Monday, January 26, 2009

New Directions

It is now one week since my new President took office. It has taken me a week almost to come back down to earth. I still pinch myself occasionally to make sure I am really alive to experience this historic transition.

As the glitter and glitz subsides, I pause to take in all the joy that I am feeling. But amidst the jubilation as the events of this past week unfolded, a lot of us were prone to weepy-eyed moments.

Being a 60+ Scottish-English-American growing up in the US post WWII, I was young, but concerned and impressionable during what were Americas "halcyon" years. We were strong and we were good. We helped liberate Europe to defeat the evil scourge of Hitler. We could stand tall and say we were American.

Unfortunately the years of my youth were punctuated with dark moments. McCarthyism swept the country when I was in elementary school and I observed the concrete evidence of the damage divisive hate campaigns can do on a country's psyche. Naive as I was, I could nonetheless feel the pain of this country I was growing up in.

My adult coming of age coincided with the civil rights movement and my first political involvements were the protest marches in the '50's and '60's. I was a beatnik and a folkie, infused with the idea that through community action common people can make a difference for good.

So it should come as no surprise my seminal moments of last week's amazing events. At the inauguration itself, it wasn't the crowds and the electric charge of the moment, but rather the sobriety of the images of the Tuskegee Airmen and Representative Lewis in the audience that brought tears to my eyes.

Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military group during WWII, who flew with distinction and then returned to their own country only to fight continued racism and bigotry. They were equal in death, but not in life.

Representative John Lewis of Georgia, one of the early group of Freedom Riders, the inter-racial group who in 1961 boarded buses in the north destined for the south, with the whites sitting in back and the blacks in front. Brave men and women testing the reality of the Supreme Court decision that in 1946 declared racially segregated seating on buses to be unconstitutional. They faced angry mobs, fire bombs, beatings, stoning, and the full wrath of Bull Conner's Jim Crow.

All of the music was top rate, and, yes, I loved Aretha's hat, but the most memorable moment of the 4-day period preceeding the official inauguration came on Sunday at the We Are One Concert. I was momentarily saddened that Odetta didn't live to sing for the event, but Pete was there for her.
Yes, that grand icon of folk music himself, Pete Seeger. He is the embodiment of what America can be at it's best. His whole life has been a tribute to the very things that the Obama Administration gives promise to--unity, hope, sanity and justice--the re-enfranchisement of an entire segment of America.

Black listed durng those dark McCarthy years, he never gave up believing in the true spirit of the country. That wonderful 89 year old minstrel voice of the people singing Woody's signature song, This Land is Your Land" sent thrilling chills down my spine.

Yes my new President's speech was better than good; it was fantastic. Yet it is not what he says, but what he stands for that fills me with hope and inspiration.

If our nation can come together and work as one, the outcome will always be, "YES WE CAN!" With the true spirit of "Yes We Can," there will always be HOPE!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Visa News

This close to the holiday season seems an appropriate time to be "making a list and checking it twice." However, it's not Santa who's perusing this list, but yours truly, as part of my newly established immigration ritual to prepare for my visa renewal. Nothing "naughty or nice," just prolific.

Mostly it's just a checklist for a gazillion copies of relevant passport pages (I'm at five currently) plus bankbook copies and an official letter from my bank dated within the current week. This last item is of particular interest as they are keen to see that you have money in a Thai bank--it's that transparent. You make a money commitment and the reward is that you get to stay. Since this is my third year now, I know the drill.

After collecting this pile of documents, the final touch is the one known locally as "Riap Roy." This officially translates from Thai as "presentable." Things like, are you dressed respectfully and in my case is your long hair pinned up.

Last year I had a friend query me on this issue. My Thai is not good still, but last year it was really bad and I thought he said "Rob Roy." "Did I go in looking "Rob Roy?" Now the only "Rob Roy" I know is a cocktail made with bourbon and since I don't like bourbon, I think they are nasty, but I jumped to the conclusion that he was asking if I went in drunk. What a strange question!

