Sunday, March 14, 2010

The book pictured above, “We Die Alone,” by David Howarth, is one I’ve not read yet. I learned about the book through a newspaper commentary article titled, “They make ‘em tough in Norway” by David Brooks in the Opinion & Analysis section of the Bangkok Post, dated March 3, 2010.

As many of you know, I purchase the Wednesday edition of the Bangkok Post mainly for the Database section, which has a lot of computer tips I find very valuable, and the Sunday edition for a recap of the week past and the week to come. The Sunday edition has many, many sections in it that I find interesting.

I almost skipped the commentary article in the Wednesday edition, but for some reason, “They make ‘em tough in Norway” caught my eye. The article was very well written, and is meant to be a synopsis of Norway’s cache of gold medals in the winter Olympics.

I’d like to post the article here for all of you to read, since it really struck me as one of the most fantastic stories I’ve ever digested. A true story, yet practically unbelievable…

There must be many reasons for Norway’s excellence, but some of them are probably imbedded in the story of Jan Baalsrud.

In 1943, Baalsrud was a young instrument maker who was asked to sneak back into Norway to help the anti-Nazi resistance.

His mission, described in the book “We Die Alone” by David Howarth, was betrayed. His boat was shelled by German troops. Baalsrud dove into the ice covered waters and swam, with bullets flying around him, toward an island off the Norwegian coast. The rest of his party was killed on the spot, or captured and eventually executed, but Baalsrud made it to the beach and started climbing an icy mountain. He was chased by Nazi’s and he killed one officer.

He was hunted by about 50 Germans and left a trail in the deep snow. He’d lost one boot and sock, and was bleeding from where his big toe had been shot off. He scrambled across the island and swam successfully across the icy sound to two other islands. On the second, he lay dying of cold and exhaustion on the beach.

Two girls found and led him to their home. And this is the core of the story. During the next months, dozens of Norwegians helped Baalsrud get across to Sweden. Flouting any sense of rational cost-benefit analysis, families and whole villages risked their lives to help one gravely ill man, who dropped into their midst.

Baalsrud was clothed and fed and rowed to another island. He showed up at other houses and was taken in. He began walking across the mountain ranges on that island in the general direction of the mainland, hikes of 24, 13, and 28 hours without break.

A 72-year-old man rowed him the final 10 miles to the mainland, past German positions, and gave him skis. Up in the mountains he skied through severe winter storms. One night, he started an avalanche. He fell at least 300 feet, smashed his skis, and suffered a severe concussion. His body was buried in snow, but his head was sticking out. He lost sense of time and self-possession. He was blind, the snow having scorched the retinas of his eyes.

He wandered aimlessly for four days, plagued by hallucinations. At one point he thought he had found a trail, but he was only following his own footsteps in a small circle.

Finally, he stumbled upon a cottage. A man named Marius Gronvold took him in. He treated Baalsrud’s frostbite and hid him in a remote shed across a lake to recover. He was alone for a week (a storm made it impossible for anyone to reach him). Gangrene invaded his legs. He stabbed them to drain the pus and blood. His eyesight recovered, but the pain was excruciating and he was starving.

Baalsrud could no longer walk, so Gronvold and friends built a sled. They carried the sled and him up a 3,000-foot mountain in the middle of a winter storm and across a frozen plateau to where another party was supposed to meet them. The other men weren’t there and Gronvold was compelled to leave Baalsrud in a hole in the ice under a boulder.

The other party missed the rendezvous because of a blizzard, and by the time they got there, days later, the tracks were covered and they could find no sign of him. A week later, Gronvold went up to retrieve Baalsrud’s body and was astonished to find him barely alive. Baalsrud spent the next 20 days in a sleeping bag immobilized in the snow, sporadically supplied by Gronvold and others.

Over the next weeks, groups of men tried to drag him to Sweden but were driven back, and they had to shelter him again in holes in the ice. Baalsrud cut off his remaining toes with a penknife to save his feet. Tired of risking more Norwegian lives, he also attempted suicide.

Finally he was awoken by the sound of snorting reindeer. A group of Laps had arrived, and under German fire, they dragged him to Sweden.

