Tied Up

July 24, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sitting there on the base of the throne chair, holding her clothing and jewelry, I felt self-conscious. I didn’t know exactly what my role was. The large room was dimly lit, and there were perhaps a dozen others there to witness what was taking place.  About ten feet in front of me, she spun, suspended from the ring in the ceiling and completely trussed up with rope. She cried out in a mixture of pleasure and pain every time he smacked her, hit her with the end of another braided strand, or viciously twisted one of her exposed nipples. Her eyes remained closed, except occasionally when – and I don’t know how she knew- she was facing me… she would open them and look right at me to see if I was still watching.

I had met Dana just that day, when I cut short a holiday weekend trip to Milwaukee. She had sent me a request to stay at my place through Couchsurfing, but because of my planned travel, I was not going to be in town when she wanted to come. I asked one of my friends if he was available, and he agreed to host her. I returned to Chicago the day after she arrived, and I joined her and Ted for an afternoon walking around the city. I found Dana to be outgoing and fun to be around.  We walked along the lake shore and shared stories of travel experiences. I don’t remember why it came up, but I told a story of the time I had been blindfolded, bound, and handcuffed in a woman’s apartment while on vacation to another city. It had been a truly amazing and beautiful experience, as I found myself completely helpless and under the woman’s control. As erotic as the situation was, it did not culminate in sex. I left the encounter with a new found interest in BDSM, but had never attempted to pursue it further.

We also talked about why Dana was traveling with so much luggage. I couldn’t understand why a woman needed that many bags. She said she had to bring many pairs of shoes, because sometimes she wanted to dress up, sometimes to dance, and other reasons. I remember rolling my eyes at that. Such a diva, this one.  Perhaps that was why Ted had privately asked me if I could take over hosting responsibilities when I got back. I agreed, and we eventually made our way back to his condo to collect her bags. It was at this point that Dana told us that she had made a reservation to go try something…different, and wanted to know if we would be interested. She had found a kink dungeon in Chicago online and wanted to check it out. I glanced over at Ted, who looked more than a little doubtful about it. But I have developed a habit of saying yes to new opportunities when there is not a good reason for me to say no.  So I turned to Dana and said, “Absolutely!”

Dana informed me that we would have to use fake names, because she heard that nobody at these places uses their real ones. So she had decided to go as “Akiko”. I played along and said I would introduce myself as “Bill”, and then we could go as a married couple who were very curious about learning the ins and outs of BDSM. Dana laughed at this and we had a good time fabricating our story. Ted just rolled his eyes and shook his head. Then the three of us went to dinner.

After dropping Ted back off at his place, Dana turned to me in the car and said, “I need to be honest with you. This is not my first time going to one of these things.”

“I thought it might not be,” I replied. “It’s okay. I don’t mind going with someone who knows what’s going on.”

“No,” she insisted. “You need to understand. I do this often. Professionally.”

I raised my eyebrows. “You’re telling me that you are a..”

“Yes,” she interjected. “I’m an expert dominatrix. That’s what I’m doing here in Chicago. I’ve been in hotels for the past two weeks. I’m staying with you because I wanted a break to visit the city without seeing clients.”

I still had not pulled the car from the curb at this point. I just looked at her. And then it dawned on me. “That’s not shoes in your luggage, is it?”

“No,” she giggled a little. “Those are filled with my tools and costumes. I didn’t know how to tell you earlier, because I didn’t know how you would take it. I only invited you tonight because I thought you would be okay with it after hearing your story about the woman who handcuffed you and how you liked that experience.”

“Then lucky for me that I told you about it,” I replied. “Because I’m really curious now.”

And then I drove us to an unmarked location on the north side of Chicago, where we parked and got out. Dana, now Akiko, told me on the way that she was going to this party to meet a guy who was an expert in kinbaku, Japanese rope bondage. She wanted to be tied up.  Oooookaaayy, then.

In the dark, we walked up to a nondescript building where a few people were standing around outside.  “Hi,” an older man greeted us. “My name is Bill.”

Well, there went MY name for the evening. Thinking quickly, I introduced myself as Rob. Akiko said hello, then walked straight up to a guy who looked like one of the bad guys from a Mad Max movie. He was well over six feet tall, wore leather everything, including fingerless gloves, and sported a bright blue mohawk on his otherwise shaved head. This dude looked fucking scary. And to put the cherry on top, his nom de guerre was “Death Rattle”. Fuck. Me.

However intimidating Death Rattle looked, he was actually a very personable guy. He was the kinbaku master that Akiko was there to meet. “Bill” bid us all go inside, where he said there was plenty of food and drink. And he wasn’t lying. Spread around the basement of this warehouse-type building was a buffet of roast meat, vegetable dishes, and desserts. There were coolers full of beer and liquor at the bar. There were a couple of couches to sit on, and a few chairs. Beyond that, the room really did fit the description of a dungeon. Wood walls instead of stone, perhaps, and no actual burning torches, but the lack of illumination gave the place an ominous atmosphere. There were interesting and curious-looking contraptions placed around. Akiko walked with me around the room pointing out the furnishings and instruments, while instructing me as to their use. Some of the items were obvious, such as the cross in the corner with the eyelets for securing the participants with rope or chain. The ring in the middle of the ceiling was of interest. It was anchored to a set of heavy crossbeams, and Akiko told me that was to allow it to support a great deal of weight. “For when I get suspended,” she said rather cheerfully. She then began to talk to Death Rattle some more about what they were going to do. I felt like an interloper at that point, so I took my bottle of Corona and wandered around the room. We had gotten there late, I think, because the other attendees seemed to have finished with whatever kinky things they had been doing, and were chilling out on the sofas with drinks. I didn’t really feel like approaching any of them. I began to wonder what I was getting myself into.

After conferring with Death Rattle for about five minutes, Akiko walked over to me, grabbed me by the arm, and led me back to the bar. “I need to drink before this happens,” she declared. So I grabbed a bottle of Don Julio and poured shots for the both of us. And then two more. And a third round. “I’m ready now,” she said, and waltzed over to the waiting henchman to be tied up. I followed, not sure what was expected of me.  I quickly found out as she rather nonchalantly lifted off the blue cotton dress she was wearing and handed it to me. She was wearing nothing else but a skimpy, lacy pair of black panties. There was a tall-backed armchair atop a pedestal facing the center of the room. I sat on the base of it, not knowing if it was proper for me to sit in the actual chair. A few other people walked over to observe. Death Rattle began to wrap rope around her torso and quickly fashioned a harness. She looked a little nervous. He then looped another rope up through the ring and began to attach it to the one that was tightly bound around her body. All of a sudden, Akiko called out to me to come over. Before she was hoisted up off the ground, she used her still-free hands to take off her necklace and earrings. “Keep my jewelry for me,” she pleaded. I walked back to the throne base and sat, dutifully holding her possessions.

I was not sure what I was supposed to be feeling. We came to this together, and the other participants at this kink party assumed that we were a couple. I did find myself attracted to her, but I had also just met her not twelve hours before. Should I be jealous that she was allowing another man to handle her body, smacking her naked butt with his hands or with the rope whip he held? When he grabbed her tit and pinched while he twisted, which made her shriek, did I have the right to covet his position? I watched him for a few seconds as she spun, dangling five feet off the ground. He didn’t show any expression of enjoyment. He didn’t look turned on. He looked like he was doing a job. As if this was just another day at work doing carpentry or laying bricks. Somehow, this was comforting. I returned my gaze to Akiko. Her eyes remained closed as she rotated, a grimace on her mouth as the ropes must have been cutting into her. But there was also a hint of a smile, and I could tell from that and the sounds she was making that she was enjoying the experience. The others standing around me were quietly observing as if this was a ritual.

When Death Rattle finally lowered Akiko to the floor and unbound her from the ropes, she walked over to me and smiled as she took her dress and jewelry. She didn’t put any of it on. She simply said, “I’m hungry, and I need to sit down.” I led her over to one of the couches where she fell into the cushions. I went over to fix her a plate – lamb chops and steak with some potatoes. She was unable to hold the plate and utensils herself, so like a parent with a child, I cut her meat and delivered it to her mouth on a fork. She was so exhausted that she nearly fell asleep chewing. Some of the others around us began to comment on how beautiful the scene had been, and to ask questions about how long we had been together, because we seemed like such a close couple. Akiko was in no shape to answer, so I fielded the questions as best I could, making up ambiguous lies and being as enigmatic as I knew how. (I’m actually not too bad at it) When she was finished eating, Akiko stood and dressed, and told me she was ready to go. It was after 1am when we left the dungeon that was hidden in plain sight on a Chicago street. I drove Dana home in silence and put her to bed.

