Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thailand Swine Flu Precautions

Yesterday, while shopping and performing personal errands, we were able to observe some of the precautions that Thailand is taking in regards to the Swine Flu pandemic.

As of last week there have been 65 deaths attributable to Swine Flu with 21 just last week. To date there have been 8,877 cases of the disease up from 6,776 cases the previous week.

Upon my return to Thailand earlier in the month, I and all other arriving international passengers were "thermal scanned". We had to remove hats and eyeglasses as we looked into what looked like a movie camera as we walked towards the Immigration area. The area where the thermal scanning devices were located was staffed with medical personnel.

In a different area along the route to Immigration there was a medical receiving area for tourists staffed by medical staff.

There were also medical pamphlets ready available related to "Influenza A (H1N1)". The pamphlet gives some tips regarding the "Prevention of Infection". These tips are fairly typical - wash hand, avoid sharing the same glasses, get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of water and wear a mask if you are caring for ill patients. However there is one recommendation that we will not be following "Use common spoon when eating with other persons"

In Isaan, people eat using a common spoon in each serving bowl of food. If the dish is soup, everyone eats the soup out of a common large bowl or pot using a single spoon. Besides being a traditional way of dining, this practice is sometimes necessitated due to a lack of bowls and utensils. It also dramatically cuts down on the amount of things to be washed after the meal.

I suspect that the pamphlet meant to advise "Do not use common spoon ..." but the intended intent got lost in translation.

As we approached the entrance to the shopping mall, the door was opened by a security guard wearing gloves and a surgical mask. He and other guards performed this duty for all people entering and leaving the facility. Using guards to open and close the doors meant that patrons did not have to touch doors that could be sources of infection.

Upon passing through the doors into the mall there was a table and a bottle of alcohol gel for hand cleaning. There was a sign in Thai advising people to sanitize their hands to avoid infection.

We needed to go into the bank branch inside the mall and as is customary and typical, a security guard manned the door so there was no need for a customer to touch the door. Inside the bank on the table where you fill out your deposit or withdrawal documents, there was now an alcohol hand washing station. All but two of the bank personnel were wearing surgical masks.

Most of the stores inside of the mall had bottles of alcohol based hand sanitizers available for people's use. About 2% of the customers were walking around with surgical masks covering their nose and mouth.

This is all very interesting. In a normal year, 30,000 to 40,000 Americans die due to Influenza. The A (H1N1)strain this year is difficult to ascertain just how much a threat or danger that it is. When it first started out in Mexico the mortality rate seemed rather high. Now it seems that the mortality rate has settled down to a more typical rate for seasonal influenza. This is reassuring as long as the virus does not mutate to a more lethal strain.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New Gallery Available to View

A gallery of photographs related to my July 22 "Isaan Rice Planting" and July 17 "Planting Rice, Listening to Gossip" blogs is now available for viewing at my photography website.

The weather continues to be hot, humid, and wet - great weather for getting caught up on all kinds of tasks such as blog writing, editing photos, correspondence, and writing my next book.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Isaan Rice Planting

Last weekend's big plans were set aside by the weather. There was too much water for planting rice or fishing. All was not lost however, our five month old grandson paid a visit on Sunday.

Yesterday the weekend's planned rice planting took place. Rice was being planted in plots just outside of Tahsang Village by family members hired by Duang's daughter. Ten people walked from Tahsang Village out to the fields and awaited our arrival.

They were not being either polite or considerate. They were waiting for us because we were bringing their breakfast out to them in the pickup truck. Apparently when you hire field workers, you also have to feed them, provide them with drink, as well as pay them wages. We arrived around 08:00 A. M. much to Duang's daughter's relief.

Old sahts (woven reed mats) were placed on the relatively dry level ground on the other side of the dirt road that bisected the fields of sugar cane, rice paddies, and grazing grounds for cattle as well as water buffalo. The breakfast area for the workers was also shared with some tethered water buffalo and some free ranch cattle.