Author’s final comment:

This astonishing story could only take place in a country whose people are skilled on skis and in winter conditions. But there also is an interesting form of social capital on display. It’s a mixture of softness and hardness. Baalsrud was kept alive thanks to a serial outpouring of love and nurturing. At the same time, he and his rescuers displayed an unbelievable level of hardheaded toughness and resilience. That’s a cultural cocktail bound to produce achievement in many spheres.

Jeeem’s final comment:

Regarding the Olympics, I’m only a so-so fan. I like to watch odd sports events like fencing, curling, handball, weight lifting, pole vaulting, takraw, Jai alai, and other stuff like that, which you just don’t see every day. And winter sport usually just doesn’t do it for me.

But, after reading this story, no matter what its intent on being published, I am left with the feeling that no matter what kind of lousy day I have, nothing I’ve ever gone through could even come close to what ole Baalsrud had to go through. I think I’d have given up long before even reaching the first island. But, I think it is proof perfect of the very lengths a person will go through to survive.

Life is such a jewel.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

A few years back when I was preparing to travel to China my first time, I discovered a site online that allowed travelers to hook up with both other travelers and hosts from different parts of the world. The site name (which is included in my right column here) is Virtual From that site, I met a Chinese man who took me out one night in Beijing and showed me a wonderful time at a five-star Chinese / Mongolian Hotpot restaurant.

There are many similar sites available on the Internet.

About five or six months ago I found via I was impressed with it since it allows you to join as either host or traveler, or both! So, Mam and I joined up with the site, listing ourselves as hosts to travelers (backpackers mostly) from all around the world.

The nice thing about is the ability to tweak your host page to your liking, limiting your guest stays to how ever many days you wish. Mam and I chose two days, as that is enough to get to know someone fairly well before returning back to your own, familiar routine. You can give as little or as much information as you want. We simply chose to be fairly straightforward as to our surrounds, all the flora and fauna around here, and the fact this ain't a four or five star deal here. You simply toss a mat on the floor and we will provide a pillow and small blanket, if needed.

Some people choose not to feed their guests, however we choose to offer meals, as geographically it isn't easy to get into town from here. We are rather "removed" from civilization out here in the boonies. So, we feed our guests simple meals, provide a place to sleep inside, and can show people around a bit. No big touristy areas out here, so this appeals to those who want to see the more rural side of Thailand, and rub shoulders with the locals.

Our first contact from was with two women from Denmark, which we had to cancel since the timing wasn't right. But, Tuesday evening I was sent an e-mail from the site, giving me a link to the profile of a Russian couple who wanted to stay with us for two days.

The picture above was taken on Wednesday afternoon when Sergey and Oksana arrived at our cottage. The two of them had been staying in their tent on the beach in Songkhla city, and they were very happy to finally find someone on CouchSurfing, who could host them for a couple of nights.

Oksana told us she was rather nervous staying on the beach..."Everyone just stares at us! I was tired and wanted to sleep, but kept waking up every ten minutes afraid someone would come into the tent!"

I certainly could understand her concern, as Thai's think nothing of just literally dropping everything they are doing and staring...mouth agape, with little or no expression, or sometimes what can easily be construed as an angry look. A bit scary when you are from a country where staring at someone can get you in a bit of trouble. Thai's also have a poor sense of "privacy" which is very different than other countries, so sometimes feelings can be a bit ruffled.

Oksana and Sergey showed up at our cottage a bit rough around the edges, tired, hot and needing a bath. Of all the times to travel, these two picked one of the hottest weeks in Southern Thailand. Laden down with heavy backpacks, and exceedingly tall, we quickly warmed to them simply from their nice smiles.

My wonderful wife went into her typical "Cooking Mode" which is....well...., which is what Mam does. When she's nervous, upset, feeling awkward, or bored, Mam cooks.

She find solace in it.

However! Her first offering was met with a couple of frowns.

"We're vegetarian. Sorry!" As Mam placed a large bowl of pork stir-fry on the table in our hut.

"Huh?" Mam said, not familiar with that word at first, then slowly remembering, as the word set on her mind for a bit.

Here in the South, the city of Hat Yai hosts a huge vegetarian festival every year, which Mam loves to participate in. She's a frustrated vegetarian herself, and loves vegetables, but she's also a die-hard Northeastern Thai woman who loves her pork.