For those of you who may be wondering, no, I did not sleep with Dana. There were many reasons why, and those reasons were both hers and mine. She had introduced me further to a world that I knew existed, but had very little practical education and I thanked her for it. She told me later that there was another fetish club in the city that was going to have an open house the following Sunday, and that I should attend with a date.  I did, and I was accompanied by a lovely young Russian woman, who surprised me when she agreed to go without me actually asking directly.

Perhaps I’ll write the details of that experience and others at a later date. But those who are into the fetish lifestyle walk among the rest of us, and you may never know who they are. I believe that many of us are more curious and open to it than we wish to admit. The trilogy, 50 Shades of Grey, however awful the prose, has brought the conversation more out into the open, so perhaps that is beginning to change. Like it or not, sexuality is an important part of our existence, and definitely worth exploring.

Severance

June 21, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I said goodbye to my brother yesterday. Not in the morbidly permanent fashion that it sounds like, exactly. Nobody has died yet. But it was possibly the last time.

My youngest brother contacted me for the first time in over two years on a messaging app. I woke up to the missive asking if I was alive, how I was doing, did I need anything. After telling me that he would be going to Japan for several months after summer ended, he mentioned that he had just attended the annual convention held by the church in which we both grew up and that I left over three years ago. He then stated that “we are getting very close”, meaning that the end is near. Maybe it is. Looking around at the state of the world, who knows? But for over 40 years of my life, every little upheaval in world politics, turmoil of other religious institutions, or literal earthquake have indicated that the end was near.  My parents thought that the end would come before I started attending school. But it didn’t. And we were sure it would end before I started puberty, began driving, graduated high school, became a card-carrying adult, got married, etc. But it didn’t. And it didn’t end before my own kids went to school and grew up. No matter how dire the predictions have been over the last century, no matter how certain the church leadership was, the end didn’t come.

As humans, our religious beliefs have a profound effect on our lives. They may influence what we select to wear, what we choose to eat, or what we decorate our homes with. Some religions dictate harsh rules, some very strongly encourage certain behaviors, and some pretty much let you do what you want but please toss some money into the coffers, won’t you? In my case, we were forbidden sex before marriage, smoking, use of drugs without a doctor’s prescription. We were “strongly encouraged” to dress in modest fashion, to not attend university, to refrain from seeing movies with certain ratings. There wasn’t a whole lot of “do as you please”. The leadership would find ways to use verses from the Bible to control us as to how much alcohol we could drink, what types of haircuts were acceptable, and even the language we would use to describe things. It really was all about control. Sometimes, the explanations they gave for their directives didn’t really make sense to me. Other times, their interpretations seemed contradictory, or even defied logic. Eventually, I began to question my beliefs. When basic questions about the teachings went unanswered to my satisfaction, I became disillusioned.

I remained pretty quiet about my misgivings, however. In the broader picture, life wasn’t bad for us. I could trust my fellow believers not to steal from me. I was fairly confident that my family would stay intact, as divorce is only allowed in extreme circumstances, one being adultery, which was relatively rare. My friends didn’t smoke or use illicit drugs. I didn’t know anyone in prison. And because research was encouraged, I was pretty confident that other Christian religions were not teaching or adhering to the Bible, which they claimed to follow. I know, for example, and can show proof that Christmas, Easter, and other important “holy days” are steeped in paganism and have zero to do with Christianity. As far as following Jesus’ teachings of being nice, honest, and generally decent to others, our religion was pretty good about it.

The organization behind the teachings was also pretty good about having us be judgmental about others. I was taught to see “worldly” people, or those outside of our church as “bad associations”. I was led to believe that those not of our religion really didn’t have true love for others. They only showed love when they felt they would get something in return. They didn’t love on principle. And that if I spent more time with them than I had to either at school or at work, then I would become infected with their way of thinking and acting. Those in our church who chose to have association with “worldly” people may not be called out on it officially, but we definitely looked down on them as “weak” Christians. I was definitely guilty of arrogance myself, as I stayed close to what I was told to do.

Even as a young person, I rose in the ranks of the organization, obtaining privileges (which were NOT glory, even if they really were) of service. I was recognized as a full-time minister at age sixteen, was selected to go work at the headquarters of the organization as a volunteer (a very prestigious honor) at twenty. Later, after I married, I was given other prominent positions in the church, eventually becoming one of the leaders in the local congregations. I regularly taught from the podium in front of dozens or even hundreds of people. I was responsible for helping to maintain the spirituality of smaller groups within the congregation. I sometimes even sat in judgment of wrongdoers, with the hope of helping to retain them in the church through repentance, but expelling them if necessary. That was definitely not my favorite part of the assignment.

Expulsion from the church is like death, and often considered worse. If you are no longer part of the congregation, you are treated as a leper. Your family (unless immediate family that you still lived with) and friends has no contact with you, if they keep to the faith. The idea is that the sudden loss of all communication with those you know and love will shock you into repentance. And it also serves to keep the congregation from being infected by your willful wrongdoing and attitude. It makes perfect sense. Or at least it did to me. I personally experienced having to stop communication with some of my friends, and even my own brother (yes, my youngest one) for a time while he was expelled. It was difficult for me, and I was very happy when he was returned to the flock. Later, because of a pretty serious wrong that I committed, I was expelled myself. It took a long 2 1/2 years for me to get back into the church. In the meantime, I didn’t speak with my parents or my brothers, or anyone else in the church. My wife and children who still lived with me continued our daily lives together, but it was a strain at times, as I no longer could attend gatherings with other friends with them, or entertain at our home. So, yes, there was definitely a reason for me to work hard to return.

However, I never really returned in spirit. I attempted to, yet I found the proper assistance by the leadership in the local congregation to be lacking, even though they promised it. I was in a different city and they were new to me, which should have been a good thing, as it was a fresh start for me. But I felt abandoned and ignored much of the time. I found myself simply going through the motions to keep the status quo.  Making friends was always easy for me, though, and soon I was a pretty popular member of the group. I often set up gatherings at our house and entertained as much as possible. I looked for ways to help others when I could. But I never really felt at home anymore. I still couldn’t square the teachings with my own hidden personal beliefs. I had started to hone my critical thinking skills and my bullshit meter was constantly going off. It always had been, actually, but I chose to mute it in my head.

My marriage had never been a satisfying and happy one.  I often felt trapped, but kept silent about it. The statement I made before about how I didn’t fear my parents divorcing now has the caveat of knowing that many of the marriages are unhappy and soul-sucking relationships, and that the outward bliss shown is many times a facade. When I returned to the congregation after my expulsion, I was honest with one of the local leaders. I told him that living forever in paradise (the Bible doesn’t really offer Heaven or Hell, but that’s a whole different topic) was not appealing to me if I had to stay with a woman that I despised. He didn’t know how to respond to that, so he just laughed it off like I was telling a joke. But I found myself living the same lie as before. And I started being more bold about stating my feelings.

The turning point for me came when I began to see a therapist. In the bad old days of the religion, seeing a professional psychologist was considered taboo. The church elders were supposed to be able to help with any problem you may have, because mental illnesses were simply spiritual failings. Eventually, the organization leadership recognized that they were woefully inept at helping people and it became okay to seek professional assistance. I know now why they were afraid of it. My therapist actually just listened to me. She never told me what I should do. She simply let me talk. After a while, I began to trust her enough to tell her about my true feelings and what I was going through. It was difficult to talk about the misery of my marriage or the misgivings I had about my beliefs. I felt like I was being unfaithful to my entire life. But eventually, I heard my own voice. And instead of her saying anything about how I should handle it, I knew for myself what I had to do. After steeling myself for the impact of the fallout, I finally left my wife.

I moved to the city and began to attend a different congregation of the church. I wasn’t ready to walk completely away from everything. I hoped that the change of scenery in my personal life would help me to be happy in the religion. The local elders actually did make a real attempt to welcome me and give me a home there, but I found my bullshit meter going off every time we discussed the teachings from the church literature. It became unbearable, so I stopped going. I eventually told my parents that I no longer was going to attend, because I no longer believed.  After a year apart, I asked my wife for a divorce, and told her that she was free to remarry, because by that time I had already been sexually involved with someone else. This was the death-knell to my relationship with my family. I knew that it would be, and I accepted it. I could have been untruthful to my wife and said that I hadn’t slept with anyone else, but I was tired of living one lie, and didn’t want to live a different one. I have resolved to try to be honest about who I am. It makes me feel much better.