After a substantial breakfast of Kao Lao (Lao food) that could very well have been served for lunch or dinner, some of the workers washed down the last of their food with some Lao Kao (white whiskey - a sort of Lao moonshine). Other workers drank water from a common metal cup out of a insulated bucket of cool water. People in Isaan do not follow any type of set menu or types of foods reserved for specific times of the day. Rice is eaten at all meals and often in between. Fish and meat dishes are served at the first meal of the day just as they are at other meals of the day.

Everyone wandered across the road and finished putting on their work clothes for the day's activities. There is no set dress code for working in the fields. Although they will be working in water as well as mud for the day, workers are just as likely to wear pants or skirts as to wear shorts. There does seem to be one common article of clothing. Most Isaan farm workers wear brightly colored soccer style jerseys. Often the jerseys bear advertising for companies and corporations. This is much like my past when some of my wardrobe was provided as project safety awards or project team building windbreakers and jackets.

Heads are covered in a variety of gear ranging from pakamas, straw hats, and cotton sun bonnets. Often the workers will also wear some type of device to cover their necks and faces from the sun and to absorb perspiration. Colorful cotton tee shirts are sometimes employed to cover the face and neck. Sometimes the workers wear specialized articles of clothing designed and constructed specifically to cover the face and neck.

Once everyone was properly dressed they set about their work. Two paddies had been previously prepared. The paddies were about 75 feet by 100 feet long surrounded by dikes of compacted clay overgrown with vegetation. The plots were completed flooded with a mixture of mud and water about 18 inches deep. Sheaves of rice sprouts had been previously distributed throughout the prepared paddies. The workers set out in a line and grabbed bundles of sprouts from the sheaves. Groups of three sprouts were set deeply by hand into the soupy mud. In little time but with a great deal of back breaking work the paddies were spotted with neat and proper rows of transplanted sprouts.

As most of the workers focused on setting out the sprouts, some of the workers broke off to perform specific specialized tasks. Duang's son-in-law owns a small tractor and earns money using it to prepare local rice paddies. He had trucked the tractor to these paddies the night before. On the back of the tractor was a rototiller type attachment that ground up the unprepared paddies. Due to the monsoon rains that we have been experiencing for the past month, the ground is saturated with water and many of the paddies have standing water in them. The tractor or sometimes using a small iron buffalo grinds up the soil, water, and vegetation to create a flat soupy mud for planting the rice. If there is not enough standing water in the prepared paddy, a small portable diesel driven pump is used to transfer water to the paddy. In areas of the impoundment where the tractor could not get completely into, a man with a hoe finished the paddy preparation.

Duang went to the area where the rice sheaves had been placed the day before. The sprouts had been harvested at a different location the day before and brought by pick up truck to the paddies. It appeared to me that there were at least three pick up truck loads of sheaves - however this is Isaan and knowing how much they load up their trucks, I suspect that they had made only one trip or maybe two. Duang used a large heavy machete type knife to cut the tops off of the rice sheaves. This was to promote growth in the transplanted sprouts. As she picked up each sheave to trim its top, she inspected the root base of the sheave. For proper transplantation of the sprouts and to ensure a good harvest, the sprouts must have about 4 inches of good hairy root structure. Any sheaves that did not have sufficient root development were cast to the side to be fed to the livestock or placed on top of the paddy dikes. As she completed trimming each sheave, Duang placed the bundle off to the side in a special area.

Duang's cousin placed the shorn sheaves on the ends of a long bamboo pole and carried the wet mud dripping bundles out to the prepared fields. He carried the sheaves much like we had observed other workers transporting harvested garlic in the Maehongson area during April. He carried the pole full of sprouts out into the prepared field and left them in a pile in the muddy water. Other workers distributed them throughout the field for transplanting.