"Oh! Okay! Wow! Sorry!" she said, grabbing the bowl and retreating back into the kitchen. Our first faux pas with our Russian visitors.

A few minutes later Mam emerged with a large bowl of stir-fried vegetables and rice, making our parched and hungry guests very, very happy.

We broke out the chilled, bottled water, some spoons, bowls, and a much needed fan, and had some lunch. I eventually asked them to what extent they were vegetarians, and found that they do eat a few things like eggs, cheese, etc. And Mam beamed at the prospect of a new challenge in the kitchen.

We had a great conversation and found out a bit more about our guests, as the four of us exchanged pleasantries and information. Sergey and Oksana both were very shocked to find out Mam was forty-two years old and had two grown children. Neither of them could believe it.

Both are from St. Petersburg, Russia, just a tad north of Moscow. Sergey is a massage therapist, whereas Oksana is an artist, recently graduating from an art school in Russia. She told us she is a teacher now, teaching young children how to draw and paint. Oksana shared quite a few of her sketches and drawings with us, which she had saved on a thumb drive, and Mam and I both were very, very impressed.

There was a bit of a language barrier, but it wasn't too bad. What Sergey couldn't understand, Oksana could, and vice-versa, so it all worked out pretty well. Like Mam, the two of them don't go very far without their Russian / English...English / Russian dictionary.

Mam and I learned that Sergey and Oksana had been to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Lao before traveling to Bangkok and then to the South, where they ended up in Songkhla. Their primary means of travel is hitch-hiking, a bit dangerous if you ask me, but when I offered my opinion on that their expressions struck me as that typical young people's defiance.

I just hope they remain safe.

After lunch the four of us ventured up the road a piece, as there isn't too much to see in Klong Tong Nuea, so Mam and I decided to walk with them up the road to the Tong River and dam, and then on through the village to the Klong Tong Nuea Priest Residence and Meditation Center.

They both loved the river and got to see that it is most definitely the hot spot (cool spot?) for the local kids. Oksana walked all over the area of the river and dam shooting photos of the kids swimming, and then they discovered a hanging (Tarzan) vine directly over the river which afforded some great fun and pictures.

Under the bridge there were three "women" fishing, and Sergey was right next to one of the "women" who had just caught a small fish, and who was very friendly...showing Sergey her catch. You can imagine Sergei's surprise when I informed him that "she" was in fact not a "she" at all, but rather a "he," dressed as a she.

Mouth agape, Sergey could only mumble, "Wha?"

This, of course, was the highlight of my day, as I intricately described what a ladyboy or Thai katoey was. The kicker here is the solid fact that many of them look almost exactly like a woman. This one was no different, with two-toned hair, very feminine facial features, thin...shapely figure, and a dress of course...perfect fishing attire.

Oksana appeared as though she didn't believe what she was hearing, scrunching up her nose at the very thought. Most likely she thought I was pulling their leg a bit, until Mam backed up what I was telling them, then Oksana's face also took on the same characteristic as Sergei's.

We walked on towards the temple, and both our guests were well impressed. Klong Tong Nuea temple is very ornate, and they are constantly adding new "attractions" to their grounds.

Although Mam and I have been there numerous times, this time was perfect since there were two monks sitting outside, and we were able to sit down and talk with them. The younger monk spoke perfect English and told us he was from Kuala Lumpur originally. He translated virtually everything we said to the older monk, who as it turned out, was Phra Chalung Kata Pungyo, the temple Abbot!

I thought that was really cool, and I was happy our guests had the opportunity to not only meet, talk with, and take pictures of two Thailand Buddhist monks, but also the whanna, or boss monk! For me, I was able to tell the younger monk the story of our puppy, whom I found in a fertilizer bag at the temple, and he translated this news to the abbot, who seemed pleased.

Finally we headed back home and Mam ducked into the kitchen to begin preparing dinner. She kept shaking her head and saying, "I've never made vegetarian Som Tam or Tom Yam!" Both of which she was preparing for dinner.

"Huh?" I said. "Aren't they vegetarian any way?"

I'm still puzzled over that one, but then I don't care for either meal anyway. But, I don't recall any meat going into them, unless she was talking about gung or shrimp. Oksana had mentioned earlier that she didn't eat fish and neither did Sergey.

Damn, I'm glad I'm a meat eater. Not as complicated.