I have very little to no contact with my parents. Once in a while, I send them a message to let them know that I’m still okay and that I still love them. My mother sends a short reply of thanks and returns the love. My son follows the standard and is out of touch. My daughter has recently begun to ignore the rules and now has conversations with me online, but I know she feels guilty about it. I tread carefully, and know that at any time, she may stop communicating with me again. I lost contact with all of my friends from my previous life. Everyone I count as a friend currently is from 2013 onward, with only a couple of exceptions at this time. But I am happier now than I ever was when I lived a lie.

My brother reached out to me to try to get me to come back. It probably broke his heart when it was clear that I have no intentions of returning. He responded that his way of life was what was best for him, and that he wished me well. Then simply, “bye.”

Pick a Topic, Any Topic

June 10, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I have so many things that I want to write about right now. So, I’m going to just throw some scattershot thoughts out there for a bit.

If you have ever wondered what became of all of the old Singer sewing machine frames and treadles, rest-assured. They are not occupying landfill space. They are all in southeast Asia, repurposed as table legs. Many of the treadles still work, so it’s kind of fun to rock them with your feet as you sit down eating your food or enjoying an iced coffee.

Speaking of food, I went to the market in my little village this morning. There is a large, open-air space that is covered with a tin roof on one edge of town. Each morning, vendors can be found selling fresh vegetables, herbs, and meat. The meat is about as fresh as you could hope for, the animals most likely having been slaughtered the night before. Next to the different cuts of meat that are still being butchered, there rests the head of the unfortunate pig. The chickens are either sold whole, or in pieces. Beef, fish, other fowl such as ducks are also available. I wandered through the stalls marveling at the abundance of fresh produce. Last week, I purchased a toaster oven, an electric pan, and a rice cooker, all second-hand. I then went to a small general store and bought other supplies for my “kitchen”, such as a knife, cutting boards, bowls, and spatulas. I realized that I have not cooked anything (hot water over instant ramen does NOT count) since early December of last year, and I really miss it. So, even though it will probably be more expensive for me to do so, I want to prepare some of my own food. But, walking through the market today, I didn’t buy anything. I realized that I am intimidated. While I recognize many of the ingredients available, I am stopped because I don’t have little jars of spices with names in English at home. I don’t know how to ask for anything without pointing. I don’t know what herb that is they are selling. And I just know that if I do buy meat and vegetables to make a dish, I’m likely to forget something and it’s not going to come out right, and then there’s the storage issues and I’m going to have to clean up without a proper sink and all kinds of other excuses… Basically, I’m being a coward.

On the bright side, I discovered a small café/food stall that offers khao kha moo, which is stewed pork leg over rice. It’s one of my favorite dishes over here in Thailand. It’s served with chopped, pickled cabbage and sliced boiled eggs. On the side you’ll find a savory and spicy red sauce to add. It’s absolutely delicious. I have had it in the city of Chiang Mai several times at the stall operated by a lady in a white cowboy hat who was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show. But I didn’t know where to find it in the village of San Kamphaeng, where I currently work and live. So, it was a nice find. I’m building a small collection of favorite places to eat khao soi, pad kapow, khao man gai tod, and pad thai.  I’m now almost confident enough to order these things without having to consult my pronunciation list, although I still screw up from time to time.

If I wish to become fluent in the Thai language, I’m going to have to dedicate time for lessons. I’m also going to have to lose my ego and just go ahead and start asking for help. I’m going to have to let myself make mistakes and have people helpfully correct me. In one way, it really helps me to be patient with my students, knowing how difficult it is to remember the words. These past couple of weeks I have been drilling my second-grade students in names of family relationships. “Father, mother, sister, brother”, etc. They have gotten those down pretty well, but are having more difficulty with “parents” and “children”. It’s repetition that is key, and the fact that I oftentimes cannot remember the Thai word for some object or food really helps me to empathize with my students. I’m possibly going to make flash cards for myself to practice remembering the words and proper pronunciation.

The ride into Chiang Mai from San Kamphaeng was beautiful. I am still in awe of Doi Suthep, the mountain on the west side of the city. The way that the clouds come rolling over the top of the peaks, shrouding them from view is still mesmerizing. I grew up and lived most of my life in flat parts of the country. While I did live for a year in the Mohonk mountain area of New York state, and then a few years in northern Virginia close to the Shenandoahs, I’m still taken aback when I see the majesty of the large, looming outcroppings. Chiang Mai area is surrounded by mountains, and the topography creates some interesting weather patterns. I hope that the weather isn’t the rainy variety when I get ready to ride back home later.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in the Nimman Road area of Chiang Mai while I’m writing this. I rode into town to meet someone that I connected with on a certain dating website. She’s also American, a few (okay, several) years younger than me, and it’s simply a friendly meeting. I’m cool with that. From our online conversations, she seems to have a great sense of humor and is wickedly sarcastic. She just sent me a message to let me know she’s walking this way. (For the record, Danielle, if you get to read this, I checked my phone, not to see if you responded to my message, but to remind myself of your name.)

That’s all the time I have for this post. Still have lots more to talk about. If you have anything in particular you would like me to write about, let me know. I’ll try to work it into an upcoming story.

Gladiator

May 29, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I’m in a love-hate relationship. Not with an individual, but with a group. Actually nine groups. Nine groups of 32 – 35 little individuals that are in my charge for one hour each twice a week. I’m supposed to be teaching them how to speak, read, and write English, but at least half of those hours are spent being a cop, judge, and prison warden. It’s exhausting.

My job as a teacher at the local government school started on May 16. That was the day that approximately 1500 students, ranging from Kindergarten to 6th grade, began walking onto the school grounds through the front gate at 7:15am. Each day, they queue up single file into small groups of perhaps 10 or 12 before the Thai teacher who has gate duty stops the line. They are then directed to wai* in the direction of the teacher as they greet her (usually a her) with the standard “sawaddee ka/krub”, then turn around and repeat the formal gesture in the direction of the small Buddha altar at the entrance of the school. After that, they are free to walk to the commissary/cafeteria for breakfast or to play on the soccer field or in the outdoor gymnasium until time for morning ceremony. Every other week, I am the foreign teacher scheduled to be there to greet the students with “good morning!”, or “hello!” so they remember that English is an important part of their curriculum.

The morning ceremony begins at 8am with all of the classes lined up around the soccer field with their respective teachers and assistant teachers. That is unless it is currently raining or the field is still soaked from a previous downpour. The ceremony consists of the Thai national anthem, played by the school band while two students raise the Thai flag up the pole. The goal is to have the flag hit the top of the pole at the exact moment the anthem finishes. But this rarely happens. Usually, the white, blue, and red striped standard rises in a jerky slow motion until about two meters from the terminus, then when the music ends, it is hoisted up at a frantic clip to an abrupt stop. After that, some Buddhist prayers are recited, a full minute of silence is (mostly) observed, and then the King’s anthem is played. If there are no speeches or awards to be given, the ceremony is over in about ten minutes. If there are speeches, then it can drag on for twenty. Bureaucrats everywhere love to listen to themselves drone on, and Thailand is no different. Even if nobody is paying attention. By 8am, the sun is powerfully making its presence felt, and it can be stifling unless there is a breeze. I’ve witnessed kids passing out in the heat as the school director bloviates about mostly meaningless and inconsequential items. Well, I’ve been told that it’s mostly unimportant stuff. I don’t understand any of it yet.

After filing back to their classrooms in rigid lines, the kids are all given a milk in individual plastic bags accompanied by straws with which to drink it, Capri Sun-style. I retreat to the little office that I share with Hans, another English teacher from Holland. It’s not air-conditioned, but is somewhat open-air with vented block masonry. The openings on the lower portion of the wall are covered with tape in an effort to keep rats or other animals from intruding. I doubt that it really works, because the other day my black dress shoes, which I leave at the school, smelled like a cat had peed in them. I stay in the office until first period ends at 9:30, as I have no teaching assignments during that slot. I’m pretty happy with that. I sometimes work on creating flash cards or other learning materials, but most of the time I’m busy on Facebook. The plastic resin chair that I sit on is uncomfortable for long periods, so I’m going to try to find a nice, cushy, second-hand office chair that reclines. Because I can spend up to three hours a day in the “teachers’ lounge” if I choose not to go out for coffee during my breaks, or back to my apartment which is only a short distance from the school.