Everyone worked diligently at their tasks with the monotony of the work interrupted by shouting out to passing relatives or friends tending to their free range cattle. One grandfather came out on a motorbike with his young grandson so that the child could watch his mother for a while. My antics in photographing the goings on was often the subject of conversation as well as amusement. I was also teased about taking too many pictures of Duang rather than of them.

The work went very smoothly and the only excitement occurred when one of the women planting rice pulled a mouse out of muddy goop. She proudly held it by its tail and displayed it so that I could photograph the event.

The people worked until all the paddies had been planted. The work was completed by 2:00 P.M. Everyone piled into the back of our pick up and we went back to Tahsang Village. After washing, the workers reunited at Duang's parent's house to eat and drink. The men ate in one room and the women ate in another room. Sahts were placed on the tile floor and the food and drink were laid out picnic style. There was plenty of food and beer. Everyone enjoyed their meal and the air was filled with animated conversation and laughing.

We returned to our home tired but satisfied with our day out in the rice paddies.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Book Is Available

The Beginning of a...
By Allen A. Hale

For some time, many people have asked me if I was going to write a book or when would I write a book.

My first book is now available. The badge above provides a direct link to Blurb where it can be ordered.

This book is a compilation of narratives and photographs documenting the experiences of the author during an extraordinary one year period of my life in Thailand - a year that changed my life forever.

In addition to photographs of many Thai attractions, the book provides many intimate photographs of Hill Tribe people and Lao Loum people of the Isaan region - extraordinary people doing common activities. There a total of 322 photographs displayed in the book.

The narratives provide a personal glimpse and insight into the everyday life as well as many of the celebrations along with family milestones in Thailand.

I am working on my second book which will be a compilation of photographs and narratives related to an expat living in Isaan.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

An American Loss - Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite has died. Everyone must know this by now.

The death of a legend, a 92 year old man, will not garner the extensive coverage or hysteria that continues for the former "King of Pop" but his loss, to many people, is more significant to our culture. Cronkite had character with a small "c" rather than flaunting himself as a "Character"

He was a major contributor to Broadcast Journalism unlike his heir apparents today who are involved in "News Entertainment" industry. Cronkite reported news and did not make news excluding his infamous report on his belief that the stalemate in Vietnam would continue on for years. In the glory days of television journalism, reporters such as Cronkite did not report their opinions or indicate their reactions to what they reported. They presented the facts and left it up to the viewer to develop their own opinions and conclusions. How different it is today. It is so obvious on all the networks of how and what the executives through their "pretty boy" and "pretty girl" news readers want the viewers to believe and think. I have no doubt that the infusion of personality as well as the focus of form over substance has greatly contributed to the decimation of credibility and integrity in broadcast journalism.

I remember Cronkite broadcasts along with the Huntley-Brinkley reports. Their authoritative no nonsense demeanor in reporting news events was reassuring and evoked trust in the television media. You never got the feeling that their were leading you down a path of their choosing. You never believed that they were spoon feeding you and doing your thinking for you. They understood that it was not their job. They ensured that it did not become part of their job. They were reporters and not commentators.

Their detached professional demeanor evoked credibility and confidence from the viewers.

It was ironic that during the coverage of the Indonesian hotel bombings, CNN's anchor, Anderson Cooper was interviewing an eye witness to the bombing. The eye witness stated that he had come upon a badly mangled body of what he believed to have been a suicide bomber. Anderson Cooper in his whiny and snivelled voice, only marginally less irritating than Aaron Brown whom he replaced at CNN, then asked the eye witness if he was able to determine the "Nationality" of the remains.

Credibility? Let's see - someone apparently straps a quantity of high explosives around their body and detonates the device. The suicide bomber's body is subjected to the full force of the explosion. An eye witness states that the body was very badly mangled and a supposedly top notch journalist asks "Could you determine the nationality?"

I was not aware that a person's nationality could be determined on sight. American? Irish? French? Canadian? Saudi? Yemeni? Sudanese? Indian? Pakistani?

Identifying a person's nationality by the way their appearance is impossible. Added to this, the fact that the remains were badly mangled makes such a question ridiculous.