Dinner was relatively short. The temperature had only barely dropped from exhaustively hot, to extremely hot, so while Mam and I put away the dishes, our two guests took much needed baths. Sleep came early, and before we knew it, it was morning again. Thursday proved to be a bit less hot, with a fairly decent breeze, so we made plans to call a motorcycle taxi driver to take Sergey and Oksana to Wat Pakka, a temple located approximately 15 kilometers from us, heading due West.

Like our local temple, Wat Pakka is very ornate, yet different. It is constantly undergoing renovation, and many, many beautiful things are added all the time. But, for Mam and I, the grounds are what really makes this temple a showcase. Their main grounds surrounding the large, central Buddha, are not only well manicured, but they contain a wealth of different species of flowers, palm, ferns, and vines. Beautiful small shrubs that are carefully trimmed, large flowering hedges marking the paths, and gorgeous palms, their fronds whispering in the wind.

Mam and I sat this one out for two main reasons...the expense of four of us going, and the fact that Mam and I had been to the temple only a month or so ago. So, Sergey and Oksana went alone, and when they returned, they were very happy, commenting on the beauty of Wat Pakka.

More of the same that Thursday, getting to know one another better, and just trying to stay cool. They were to leave Friday morning, heading south for the Malaysian border, and a stop in Georgetown, Penang.

Although Mam offered to give them a lift to the main route, the two of them refused, dead-set on hitch-hiking all the way to their destinations.

All told, a very nice visit! Sergey and Oksana were perfect guests, very polite, very gracious, and fun to be around. We wished them well, and I gave them the phone number of my good friend Annie Skelchy for when they arrive in Kuala Lumpur.

We may yet see them again, as Mam asked Oksana what their long-term plans were, and she was told they plan on heading back to Thailand for a short layover, then up north into Lao and Vietnam for a second time.

Three more months on the road for them before they plan to return to Russia.

We wish them well!


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Due to a recent event, I’ve been motivated to write about religion, a subject I’m not too crazy about, but one that’s in the news every day, in one form or another, and which I do find interesting to read about from time to time.

As you already know, I grew up in Southwest Texas, a dry area in more than one sense. Arid for sure, as there are areas of Southwest Texas that see very little rain, but dry in the sense many towns in Texas are not allowed to sell alcohol.

These are called dry towns.

It may rain like hell, but supposedly there’s not a whole lot of pouring going on.



The Baptist religion, especially in the Southern United States, goes way out of its way to proclaim the evils of inebriation. Unlike the Catholics, booze is not a necessary evil in the Protestant’s eyes.

To a devout Southern Baptist it’s considered a sin to drink alcohol period, let alone become inebriated from drinking. So, an example of the sheer power of the Baptist religion in the Southern U.S. is not only the many small towns considered dry, but the myriad blue laws, some of which are still in existence and still enforced to this day.

Blue laws are designed with religious morals in mind, regulating Sunday activities such as shopping in retail stores, and buying certain things considered vile and unnecessary in the eyes of the moral Protestants.

When I was a young boy, many retail stores were closed on Sunday. Grocery stores often had areas containing dry goods roped off, prohibiting the sale of say…a cooking pan, or clothesline rope. The reason for this, supposedly, was to send the message, “Hey! Sunday is a day of rest! You shouldn’t be buying clothesline rope, you should be in church!”

The blue laws in the Southwest Texas city of El Paso were eventually circumvented when a clever owner of a carpet store decided to open his store to “Give away” his carpets. For years he’d kept his store closed on Sunday since he wasn’t allowed to sell his goods. So, he decided to open his store, which wasn’t illegal, and sell chewing gum, which was legal, instead.

Yep, you read it right…chewing gum, albeit very expensive chewing gum. He’d sell you a pack of say Juicy Fruit, for say $68.00 and then he’d give you the carpet you had your heart settled on. This had the authorities in a literal quandary, but there was nothing anyone could do, since it was fully legal.

The famed “Legal loophole.”

Back as far as I can remember, I was quite literally forced to attend the local Baptist church. I was never given an alternative. I was never asked whether I wanted to attend church. I was told to go and go I did.

I had to attend Sunday school in the early morning hours, listening to a Sunday school teacher blather on and on about things in the bible that I really wasn’t interested in, or found totally unbelievable. I even had to attend Vacation Bible School, which put a serious kibosh on my wonderful vacation periods from public school.