As I head to the classrooms to begin the instruction, I feel both anticipation and dread. Anticipation because I enjoy interacting with 1st and 2nd grade kids who are brimming with eagerness to learn English. Dread, because there aren’t any of those. The Thai government has seen fit to require one hour of English instruction each day for all classes from 1st grade on. And that’s great, because Thailand lags far behind most other ASEAN countries in English fluency and understanding. But as we all know, mandating something does not automatically make it work. There is very little support for the teachers who must now add this to their repertoire of lesson planning. I’m lucky enough to be a native speaker of English, but the Thai faculty assigned to this don’t always speak the language well themselves. I had to ask repeatedly for a copy of the schoolbooks that the students are using. And I have yet to be introduced to the Thai teachers who are assigned to the classes on the alternating days that I’m not giving instruction to a particular classroom. It makes it impossible to coordinate a comprehensive lesson planning strategy. It feels like the school is not really taking the teaching of English to their students seriously. So how can I expect the kids to take it any differently?

“Hello, class!” I call out as I enter the front of the classroom. “Hello, class!” has been the standard reply from most of them up until now. I strain to listen for and recognize the small voice giving the correct response, “Hello, Teacher Bob!” From this point on, it’s usually all on me to maintain order and discipline to the class of almost three dozen children. The form (or homeroom) teacher usually quickly heads out of the room to escape for the next hour. I can’t say that I blame them.  Depending on which grade I am teaching, I alternating my lessons. Each class gets a little bit of introduction training. We work on “My name is..” and “what is your name?” Some kids get it. Some still don’t. I drill them on the phrasing as a class, and also individually. I will walk between the cramped rows of desks and stop in front of a random student, crouch down to their level, and say, “My name is Teacher Bob. What is YOUR name?” Much of the time, I get a blank stare as they try to comprehend what I am saying to them. I find that this is equally true for both 1st and 2nd graders. Sometimes, I am gratified to hear them reply, “My name is POOM” or “My name is MIMI.” I will say that it’s much easier for me if they have chosen a nickname from the English language. Although, it does lead to some weirdness. “My name is Apple/Cherry/Beer/PingPong/Icy/Mean/Earth.” Beer? I’ve met three Beers since I’ve gotten here. And they were all female. I swear I’m not making this up when I tell you that I saw a post in the one of the local Chiang Mai Facebook groups by a woman named Doughnut.

Honestly, the Thai kids are beautiful. They are generally very nice and polite. And they really do look up to their teachers, especially the foreign ones. The desire to please is definitely there. If I give an assignment to write their names, fill in blanks, or draw a picture, they are constantly walking up to me with the book or paper to show me what they have done to see if I approve. I am mobbed from the time I walk into the general population before and after classes. They shout greetings in English to me, run up for high fives and hugs. It feels so weird still to be hugging or even touching a stranger’s kid. I know I’ll get used to it, but I still find myself suppressing the urge to look over my shoulder for the disapproving parent. I sometimes also will be greeted after school or on the weekend when I’m in one of the local shops or cafes. Here’s my problem: I don’t know the kid’s name. I cannot remember if they are even in one of my classes. The truth is, I have a very difficult time telling the children apart. I know this will possibly sound cliché or racist, but they kind of all look the same to me right now. Obviously, there are some who are smaller, taller, rounder, skinnier, or with different teeth, but it seems like there are the same 10 kids with their clones running around the school. It doesn’t help that they wear uniforms. Most every boy has the same haircut. Pretty much all of the girls have their long, black hair parted in the middle and braided pigtails with blue ribbons on either side.

On the flip side, the kids can also be monsters. Some days, half of my time is spent putting kids back in their seats, confiscating rulers or other objects being used as swords or alternative distractions, slapping a metal ruler on one of the old, wooden desks to recapture the attention of students who continually turn around to talk to their neighbor. (I got myself the metal ruler after shattering one of the plastic rulers that I took away from someone. I felt pretty bad about that.)  I’ve had to put repeat offenders in time-out in the corner. Truthfully, I understand why a teacher might be tempted to tie or duct tape a kid to their seat. I’ve seen the Thai teachers smack the kids with their hands or with a bamboo rod when they misbehave. I grew up in a time when corporal punishment was acceptable in the classroom, and we NEVER showed disrespect. I am not going to go down that road, however. I am attempting other means to control the classes. I’ve proposed the idea of having my own classroom, an English lab, where the kids would have to come to MY turf, where I am in control of the surroundings. If I can control the environment, I will have a much easier time with classroom management. So far, the assistant director of the school is amenable to the idea, but also non-committal, as he needs to ask the school director and probably go through some labyrinthine Thai bureaucratic quagmire to get it done. I’m going to be patiently optimistic for now. Meanwhile, I’m fighting the battle for supremacy in the coliseum.

I cannot really be angry at the kids. It’s hot in the rooms. The building where my classes are has no air conditioning, and the outside temperatures can easily reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There are fans, but they only do so much. The classroom doors stay open, as do the shutters on the other side, but in addition to allowing a slight breeze to flow through, the openings also allow for distractions. Another problem that I have discovered is that the kids may be under the influence of sugar. The commissary, in addition to providing a hot meal, also sells snacks. I’ve seen kids eating popsicles, cookies, and candy for breakfast. I’m pretty sure that is not conducive for a proper physical and mental state that is needed for learning. And I’m also pretty sure that the school makes a profit on the sale of these stimulants, so complaining about it will fall on deaf ears. But it can make my job hell.

So I look forward to my alone time in the small, fan-only lounge with the uncomfortable plastic chair, where I can take a respite from my gladiatorial battles with the army of Lilliputians. Speaking of which, it is time for me to take up arms and go forth to the arena.

*wai:

The Thai greeting referred to as the wai (Thaiไหว้pronounced [wâi]) consists of a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion.   (wikipedia)

They Still Call Me Porny (Part Two)

May 27, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

As I mentioned previously, I have an addictive personality. Unfortunately, I’m not as addicted to writing as I am to other things that are less rewarding. It’s taken me a long time to force myself to sit down and tell more of this story.

Looking back, I sincerely regret the times that I sat in front of my desktop computer in the home office making conversations with people who weren’t actually in front of me while my kids asked me to come outside and play with them. That is time that I can never ever get back. That’s a very heavy realization. But those conversations were becoming my life, what I existed for.

The prevailing view of online dialogue has long been one of suspicion. The image of a sweaty, fat, bald guy wearing a grubby white wife-beater pretending to be a cute 15-year-old high school sophomore to gain the trust of other cute 15-year-old girls has always been the poster for “don’t talk to strangers on the Internet!” And to be fair, that has sometimes been exactly the truth. But my experience with chatrooms was not so much dealing with people who were posing, or pretending. The anonymity of the internet actually helps to create the opposite effect, in my opinion. Sure, people may lie about their age, their body shape, their occupations, but if you pay attention, the real them is what they are exposing. You see, when we are face to face with the “real” people in our lives, our parents, our spouses, co-workers, bosses, fellow worshippers, etc., we many times put on a mask or a facade. There are expectations of these other people that we must live up to. We often don’t really let those people see who we really are inside, because we fear the judgement that will follow. “What? You hate the sweater I bought for you?/ You don’t find me as attractive as that woman who is behind the counter?/ You think my idea for the office is stupid and you really don’t work as hard as you pretend to?/ You don’t really BELIEVE IN GOD???”

We constantly lie to those close to us with our actions and our dispositions. And we lie to ourselves in doing so. But, when in front of the computer screen where nobody really knows who we are, we are free to express our reality, our actual feelings and opinions. Because nobody there can hurt us with their judgement. If you don’t think this is true, try looking at online comments about race, politics, or other social issues, and tell me that those people who voice (text) some of the worst vitriolic statements would EVER say that out loud in front of real people who expect a certain standard of behavior and modicum. So real self-expression is buried deep until an opportunity for “masquerade” presents itself.