Knowing that Anderson Cooper graduated from Yale University I assume that he is not stupid although some people might argue and even point out that at least one Yale graduate with a "C" average was indeed very stupid. I will continue in my belief that a Yale graduate is too smart to naively ask if an eye witness could identify the nationality of the mangled remains of a suicide bomber.

I suspect that in asking such a ridiculous question, Anderson Cooper was fulfilling a need to become part of the story, a need to make the story more entertaining, or perhaps something more sinister as well as disturbing. Perhaps he was asking the question that he assumed his audience was wanting to ask. If so this arrogance on his part is inexcusable - assuming that the majority of his audience are that stupid and that he must speak for them so that their voice could be heard.

Walter Cronkite would not allow his personal opinions and ego to sway his reporting. He never asked ridiculous questions that are too often made in today's media.

We may mourn the death of Walter Cronkite, but we should also mourn the loss of a powerful symbol of what American broadcast journalism once was and what it stood for.

For our culture the loss of that symbol transcends the loss of the man.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Planting Rice, Listening to Gossip

Yesterday we drove out to Tahsang Village. WE drove out.

While I was away in the USA, Duang went to school and obtained her driver's licence ("ID Card Drive Car"). The previous day she drove the truck for the first time with me as a passenger.

Two days ago, we went out to Tahsang Village and Duang drove part of the way. She drove well - slow and carefully. However it seemed that she was not totally familiar or comfortable with down shifting. Since the country road from Kumphawapi is in such a poor state, down shifting is often required in navigating the bumps, ruts, holes and other road obstacles. The area headman had promised to have the road repaired in 5 months last December. It is now 8 months later and the only change that we have experienced is that the roads are worse. Sound familiar? I spoke with Duang about down shifting and when it was necessary to change gears. She said that she now understood.

On yesterday's trip, it was obvious that Duang now understood down shifting. She did very well. I got to enjoy looking over the countryside as we drove along the country road. We get rain just about everyday and due to micro-climate conditions, Tahsang Village area gets more frequent and greater rains than we do back at our home. The fields are flooded and the farmers have been busy planting this year's rice crop. The return of the monsoon rains have worked wonders with the sugar cane. The sugar cane has grown at least 3 to 4 feet in the past month with the return of nourishing rains.

Fortunately yesterday's rains did not come until late at night. We had a partly cloudy day - hot and humid. People were busy taking advantage of the dry spell. Along one stretch of the road farmers were busy harvesting peanuts. The men were occupied in pulling the plants out of the ground and bringing them to where the women had placed some sahts on the higher ground near the road. The women removed the peanuts from the bottom of the plants and placed them into plastic bags to sell to passing motorists. A bag of peanuts sells for $0.30 USD for 2.2 pounds. Duang is fond of them so we have had fresh boiled peanuts the past week. When she gets home, Duang empties the plastic bag into a sink of cold water and cleans them before boiling them in salted water. Being from New England I had not had the Southern delicacy of boiled peanuts prior to relocating to Isaan. Boiled peanuts are one of the few items of "Kao Lao" (Lao food) that I eat and enjoy. Perhaps it's a start.

Along the road past the peanut farmers we passed some people working in their rice field. Duang pulled over and I got out to take some photographs. The three people were not relatives of hers but it did not seem to matter. In no time at all they were filling her in on the local gossip.

The Tahi man that lived in the house next to the field had died. We saw the truck with the rental refrigerated casket headed back to Kumphawapi as we drove towards Tahsang. That was news but the gossip involved the "falang" who lived in the local "big fancy house".

