Thursday, July 5, 2012

12 Ways to Beat the Heat Thai Style

The village of Huay Sai turns out to help a neighbor irrigate his land.
As record-breaking heat cooks the Triangle in North Carolina, in the spirit of shared community, I'd like to offer a few tips on staying cool the way they do here in northern Thailand where my son, Jacob, and I are volunteering at the Warm Heart Foundation (more on that later). Here, air conditioning is more for luxury hotels than day-to-day life.

Jacob buying an ice cream from a mobile vendor.
1.      Protect yourself from UV rays with a hat. Deliver ice cream with a motorcycle and don’t forget your gloves! Keep smiling and whatever happens, remember “mai pen rai”--Thai for “no worries!”

Pi-Tai's pup waggin' his tail under a parked Warm Heart truck.
2.      Stay cool Thai doggie style. Dig a hole in the shade under the nearest pick-up truck. Stateside, you might retreat to the cooler regions of your home like the basement.

One cool cat vegetatin' at Warm Heart's Children's Home.
3.      Remember that greenery is the cat’s pajamas. Water your houseplants and spritz their leaves to create your own cooling rain forest hideaway.

Cataloguing books for the Always Reading Caravan (ARC) at Warm Heart.
4.      Find the nearest empty rice barn and create a community library. Join a book club, read with friends to keep ideas flowing and use fans to keep the air moving.

A seasonal cornfield that periodically goes underwater.
5.      Watch the corn grow by a banana tree. Remember that without the sun, we’d become Ice Age fossils. Contemplate how the natural forces of nature cause roots to reach for the earth’s core and leaves to unfurl towards the heavens following the pull of universal yin and yang.

Drink fluids early and often.

6.      In Thailand, most gas stations give you a free bottle of water with a fill-up. Don’t forget to stay hydrated! Drink plenty of water during the day before you are parched. Perspiration is nature’s natural coolant – don’t let your human radiator run dry and overheat.

Pi-Beuh's wife staking out a frangipani sapling.

7.      Plant a tree to create shade. In Thailand, this frangipani will easily grow some 20 feet tall. Remember to baby your sapling for the first year or two by watering during drought. Protect young plants from excessive winds (here by staking). In the North Carolina Piedmont, protect them from rutting deer with a surround of chicken wire.

Waterfall in a national park near Phrao.
8.      Cool off in a waterfall and enjoy nature. The soothing sound of flowing water – from a burbling brook, a lake lapping the shoreline, or ocean waves – is sure to refresh your spirits as well as your toes. Breezes rustling through the bamboo leaves and singing birds are a bonus.

Taking a siesta by the newly built Girls House at Warm Heart.
9.      Take a siesta to avoid the extreme heat of the day. The Spanish word siesta derives from the Latin ‘sexta hora’ or sixth hour after dawn. The Thais also divide the day counting from dawn and many enjoy a noontide break. You might find monks napping in a nearby “wat” or monastery temple.

A wat overlooking the Phrao valley.
10.   Visit a wat -- a Thai Buddhist monastery temple. Ancient temples are often good places to cool off. Stateside, a local museum or historic home might do the trick.

An Eri silkworm feeding up and preparing to cocoon.
11.   Feed an Eri silkworm a cassava leaf and support local micro-enterprises like silk weaving. Don’t forget your local wildlife and put out water for birds during a hot spell.

Looking off the back balcony at the cow barn.
12.   Pray for rain. And when it arrives, find shelter with friends to wait out the storm. These Thai Brahman cattle were a gift from the local monastery and are not for eating! Their manure, however, enriches the soil and is highly prized by local farmers who will buy it by the bag.

      Thinking of ya'll down Carolina way from the Phrao valley. Stay cool! And as they say around here, "Sawadee-ka!" 

      The Warm Heart Foundation is an NGO founded by the husband-wife team of Michael Shafer and Evelind Schecter to help the people of Phrao help themselves. Read more about Warm Heart here:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Blowing Strawberries at Amendment One

To everything, there is a season, Ecclesiastes promises. Except in the US, where we are accustomed to having everything our way with immediate gratification. To assure this, we would take God’s rule into our very own hands to judge the living and the dead. We don’t think in terms of building a civilization that will endure for generations or even beyond the next local budget crisis. We don’t think in terms of the cycles of seasons that come and go, the wheel that crushed Hesse, or the eternal karma of our decisions. We absorb mass media input and want to generate instant output.

Ignoring the not yet mid-May date, I bought some strawberries this morning at the local Whole Foods. Knowing that the on-sale California strawberries would be flavorless, I bought local grown pyramids of saucy red juiciness. Their full-flushed cheeks promised me a taste of deep-hearted flavor, slightly tangy with sweet berries blossoming somewhere midway on my palate. They would satisfy the still-feels-like-spring crisp hope on my tongue. At the market, the gleaming mound of stacked strawberries was a treasure to behold, particularly this early in the season.

They stared at me beneath their green toupées with irresistible come-hither looks I could not ignore. They appeared to be the fully-fledged result of hanky panky amongst the bees and blossoms in a farmer’s field just waiting for me to harvest them. I wound up spending more than the cost of two Grande lattés on a pair of smallish containers of seed-freckled darlings. As my tires crunched upon the driveway, I listened expectantly for heraldic trumpeting as I returned home with my prize. I had high hopes for my investment. These berries would anoint our humble house with a riot of flavor.

Putting all other chores aside, I carefully washed them, drained them and scalped off their toupées for easy eating. One of the privileges of working in the royal kitchen is that one must taste test to assure quality control. Alas, berry after berry that detoured from swooping into the collective bowl into my mouth was naught but a waterberry – scarcely any flavor at all. I continued scalping and tasting, hoping I was mistaken or that a miraculous change would occur, turning waterberry to strawberry. Their fully ripe color predicted flavor-smacking sapidity, but berry after berry, my mouth went into mourning for what lacked.

Such is the Christian flavor expressed with the passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina. Theoretically, it looks like a victory for moral values. Theoretically, it should enhance families to work things out and be strong in their love. Marriage holds within it the fecund promise of future generations. But in truth, the Amendment is empty of True Christian heart. It sounds the noisy gong and clanging cymbal of the dinner bell without serving up the fried chicken and biscuits.

While Amendment 1 appears to take notice of marriage, it actually harms many families. Who would deny their sister or brother the loving care they desire and deserve at end of life? Who would deny the value of helping children obtain health insurance? What of those whom this amendment leaves disenfranchised? What’s to become of no-longer-recognized civil unions of all sorts where one has promised to care for the other and perhaps fails to, or worse, abuses the other? It removes the gentle support that society is called upon to offer those who are vulnerable. It defines a society of haves where the have-nots no longer exist.

“You can’t legislate morality,” as my attorney dad used to say. Government is for all the people, not the privileged few. Repeal Amendment 1. Moreover, since Congresses can’t seem to function without riders on their bills, why not add that there should be warning labels on flavorless strawberries? Perhaps it would start a trend for truth in advertising religious and secular.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Social media and its discontents

New York Public Library archive (ca. 1910s)
I need to listen to Steve Almond's "The Writing Life" again. That is because I spent most of the day reading up on modernist writers, like Dorothy Parker, partially due to a Facebook posting on women writers who went to New York City to seek their literary fortunes. I also reviewed the Harlem Renaissance and Zora Neale Hurston and dug into the life history of Sylvia Plath. Silly me, I thought by reading about the lives of writers, I would find inspiration to write. However, it wasn’t drinking, depression, dogs, destitution or death that made them writers. It was writing.