As a young boy of twelve years of age, I was developing into a staunch realist. The stuff they were throwing at me in Sunday school was in direct opposition to what I was learning in public school. I was a young, budding scientist. I didn’t want to believe in huge arks holding every species of animal on the earth in opposing sexual pairs, nor some barefoot dude walking on water, or some bearded guy turning water into blood.

I had to see something in order to believe it. Pragmatism was what oiled me up…got me going. The bullshit I was being fed in Sunday school began to get under my skin and not only bore me, but it pissed me off. I didn’t like being lied to and I even mentioned that very thing, one Sunday, to the utter horror of those around me.

I quickly found myself ostracized, and discovered this welcoming, loving little environment of the Baptist church, became very hostile when they came upon a budding anarchist such as myself.

Funny, that last statement rings true of the situation I’m going through here in Southern Thailand right now…funny how those things work out.

Word traveled fast, and someone from the church called my mother. Luckily for me, she didn’t beat me. I was getting a bit too old for that, and was evolving into a radical and unstable teenager. I frightened my mother because I was also shooting up in height and weight, and was strong…in very good shape while studying the martial arts in my free time, and I was developing a quick and potentially very violent disposition.

My mother gave me the ultimatum that if on my fourteenth birthday I didn’t want to attend church anymore, then my decision would be honored. When that day rolled around, I informed her I was done, finished. It was my fourteenth birthday, and I would not be attending church the following Sunday.

My mother told me I would not sass her, and that I would indeed attend church the following Sunday. One of the many, many times she went back on her word.

I didn’t attend church the following Sunday, and from that point on, my mother pretty much lost all control over me.

That’s a very brief history of my religious upbringing.

What was to follow was mainly borne out of curiosity more than anything else. But, I’m sure that since I was the one making my own decisions at this point in my life, I felt some new-found sense of freedom, which opened up many different possibilities for me.

I began attending church again…No, not the Baptist church, as they were too full of bullshit and hypocrites. I began attending Catholic mass.

Two very distinct things interested me in the Catholic religion.

First was the enormity of the church, the beautiful stained glass windows, and all the little baubles like incense, candles, holy water, saint’s statuettes, and the secret little confession chamber.

Second, I loved listening to the sing-song Latin masses and watching the priest decked out in his colorful, extravagant satin robes.

I didn’t attend the Catholic Church frequently, just occasionally, and I usually went with my friend Diana Servin and her parents. Diana’s mother and father were born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico and her mother was an awesome cook. After church service (which was much shorter than the Baptist church) I was often invited over to their house for lunch, and I was allowed in the kitchen where Mrs. Servin would teach me to cook Mexican food.

To this day I’m a fairly good cook and I attribute all my expertise to Mrs. Servin.

I had a lot of questions about the Catholic religion, and although I saw many similarities with the Protestants, I got the feeling that Catholics were much more laid back and forgiving. They could drink (I had developed an interest in alcohol), albeit sparingly, which was a joke if you ever attended a QuinceaƱera, or 15th Birthday celebration for a young Mexican girl.

These events (and others) always turned out to be a knock-down, drag-out drunken excuse for a celebration, with liquor flowing freely. And some of the priests actually smoked cigarettes.

My next religious safari led me down the road to the Methodist church. I honestly cannot remember why, but I suppose someone told me about their pastor, a very funny man who opened his sermon with the latest basketball scores. I hung out at his church for quite a while, well into my twenties, eventually becoming an actual church member, and volunteering to be on the welcoming committee for a group of Vietnamese refugee’s the church would be hosting, allowing them to live in an adjoining house that the church owned and used to use for meetings.

I had a blast with the Vietnamese family. We chatted about everything under the sun since a couple of the family members spoke good English. They tried teaching me Vietnamese but were not very successful since my mouth didn’t seem to want to make sounds anything like what came out of their mouths. We had fun though, and one day made a trip to a small market I’d discovered in my travels, which had a small alcove out back behind one of the large market coolers, fully stocked with everything Vietnamese.