I was never able to talk freely about my thoughts and feelings to those around me. I had doubts about the religion that I was raised in and that all of my family and friends belonged to, but those had to be suppressed. I couldn’t speak out loud about how I was unhappy in my marriage, about my crush on a supervisor at work, or how much I liked Barry Manilow’s music. But when I was in the chat rooms, I could. I found people there who listened, and commented. Sometimes, the comments were not necessarily what I wanted to read, but I didn’t feel like I couldn’t express my feelings. And as usual, I also became a good listener to those who were trying to get things off their own chest in the chat room. Sure, sometimes I mocked them, but I would always do it gently, and usually make them laugh at their own fears. People in that room became my confidants, my sounding boards, my crying towels. One of them, who called herself Maggie_May (because she loved that Rod Stewart song), was a few years my senior, lived in western Canada, and was in a loveless marriage herself, became one of my best friends. I could tell Cindy (her real name, as she disclosed to me after a long time) just about anything that was on my mind. And she felt free to do the same. Sometimes we had private conversations outside of the room, but usually we just added our own honest comments to the running dialogue that was scrolling up our screens.

We all acknowledged what being in the chat room meant to us. Those friendships became real. I remember an occasion when one of the regulars disappeared from the room. Louise was an elderly grandmother with a very sharp sense of humor and one of the favorite personalities in CE1, the chat room that I frequented. After a few days, someone who was pretty close to Louise told us the sad news that the spritely older woman had died. One of her children had reached out to this person and told the complete stranger that his mother had passed, and that for some weird reason, Louise had wanted this group of anonymous people to know. We were able to get the email address that connected us to the family, and many of us wrote lengthy letters of condolence to them, telling them how much their mother/grandmother/auntie had meant to us. We told stories of how funny and caring she was, and how she had touched our lives. Those family members may have never known the awesome person that Louise revealed to us, but I’m certain that they were taken aback by the outpouring of support from this digital community.

The ability to express oneself freely and without fear of judgement by loved ones or peers can become addiction. We recognized that ourselves. There was a term that someone in the room coined for people who were in our “real” lives. We called them “shadowcasters”. Shadowcasters didn’t really understand us, not the real us. They only saw the person that we showed them. And because of that, we longed to retreat into the safety of CE1, where we were among friends.  One occurrence that I’ll never forget was when the husband of one of the chat room members entered CE1. His wife, who was a regular, had confessed to us that she had cheated on her husband with a man she met online in another chat room. And that she felt horrible about it. She either got caught, or admitted it to her husband, and he got very upset and tossed his wedding band down into the toilet and flushed it. She was destroyed by the thought of her marriage falling apart because of what she had done. So, after a couple of days of her absence from the room, her husband came in and identified himself. He wanted to know why. Why was his wife spending so much time in this ethereal place with people she didn’t really know? What was the attraction?

Many in the room were sympathetic towards the man. They tried to tell him how much his wife loved him and that she was terribly sorry about her actions. A few were hostile, blaming the guy for not paying attention to her so that she had do find solace elsewhere. I chose a different path. I reached out to the guy in a private message. My first goal was to try to distinguish if he was really who he said he was, and not just a troll (yes, they do exist). I paid close attention to his responses and I really got the feeling that he was torn up by what had happened. I could sense the anger and sadness and confusion pouring out of him. So for the next half-hour or so, I calmly had a discussion with him about the addiction that his wife was experiencing. I told him that it was none of my business whether he stayed with her or got a divorce, but that if he chose to stay, then he needed to understand just what kind of hold that chat rooms had over his wife. I explained about the acceptance, and the freedom to be, that the room offered. I spoke of my own struggles, how I often neglected my own family because I could not break free. I told him that he would have to be a support to his wife if she were to overcome this addiction, that he would have to be there for her, just like if she was recovering from enslavement to heroin, because the pull to come back would be there. This had become home for her. And she was going to miss it terribly. He was going to have to work hard to become her home again. After I finished, he didn’t tell me what he was going to do. I don’t think he had decided. But he thanked me for the insight into what I call “chat addiction”, and said he had no idea that it could be that powerful.

It wasn’t all somber and melancholy, of course. Much of the time we had great fun in CE1. We made jokes, satirized events and each other. One of the funniest games we played was “Buffalo Chat”.  Or maybe I just remember it fondly because I helped to invent it. I don’t remember the context, but someone made an offhand comment about “buffalo gals”, which was a line or name from some silly song that came from my dad’s era, I think. Someone else picked it up and turned it into “buffalo cops” or something. I tossed “buffalo” into another phrase, and then with some encouragement, all kinds of hell broke loose. There was “Ally McBuffalo”, “Little Buffalo on the Prairie”, “The Tale of Two Buffalo”, and just about anything else that someone’s imagination came up with. The scroll upwards on the screen was almost too fast to keep up reading, and I know that I was not the only one in literal tears of laughter as I read what my compatriots were inventing. Yes, looking at it in this paragraph, it looks stupid as hell. And it was. But it was very funny at the time, and every so often, if discussions in the room got too heated or funereal, I would drag someone into playing. Yes, there were always a few groans from some corners, but most people got into it and unleashed their creativity with “buffalo” for the next fifteen minutes or so until we ran out of ideas or just got tired of it.

I truly believe that part of my addiction was that I felt like a fixture in the room. As I said before, the fact that I was greeted by genuine “shouts” of joy when I would enter CE1, watching “Porny!!” scroll up the screen about 20 times in different fonts and colors was gratifying. I was important. I mattered. People cared about my presence.

Psychology Today defines addiction as follows:

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocainenicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health. People who have developed an addiction may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.

Next time, I’ll talk about how I broke free.

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head

May 27, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Rain hurts. Butterflies hurt. Pretty much any normally harmless small object hurts when it hits your face at 50kph. The motorcycle helmet that I have been using does not have a face visor. Most times, that is preferable to me, as I enjoy feeling the wind cooling my face (and the rest of me) as I ride along on the far left side of the roadway. Sometimes, if I’m not going on the big highway, and there are unlikely to be police checkpoints out, I don’t even wear a helmet. Foolish? Yes, of course. My mother would tell you that even sitting on a motorcycle itself is foolish. But that’s how most people in southeast Asia get from place to place. And sometimes it’s the entire family on one motorbike. Smallest child in front, standing on the footpads, father or mother operating the bike, and the next child and/or spouse sitting behind. And most of the time, none is wearing a helmet. It’s a way of life here.

Of course, I don’t have to follow suit. Just because the Thai people choose not to wear a brain-saving device on their noggins doesn’t mean that I must join the crowd. But I have discovered how much I absolutely love the feeling of the wind rushing through my hair as I ride the rural roads, passing fields of rice, cows, the ubiquitous roadside food or coffee stands. It is definitely a risk, but it’s one of those risks in life that I believe is worth it sometimes. Don’t tell my mom.

But back to the rain. It is now that season in Thailand, when the rain pours out of the sky on a regular basis. When I first moved here, I experienced about four months of almost complete dry weather. I believe that it might have rained one time in January, and then not again until Songkran, the Thai New Year celebration that happens in April. I’ve been told that it ALWAYS rains during Songkran, due to the fact that it is a three-day nationwide water fight, and that all of that water being thrown around evaporates, condenses, and then falls back to earth. I guess it make sense. Mid-May is when the “monsoon” season seems to begin. It has been raining most days since I returned from Laos. Last Friday, I arrived at the school to begin teaching English to the first and second grade classes that have been assigned to me, only to find out that school was cancelled for the day because of the flooding caused by the torrential downpours the previous night. Ironically, from that point on, through the rest of my unexpected three-day weekend, it didn’t rain a drop. It seemed to be saving up for Tuesday. Because on Tuesday after school, I had to ride about 15km from the little village where I am living outside of Chiang Mai all the way to the opposite side of the city. It was time to renew the rental agreement on the motorcycle, and payment over the internet or phone isn’t something that they are set up for.

The rain was constant. Drenching. I had put on a flimsy, disposable plastic rain cover that someone nicely gave me, but it only did so much for only so long. As I mentioned at the outset, I was being pelted by raindrops on my face. After colliding with my forehead, these little bits of wet were pulled by gravity down into my eyes, threatening to blind me. As I was unable to dodge every puddle, my feet were soaked, my legs were soaked, and if it had not been for the plastic pouch that I had saved from my Songkran adventures, my passport, wallet, and phone would have been soaked as well. I arrived at the rental shop looking pretty much like an otter that had been playing in the river all day. I asked the owner for a different helmet, one with a visor, so that my face would be spared some pain at least. On the long return trip, I discovered that I really didn’t like the visor that much, either, because it felt too enclosed, and the rain dripping down on it was a distraction. But it did provide some protection. I stopped at a small cafe and ordered food, which was accompanied by a lovely bowl of hot, steaming broth, serving as a much-welcomed warm-up.

