The Long Neck Girl and the Tiger

I spent last week in total solitude, except for the rare visit from the tiny old man who takes care of my dogs when we’re not there. There’s a big difference in being lonely and being alone.

I have a small place where I go to finish a manuscript or prepare a book for publishing. It’s by itself and surrounded by rice fields, cows and beautiful birds of every size and description. I often walk with the dogs during the day to take a break from writing and editing and I always have my bamboo walking stick to chase away other dogs, snakes and giant lizards. Through the growing season rice changes to every color of green until it turns golden when ripe. It’s very pleasing to the eyes. As I walk my mind wanders to the wonders that surround me.

My wife, daughter and I went to the far north in Thailand on one of the visits my daughter makes to see us. I had told her about the Long Neck women from the hilltribes and she wanted to meet them.

Northern Thailand is mountainous and covered in massive Teak trees and fields of beauty. On one of our stops there were sunflowers that are grown for seeds and oil. It was true beauty to see rai (a rai is about 2 acres) after rai of giant flowering sunbeams.

We stopped in Chaing Mai, a large city along the Ping River, nestled in a valley bordered by giant mountains. Chaing Mai is a beautiful city and well worth the visit.

The next day we took to the mountains and went through 1864 curves to Mea Hong Son. I know that’s how many curves there are because I have a tee shirt to prove it. Each winding turn along the way was filled with birds, trees, rivers flowing through valleys and steep mountains. It’s also dangerous because Thai still drive crazy no matter the terrain. I spent over six hour on the edge of my seat trying to avoid making us all hood ornaments so by the time we arrive in the sleepy town I was exhausted. I recharged quickly as I looked around. We were completely surrounded by lush green mountains and the people were so friendly. In Mea Hong Son we slept in small bungalows to the quite sounds of the mountains.

I love north Thailand. They speak a different dialect but also speak traditional Thai with an accent. These were my kind of people. Their slow drawl was easy for me to understand and they overlooked my tonal mistakes. I love them.

It was so cold at night, me and all the Thai’s were bundled up with whatever we could find. My daughter looked at me like I was crazy. It was 58 degrees—something I never thought possible in Thailand.

I got direction to a Karen hilltribe village—not one that all the tourist go to but a ‘real’ village. For once the directions were quite good and we arrived far back in the mountains at a quaint village. There were tourists there but not in great numbers so we walked the few narrow streets and visited with the people selling their wares. I had seen a few pictures of the Long Neck women and thought there would be a couple on display and everyone else would be ‘normal’. I was wrong. Now not every woman had those brass rings but many did. Me being me- I jumped right in to talk to them. Julee hung back in case spears started flying or in the case of the Karen, crossbow bolts, but everyone was so nice. I talked to one young girl who spoke English, German, French, Thai and of course Karen. She and other women had traveled all over Europe for cultural events.

I spoke Thai because I just couldn’t get over so many people understanding me. She had a child of about 6 months who was a delight. She let me look at her neck thingy and even brought one out for me to hold. To my surprise it was a solid piece of brass that hinged in the back and very heavy. She showed different lengths which were changed out to increase the length of one’s neck.

I was shocked to find out that after increasing the length so much the older women couldn’t take theirs off because their necks wouldn’t support their head.

The young lady had a cloth stuffed inside the fixture because of the cold. I ask why they wore them. She said it was a sign of beauty, part of their culture and for the tourist money from taking pictures and buying trinkets. I had read that originally these brass pieces had been used to protect the young girls and women from tigers. Tigers go for the neck when they attack prey. She said it was true but there hadn’t been any tigers around for a long, long time. I must say this young woman and others I met that day were some very delightful people.

If ever you get a chance to visit Thailand and go to the north you really should make the trip to Mea Hong Son. You could spent a long time in north Thailand and not see all it has to offer, but the people are the true wonders there.

I hope you enjoyed this little encounter with some of the reasons I am a writer in Thailand. I will write more of my visits to the north.