The house and its associated compound is very nice and was an inspiration to Duang and I when we did not have a home. Recently the place was declining in appearance and Duang had told me awhile ago that a Thai man had bought it. Two days ago she told me that the foreign man had gone back to his homeland when he found out that his Thai wife had been sleeping with a Thai man. Worse than that, the little baby that she gave birth to was not his but was fathered by the Thai boyfriend. This seemed to make sense as to why and how the property was declining. The Thai boy friend had not "bought" the property. He was only using it - kind of like he was doing with the Thai woman. He didn't have the money to keep the place up. Duang said that the Thai woman was trying to sell the property so that she could send one-half of the money back to her foreign husband. I am not sure but this could be a "first".

It now turns out that the 68 year old foreigner has returned to Isaan and is once again living in the house with his 32 year old wife. The Thai boy friend has returned to "Wife #1" in Khumphawapi and the baby remains with its mother in the fancy house. Now the foreigner is sick and the neighbors don't expect him to live much longer. Being able to gather in and participate in the local gossip makes the wait while I take pictures easier on Duang. She later fills me in on the details so that I am informed.

I enjoyed myself for about an hour and a half photographing the people. As much as I found them interesting and fascinating subjects, I suspect that they were amused with me. Many passing motorists and motorcyclists drove by and shouted out hello to the "Falang" (foreigner) taking "Tai-loop" (photographs) - some were relatives or neighbors in Tahsang. It was all good natured. I have found the people of Isaan to be very fun loving and very good natured. There is never a problem in stopping along the road and photographing people as they work.

Work in the fields yesterday involved harvesting the rice sprouts from on field and transplanting them into another larger flooded field about 50 meters away. One woman pulled the sprouts, washed off the roots, and bundled the sprouts into sheaves which she bound together using some rice sprouts as a string. A man and another woman were in the other field planting the sprouts in clusters of three throughout the field. A community water cooler and battery operated transistor radio were located on one of the nearby raised dikes bording the fields. Mahlam Lao and Mahlam Sing music blared out from the radio as the workers went about their stoop labor in the fields. The workers were dressed in mostly red clothing which made for some interesting photographs. After awhile the man put a brightly colored pakama on his head for protection from the sun.

We continued on to Tahsang Village only to realize that we had developed a flat tire. I spent the next 30 minutes changing the tire. I had help. Kwan, Duang's 18 month old cousin, came over to watch me. She didn't say anything but constantly remained about 3 feet from where ever I was working. I appreciated her morale support. It was refreshing every once in awhile to see that cute face and large dark eyes watching over me. Duang helped out by crawling under the truck to help connect the rod to lower the spare tire from underneath the pick up bed. We had apparently picked up a metal screw in the tire when we pulled off the road to photograph the field workers.

Just as I was finishing, one of Duang's older uncles came by on his three wheeled bicycle and wanted to know how I was doing. I told him that I was going to pay him 1,000 baht (equivalent to one week's wages for farm worker) to change the tire for me but I got tired of waiting for him to show up so I changed it myself. He got my joke and we had a good laugh as I tightened the last of the nuts on the wheel. I asked Duang's mother why she didn't help me and she pointed out that it was she that sent me the ice cold Pepsi from the market - another good laugh.

On the way home, we stopped and had the tire repaired and remounted - $3.00 USD!

It was another great day full of surprises.

Word arrived today that Duang's cousin who lives two hours northeast of here will be going out catfishing this weekend, dependent upon water levels. We went to his wedding last year and he had said that he would let us know when they would be going out fishing. Last year I put my foot through his fishing boat - more like a big very old bamboo raft with an "A" frame on the back for set and raising big nets. Hopefully some of the bamboo has been replaced.

If the fields are not too flooded and it doesn't rain, Duang's daughter and other relatives will be working in the rice fields too.

It is a busy time in Isaan - I'll need to be sure that all my batteries - camera as well as my internal ones are fully charged for the upcoming busy weekend.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Foz do Iguacu

One of my favorite television shows back in 1966 was "Tarzan" on NBC starring Ron Ely. The show had a very impressive opening with Tarzan standing a rock outcropping before many spectacular waterfalls giving his Tarzan call. This was a truly inspiring opening to a show that often failed to meet even modest expectations. Perhaps it is only fitting that the opening was based upon a lie as well as ignorance of geography. The opening scenes of each show were filmed in Brasil and not Africa.