It rained again last night, and my friend and I got a little bit wet as we walked to the music venue that was playing some pretty good jazz next to the north gate of the old city. This morning, the clouds are out, but the sun is currently shining, and I’m taking advantage of it to sit by the pool with my laptop and do some writing that has been seriously neglected as of late. The French girl who also stays here just walked out to her motor scooter and is heading away, possibly to her Muay Thai fighting lesson. And I am beginning to hear raindrops hitting the umbrella I’ve been using for shade…gotta run!

Cold Showers

May 14, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

(Some of this post was already written to my Facebook page.  I had to cut some parts for length, and for information that I didn’t want to post to the general public. I’ve thought long and hard about whether to post this type of content about myself. I hope it’s the right decision.  I’ll try to write more about my Laos trip later. And finish my social media story)

Finally on my way back home. And by “home”, I mean Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s funny how I now think of it that way. It’s not the new apartment into where I moved my belongings on May 1, right before I started this 11-day trip to Laos. I haven’t even slept there yet. But I can’t wait to get back and throw myself across the bed and just bask in the beauty of contentment of not living out of a backpack.

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy living out of my backpack when I’m traveling. It’s a good backpack. A great one. The best backpack. Right now, it’s a wet backpack. I left my hostel this morning in the middle of a thunderstorm. Very heavy rain coming down from the sky that was just turning to a lighter shade of grey due to the sunrise. The type of rain that we in the southeastern US used to call a “gullywasher”. I really regret accidentally leaving my rain jacket in Luang Prabang. I was lucky enough to catch a tuktuk to the airport while standing under an awning near the hostel. I was unlucky enough to get hit by a rogue wave created by a pickup truck passing through a monster puddle in the other direction. The tuktuk driver was drenched, and I believe that his cigarette was extinguished by the splash. I felt bad for him, and I paid him extra when we reached the airport. He gave me a grateful smile as I turned to walk into the terminal. I hope that when I land in Chiang Mai, it’s dry. Otherwise that is going to be a long motorcycle ride.

My last day in Laos was a mixture of relaxation and anticipation. Part of the reason I extended my trip was to meet up with a dear friend and former couchsurfing guest from Indonesia. Marsella and I have kept in touch since meeting two years ago in Chicago. So it was really nice to see her again and catch up, even though it was only briefly. She and two friends were catching the sleeping bus to Luang Prabang that evening. Later, I enjoyed a nice dinner with a couple of locals and a French guy. Something called lam bo, which contained beef, onions, and peppers, and was definitely up there on the spicy level.

Back in Udon Thani last evening, I was greeted by a stray cat. I was enjoying a 10baht ice cream cone from McDonald’s and I shared the last bit with her. She seemed to be really hungry, so I went back inside and ordered her a Happy Meal ™ with chicken nuggets. She devoured the meat after I pulled off the breading and broke it up so it would cool more quickly. I ate the apple slices. I ordered the meal with milk, but kitty wasn’t interested. She didn’t seem to be impressed with the Super Mario toy either.

On the walk back to the hostel, I stopped at a bar called “Rock House”, which promised live music every night. I stepped inside and saw no band and zero customers. Disappointed, I was about to walk away, but the small outdoor bar in front seemed inviting and there was good music playing from the stereo. The beer special was for three large bottles of Chang, and on a hot, muggy evening, cold beer was just too tempting. I wasn’t really about to walk away. I had arrangements to meet someone here at the bar, and I was waiting for her.

When she arrived, I was two beers in, and I shared the last one with her. She was very pretty, and her English was good. We talked and laughed and flirted, as two people might do at a bar. We ended up ordering two more beers before we decided to leave. I was staying just around the corner at a hostel. Now, normally, a hostel is not a good place to bring a romantic interest, because of the whole dormitory setting. But I was certain that I was the only person checked in to the room where I was staying, so I decided to risk it. The night custodian unlocked the gate for us, and didn’t even blink an eye at the fact that I was no longer just one person. We walked up the narrow stairway to the third floor, and I opened the door that bore a picture of Paul McCartney. To the left was a drawing of John Lennon. I’m not sure where George and Ringo were.

Her reaction to seeing three sets of bunkbeds was the expected one. I had explained to her that I travel using hostels and don’t normally stay in a hotel, but she was still a bit shocked. However, it only took a few seconds to see that there were no other beds occupied at 12am, and that we were the only ones there. What happened next was both surprising and disappointing, though really, it should have been neither. She made it clear to me that she wanted to be paid.

When you find out that someone really is not interested in you as a person, maybe not even attracted to you, and that the reason that they have been pretending that they are in order to get something from you, it really kind of hits you. I felt stupid. I felt embarrassed. And I felt a little bit angry. Angry at myself for getting caught in this situation. And angry at her for not being upfront about it when we first talked. Of course I wasn’t about to pay her. She complained about having paid cab fare to come see me, and that she would have to pay for it to go back. I gladly would have paid her cab fare, as I had for the drinks, had the context been different. But now things were changed. I told her no. And she got up and walked downstairs and out the gate. I just shook my head and went to bed, because I had to be up in less than five hours to go to the airport.

I don’t hold any moral judgements about women (or men) who provide for themselves and their families by selling their affections. Sometimes that is really the only real opportunity that they might have. I have had good, meaningful conversations with “bar girls”, and I could even maintain a friendship with them. But I don’t really want to support the institution. For much the same reason, I will not go to an elephant camp where they offer rides, because the very cruel way that the elephants are broken to be trained. I refuse to have my picture taken with or to pet a tiger at the places that offer the chance, because the tigers are heavily drugged in order for them to be safe enough to be around tourists. I may not share the same morality about sexual relations that you have for yourself, but I certainly don’t want mine to be monetarily transactional. In retrospect, I had a better time with the cat at McDonald’s.

There may be some who will point out that maybe I am being transactional about it, because I pay for the drinks, or dinner, or movie, or whatever other expenditures that a date entails. If you feel that way, then you do not know me like you think you do. I pay for those things (when I can) because I still believe in chivalry. I never once have expected anything in return as far as bedroom favors. If both parties are desiring that, then okay, that’s great. But that is the exception to the rule. Usually, the evening ends when both of us say we had a nice time, maybe a kiss goodbye and then we part ways. I don’t believe that my dates owe me anything except for kindness and conversation.

The single life that I have chosen for now is not always easy. I have many female friends, and I find myself attracted to several of them. However, I must be careful of romantic entanglements with them, because I have decided that I will be better off not being in a relationship for the time being, and I do not want to risk a good friendship for the pleasure (and possible ensuing drama) that a sexual encounter may bring. Sometimes I find myself lonely. I question my choice from time to time. But knowing that I’m not in a position or willing to give the type of effort and attention that a successful relationship requires, I think that it’s the right choice. It’s difficult navigating these waters, and I’ve made mistakes that I regret. Hurting someone else because of my selfishness is something that I dwell on for a long time.

I had a nice flight home to Chiang Mai, where the sun was shining. The motorcycle ride back home was refreshing. I took a nice shower to wash away the sweat from my traveling and then I enjoyed just chilling out in front of the new fan that I purchased. I dozed off listening to my Spotify account and some kids splashing happily in the pool outside my window.

They Still Call Me Porny (Part One)

April 7, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I hate Facebook. Facebook is ruining my life. Not because of something Facebook did, or because of something someone posted on the site, but because I am an addict. You wonder why I don’t post to my blog on a regular basis? Facebook addiction. Why haven’t I seen more of Chiang Mai and the surrounding area? Facebook addiction. Sometimes I’m not as prepared for my teaching classes as I really should be. Why? Facebook addiction. Social media is a cool and wonderful thing, if kept in its place. But to so many of us with addictive personalities, it can be a cruel trap.

I have never used drugs, save the three times I tried marijuana (last year) and didn’t really care for its effects. I don’t drink much, except socially. There was a period of time when I was viewing a fair amount of pornography, but I don’t really need it or crave it. (Told you I was going to be brutally honest, didn’t I?) So you wouldn’t think that I would be considered to have an addictive personality, would you?