These folks were flabbergasted. They bought up everything in sight and almost as a second thought as we were getting ready to leave the store, I spied the beer cooler. The eldest brother’s eyes lit up like a spotlight. “Beer!” he practically shouted. So, I picked up a couple racks of pounders (2 six-packs of sixteen ounce - 16 shot - cans to you dabblers).

When we returned home, the women busied themselves in the kitchen and I got to help cut up some green onions, and dice some meat. They were preparing a Vietnamese soup that smelled terrific, when their brother cracked open a pounder and handed it to me. The women abstained, but us guys got right into the spirit of things.

When the cooking finished, we all sat down to eat. Vietnamese are a slurping bunch when it comes to food, but I thought they were all just so much fun. We drank and ate and were generally having a good old time when one of the church deacons decided to drop by for a visit.


Although to this day I don’t see any problem with the situation, it was obviously a no-no with the church, so I was banned from attending.

No, no warning…just banned.

That was the last time I ever walked into a church again.

I grew to hate all the limits churches placed on an individual. Mormons couldn't drink Coca-cola for crissakes, Jehovah’s witnesses couldn’t celebrate their own birthday, and Baptists couldn’t dance.

I just gave it all up for lent, pun fully intended. I didn’t feel any loss, nor did it affect my life in any way, at least that I consciously noted.

Occasionally I’d run into someone religious who would take it upon themselves to judge me because I announced I wasn’t religious, had no religious affiliation, or didn’t believe in god. They’d start preaching to me about the horrors of sin and living a non-religious life, how I’d burn in hell and worse, and I hated all of it. Even to this day I can feel that slight cringe inside when somebody mentions religion, yet I’ve begun to wonder why it elicits that response in me.

Of late, I came upon a tiny baby rat in our yard. A huge coucal (What Mam and I refer to as the ‘brown’ bird, or the ‘whoop-whoop’ bird after the loud, raucous sound it makes) had dropped the little fellow in our yard after Mam startled him. The little fellow was destined to become a quick meal that was for sure.

The little fellow was still alive.

It had no hair and its eyes were still closed, most likely only a few days old. I scooped him up and took him inside to make him a little nest to sleep on. Mam followed me inside with that irritated tone in her voice and that hateful look she gets... “Jeeem, what are you going to do with that thing?”

“I don’t know. What do you want me to do? Kill it?"

"No, it’s just a baby Mam, so I’m gonna try and save it.”

My wife didn’t make many more comments about it, but I could tell she wasn’t particularly happy about the whole thing, having well over sixteen kills to her credit of the larger variety (add one just prior to this posting).

And, since we’re talking about uh…religion here, Mam is supposedly a staunch Buddhist, and Buddhists do not believe in harming any living thing. (Gotcha Mam!)

Every day either upon arising or when I got home from work, I’d feed the little guy. I had Mam pick up a syringe from the local pharmacy (making sure she told the pharmacist what it was for, lest the rumor around town fly that Jeeem was now a drug addict and injecting himself with illicit drugs) so I could feed him in an easier manner, and surprisingly, this worked for quite some time. I really didn’t expect the little fellow to live very long, and he didn’t, but at least I fed him well until his little eyes were open and he got to take a peek at the world around him.

My point, I suppose, is I developed a sort of love for the little fellow. When I finally found him lifeless in the bottom of his box, lined heavily with cotton balls, without even thinking, I said a little prayer for him, and actually shed a tear or two.

This situation suddenly had me in a mild quandary.

Why had I felt the necessity to pray for this little animal? I’d claimed I was an agnostic for years, had gotten into intellectual battles of wits with believers, and had denounced the very issue of praying to anything thought to be of a higher power.

Then, as soon as it happened, it was forgotten…or rather placed on the back-burner.

Days, weeks later, I received an e-mail from my “brother” Jesus Herrera. Some of you know of Jesus and how close we always were during our younger years. Jesus was shot in the face by his own father-in-law with a small gauge shotgun and completely blinded in 1973. Then, after going down a hard road in life, he came very, very close to suicide. Then he “found the lord,” and became religious.

Jesus not only became religious, he devoted his life to religion. He became a pastor of a church. He currently operates a website, mostly in Spanish, about his church and for its people. You can peruse it HERE, under Bodas Del Cordero, and HERE, and can see he now refers to himself as Pastor Almicar Herrera Marquez, due to a theft of his identity. Almicar was his father's name.