A Soldier’s Return

Don't Blame the Men and Women

My good  friend and author Al Boudreau has called me a romantic, which he meant and I take as a compliment. Life does different things to people as they grow. Some turn dark from the light and others turn light from the dark. I guess my soul chose light.

Another good friend and author Zee Gorman, whom I met on a book site started me thinking about my life. One day I mentioned that I had fought in Vietnam. Zee was a child living in a small village in China near the border of Vietnam during that period. Slowly I opened wounds of my past and she talked about something I knew nothing about. As a child she stood by the roadside and cheer returning soldiers who had also fought in Vietnam. I received a much different reception.

I’m writing this introduction to my next little story in hopes that anyone who has ever protested war might think differently of the people in uniform when they pass by. Protesting against whatever a government is doing should be a right for those who disagree. I am not a proponent of war. The soldiers are not to blame.

This little story has sat for over a year waiting. It took me years to finally write it. Even though it is a simple thing it allowed me to give thought and relief from the past. I don’t look for anything from this story except possibly to give you a view of the past. Please enjoy:

A Soldier’s Return

Years have flown—not nearly as fast as they might—since the war many people don’t remember came to a sputtering conclusion. It still seems to be a dirty word for most today, but it was real and touched so many lives… for good and bad.

I played my part- although only a tiny cog in a giant wheel of governments—and my pride in serving grows stronger with the passing years. I served in Vietnam in the U.S. Army.

I was a young man looking for more… or perhaps it was only a bit of excitement. There was no fear, only a need to get away to some foreign land. I didn’t serve with the feverous intent of going to war but with a foreknowledge of how my family had done their duty in the past.

I was young and trained and naïve. I grew up in the South and from my first day of boot-camp I began to learn of how others thought of southerners. I heard words I had never heard before, but at the same time I found friends that seemed to want to protect me.

One man whose nickname was Soul was a young black man from the gangs of Philadelphia. What an odd combination we were, but no one dared say the wrong thing to Soul. I still have no idea what he saw in me but he did give me a completely different outlook on northerners, black people and what friendship was all about. We lost contact soon after training but he stays in my thoughts.

This is not a ‘war story’ and there will be no feats of valor or atrocities to convey a sense of indignation or pride. I did what I was asked to do and that, for me, was enough.

I landed in Vietnam in darkness and three men from the large group that arrived were hustled off and separated from the rest. We rode through the darkened countryside with a grunt manning an M-60 machinegun mounted to the jeep.

I spent my first two day in country at Davis Station in Saigon and I had my first encounter with the people of Vietnam. A young girl walked into the room where I sat and she captured me with her eyes and smile. I wondered if these were the people I was sent to fight– I hoped not.

The war like so many others was filled with work and sweat, massive boredom and intense actions. I don’t use the word fear because I was young and there just wasn’t any fear in me that would last. Our unit destroyed and saved lives and my part was so minor it’s not worth mentioning. I did not slug through the jungles— there actually wasn’t that much jungle and Viet Nam was a beautiful country. I worked on aircraft—the likes few people got to see. We were in contact with the real warriors: Special Forces, Navy SEALs, LRRPs and the rest.

I recently met, through the internet, a great woman writer that grew up in China not far from the border of North Vietnam and we have become friends—sharing stories of our childhood and growing up. I’m a writer now and it is so nice to be able to discuss the trials of writing with a peer. I’ll call this woman Red Child, from the translation of her name. I immediately liked her name—being a little Cherokee myself, although her name was an honorific of the struggles of China at the time. We exchanged many stories and one time I brought up the fact that I was in Vietnam during the war. I was hoping not to offend her but that part of my life had such an effect of me I wanted to share it as I never had before.

The funny part was that she too shared about her life at the time I was in the area. She told me about the many times, as a child, everyone from the village would rush out to road when soldiers were returning from doing their part in fighting. It was a happy time for the children and they were so proud of the men who did what they must to help their neighbor.