My relationship with social media began rather oddly, I think. I am never one to be current in the field of personal technology, either software, apps, or devices. I was one of the last people on earth to purchase a CD player back in the early 1990s. And then it took a long time after DVDs came out for me to come around to them. I actually remember being a little pissed at the video store for crowding out the VHS movies to make room for the newer, smaller, easier video format. But once I embraced those thin, round, shiny objects, then the rest of the world moved on to digital and streaming. I can’t keep up. My very first experience with email was a DOS-based system that was used internally at a large electronics and appliance distributor in the Midwest. I worked at the headquarters, and was given the opportunity to create an email account. I didn’t really see the need for it at first, but when I discovered that I could have almost real-time text-based conversations with other employees who were in remote locations, I was hooked. I loved having goofy conversations with complete strangers, and it made me look forward to going to work. Later, when I was at home, I discovered that I could play card games online with others who joined at random. And when I found the little tiny text box at the bottom of the Yahoo! Euchre page, where I could tell my partner, “GJP!”(Great Job, Partner!) or ask about where they were from, I was enthralled. After a while, one of my card-playing partners told me about chatrooms where they would hang out online and talk to people from around the world.

Now, I had heard of chatrooms. One of my coworkers came very close to losing his job because he kept coming in late for work. He was staying up all night talking to people that he didn’t even know in internet chatrooms. He told me about it, and I thought it was the stupidest thing I ever heard. Why on earth would anyone spend hours sitting at the computer having conversations with people they couldn’t even see? (You see, I had forgotten about my fun at the previous job with the internal email) So, I dismissed him as an idiot. But after the invitation from the card game partner, I decided to check it out. My first foray was into a chatroom labeled “The Hot Tub”. Why did I choose that particular “room”? Maybe it just sounded more exciting than “General News”, “Computer Hackers 1”, or “Politics and Business” rooms. I mean, in real life, wouldn’t you rather go to a hot tub?

Once in the room, I noticed two things: everyone went by a pseudonym, and nobody said anything to me. They were involved in several different conversations at once, and at first it was hard to keep up. It wasn’t until a comment was made to which I had something to add that I put my fingers to keys and pressed “enter.” And someone responded to my comment. And I was drawn into the conversation. I spent probably about an hour chatting away about nonsense and such, then turned it off and went to bed. Later, I found other rooms. “Trivia” was one of my favorites for a bit. Eventually, “Current Events 1” became my go-to chatroom. I had some great discussions in there, and it felt like the conversations were somewhat intellectual, though we did have episodes of silliness.

After becoming a regular in Current Events 1, or CE1, as we called it for short, I started to recognize and came to be familiar with several of the other entities in the room. I was able to get to know their personalities, recognize their fonts (everyone got to choose their own favorite font style, color, and size), and even pick up on their turns of phrase. We sometimes chatted about where we were from, our life experiences, and our hopes for the future. It started to be a real place to me, and I looked forward to joining the conversation on a daily basis.

I mentioned that everyone had a pseudonym. I did as well. I tried to be something that sounded cool, so I believe that my name was “Cerberus”, after the three-headed, snake-tailed dog who guarded the Hades side of the banks of the River Styx. I had been a huge fan of Greek mythology. Later on, I changed my name, as a joke, but then I found that I really liked it, and it was popular with the rest of the room’s “inhabitants”.  At the time, some enterprising web-cam operators had figured out how to create fake personalities that would enter the chatrooms with sexy names and start talking suggestively. They would then post a link to a web-cam site where “you can come see what I’m doing now!” I suppose that it got attention, and that it probably drew a certain part of the audience into clicking one the link so they could see what “Lick_My_Cherry19” was up to, but for most of us, they constituted a very annoying interruption to our discussions. We called them bots, because they, and other random advertising “personalities” were actually just robotic programs. So, in a moment of frivolity, I changed my ID to “porn_bot18”, and re-entered the room and began to make hilarious, suggestive comments. At first, the denizens of the room reacted as expected, they were hostile. But when I started to engage them in conversation, they were surprised, and then it became very funny. Eventually, they figured out it was me, and we all had a good laugh. But the name stuck. I was “porn_bot18” for the rest of my CE1 days. Not much later, my chat friends nicknamed me “Porny”, and that’s who I became.

I did from time to time adopt other ID’s for the room. Being that we discussed current events (sometimes, anyway), I found it fun to come into the room dressed up in “costume” for something that had happened in the news. Usually, my ID was sick and twisted. For example, after the tragic crash of the AirFrance Concorde when one of its tires blew out and caught fire on takeoff, I thought it was too good not to tie it to the other unfolding issue surrounding rubber at the time, namely the Firestone/Ford Explorer debacle. (Look them up if you don’t know, I already have the finger cramps) Hence, I chose “Concorde_Was_Wearing_Firestones” for the week. Yes, it raised eyebrows, which is what I wanted. Yes, some people complained that I was making light of tragedy, which I most certainly was. Yes, it offended some, but those weren’t my favorite people anyway. My friends found it very funny. So I continued to look for ways to garner the attention. Subsequently, I chose names such as “Jethro’s_Turn_to_Drive_the_Sub” (referencing the deadly USS Greenville/Ehime Maru collision), and one that I’m not particularly proud of, but I went with anyway-“Bathing_the_Kids_in_Texas” (an admittedly heartless spoof on Andrea Yates’ postpartum depression-fueled murder of her five children). There were many others, but I cannot recall them at the moment. Back then, I thought I’d never forget. Should have kept the list. For Easter, many of the chatroom regulars would choose a special name, like “Chocolate_Bunny” or “Painted_Eggs” or some nonsense. I chose to gain attention by offending. My Easter season ID was “Giving_Up_Altar_Boys_for_Lent”. Probably that was one of the most controversial names I chose. Some of my friends who were Catholic were not as amused as I had hoped.

I began to spend more and more time in CE1. I started to choose time with my internet friends over time with my family. It was truly an addiction. Whenever I would enter the chatroom, there would be a chorus of “PORNY!!!” or “Pornbot!” It was eerily similar to when the inhabitants of the fictional television bar “Cheers” would yell, “NORM!!” whenever George Wendt’s iconic character would walk through the doors. I felt important. I felt wanted. I felt a part of something. I felt home.

I have much more to say about my chatroom and social media addiction, but I will have to save it for later posts. I hope all of you have a great day/evening/weekend.

Two Weeks

March 16, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Juggling has never been one of my talents. I’m good with one ball in the air. Not three, not five. One. So if I try to put more balls in the air than I can deal with, inevitably, some get dropped. Hence my 15-day hiatus from posting here in my blog.

(Narrator’s voice): “When we last left Bob, he was still looking for work, bribing traffic cops, and about to go out on a date. How did he do? Let’s peek in and find out.”

My job search has borne some fruit. In a rather indirect way, I might add. A few weeks ago, I walked to a government school on the west edge of the old part of the city in Chiang Mai. The woman whom I met at the first building seemed interested in talking to me about my plans, and made a couple of calls to the English Department and made them come down and bring me up to talk with them. I was surprised that she would bother to put forth that kind of effort, but I didn’t complain. Everything seemed to be going well, until I was asked, “Where is your degree?’

The short answer is, “I don’t have one/” I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to go to college or university when I was younger. I do have lots and lots of life experience, and I have been trained quite extensively on how to teach English, but that wasn’t what they needed. In order for me to work for that school, I would have to produce a bachelor’s degree in something. Didn’t matter what it was- I could have majored in tying neckties- they required it to hire me as a teacher. I was given the apologetic smile and shrug, and I understood, but it didn’t stop the wind from being taken out of my sails. I thanked them for their time and said goodbye. But on my way out, one of the students told me that I needed to stop back down at the office where I previously had been waiting, because I had left some materials there. When I returned to pick up the extra copies of my certificate and CV, the lady who had tried to help me inquired about my plans. I thanked her for her assistance, but told her that I probably wouldn’t be considered due to my lack of degree. She opined that it was a stupid rule, and asked me if she could help somehow. I told her that if she had contacts with other educators or managers at different schools, that I would appreciate her pointing me in the right direction.

Two days later, this woman, who has a PhD in education, called me and put me on the phone with a guy from Slovenia, who is the head of the foreign teachers at a local school outside of Chiang Mai city. He told me to come and talk with him, and that my lack of a degree would not keep me from getting hired at his school. So at this point, I have visited the school twice, been introduced to the students and also the upper echelons of the staff, including the director of the school. I have a mini-demonstration and interview scheduled for tomorrow at 8:30am!

The reason for my interview being scheduled so early is because last week, I was called by the local YMCA to come in for an interview right away. So desperate were they for someone to teach their summer English camp this week, that I was basically sat down and told, “You start Monday, please let us know what you intend to teach and what activities you wish to do with the children.” So, this week, I began working as a teacher and I’m getting paid for it. My class starts at 10am and I teach for two hours in the morning, and two more after a lunch break, ending my day at 3pm.