Tarzan in the Edgar Rice Burrough's novels as well as films of the late 1930's and 40's lived in Africa and not South America although I distinctly remember a movie where he did visit New York City - which some people refer to as a concrete jungle.

Ignoring history as well as geography, the opening scenes were filmed at Foz do Iguacu or Catarates de Iguassu at the conjunction of Brasil, Argentina and Paraguay. The raw majesty and beauty of this natural wonder of the world was too great for the director to ignore.

Foz do Iguacu is the world's largest waterfall. Various sources list the number of individual waterfalls located there as ranging from 234 to 275. I have been fortunate to have visited the falls on two separate occasions while I was working in Araucaria, Brasil. The exact and specific number of waterfalls depends upon the season as well as rainfall conditions for the year. I visited in April and later in the year returned in order to photograph the falls under a full moon. I have been fortunate so far in my life to have had the resources as well as determination to fulfil my whimsies. Although my attempt to photograph the falls under the full moon was not successful, walking out and along the falls under the guard of Park Rangers was memorable and worth the trip. Just as I had returned to Machu Picchu a second time to take some missed shots from my first trip but with a new camera, I returned home fully satisfied.

Foz Iguacu is a unique location. The mists generated by the waterfalls creates a rain forest micro climate that is home to many exotic flora and fauna. The falls are surrounded by lands reserved as a national park. The highest fall is called "Garganta do Diablo" (The Devil's Throat). The Devil's Throat is 1-1/2 times higher than Niagara Falls. Speedy tour boats take people to the base of the falls. The power of the falls experienced up close is thrilling - the roar of thousands and thousands gallons of water plummeting 266 feet to your location on the river is memorable. Hundreds of sparrow type birds live in cracks, alcoves, and recesses on the rocky cliff behind the falls.

After initially being introduced to this natural marvel through the magic of television, it was a treat to actually visit the falls and totally experience the location.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Back Home - Back in Thailand

I arrived back home - here in Thailand three days ago - finally - home to my wife - home to the life that I have chosen.

During the month that I was away, the Isaan farmers have been busy setting out the new rice crop into the recently flooded fields. Flying over Thailand, the sun reflected off of the many rice fields creating an astonishing mosaic. There is a sense of continuity with the planting of the new crop - one year to another. Life moves on in harmony with the seasons and the rhythm of the required farm activities.

Yesterday was spent getting Yahoo Voice Messenger back on line. Some how in the two days that I spent travelling from California to Udonthani, my version of the software became incompatible with the system. I could call out and hear people but they were unable to hear me. The problem was resolved relatively quickly and very efficiently using On-Line Chat with a representative named "Hugo". He walked me through removing my old version and reinstalling a newer version. The solution worked the first try and I am back in contact with the outside world.

Why does this matter? Why do I even bother to write about it?

I believe that it is important - important to all of us. It is about the power and benefits of people helping people. It is about service. It is about people connecting to people. This incident is tied to some of my observations and experiences back in the USA over the past month.

United Airlines in an apparent effort to reduce their costs has eliminated many "Airline Representatives" at their check in counters at US airports and replaced them with electronic kiosks. To summarize my experience with the electronic self check-in - of my 6 flights, I was successful in using the kiosk twice. The four other flights for various reasons, none of which were my personal incompetence, required the assistance of a real person.

I was not alone in my frustration and contempt for the electronic self check-in system that has eliminated jobs. I would to have loved to have taken a sledge hammer to the machines. I am confident that had I started to destroy the machines others would have joined me. I was careful to not to express a desire to blow them up. The USA is still at Security Threat Level "Orange" - the next to highest level in their system. After so many years of war, thousands of deaths and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, the perceived threat remains the same. I did not want to add to anyone's paranoia by mentioning bombs or explosives.