I found it to be poignant but also intriguing to hear a voice from the other side of what was going on. She spoke with no thought of the conflict or that I may have been in some small way responsible for the injured that return—I don’t think it entered her mind and to tell the truth it only niggled at mine. It was a great story of childhood and I did enjoy reading about life in a strange and wondrous place.

After that one correspondence I opened up feelings I have long held back—from myself—and told her of my return to my country—the land that I served with pride and duty.

I flew into San Francisco and was taken to a nearby base to receive my Army Greens because of the season. I was then sent off to the airport with ticket in hand, filled with the joy of returning to my family. From the time I stepped in to the civilian world of this modern airport I felt animosity coming from many of the people I passed. I wore my uniform with ribbons and strips on both sleeves showing my time of service and my time of being in a combat zone. I didn’t understand. Of course I had seen reports and TV of the protest going on at the time but why would someone be angry at me?

At one point I stopped to get a drink of water from a fountain and heard the click of heels behind me. I turned to look upon a long-haired kid giving me a hitler salute and then he spat on me. I was dumbfounded at first but then told him in no uncertain terms to get away from me—He complied but he called me names that made no sense. And what really confused me was the other people standing around seemed to agree with him. I felt completely alone.

I kept a low-profile until I was safely on the plane to take me home. On the flight, which again was at night, I was seated beside a high ranking Army officer and he bought me a drink to welcome me home. We talked little, after all I was only an E-5, an enlisted man, but at one point during the flight I looked across him out the window and saw flashes in the night sky. It looked exactly like an artillery barrage in the distances and I leaned over the officer trying to figure out what was happening. The officer chuckled, grabbed my shoulder and ease me back to my seat and said, “It’s just heat-lightening, son. Nothing to worry about.” I smiled at him and began to relax. I was home!

When I finally arrive at the Charlotte airport my family was waiting with signs and love and no one held me in judgment. Even the neighbors had put out signs and helped in my joy of returning to the place of my childhood. A child no longer.

Fire Breathing Thai

We spent two months in Thailand seeing wonders of that
great country and waiting for all the proper paperwork to go through. I was
taking my bride home—my home.

To speed things up I had to—through a Thai man versed
in getting things done—buy the police chief of a big city a refrigerator. I
couldn’t believe it either—but it worked. I was slowly learning the ways of the
world but I didn’t care. I was in love with an exotic beauty and our wait was
filled with never-ending pleasures and beauty. I’m talking about Thai food, the
people and the country, among other things!

With my beauty as my guide I saw spectacular beaches,
jungle covered mountains, streams where elephants lazed as they took relief
from the heat, monks receiving alms at sunrise and I never once worried about
what was to come.

Julee didn’t let on but she was terrified to leave her
homeland with the man she loved, not really knowing much about him and where she
was going. Through the years I came to see what a commitment she undertook.
Always brave and my guiding light she is the stronger of us and often lends me
her strength.

We stopped in Hawaii for a week and I had to keep
telling her my home was much different than this place that reminded her of
home. I’m from North Carolina and it was late November. I hadn’t been home for
more than two years and the family was waiting to welcome me and my bride.

We landed at Douglas Airport in Charlotte and in those
days you had to walk from the plane across the tarmac to the terminal. It was
freezing. I felt Julee pull her hand from mine and when I looked, her hands
were covering her mouth. She was staring at me in wonder when I ask what was
wrong. She pointed at my breath as it steamed into a cloud right before her
eyes. She started to say something but it happened to her too and she refused
to lower her hands or talk.

We had no warm cloths so we were both freezing by the
time we made into the terminal and the waiting arms of my family. My mom had
brought us both heavy coats to put on. She asked me what was wrong because she
wanted to see the face of her new daughter. When I explained that Julee had
never seen her breath before everyone started laughing but then hugged her in
welcome. Thank goodness I had talked to Julee about American greetings several
times to forewarn her. Thai’s don’t touch unless they are the best of friends
or parents.

