey. Next time.

I’m jealous of those who enjoy the benefits of meditation and it’s not that I don’t think I can do it. I fill my time with many things and meditation hasn’t found it’s way onto that list quite yet. Well, it is on the list, but never ticked.

Recently I have been able to tick a lot of things though and I’m quite proud of that. Everything around is about a challenge at the moment. A challenge of change. I’ve pondered if I’m having my mid life crisis now. I think I had a minor one when I was about thirty but on reflection it doesn’t seem like it was that critical. I want to get that long story written down one day, perhaps just so I can still remember it or enjoy it again when I’m going senile. Who knows when that will be.

If I can tick off some little challenges and form some good habits out of them I think they will prepare me for the bigger challenges that may be ahead. The unexpected challenges, the ones that you don’t realise are messing with your head and your happiness. I’m looking for better reactions and outcomes as I know I am sometimes my own worst enemy. I want to change.

I’m in a place right now that I consider a little precarious.

Moving from Australia to Thailand didn’t feel like much of a big deal and I have been particularly happy since making this move. No longer being in such a financial struggle has allowed lots of spare time to read, listen to music, write and learn more about myself. I have never needed to be surrounded by lots of people to maintain happiness and now I am far away from those that I have made friends with around the world. So, no big deal, I can make new friends here in Thailand.

But here’s the rub. I’m very conscious of some of the nefarious reasons that people come to live in Thailand, and how many Thais can exploit that. I didn’t come here to get sidetracked with other people’s ridiciulous dramas. That rules out getting involved with the more visible of the English speakers where I am. Those people make themselves known.

I understand the comfort those people find drinking, gossiping and fornicating together. In a different time I would’ve happily joined in. I don’t want to judge them too harshly. I just don’t want to be around them.

Now, myself not being the most outgoing person in the world, I am struggling a little bit because I would at least like the opportunity to make connections with more people. Not superficial acquaintances but connections like I have made in the past.

I can now look back at the feelings my ex from Japan had as she found it difficult to maintain friendships in Australia with her fellow countrymen as the nature of migration is most often temporary (not made easier by some countries inhospitable attitudes towards migrants).

Now I find myself with similar feelings.

I am attempting to connect as much as I can digitally and I am mostly happy in my little kingdom at home but outside those gates is starting to become a little scary and precarious. I feel like the rug could be pulled away at any time without any hope of control.

I started to think more about this because I set myself a challenge to talk to a stranger every day. That’s when I realised that I am the stranger now. Whilst I can communicate with a Thai person on a superficial level it can rarely go deeper, rarely connect.

Otherwise I rarely see any other foreigners where there is an opportunity to talk but now it is in my mind. I tell the students here that they should run up to any foreigner they see and just start talking. Now, I have to tell myself to do that. It may be nothing…. No, it will never be nothing – there will always be something gathered from that challenge.

A friend may not be made; a connection may be forged; but a lesson will always be learned.

Now, I really should get back to studying some Thai.

Can you tell me
What it is?
Does it hurt you
When I do this?

I love it, I hate it, I love it, I hate it too
I love it, I hate it, I love it, so how about you?

Can you tell me?
‘Cause I don’t know
Why don’t you tell me
Why is it so

Gratitude Journal

I am so happy and grateful that I can think through things better than I could before. Even though I haven’t been severely tested yet, every little piece of learning is helping to prepare me for any difficult situations in the future.

You may think you don’t need teaching but you’ll need it when you’re old – 17th December 2019

I’ve been spending what free time I have reading a lot this year and really getting into it.  English books are a little hard to come by here – there’s just one guy who sells secondhand books from his house here.  He’s a character – and not always particularly pleasant but his bigotry and short temper cracks me up more than offends.  When you hear another foreign immigrant being racist to other people (who don’t live here), it kinds of shines a different light on things in some ways.  Being English and white in this country is a double-edged sword – for me and for people judging me.  It’s an unusual situation to be in.

One time I was sitting in his shop chatting with him when two early 20-year-olds, backpackers, had been browsing and brought two books to him to ask the price. They then spent what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only about 30 seconds, discussing if they could buy both and carry both. I could see our bookseller getting more and more agitated and eventually he grabbed the books off them and shouted at them to stop wasting his time. He handed one book back and said ‘Give me 100 baht for this one and get out of my shop!’ I couldn’t stop laughing.

The girls were discussing whether they could afford to spend another couple of dollars or be bothered to carry two books instead of one. It was a very inconsequential decision that they just couldn’t arrive at. To have someone unable to make this decision when an extra 100 baht would really make a difference to this guy was obviously frustrating. They also weren’t to know that he was late to take care of a friend of a friend who was dying of cancer. Something done out the goodness of his heart. Humans are complicated.

Anyways, I’ve been stocking up books, trying to build a library of my own.  Inspired by a friend’s room of books and old wooden shelves, which I always loved being in – to browse, to consider, to wonder, to breath in that mysterious air of hidden words.  I once went into an antique bookshop in Albury and immediately told the owner that I wasn’t going to buy anything but I just wanted to look and smell the books.  He was quite agreeable.

When moving from Oz to Thailand I grew accustomed to letting go of things that I had held with some regard.  Of course, the things I held really dear I shipped over.  It’s a good catharsis to sell or gift things that you own though.  It’s not like we can keep them forever anyway.

I also remember a quote from a writer, maybe Marquez, along the lines of ‘one must die with a library of mostly unread books.’  Not sure my wife agrees with this philosophy but that’s probably why my office/library/man cave is in a room outside my house.  I look through the books contemplating what I’m going to read next and can get excited with the possibilities. I turn my head as I’m sitting here and thinking about All Quiet On The Western Front, The Grapes of Wrath or Lord Jim?

On the iPad, which I use to read comics mostly, I’m thinking to start on Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. It was the bookseller who got me interested in this as he mentioned it was banned in Thailand for some reason I forget now. He described the story a little bit to me and the idea seemed cool enough for me to give it a go. How can a country ban books these days when it’s so easy to transfer them digitally? I sent a copy of Animal Farm to a friend in China. Easy enough (and they’re still alive and free!).

The book I have been enjoying most is Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I’m not sure where I saw a recommendation for this, though I’m guessing it was from The Daily Stoic. I’m guessing this because as I read it I see those philosophical themes throughout. The characters are fascinating in their different beliefs and ideas and Tolstoy makes you feel sympathetic with everyone of them.

I was never a big reader when I was younger and I was thinking that a younger me would have dismissed ever trying this book. Why would I want to try and understand about Russian aristocracy from over 100 years ago? What did that have to do with me and my life now? Ah, the stupidity of youth. I’m often envious of those who have found this beauty in the world at a younger age than myself. Why am I late to the wisdom table!?

I can only hope that in my teaching I can inspire the kids to get there quicker than I did. When I look at all the ‘trouble-makers’ in my class I only see my own stupid face reflected in their eyes. Ah, the stupidity of youth. But I wouldn’t really wish it any other way – and what would be the point?

“And so from school to the outside world these morals you will take…”

Gratitude Journal

I am so happy and grateful for my dreams. I can meet old friends, people who are no longer in my life. They stay close to my thoughts and experience.