It seemed ironic to me that in today's troubled economy, jobs have been eliminated at the cost of poorer customer service for the consumer. I personally would be willing to pay $5 or $10 more for each airline ticket to ensure I received personal service in checking in at the airport. Here in South East Asia customer service and assistance is still provided by real people and is expected as part of a company's services to its clients. This connects people to people, provides employment, and improves the consumer's experience.

A similar situation exists related to luggage carts at US airports. For domestic flights, a traveller must pay to use a luggage cart. In South East Asia the carts are readily available for free at all luggage carousels at airports and airport entrances irregardless of domestic or international flights. How much more convenient would it be for all travellers to have free and readily available luggage carts at all airport locations in the USA? Again the $4 fees could be added to the price of each ticket to cover the costs of managing and distributing the carts. Once again this is related to connecting people to people, creating jobs, and providing a higher quality of service to the consumer.

How many times have you become unsnarled in a company's electronic switchboard? As you listen to the electronic "elevator music" and go through the selection of "Press 1 now", "Press 2 now" it becomes evident and painfully clear that your situation is unique and has not been anticipated or perhaps was ignored in development of the automated switchboard. No matter what combination of numbers that you press, your problem will not be resolved or even addressed. You need to speak to a real person - a person who can listen, think, and act responsively to your situation. There have been times where I have given up and hung up the phone in trying to speak to a real person.

This is another situation where jobs have been eliminated to reduce costs at the expense of customer service. We the consumers are partly to blame for this situation. We blindly and complacently accept corporate America's efforts in eliminating jobs and reducing services. Perhaps we wrongly believe that the cost savings are being passed along. Our neighbors are put out on the street and we end up with less as well as poorer service.

We may or not be our brother's keeper but by advocating for better service we can help others as well as work to improve our life.

The job you save could very well be your own.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Yellowstone National Park Spring Photo Gallery

I have finally completed reviewing, editing, and adding captions to the photographs that I took during my recent trip to Yellowstone National Park.

Some of the photographs are available to view on my photography website:

I researched and added the Latin scientific names for the animals in the photographs i.e. ursus arctos horribilis, ursus americanus ...

Adding the Latin names brought back fond memories of 9th grade Biology class where we had to memorize many of the names. I remember that my studies motivated me to develop my own family and genus associated with my younger sister - "Bitchus americanus". I am no longer angry at my sister and do not use the term in association with her. However during my stay here in America I did take some photos of "Bitchus americanus" but for obvious legal considerations I will be sharing them only with my wife back in Thailand.

It was my observation that the species "Bitchus americanus" is thriving in the USA both in numbers and definitely in size. Perhaps the proper name should now be "Bichus americanus magnus"

Giving Credit and A Tribute to My Own Ones

In writing you have to give credit to others.

In life, you should give credit.

As I prepare to return home to Thailand in three days, I would like to share one of my favorite (I have many) songs that seems to summarize my emotions and thoughts so well regarding this trip back to the USA. Although I am not Irish, the words and thoughts of this song are meaningful and applicable to me and I believe to everyone. I got the lyrics from

Artist: Van Morrison
Album: Irish Heartbeat
Title: Irish Heartbeat

Oh won't you stay
Stay a while with your own ones
Don't ever stray
Stray so far from your own ones
'cause the world is so cold
Dont care nothing for your soul
That you share with your own ones

Don't rush away
Rush away from your own ones
Just one more day
One more day with your own ones
'cause the world is so cold
Don't care nothing bout your soul
That you share with your own ones

There's a stranger
And he's standing at your door
Might be your best friend, might be your brother
You may never know

I'm going back
Going back to my own ones
Come back to talk
Talk a while with my own ones
'cause the world is so cold
Don't care nothing 'bout your soul
You share with your own ones

Oh won't you stay
One more day with your own ones
Don't rush away
Rush away from your own ones
This old world is so cold,
Don't care nothing for your soul
You share with your own ones

I came back this time to be with my own ones - my family and some of my friends.