Anyway, Jesus and I write to one another frequently. Checking up on how the other is doing. I ask about his family, his wife Perla, and his numerous children. He asks about Mam and how we are doing in life.

Then he sent me a rather odd e-mail…one that stood out among the rest.

It went something like this:

“Hey I am starting a prayer meeting Friday's at 7 I will be praying for you and your wife. My prayer will be that God will bless you with long life, and in my radio program at the I say that my desire is to all that are listening that God will bless you with love, peace and joy [sic].”

That may not mean much to any of you, but a little history might help. Jesus, my dear brother and friend, and I had a bit of a going around about religion after he became just a tad invasive with his e-mails, and I no longer could hold in my ire.

Suffice it to say that after all we’d been through online, over the better part of three or four months, the statement he mailed me, which you’ve read above, is way out from left field.

Then, a matter of a day after receiving that e-mail, the following scenario happened…

Like any other ordinary day, Mam drove me to school, crossing the railroad tracks running north/south, parallel with the park across from the school, and parked on the side street beside the park to see me off.

I said my usual…”Okay, thank you honey. I love you. See you at four o’clock, have a nice day okay?” and I was gone.

My day was really no different from any other. After my last class though, I had a lot on my mind after thinking about an issue involving an old friend. I was pretty deep in thought, but anyone who knows me, knows I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, and one who is very routine oriented…a real creature of habit.

I went into automatic physical mode, while my brain was deeply involved in some inner dialog with my subconscious. Translated, I was moving around and doing stuff I needed to do, but mentally I was somewhere else. I rarely get into this type of mental and physical phenomena, liking to think I’m always pretty aware. But, this particular time, I was really buried deep inside my head.

I swept the floor, picked up the dust pan and swept the dirt and detritus into it and deposited it into the trash bin, turned off the lights, checked all the windows that they were locked, turned off the power to the TV and DVD, turned off the light over the white board, and put away my markers and erasers. Then I turned off the air-conditioning and left the classroom, locking the door behind me.

Sorry to be so vague about what I was thinking about, but it would take an equally long blog posting to explain.

Just suffice it to say it was something (and someone) I hadn’t thought about in a very, very long time.

Then Jeeem left the building.

As usual I stopped by the main office and scanned my finger, checking out for the day. I grabbed the “English Teacher” log and logged out my time, sitting down at a nearby table to do so, while several young students gathered around me.

Answering to the pleading chants of several young annuban (kindergarten) students (mostly little girls) repeating ad-nauseum, Luk ohm! Luk ohm! (Candy! Candy), I reached into the front section of my backpack and pulled out several pieces of penny candy, a habit I’d gotten into with the kids, which at times I wished I’d never started.

Handing out one to each girl, I quickly ran out of candies.

“Luk ohm may-mee! (I don’t have anymore candy!)." To the great disappointment of the remaining girls scattered about.

Firm little faces planted in sour puckers.

“They’ll get over it,” I thought to myself, easing back into my previous mindset and saying, “Bye, bye! Ga ban!” as I set out towards the school gate.

I crossed the street and remembered to look both ways, then sideways, then perpendicular, because when you live in Thailand, the laws of the road…well, don’t exist. So, unless you want to end up as a road pancake, you look virtually everywhere.

Managing to reach the other side of the road and the dizzying maze of merchants selling their goods, I began zigzagging through the maze of kiosks that were set up, selling soda, sweets, barbecue, dried squid and other treats, mostly to attract young school children, the smoke of the various barbecues drifting into my face as I walked in a semi-trance towards Mam’s usual spot, waiting for me on the other side of the railroad tracks which she typically crossed in the morning, but didn’t in the late afternoon.

My thoughts were predominant. I remember that much. Nothing else much existed. I was again on autopilot as I hit the sidewalk finally, stepped off the curb, walked around a couple of motorcycles and approached the railroad tracks.

I walked right up to the railroad tracks and stopped.

I don’t know why I stopped.

I do remember that somewhere deep in my brain there was the thought just to keep on going…to reach Mam.

But, I stopped.

I didn’t even hear the train.

In a millisecond it was upon me. I was a mere foot, twelve inches, thirty point forty-eight centimeters…from the side of the train.

Somebody was screaming at me from behind. I knew they were screaming at me because I heard the obnoxious word, “Farang!” and I was the only Farang around at the time.