She lowered her hands and was so relieved not to see
the steam pouring out of her mouth and to look upon the smiles that were happy
to see her. My family took her in right from the start and made all the
arrangements for our wedding, reception and meeting the extended family. My
respect grew more and more for my mom and dad.

Over the next month my brother, Ben, and I took her to
see sights she never dreamed of. We went to the mountains and Julee stepped in
snow for the first time. We went to all the malls, movies and everywhere I
could think of to show her this new world.

Now we’re back home in Thailand after more than thirty
years and my little American wife misses the USA. But as always she puts up
with whatever just to make me happy.

I do hope you enjoyed this look into a writer’s life in
Thailand. Leaving comment is a way for me to know you and to know if I’ve
pleased you with my little stories!

If you would like to know about the books I’ve written
please visit my publishing website at http://smallmountainpub.com
Thank you for visiting!

Tapioca – Who knew?

My tapioca field

I’m sitting in my small corner looking out a door and window at the small farm my wife and I enjoy so much.

 Mango trees, lemongrass, hibiscus and many things I only know the Thai word for adorn my view. We have four Lee-la-wadee, the Thai name is so nice to say. They are the trees that have flowers that Hawaiian leis are made from. One is filled with burst of white flowers and the rest are a hue of red, purple and yellow all together to form beauty.

 I go about my day working, writing and just walking and I used to—every once in a while—want for conversation in English. It didn’t happen often but when it did my only outlet was my wife. That’s not a bad thing but sometimes I have things on my mind that I want to share and get answers from others. I can speak Thai but I’m not able to carry on long intellectual conversations. Thai is a simple language compared to English and even though I know many words and phrases I do often get lost. Words strung together which I know, come out making no sense. The Thai language has a word for yes and no but are rarely used in speaking.  Yes-No, means Do you agree? No-yes, means No or I don’t agree. Many questions are answered without ever using yes or no. I would ask a question and then have to run to my wife for the answer. Why couldn’t they just say yes or no?

 So when I wanted to have a conversation that I would enjoy I would have to talk to myself—in my head of course… well, most of the time. I found that this has helped my writing. I work out plots, argue out points of view and even come to consensus over where the story should go. The more I think about it, I realize I’ve done this most of my life but many times didn’t have the time to really listen.

 Now I’ve discovered the social media and it has brought friends, new friends and a wealth of talent to my door step. And they come from all over the world! I was really frightened to take the first step into Facebook, Twitter, and now blogging. I’m still uneasy about posting blogs. Why would anyone care about what I might be doing or thinking? I have friends at Twitter to thank for the encouragement and pushing me along, lifting me up and dusting me off when I fall. I would have never believed it before I tried it.

 Now, I still spend much of my time alone with my writing and farming and viewing this exotic place I live, but I also have so many great people to look to and get a pat on the back. If I miss a day of checking on friends I feel something is missing.

 Back to the point– I think. This season we’re growing tapioca as the main crop. When I first came here I thought tapioca grew on trees as tiny clear balls like I saw in pudding. Don’t laugh.

 We went to visit my wife’s sister and when I found out she grew tapioca I rushed to her big field and asked, “Where is it?” Not a tree in sight. Pi Juop laughed and pointed at the big field of large bushes. I lifted the large leaves and wanted to know where the fruit was.  I would like to tell you that my sister-in-law thinks I’m the funniest person she’s ever met because of the dumb questions I ask. Sometimes she sits on the ground and laughs while I look on wondering, “What?”

 Since the tapioca was nearly ready for harvest she got her hoe and dug one of the big bushes up and showed me some big potato-like tubers and again laughed at my confusion.

 Tapioca grows underground! Can you believe it? And it’s not just for pudding! It is dried for flour to thicken sauces, as body powder, meat and veggies are rolled in it and fried and a lot of things I’m sure I don’t understand. It can also be baked like a potato but I don’t recommend that to a real potato eater. Who knew? Not me.

 I hope you have enjoyed this post. I really would like to hear from you. You can even use big words—I have a dictionary.