Highlights of this trip were visiting and spending time with my parents, my son, three of my aunts, and a few of my friends - friends that I see every year on my visits back and some friends that I had not seen in 38 years.

Of course, it was a given that Mom and Dad would care - about my soul, about my happiness, about my life - they always have and I know that they always will. They have always been there for me throughout my trials, tribulations and travels. Although at times it seems slightly awkward that at 60 years old - it is still very comforting and satisfying that they still consider me to be their little boy.

The surprise and joy for me was the caring and camaraderie I shared with some of my old friends. Some friends I had last seen and spoke with during my last year of college back in Rhode Island in 1971.

Despite the lengthy physical separation, the bonds of our shared experiences during the four years at the university survived the years and tribulations of our individual lives. Although we physically changed a great deal, spiritually it was as if we reunited after only a semester break. Going back last week with them to our own home of 4 years at the LXA fraternity house was an experience that I cherish. Knowing that some of them will assist the current brothers in rehabilitating the house is a comfort as well as tribute to the ideals and opportunities that we experienced and shared during our time there so long ago.

Some people say that it is difficult to make friends in New England and that the people are not all that friendly. The same people say that when you make a friend in New England, you have a friend for life. I am not so sure that it true that New Englanders are not friendly - it just might be that they are suspicious! I am joking. However I know it to be true that a New England friend is a friend for life. There is no need to call, write, or visit often. The friendship is kept and maintained in the heart as well as in the soul.

Yesterday, I shared some time with a former boss and a former co-worker - a pleasant afternoon on the shores of San Francisco. We manage to reunite just about every time I am in the San Francisco Bay Area. I always look forward to our gatherings. One of the friendships is somewhat surprising.

My former coworker and I did not always get along - well or any other way. We came from completely different backgrounds and experiences. For some reason we rubbed each other wrong from the start. One weekend, the company for other reasons than our lack of a good relationship sponsored a "Team Building" retreat for the company managers. Part of the retreat other than to get all of us together outside of the work environment, was to get us to participate in exercises and workshops that revealed our personalities. The results were reviewed and discussed with the participants. WARNING: THE EXERCISES AND DISCUSSIONS WERE CONDUCTED BY TRAINED PROFESSIONALS AND SHOULD NEVER BE ATTEMPTED BY ANYONE AT HOME OR ANYWHERE WITHOUT PROPER SUPERVISION. Sorry, I couldn't help making a little joke about psychologists and other mental health professionals. Often they are objects of jest and we don't even know "how they feel about that .." In this example their work and guidance was invaluable. For me, their efforts has enriched my life.

At the conclusion of the exercises that revealed personalities and identified what motivated us, it turned out that my co-worker and I had exactly the same personality as well as motivating factors. We had the same personality and motivating factors to the extent that every single answer in the pamphlet of questions was EXACTLY the same! I was shocked and I am sure that he was just as shocked (He must have been because we are the same!). I quipped that when he shaved in the morning from that point on he would be looking at me in the mirror!

We ended up doing a project together and developed a trust, respect, and camaraderie that continues to this day.

"...There's a stranger
And he's standing at your door
Might be your best friend, might be your brother
You may never know ..."

He was the stranger. I now know that he was a "Best Friend". Life is surprising and can always be explained. Often it is best to accept and enjoy its richness for what it is.

"Oh won't you stay
One more day with your own ones
Don't rush away
Rush away from your own ones ..."

I must go. I need to go. I want to go ... go back to my home, back home to my own one - my own wife.

However, it is through this blog and the Internet that I can continue to talk to my own ones.

I leave proud and happy to have seen and talked with my own ones. Although the world in America has grown old and is experiencing serious economic hardships, their friendship as well as camaraderie survives and prevails. I am a richer man for the friendship, affection, and love of my own ones. I give them credit and I pay them tribute.

I am sure that you too share the wealth of your "own ones" It is one of the treasures of life.


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