I could have reached out and easily touched the train’s side as it whizzed past me. I remember distinctly beginning to raise my hand to do so…but dropping my hand after it only barely moved. Everything…everything was like in slow motion. I could feel the intense vibration under my feet. I could see the heavy metal of the track railing heaving upwards, then heaving downwards...moving as the large wheels of the train passed over them.

Immense power, immense weight…then it was gone.

I remember looking up and seeing Mam. She wasn’t even looking at me. She was positioning our motorcycle towards Klong Tong Nuea, where we were to head home.

I looked south, after the train, to see it lumbering along…still feeling the vibrations of the earth beneath my feet and slowly beginning to connect with the realization that I almost walked directly into its path.

I looked behind me, twisting only my no avail as nobody was looking at me, which I thought was strange since all Thais were typically curious and usually staring at me, as well as the fact somebody behind me had yelled “Farang!”

I then slowly turned to my immediate left, first looking north down the forlorn tracks in the direction the train (an engine and four cars…no caboose) had come. Then looking down a shallow hill leading down from the train tracks into another kiosk area located across from the park, and kiddy-corner from the school.

Several kiosks were set up under tarps and umbrellas like a small village, smoke rising from under the tarps from the pork fat dripping onto hot coals. My eyes eventually zeroing in on a man looking directly at me.

A Thai man.

He was standing in front of a fat Thai woman barbecuing fatty pork bits skewered onto long sticks. A common delicacy found in most parts of Thailand, and which smells a helluva lot better than it tastes if you ask me.

He was looking directly at me and smiling. He was missing a few front teeth...I don't remember which ones.

Wearing tan pants and a white sleeveless muscle shirt, he had several Buddhist medallions, or Phat Phoo Tah Lhoop, around his neck. Many Thai’s wear them to ward off evil spirits, or for good luck...which ever you want to believe.

Was he smiling…or grinning?

I turned around to face Mam, turned again to look north and south for any other errant trains seemingly coming out of nowhere, and again entered my out-of-body experience of just floating along in deep thought.

To be perfectly honest, I do not remember getting on our motorcycle or Mam driving me home. My next vivid and conscious thought was seeing Chok, our new little puppy, frolicking towards us as Mam turned into the path leading to our house tucked deep in the jungle.

Since that day, that event, it has dawned on me several times, each time giving me a chill, that I came deadly close to walking right into the path of that train and becoming mince meat pie.

I cannot…Can Not express my true experience, my true feelings about this event. It’s impossible.

Basically, I almost…died.

A matter of milliseconds.

I never heard that train.

I wrote to Jesus and told him of this event…trying to link it to his rather obtuse excuse for a prayer meeting. But, I never received a reply...and I haven't written him about it again.

So, what’s my point?

Chris will undoubtedly understand. As he remembers my “lucky?” get away to China, after which my girlfriend Wanda and her “new” boyfriend Carl were murdered in bed, her ex-husband having shot them with a large bore shotgun then killing himself with a handgun.

“Double murder / suicide” they called it. Read about it HERE.

Annie understands, as I notified her shortly after it happened, and she had actually talked to Wanda once or twice on the phone.

Several people, mainly Chris, pointed out how “lucky” I was having made the choice to travel to China when I did, knowing full well I might have postponed it for a while after Wanda had begged me to stay just another year, saying she’d support me while I played maid and housewife…a tempting offer at the time.

Is it possible for someone such as Jesus (pronounced “Hay-souse”), a blind pastor of a church and a councilor to many in need, to know something was going to happen to me...something ultimately fatal? Is it of any importance that his name, one often mispronounced, is spelled after Jesus of Nazareth the Christian son of God?

Why did he suddenly decide to hold a prayer meeting in my honor?

Yeah, I’m an Agnostic, and before the events mentioned above, I considered myself a staunch agnostic.

Now I’m wondering if I should take another look at my religious underpinnings…my beliefs…my destiny.

What do others think? I’m certainly open to suggestions, opinions, thoughts, observations, because…well, you know…that’s life man! If you’re not open to new ideas, new avenues, then why even live? We have to remain open-minded….or KARMA will kick our damn asses…no?

Ha! Thank gosh I've got a good sense of humor!


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