To top that off, the lady with the doctorate called me again last week to ask me if I would be willing to do a weekend training seminar outside of town this weekend. I didn’t know much information about it, but I said that I would anyway. Hell, it’s an opportunity. I was told that, along with a partner, I would be training about 30 primary school teachers from a remote district 180 kilometers from here on how to teach English to their pupils. I’m really not qualified to do this, but she needed someone, and I wanted the exposure. Then I found out that the 30 teachers were actually going to be 150 teachers, and I almost shit myself. My partner and I have one six-hour day on Saturday to train these teachers to an impossible standard, and then watch and give commentary Sunday as they demonstrate what they learned from us. In order for us to get up there, we leave tomorrow (Friday) at 4:30 pm. So, I have an interview in the early morning, rush back to teach my final summer camp class, then rush back with my lesson plans and weekend clothing (all on my motorcycle) about 18 kilometers from here so we can start the 3-hour trip north for the training seminar. I am exhausted just thinking about it. As the Thai people say, “Mai pen rai.” (“Whatever”, or “that’s life”)

One of my friends who reads this blog chastised me a bit for leaving him hanging on the date story. I haven’t really talked much about my love life in this blog. But for the sake of honesty, I’ll share some of that.

My girlfriend back in the States and I broke up a few months before I left for Thailand. It was a mutual decision, and even though it was not painless, we remain on friendly terms. We were simply in two different places in our lives, and it just wasn’t going to work out being on the other side of the planet. I wish her nothing but happiness and success in her future.

I have said for a long time that I do not desire to marry again, or even be in a relationship for a period of time. I really want to focus on myself and things that I wish to accomplish, without distraction. I have a standing arrangement with a close friend back in the Chicago area that if she hears that I have a girlfriend in the next couple of years, she can buy a ticket to Thailand and come punch me in the face. However, I have a very difficult time in practice being alone. So, when the coffee girl smiled at me, and we subsequently began having daily conversations which ended with her asking me out, I was of course very pleased with that.

May is a beautiful woman and is very easy to like. That night, I met her at the rooftop bar of the mall where she had her coffee stand, and we talked and got to know each other a bit more. She is 35, divorced, with two young daughters. And she is looking for someone to marry. Red flag! Danger! Will Robinson! Shields up! Right?

But there was something about May that made me still want to see where things would go. We went out several times over the course of the past two weeks, and I found myself really being drawn to her. The way she looked at me. The way she held me tight as she sat on the back of my motorbike when we went out. The way she treats everyone so kindly. I found myself at odds within as I struggled with my goals versus wanting to be with her. In the end, it just didn’t work out. She wants to be married sooner than later, and I’m not about to rush into anything again. We ended our brief relationship last night.

While I know it was the right decision -not just for myself, but for both of us- I can’t help but feel badly about it. We chose to part as friends, but I really don’t know if I can handle seeing her again for a while. It was beautiful while it lasted, and I don’t regret trying, but breaking up hurts a bit. Even if it was only for a fortnight.

Stand down, Wendi. My face will stay intact for a bit longer.

Is THAT How it Feels?

March 1, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I was racially profiled today.

Looking for a job here in Chiang Mai is interesting. It’s not like I can look at the want ads for teaching positions that are open. Rather, I have to find out where the schools stand, and then go there in person and apply. And wherever I go, I have to fill out the dreaded application. It’s not that filling one out is difficult, it just seems redundant. Even back in the States, the questions are repetitive and don’t really tell much useful information. Anything that is asked in an application can quickly be covered in a brief interview or by reading the resume that most people would bring with them. Okay, so maybe if you are trying to get a job at McDonald’s, you won’t be bringing a CV or a resume, but you know what I mean. Anything else on the application that isn’t covered will be filled out in the eventuality of you getting hired. Such as emergency contact. Why on earth would someone who hasn’t hired me to do anything need an emergency contact? In case I stroke out during the interview or filling out the application?

There are some pretty striking differences between job applications in the US and the ones that I have been filling out here, though.  In the US, I have NEVER been asked my height and weight. Nobody wants to know my parents’ names and ages. US employers don’t give a shit my kids’ names and ages, not until I get put on a family health plan, anyway. In the US, employers are forbidden to ask certain questions. Like the one I had to answer today: “race.” My marital status. How old I am (in addition to my DOB.) I’m a single, 48-year-old white male. The ACLU would have a field day with an application like this in the States. But this is Thailand. And so those questions are just fine to ask. Interestingly, I wasn’t asked if I was a smoker or if I drank.

Being that I’m still looking for a job, I have not yet received a work permit or a non-immigrant work visa. So I had to go apply for a 30-day extension to my tourist visa. This meant a 30-minute ride to the other side of town where the immigration office sits at the bottom of a pretty big and very sad shopping mall. Yes, I rented that motorbike that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. And I must say, I really like riding it. Okay, to be completely upfront and straight with you, it’s not a REAL motorcycle in the sense that it has a manual transmission. It’s what we would call a scooter. But, it’s a pretty powerful one. It has two wheels, which make it a cycle. It has a 125cc motor, which, TECHNICALLY makes it a (follow me closely here…) a MOTOR-CYCLE. And it goes pretty fast, I guess. I’ve had it up to 80.  Okay, 80 kph, but that’s pretty much as fast as people drive over here anyway. And 80 kph seems pretty damned fast in traffic. Especially when drivers will pull over and park in front of a roadside stand, and you have to edge over into the other lane in front of the car behind you to get past.

Riding a motorbike over here is a trip. Many of the locals don’t wear helmets, even though they are required by law. When traffic ahead comes to a stop at a red light, the riders don’t sit idly behind in the queue. Instead, they pass the line of parked cars on the left and get up as close as they can to the light. Or, they will snake their way between the lanes of cars, dodging the mirrors on either side as they try to make it to the front of the pack. Because when the light finally turns green, the motorcycles take off like a shot, quickly outpacing the cars through the intersection. Usually, they will then merge over to the far left, many times riding in the shoulder lane so that the ultimately more powerful autos can pass on the right after they catch up to cruising speed. I personally thought this was a bit crazy at first, but now I’m getting pretty good at navigating between parked cars on my way to the front. And I DO wear my helmet. Not simply because it’s the safe thing to do (as if anything about riding a motorcycle in traffic is safe..), but because I want to avoid being pulled over for not wearing one. One of the things I neglected to do before I left Chicago was to apply for an International Drivers License. So technically, I’m riding illegally.

So, on my way to the faraway immigration office to get my visa extension, I ran right up on one of the dreaded police checkpoints. I had my helmet on, of course, so there was no reason for the officer to step out and wave me over while other traffic passed by. Except for one. I’m farang. That’s the Thai word for “foreigner.” It’s not a pejorative word, so I’m not offended by it. In the north of Thailand, where they have a big difficulty with the pronunciation of “r”, they call us “falang.” Anyway, I got nicked for not having the proper license. He pulled my white ass over, not because he knew I was breaking the law, but just because he suspected that I might be because of the color of my skin. He told me that the fine was 1000 baht, payable at the police station. I am pretty sure that he said that I could come back after paying the ticket to get my bike. There was no way in hell that I was going to walk or get a taxi to the station and then come back. I acted dumb and told him I didn’t know where the station was and that I needed to get to immigration and I didn’t know what an international driver’s license was. I looked at him and asked if I couldn’t just pay it on the spot. His eyes clicked, and he said, “I make you discount, you pay me 500 baht.” So, I paid the police his bribe, and rode on. He probably had a nice dinner with his wife and family or mistress or whatever. It cost me $14 US to get out of a traffic ticket.

So, yes, I was racially profiled. Now, I realize that it’s different than when it happens to others. There is no comparison to what others have gone through. At no time was I in fear for my life or think that I may be roughed up or put in handcuffs.  I pretty much knew that it was a shake-down for money. I simply rode away a little poorer.

I felt badly about it all the same. 500 baht is still more than I wanted to lose. I’m used to things not costing much over here, and without an income, I’m trying to watch my spending. I could eat for three days on 500 baht. I felt better later, though. I was telling May, the coffee girl with the lovely smile about my experience. And we had a nice chat. And then I accompanied her on her break to go look for something in the mall. And then she asked me out. I’m wrapping up this post so that I can go pick her up and go to dinner with her.  🙂