There was an added component to the "Riap Roy" issue last year, as the sister of the King died and my immigration appearance was during the official mourning period. I needed to wear somber and sedate black to show proper respect, so I had to go out and buy a long black skirt. It has now become my dress of choice for visa application visits. Intensely "Riap Roy."

So bright and early Wednesday morning I presented my "Riap Roy" self to the Chiang Mai Immigration office out near the airport. The Songthaew driver motioned for me to sit in front so he could put to the test my meager Thai. I have a time window of a few days leading up to my current visa expiration, so I picked Wednesday hoping the crowd would be thinner mid-week. My theory proved wrong and I compounded things by signing in the wrong extension book when I arrived. Who would suspect there could be so many categories of extensions.

Arriving early before any windows were open meant I was #2 signing in. Summoned to window #4 soon after they opened I got the bad news that I had to sign the other book at window #2. Now it seems I am #7, which means a longer wait time. So, even with all my documents in order I didn't get through as quickly as in the past. But the approval went without a hitch. I'm legal and in good standing for another year.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Quirky Quests

Resolutions for the New Year are so passe, so 20th Century. What everyone needs in this 21st Century to begin the New Year is a good Quest. Something tangible to strive for. It doesn't have to be a compelling "Holy Grail" sorta thing. No worthiness required, just a desire to seek and find.

An important criteria for a successful quest is the belief achieving success. As long as there is the glimmer of hope that the quest focus is not out of reach entirely, a quest can be exhilarating.

Last year I was handed the gift of a quest, so to speak, from my sister. When she heard I was traveling to Mongolia she asked me to look for a replacement "Mongolian Wedding Ring" for her. She got one when she was there five years ago and it was stolen recently. She was so excited that I could replace it for her. She was almost afraid to ask me, but when I travel I love to explore and look for things I might never see otherwise.

This year again I had my quest handed to me in the absence of what I had come to believe was my 'right of Christmas', the gift of a calendar. Over the years I frequently get wonderful calendars for Christmas gifts, and besides, if I have to get one for myself, they'll be half price in January. I only have wall space for one. No sense in jumping the gun.

The last three years I have been particularly rich with respect to calendars. For two years I had beautiful wildlife calendars from Malawi, and last year I had the "creme de la creme" a Bob Marley calendar. I got to wake up every morning and say "Hi" first thing to Bob. What a great way to start each day.
But this year was a no-calendar year. Up to me to fill the bill--so here I am with an instant quest. Find the perfect wall calendar for 2009.

Here is where my quest met resistance as I began to lose hope that I could be successful. My first destination was the bona fide "Mall" that is a short Songthew ride from my place.

Sometimes referred to as "Central" Kad Suan Gaew is a collection of stores similar to any large western mall. I go there occasionally for farang (foreign) treats at the Tops Super Market. Why not explore the rest of the mall in my search for a calendar?

The complex is four or five stories high (I lost count) with a plethora of stores; heavy emphasis on electronics and knock off clothing. From what I saw, cell phones will soon take over the world. Every third store it seemed was awash with "electronic leashes." Calendars in general were scarce, but limited to desk-top, table-top or wallet varieties. No simple, functional wall calendars to be had.

As I bemoaned this fact later that day with my friends at Writer's Club, the suggestion was made that I go to my bank. I headed straight there only to discover that they were out of calendars. They had dispensed their full quota by Christmas. Brandishing my bank book around got me nowhere.

They suggested DK Bookstore, so I hit the pavement again and took off in their direction. DK is a large well stocked bookstore and I rushed along the moat heading there full of hope. Hope that was quickly dashed when I saw the meager selection available.

Once again, only desk and table top calendars were on display. But even worse, the visuals were totally limiting. I think it's time some enterprising soul here produces a nice calendar of Chiang Mai scenes. There are so many beautiful wats and monuments that could be featured to promote Thailand.

Time to accept defeat, pick out the best desk-top option and accept the fact that I was not meant to decorate my wall with a calendar. Next year, perhaps, but not in 2009!